Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Is my piano out of tune?

For orchestral or concert performances, pianos go slightly out of tune by intermission. Typically, piano tuners walk on stage during the 15 minute break and make very slight adjustments to the tuning. If pianos go very slightly out of tune in this time period, imagine how far out of tune they go in a few months!

Humidity has a great effect on piano tuning stability. At one outdoor concert in summer time, a piano had to be pitch lowered to A=440 after the soundboard had absorbed too much humidity and the piano was too high in pitch. The next day, the tuner had to lower the pitch of the piano AGAIN because of excessive humidity. In this example, the piano went out of tune severely in one day because it was placed in an outside environment.

Temperature also has an effect on piano tuning stability. Many people have heated floors in their homes. Unless the soundboard is protected in some way or unless the piano has a humidity/temperature control system installed, the piano will go out of tune. Typically, the soundboard gets 'cooked' by the heat from underneath (or from floor board heaters), and the soundboard slightly flattens, causing the pitch to drop below A=440.

Moving the piano (very carefully in a humidity/temperature neutral environment) actually has very little effect on the tuning of the piano. I've read documentation that is almost 100 years old by other piano tuners saying exactly the same thing. For some reason, moving is associated with tuning instead of tuning the piano a minimum of 2 times per year - every year - with overall maintenance.

Is my piano at pitch?
Just because your cell phone/tablet/computer says A=440 when you measure that one note on your piano, doesn't mean the entire piano is in tune. Many notes can be wildly out of tune. Please refer to my first post above, with regard to pianos going slightly out of tune by the time of a performance intermission for more information.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Let the piano settle.

Most calls I get are from customers who are very concerned about making sure their piano gets enough time to stabilize in their new environment after a move. The question is this: Should customers tune the piano immediately after they move, or should they wait a couple of weeks.

The answer is simple. When was the piano last tuned?

I have tuned many store pianos that get moved to customer's homes or event locations. If I follow the tuned piano within  a few days to a week, there is almost nothing to do as long as the piano was carefully moved into an environment that is fairly stable. In this case, the piano can be tuned with in the month.

If the piano has not been tuned in many years, it has likely stabilized in a severely out of tune condition. Giving the piano an extra amount of time to continue to stabilize in bad condition doesn't make sense. It should be tuned immediately after the move and then re-tuned in a couple of months as well as having a complete regulation/maintenance check.

Pianos should be tuned at least twice per year. Think of it this way. When you attend a performance at a recital hall or theater, do you notice how the instruments are slightly re-tuned during intermission? If instruments go slightly out of tune by intermission, imagine how much further out of tune they are in 6 months with no servicing.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Do pianos get better over time?

Can you think of ANY manufactured item that gets better over time? When you buy a car, you are advised by the car manufacturer to set up a maintenance schedule because your car will require yearly servicing. That's because over time, parts will start to deteriorate. Using the car analogy again, if you drive your car constantly, the tires will eventually go bald and lose the tread to grip the road surface. In a piano hammer, the surface must be very smooth to produce a high quality sound. Over time, from constant use, the hammer becomes heavily grooved and the sound produced becomes very strident, loud and difficult to listen to. Only by re-shaping the hammer, can the surface be brought back to a smooth oval shape to produce the best sound possible. So far, I've only talked about the piano hammer. What about the thousands of other parts of the piano action that require yearly maintenance? Sadly, most piano owners almost never keep their pianos maintained. They usually call to have their pianos tuned (not realizing that they are actually calling the tuner to fix something!).

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Piano Tuning Fixes Everything - No it doesn't!

Incredibly, most customers believe that tuning a piano will fix all of the problems.

Piano tuning only relates to adjusting the pitch of piano wire - nothing else.

99 times out of 100 when I get called to tune a piano, there is more work than I thought. Typically, a call was made to tune the piano but the actual complaint was about sticking keys, squeaking pedals, buzzes, or other problems. When an unqualified tuner tunes the piano for the customer and leaves problems that still exist, the customer assumes that the piano was not tuned.

When you take your car in for servicing, do you specify only to put in gas and check the oil or do you ask for general service and maintenance, in case something else is wrong?

The same problems exist in a piano. You must always specify tuning and maintenance when you  call a piano tuner for regular piano servicing. If you don't it is just a matter of time before the piano action starts breaking down and becomes unplayable.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How Often Must Pianos Be Tuned?

Almost all manufacturers say that pianos should be tuned 2 times per year.

What about piano maintenance? A piano requires regular maintenance to perform optimally. Sadly, almost nobody follows up on a regular maintenance procedure.

When you buy a car, do you follow a maintenance procedure or do you just put gas in it? Believe it or not, that's all most people do until the car experiences horrendous mechanical problems.

