South Jersey Piano Service
Your trusted source for piano tuning & service

About

RPT Logo

Ben Patterson is a full service piano technician and has served the southern New Jersey piano market since 2010, providing piano tunings, repairs, regulation, maintenance, service and upgrades at a high quality and reasonable price. He is a Registered Piano Technician (RPT) with the Piano Technicians Guild, and a certified installer of Dampp-Chaser Piano Lifesaver systems. South Jersey Piano Service is a licensed and insured New Jersey LLC.

Ben has played piano since the age of 5, and has had a fascination with mechanics for almost as long. His first formal job working on pianos began in university practice rooms during his undergraduate degree, working at minimum wage but learning valuable skills for the trade.

Since graduating in 2009 with a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education, Ben has tuned and serviced pianos regularly and his client base continues to grow. He moved to New Jersey in the fall of 2009, was married in 2010, and now lives with his wife and daughter near Woodstown, NJ. South Jersey Piano Service has grown out of the need he has seen for quality piano work in rural South Jersey, and has been blessed with regular referrals from satisfied customers.

When not working on pianos, Ben teaches piano, performs professionally, and serves as Director of Auditions and Solo Events for the Philadelphia International Music Festival. He has also produced multiple music albums, taught middle school and high school music for 6 years, and completed a Master of Music degree in Choral Conducting at Rowan University.

Contact

There is a wealth of information here, both about South Jersey Piano Service as well as pianos in general. Please visit the rest of the website, and follow our blog if you’d like to learn more about pianos in general as well as how to take care of yours better!

If you have a question or would like to set up an appointment, please feel free to use the form below, or call or email directly. Thank you!

Phone: 856-628-7176
Email: ben@sjpianoservice.com

(if applicable)

Services & Rates

It is often difficult to know exactly how much an appointment will cost, but the following is a breakdown of the most common services and current pricing.

Please note: All prices subject to change. These prices are valid only through December 31, 2016. Please confirm pricing when scheduling your appointment. Note that additional fees may apply for travel in some areas.

Standard piano tuning – $90
Annual appointment
Piano tuning + Pitch raise – $105
Usually necessary for pianos that have not been regularly maintained
Service call – $45
Minimum charge for house call to diagnose, repair, assess, etc. Additional labor and parts charges may apply. Not applicable to tuning appointments.

Hourly labor – $40

Soundboard cleaning (grand) – $20

Single string replacement – $20~*

Bass string replacement – $60~*

Broken hammer repair – $20~*

*These prices are provided only as estimates for frequently requested services. Final cost will depend on the number of repairs, piano make and model, and other factors. When scheduling your annual tuning appointment, you should bring up any work or repairs you are interested in having done.

header3

  • Dampp-Chaser System Installation – (contact for price)
    • Upright 5-part system. Price includes system and installation.
  • Dampp-Chaser System Installation – (contact for price)
    • Grand 6-part system. Price includes system and installation.
  • Dampp-Chaser annual maintenance – $20
    • Pads & lining replacement, cleaning

FAQ

How often should a piano be tuned?

Virtually all piano manufacturers and technicians are in agreement that pianos should be tuned no less than once per year. This is a good benchmark. Many manufacturers recommend two or more tunings per year, but for home pianos that are not being moved or subjected to temperature and humidity swings, once a year is generally sufficient. More frequent tunings are often necessary for churches, schools, or private studios where pianos get heavier use and/or less climate control.

What happens to a piano that doesn’t get tuned regularly?

This depends largely on the instrument and the environment. Some pianos may be able to survive for several years at a time between tunings with minimal effect other than sounding “out-of-tune.” Often, however, pianos that have not been maintained in several years begin to succumb to their environment:

  • Humidity makes wood parts in the piano swell, with many negative consequences, the most immediate being that strings get pulled sharp as the pin block tightens.
  • Dryness makes wood shrink and even become brittle, with obvious negative consequences, the most obvious being a loosening of the pin block and a resulting drop in the piano’s overall pitch.
  • Dust accumulates, slowing down moving parts inside the piano and eventually accumulating enough to make keys and other action components stick.
  • Moth, insect, and rodent infestations are far more common in pianos that are not maintained. This is often exacerbated in pianos that are also rarely played.

What is involved in a piano tuning?

The most basic and important part of a piano tuning is adjusting the pitch of individual strings in the piano. Many piano players do not realize that although a typical piano has 88 keys, they have well over 200 strings. The upper two-thirds of the piano has three strings per note, while the lower range consists of monochords (one string) and bichords (two strings) that are copper-wound, heavier strings.

When tuning, the piano technician is striving to get the piano “in tune with itself” – this is the simplest way to explain the relationship of each note to every other note. Far from being a simple formula, this is determined by temperament and stretch and in reality varies slightly for every single piano based on many acoustic factors.

It is also my philosophy that a piano tuning appointment should address any other problems, immediate or potential, that the piano may have. Much like a good mechanic performing routine maintenance on your vehicle, I consider an annual piano servicing appointment an opportunity to make sure every aspect of the piano is functioning optimally. I frequently fix or adjust small problems as I go, and for larger or systemic issues I will be sure to bring them to your attention and have a discussion about the possible courses of treatment.

