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!).