The same is true of the piano. I get numerous calls from people who have had their pianos tuned once per year but complain about sticking notes, buzzing sounds, notes that have no sound, hammer voicing problems, "sharp sounding notes" (caused by worn out hammers), squeaking pedals, broken pedals, coins stuck between keys, pencils falling into the piano action, hammer alignment (hammers not centered on the strings), dampers not working, etc., etc.

Customers assume that "TUNING" is a cure-all for everything. Unfortunately, that's not the case. They assume that when the piano is tuned, the pedal will stop squeaking and the buzzing sounds will disappear. Please be aware that piano tuning is NOT A REGULATED FIELD of work. Anyone can purchase a tuning device, a tuning hammer with mutes and go out into the public and start work.

Customers are always concerned about "Moving the Piano". They will use that wording above all else when looking at piano maintenance. One customer might say: "I tuned the piano 20 years ago but then moved, then we moved again three more times so I didn't want to get it tuned until it stabilized.

What about the 20 years of no servicing?

Most customers are amazed when they see proper servicing of a piano, even though they have had the piano tuned many times in the past.

The response I get all the time: "Wow - was that ever educational! When can we set up the next appointment?"


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Piano Tuning Discounts

Many times, I get asked if I can give a discount on a piano I have never seen before. Let me give you some examples of piano tunings that I have given discounts on.
1. One customer informed me that they had the piano tuned within the last 2 years. When I got to the residence, I had trouble trying to get the keys to play - most of them were stuck. I removed some case parts so I could get a good look inside.
There were hundreds of dead cockroaches 'glued' to the keybed and in between the keys. After ONE HOUR of removing the dead insects and lubricating the action, I tuned the piano. *Remember, I gave a discount on this job and it should have cost much more than my normal fee. How the previous tuner was able to tune this piano is a complete mystery to me.
2. Another customer just wanted the piano tuned. When I removed the case parts and the keys, I noticed an old mouse nest in the middle of the keybed. I removed all the keys, vacuumed out the action and then tuned the piano much later than I originally intended.
3. A customer only wanted one wire replaced. Although the service call fee wouldn't cover me driving 30 miles away, I decided to go anyway. The client had already paid someone else to tune the piano (that tuner couldn't replace wires). Inspecting the piano before deciding to put on the wire, I told them that the piano had severe structural problems and that it needed to be repaired and shouldn't have been tuned in the first place!
Nine times out of ten, there's always about 1/2 hour of extra work to do. Sticking notes, hammers that are not hitting the strings, damping problems, squeaking pedals, squeaking benches, squeaking keys, buzzing sounds, loose screws, actions that are out of regulation etc, etc,.
Think if it this way. When you buy a car, do you just put gas in it and leave everything else alone or do you constantly have it looked after by a mechanic? A piano deserves exactly the same attention to function properly.
I generally give small discounts to customers whose pianos I HAVE TUNED PREVIOUSLY, if tuned again in the SAME YEAR.
To see how often your piano should be tuned, visit: http://www.ptg.org/Scripts/4Disapi.dll/4DCGI/cms/review.html?Action=CMS_Document&DocID=29&MenuKey=Menu7.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How to Clean a Piano Comprehensively - What about the dirt and grime inside?

When most customers ask me ask me if their piano is clean, they are almost never referring to what lurks underneath the keys or deep inside the piano.

Many only want their pianos to look good and be free of any scratches.

When I remove the action (because of troubleshooting sticking notes) and keys, most customers are absolutely horrified at the dust, dirt, grime and lost items hiding in plain sight just underneath the shiny keys.

These last two weeks, I have found a mouse nest (underneath the middle of the keyboard of a piano that was only ever just tuned), lots of spider webs, spiders, dead cockroaches, mouse droppings (pianos are a favorite place for mice to breed), bobby pins, guitar pics, and many other items.

I could write a book on the items I have found during all of the years I have been tuning.

While I do understand the expensive of getting a piano tuned, I don't understand why all customers don't have their pianos cleaned THOROUGHLY INSIDE at least once every 5 years or so - especially noting the cleanliness aspect.

Yes, I actually will include cleaning on every SECOND TUNING that I do for a customer. That's easy to do because the piano would require only a normal tuning with the extra time being devoted to the other "stuff" hiding in plain sight under the keys or underneath the bottom board of an upright piano. If you need general cleaning (not soundboard cleaning - that would take more time) during the first tuning, the cost is $50. extra and the results are spectacular!

So please do the following:
1. Get your piano tuned at least once per year.
2. Have your technician clean the inside of the piano.
3. Have your technician suggest the best options of cleaning the outside of your piano.