Do you use an electronic tuning device (ETD) or do you tune by ear?

Both. While it is certainly possible to tune a piano well exclusively by ear (and this has been the practice for the last 200 years), there is also no reason to reject out of hand the benefits of modern technology. I use an ETD for certain parts of the piano tuning, but am constantly checking its results by ear. There are also parts of the tuning that I do entirely by ear – most significantly, the unisons (two or three strings that correspond to the same note).

Does my piano need any other work besides tuning?

This is a common question, and of course the answer varies. If you notice any sluggishness in the movement of the keys when you play, notes that do not sound all the time, keys that “stick,” pedals that do not work, etc., then there is probably regulation work that is needed. The extent of regulation work is up the customer, and my ultimate goal is for the customer to enjoy playing the piano and not have any mechanical problems getting in the way of that.

Besides mechanical issues, there are many factors that can negatively effect a piano’s tone quality. “Voicing” addresses the hammers themselves, reshaping, needling, or hardening them to adjust the timbre of the struck note. In older or heavily used pianos, restringing may also be a necessary step in reviving the full potential of sound quality in a piano. This is particularly true in bass strings, where dust and grime collect over time and gradually yield a “thuddy” or “tubby” sound.

Where is the best place in my home to put a piano?

The most important advice I can give for pianos in homes is to keep them away from direct heat and direct sunlight. Modern homes, with good exterior wall insulation, are not as hostile to instruments as older homes. It is still generally advisable to put pianos on an inside wall to avoid temperature changes as much as possible. For homes with forced air heat, the piano should be kept away from any vents. Direct sunlight through windows can also very quickly fade or damage the finish of pianos, in addition to causing other problems as it warms and dries out the cabinet.

What can I do about keys on my piano that are sticking or sluggish?

Often this is a simple problem that can be fixed in the course of a routine piano tuning, but in some cases it may involve more extensive time or the replacement of parts.

What can I do about a pedal on my piano that’s not working?

Again, often a simple fix, but best taken care of by a professional technician at a routine appointment. During a piano tuning appointment, I do not charge extra for minor repairs or adjustments.

How old is my piano?

To determine a piano’s age in the absence of official documentation, the make (brand) of the piano is needed, along with a serial numbers. Serial numbers are found in a number of different places. For grand pianos, the most common place is directly underneath the music desk, etched into the brass-painted plate next to the tuning pins, or in the pinblock itself. For uprights, it can sometimes be found on the back of the piano, or inside the top of the piano, in the pinblock area.

The make and serial number of a piano can be used at websites such as Bluebook of Pianos to look up the age, although the number of brands represented is limited. For other piano makes (particularly older pianos), the information can be found in atlases. Most piano technicians carry piano atlases and can find this information easily.

How much is my piano worth?

Piano value is determined largely by the current market in your geographical area. In general, old uprights and spinets have very little resale value, although they can still be perfectly viable instruments for home use and practice. Grand pianos usually have at least some resale value, with newer instruments, larger instruments, and well-known brand names increasing the value significantly.

Why is piano tuning so expensive?

In reality, piano servicing appointments are no more expensive than other in-home services such as plumbing, electrical, HVAC, etc. As with those services, however, there is a significant overhead expense of equipment, parts, liability, business fees and taxes, and travel involved. Remember whenever you have anyone working in your home, the fee you pay them is not their hourly wage! It has to cover all aspects of running the entire business.

Do you give any discounts on piano tuning?

Yes. Customers with multiple pianos being serviced in the same location and in the same appointment may be eligible for a discount. Also, referral discounts can be given in some situations. Feel free to ask about discounts when scheduling your appointment. It is always my goal to give you the best value I can.

Other questions?

Feel free to ask anything you’d like by clicking the Contact menu option and using the form on that page.

Humidity Control

Pianos are made primarily out of wood and metal parts.  Both materials are significantly affected by temperature and humidity. Combined with the fact that pianos are extremely complex instruments with thousands of small parts under immense amounts of tension, the smallest changes in relative humidity can have a significant impact on the tuning and stability of the piano.

Certified InstallerWood expands as it takes on moisture, and contracts as it loses moisture.  This is the most basic and important reason that humidity control is so important for pianos. In southern New Jersey, I have found that indoor relative humidity is often extremely low during the winter months, with heat running regularly, and dry air circulating around the piano. Unfortunately, relative humidity often gets very high during the summer months, particularly in churches and schools, or homes with no air-conditioning.  I have seen these conditions take a severe toll on a number of otherwise fine pianos.

Piano Life Saver SystemThe Piano Life Saver system by Dampp-Chaser is a self-contained humidity control system that is installed inside (verticals) or underneath (grands) your piano, and can cycle between humidifying and dehumidifying modes.  It keeps the crucial components of your piano, such as the pinblock and soundboard, at nearly constant moisture levels year-round.  The cycling between humidifier and dehumidifier is controlled by a sophisticated humidistat, and the system uses very minimal electricity due to its small size and focused application.

