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Taking Care of Your Piano

Why Do Pianos Go Out of Tune?

When a piano is new, the strings stretch and go out of tune very quickly. (If you play the guitar, you know how often a new set of strings must be tuned before it they settle.) That is why most technicians recommend at least two tunings in the first year you own a piano. Regular tuning is most important in these early years, when the strings are stabilizing. If you don’t tune the piano in the first few years, the strings will stabilize at the wrong pitch, and it will be much harder to bring the piano up to the correct pitch.Once the strings have stabilized, tuning is most affected by humidity changes. In fact, when a piano goes out of tune during moving, it’s often because it’s been through a humidity change! The structure of a piano may be quite massive, but much of it is wood. Whenever the humidity changes, the wood either expands or contracts. Any little movement of the soundboard tends to change the tension on the strings, and thus the pitch. When humidity goes up, the pitch goes up; when humidity goes down, pitch goes down.

Be careful of where humid or dry air may come from. The old rule about placing the piano on an inside wall has some truth to it, but it matters much less in new, well-insulated homes. Look out for heating vents. And please, don’t leave a window or door open near the piano. That can put a piano out of tune in minutes. If your piano is in a particularly drafty room, like a church or auditorium, you may need a humidity control system. It’s expensive, but it definitely will make your tunings and all the wooden parts last longer.

Please Don’t…

Don’t put anything on the music desk (of a grand piano), except music. Pencils, paper clips, coins, and index cards can fall into the piano and cause problems. When you hear a buzz while playing the piano, make sure that it is not some external object that you are hearing. Remove everything from the piano and try again.

Wooden Caster Cups

If you have a grand piano, you probably have noticed what the wheels do to your rug or wooden floor. The solution is caster cups. In the past, caster cups have been made of plastic (which you actually may prefer if your piano has a shiny polyester finish.) In recent years I’ve started offering wooden ones too. They come in satin black or mahogany finish. The plastic ones come in black or brown. Either way, it’s $20.00 for a set of three.

Humidity Control Systems

Most homes these days are pretty well insulated. But if you have a special situation like a church, school multi-purpose room, or just a drafty old house, you may need special help to avoid the harmful effects of excess changes in humidity. The Dampp-Chaser humidity control systems are the industry standard. The full system, including dehumidifier (drying bar), humidifier, humidistat, and low water warning light, is $200.00 installed for uprights and $250.00 installed for grands. For most situations, though, the dehumidifier and humidistat alone are sufficient. That is $150.00 installed in either grand or upright. If you have any questions, please call me at 447-5494.

How Can You Learn More About Pianos?

The best book on pianos written for the non-professional is undoubtedly The Piano Book by Larry Fine. It was first published only three years ago and already is in its second printing. It is primarily written for people who are planning to buy a piano, but it’s also great just for learning how pianos work and what piano technicians do. You can look for it at the library, at any large bookstore, or order it directly from Brookside Press, P.O. Box 178, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130. Call (800) 545-2022 for the current price.

What is the Piano Technician’s Guild?

The Piano Technician’s Guild is an international association of piano technicians dedicated to education. It administers tests covering tuning, repair, and general knowledge of the piano. When a member passes all three tests, he or she receives the title of Registered Craftsman. When you’re looking for a piano technician, look for a Registered Craftsman Member of the Piano Technician’s Guild. It’s the only objective standard of competence that I know of in this industry.



1. Christopher - May 7, 2009

I have a waist-high wurlitzer upright piano. It’s been years since it has had a tune and a couple of keys are sticky. Is there a ballpark figure $ on what it would take to get it up to snuff so my kids and I could practice on it? Nothing fancy.

Mark Stivers - November 23, 2009

I charge $90 for tuning. The other repairs would be about $25. Call me at 916.215.9921

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