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

About

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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.

Payment forms accepted: Cash, check, or credit card (Visa/MC/AMEX/Discover)

All prices subject to change. These prices are valid as of January 1st, 2017. Please confirm pricing when scheduling your appointment. Note that additional fees may apply for travel in some areas.

Standard piano tuning – $105
Annual appointment
Piano tuning + Pitch raise – $125
Usually necessary for pianos that have not been regularly maintained
Service call – $60
Minimum charge for house call to diagnose, repair, assess, etc. Additional labor and parts charges may apply. Not applicable to tuning appointments.

Hourly labor – $60

Soundboard cleaning (grand) – $30

Single string replacement – $30~*

Bass string replacement – $60~*

Broken hammer repair – $30~*

*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.

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  • 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.

What forms of payment do you accept?

Cash, personal/business check, or credit card (Visa/MC/AMEX/Discover). Payment is due upon delivery of services. Exceptions can be made for churches, schools, and other institutions – Net 14 days – in most cases.

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.

Cleaning piano keys

Cleaning even the dirtiest piano keys is much simpler than you may think. There are rarely any special chemicals or tools needed, and particularly with most modern plastic key tops, there’s very little you could do to harm the keys.

I would always recommend starting with the least abrasive cleaner possible. Quite a lot of cleaning can be accomplished with just a damp cloth. In the picture below, I did all of the cleaning with a multi-surface furniture cleaner spray, along with some paper towels.

On ivory keys, more care should be taken, not so much because typical household cleaners will damage the ivory (just test on an inconspicuous spot first to be safe), but because the ivory keys are much easier to chip if you’re not careful around the edges.

With a little common sense and some elbow grease, most piano keys can be cleaned quickly and safely!

Polyester finish repair

The most common type of clear coat finish on modern pianos is not shellac, lacquer, or polyurethane. It is high-gloss polyester, which yields a beautiful, almost mirror-like level of gloss. Virtually all ebony (black) finishes in recent years are coated with polyester, as well as many other colors.

One of the greatest advantages of polyester is its durability – it is very resistant to scratches, wear, and chemical damage. However, for the same reasons, it is also difficult to repair when it does get damaged. These pictures are of a piano I worked on recently that had received very heavy use in a school environment for years. Even this major damage, however, can usually be repaired to an almost like-new finish. The biggest hindrance is typically cost, as it is labor-intensive to repair polyester, and the finish materials needed are specialized and somewhat expensive as well.

If you have a piano with finish damage, just ask for an estimate! I do polyester finish repair at an adjusted hourly rate which includes materials cost. Many common finish repairs can be accomplished in-home.

Cleaning, Regulation, & Voicing

Tuning is not the only maintenance that pianos need! As dust and other debris accumulates inside a piano, age and routine use wear down moving parts, and hammers compact and form deep grooves, various other maintenance tasks become essential.

There is no standard interval for these maintenance tasks; but as a general rule, the more use the piano gets and the more advanced the pianists using it, the more frequently they should be done. Many pianists are simply not aware of what a well-regulated and well-voiced piano feels and sounds like, and don’t realize what they’re missing!

As a general rule, any instrument that is being used by an advanced pianist, or for any performance purposes, should have voicing and regulation touched up on an annual basis. A thorough cleaning and regulation will generally be necessary every few years. If these tasks are done on a regular basis, the costs and time involved are much more manageable. In other cases where general maintenance has been neglected (even if the piano has been tuned regularly), it may require one or two full days of work to get the instrument back in shape. Such a job is more costly, but still more than worth it for the health of the piano and enjoyment of the pianist and audience.

Piano string sizes

Did you know that one piano will use more than a dozen different sizes of plain string?

In this picture, you can see the string sizes of 18, 19, and 20 marked on the plate behind the strings, as well as the half sizes between those. Many modern piano manufacturers indicate the string sizes in this way to make re-stringing easier and faster.

Piano wire (string) varies in sizes from 12 to 25 commonly, including half sizes up through 18 or 20. Unlike electrical wire or other wiring gauges you may be familiar with, piano wire numbers increase with size (that is, 16 gauge would be larger than 14 gauge).

Also, piano wire sizing does not work the same way in the bass section, where strings are copper-wound to increase the mass (and lower the pitch). Bass strings are always custom-sized to the piano, which is also what makes them more expensive to replace.

If you’d like to read more about copper-wound strings, check out these recent posts:

Copper-wound vs. plain wire strings

Aluminum-wound strings

Are open windows OK for pianos?