I can whole-heartedly recommend this system, and due to the positive results I have seen and the dire need of such a system in our climate, I have acquired an installer certification with Dampp-Chaser.  I particularly recommend the Piano Life Safer system for churches and schools, as they typically have extreme temperature and humidity swings during the course of each week. It is also of great benefit in homes with forced air heat, or with no central air-conditioning systems.

Interested in a Piano Life Saver system? Call, email or use the contact form to ask for a brochure or an estimate.

For more information, visit pianolifesaver.com.

Spills and drips in pianos

This dark line running across about 25 strings is corrosion – very likely from something spilling or dripping into the piano. Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-common sight.

You should NEVER put beverages, flower pots, fish bowls, or any other liquid-containing items on top of a piano. Especially a grand piano!

Corrosion on strings
Corrosion on strings

Ben Patterson, RPT

I’m happy to announce that I am now a Registered Piano Technician (RPT) with the Piano Technicians Guild!

It has been my pleasure to professionally service pianos for the last eight years. This year, I chose to join the Piano Technicians Guild and complete their certification process. The PTG is the foremost organization in the USA for piano technician certification, networking, and professional development, and I am happy to now be a professional part of it.

For more information about the PTG, check out their website! www.ptg.org

In the meantime, I’ll be continuing to expand South Jersey Piano Service. I’ll
also try to get back to regular social media updates!

Ben Patterson, RPT
Ben Patterson, RPT

Dampp-Chaser Piano Lifesaver system

This piano is a 45-year-old Steinway upright, which only seems half its age thanks to this Dampp-Chaser humidity control system.

The Dampp-Chaser “Piano Lifesaver” system is a humidity control system designed specifically for pianos. It truly is a lifesaver, particularly for pianos in churches, schools, and other institutions where the climate is not controlled as consistently as a home.

I highly recommend the system for any instrument, and especially for church and school instruments. It can’t resurrect an already dead piano (sorry), but it will help to significantly preserve the life of your instrument!

If you’d like to read more about humidity control, visit:

http://www.sjpianoservice.com/humidity_control.htm

Dampp-Chaser Piano Lifesaver system
A Dampp-Chaser Piano Lifesaver system in an older Steinway upright

Hammer reshaping, before and after

Hammer re-shaping, before and after. You can imagine the difference in sound after all the grooves, grime and dust are gone!

Hammer reshaping
A before-and-after view of hammer reshaping

How many toolboxes does a piano technician carry?

Actually, I carry three with me for most appointments. And that doesn’t include many, many more tools at home. But one toolbag is typically all I need for a tuning. The extra materials are for those impossible-to-predict broken strings, regulation and voicing issues, broken parts, and miscellaneous repairs! And those extra toolboxes stay in the trunk.

So you know it’s a serious job when you have to bring in the second toolbox…

Two toolboxes

Cardboard piano!

Saw this in the home of a piano student. Made by an 11-year-old, completely from cardboard scraps! He said he just worked off a picture…

I think I see a piano technician in the making.

Cardboard piano
To-scale cardboard piano

Voicing piano hammers – an incredible difference in sound

Did you know there are actually three categories of maintenance that pianos need? Tuning is the first that most people think of. But regulation and voicing are two other maintenence items that make an enormous difference in the feel and sound of a piano – sometimes more so than tuning.

I’ve discussed regulation before, but voicing is the third element of piano maintenance and refers exclusively to the manipulation of the hammer felt.

Over time, piano hammers get deep grooves, as well as the natural hardening and compressing of the felt with age and use. Voicing involves several different techniques to harden, soften, reshape, and re-texturize the hammer felt. It’s called “voicing” because every change made to the hammer felt makes a significant difference in the tone quality of the piano. What may be perceived as a “sour” or “out-of-tune” note is sometimes a voicing issue.

Lastly, it’s worth pointing out that new pianos need this too! Technicians spend many hours voicing quality new pianos to achieve the right tone quality and timbre. This process starts in the factory and finishes in the customer’s home. The more specific a customer’s tastes in piano timbre, the more can be done.

Piano hammer close-up
Close-up shot of piano hammers

Henry Steinway’s workdesk

One last fascinating piece of history from the new Steinway showroom in Manhattan: this was Henry Steinway’s work desk from the 1800’s when he started making his first pianos. Like a lot of tools piano technicians use, it was completely handmade. And it has held up pretty well!

Henry Steinway desk
Henry Steinway’s desk, on display in the new Steinway Hall in Manhattan.

The new Steinway Spirio player piano

The concept of the player piano has reached a new level with the Steinway Spirio. Not only have they recorded numerous performances by Steinway artists into the piano, but for a number of them you can even watch their performance at the same time! Oh, and the iPad comes with the piano…

Glenn Gould performing J. S. Bach’s E-flat major fugue from the Well-Tempered Klavier, Book 2.

Steinway Spirio video

Steinway Hall, NYC

Visited the new Steinway Hall showroom in Manhattan today. Well worth the visit for any pianist – you’ll never look at pianos the same way again!

More pics and a video to come…

Steinway Hall montage
Steinway Hall in Manhattan