This time of year, at least in New Jersey, we enjoy some gorgeous weather. I can’t think of anyone that doesn’t like fresh air, and if you’re like my family you open your windows every chance you get and leave them open for as long as you can.

Piano owners are sometimes concerned about opening their windows, thinking the extra airflow could harm their instrument and throw it out of tune. It’s a legitimate concern, but you have no reason to deprive yourself of fresh air for the sake of your piano. Just keep a few things in mind:

  1. Pianos like consistency. Unless the temperature and humidity outside are drastically different from what the piano is accustomed to, you’re not going to do any harm by allowing some breeze in the house.
  2. Strong, direct airflow around the piano could be destabilizing. Make sure it’s not too exposed.
  3. Be sure to close the windows when you’re not at home. A sudden rainstorm, or falling nighttime temperatures, could have a negative effect on the piano’s stability.
  4. While we’re talking about windows, be certain your piano is not exposed to any direct sunlight. Some of the worst finish damage can come from prolonged sunlight exposure. In addition, the sunlight heats up and dries out the inside of the piano over time, which can lead to a host of other issues.

In summary, a day you would be comfortable sitting outside is more than likely a day that’s safe for your piano to get some fresh air as well.

Happy autumn!

Tharan keytops

To replace the old, yellowed, and chipped ivory keytops on this keyboard, the customer choose Tharan. Tharan is a relatively new substance developed by Kluge in Germany, with the goal of imitating the feel of ivory as closely as possible. It also looks beautiful, with a slight sheen that sets it apart from the standard plastic keytops used on most pianos. Furthermore, for pianists that are accustomed to the slightly better “grip” of ivory keytops, Tharan is an excellent choice due to its high mineral content and matte texture.

The ivory trade, of course, has been very restricted throughout the world and replacing ivory keytops with new ivory is no longer an option. However, several options exist which very closely mimic ivory, and in many ways are superior.

New Season

Although summers are busy in all kinds of other ways, the end of the summer season, the start of a new school year, and the change into fall weather brings with it a significant increase in piano work, particularly institutional pianos.

A couple of times each year, I have to clean out all of my tool bags and toolboxes and reorganize. This is a small piece of what that looks like! I guess you could call it a “fall cleaning.”

As I return to blog posting after a couple month’s hiatus, keep an eye out for some exciting projects and interesting work that took place over the summer!

Aluminum-wound strings

Those extra shiny strings are aluminum-wound, somewhat of a novelty in the late 1960’s when this piano was built. Though these have held up well, aluminum-wound strings as a rule have never caught on and are all but extinct now.

In this case, the aluminum winding was seen as a “transition” from the copper-wound bass strings to the plain wire treble strings. Manufacturers have tried dozens of different ways of bridging this transition point over the years, with varying results.

Gordon Laughead was a small, family-run, Michigan-based piano manufacturer that operated from the 1940’s until the 1970’s. They made good quality pianos, and this particular one was a testament to that fact. Unfortunately, like hundreds of other piano manufacturers, they eventually succumbed to an over-crowded market.

DIYers Beware!

I don’t discourage DIY piano work. In fact, I think it’s a great thing for piano owners to learn more about their instrument and even do repairs when they feel comfortable doing it. However, there are some potential pitfalls and it pays to be aware of them in advance.

One of the most common accidents when working on a grand piano: pulling the action out without keeping a close eye on the hammers, and snapping off a hammer that was sticking up too high.

The previous owner of this piano had done all the work on it himself, and while most of it was decent work, there were three different hammers that had been broken off in this way. They were all repaired, but unfortunately the repairs were causing other problems since they, as well, were each somewhat experimental.

So, by all means, learn more about your piano and try your hand at tuning or repairing…but only after doing your research. And if accidents do happen, make sure they are properly repaired.

Copper-wound vs. plain wire strings

Did you know that about a third of the piano is strung with copper-wound strings? The lower notes use copper winding because the extra mass helps create lower pitches; without that extra mass, pianos would have to be 20-30 feet long just to have strings long enough for those lowest notes!

Usually somewhere in the octave below middle C, pianos switch over to plain wire. On a well-designed piano, the break should hardly be noticeable. Listen for it next time you’re at a piano and see if you can tell where the break is!

On this Kawai upright, the copper wound strings continue up three notes past the end of the bass bridge (the point where the angle of the strings changes). That helps make the transition even smoother. Notice also that when the switch to plain wire happens, there is a transition to three strings per note instead of two.