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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Feel free to ask anything you’d like by clicking the Contact menu option and using the form on that page.
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.
Wood 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.
The 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.
The Dampp-Chaser Piano Lifesaver system is an all-in-one humidity control solution for pianos. Pictured are three different stages of the installation:
1. All components installed.
2. All wires tied and secured neatly out of the way.
3. Undercover installed. This not only helps protect and “seal” the humidity and temperature levels inside the piano, but also neatly covers up the entire system without affecting the sound at all.This church piano was having major problems with tuning stability due to temperature and humidity fluctuations in the church. It’s no magic bullet, but this system should make a big difference!
Cleaning the soundboard and plate of a grand piano can make a huge cosmetic difference! It won’t make the piano look new again (at least, don’t count on it), but if you have a grand piano and like to leave the lid open, make sure you stay on top of cleaning.
General purpose, non-abrasive cleaners are fine for the metal plate. The soundboard is a little trickier to clean if you don’t have special equipment to get under the strings, so you may want to talk to your technician about that at your annual appointment.
This piano was nearly a century old, and it might have been that long since it was cleaned. There was about an eighth of an inch of dust on the soundboard!
It’s important to recognize when you hire someone to work on your piano (or anything you own) that the fee or hourly rate you pay encapsulates the entire amount needed to run the business and offer you the service. There are significant cost overheads involved in any business; self-employment and in-home services are certainly no exception
One of the biggest cost overheads in piano work is tools. In order to work efficiently and quickly, at a high level of quality, while minimizing the risk of any damage to your piano, there are a number of specialized tools that piano technicians carry. One of the most important is the tuning lever, or “tuning hammer.”
This Fujan tuning lever is not cheap, but it is one of the best investments I’ve made. With a carbon fiber shaft and precision machined head, it gives the best possible grip and torque on tuning pins. And since I have to adjust about 230 tuning pins on every single piano, it’s an investment that pays off quickly!
Twice in the last week, I have seen significant soundboard cracks on relatively new grand pianos. Both high quality instruments. This was a Yamaha C3, the conservatory model baby grand.
Why does this happen? In both cases, the pianos had been stored immediately next to heat sources and/or direct sunlight. As heat and sunlight dry out the piano, soundboard cracks are just one of many problems that crop up.
In both cases, I strongly advised the owners to keep their valuable piano away from heat sources and direct sunlight. Thankfully, these soundboard cracks are not significantly impacting the tone of the piano yet. If the pattern continues though, pianos stored in environments like this may lose decades of useful life.
If you have a piano, particularly a high quality one, know what’s good for it!
What’s a “mezzo-thermoneal stabilizer” you ask? That’s a great question.
In the post-WW2 era, when the piano market was really taking off in America, manufacturers started coming up with all kinds of new patented techniques to make their pianos stand out from the competition. Or, at the very least, to make them sound special. “Mezzo-thermoneal stabilizers” are a great example. No one really knows what it means, but it sure sounds cool. Almost like your piano was designed by NASA!
Most of these kinds of labels, unfortunately, are little more than marketing gimmicks. This particular piano is a 1979 Kimball Console. It’s actually a good little piano, but the mezzo-thermoneal stabilization probably has nothing to do with it!
Have you ever wondered why grand pianos have these holes in their plate?
Piano plates are made of cast iron, and as such are forged at very high temperatures. These “cooling holes” are strategically placed in the plate to break up large contiguous areas of cast metal so that the entire plate can cool more evenly and quickly, avoiding warping and cracking.
As cool as it would be, they are unfortunately not “subwoofers” or “sounding holes” and having more of them does not necessarily make your piano better. There is minimal impact on sound and that is not the purpose of the holes.
What IS cool though, is that various manufacturers trim and decorate the holes in different ways, and it can be a unique identifying element of a piano’s history! This one is a 1926 Steinway L baby grand.
This 1938 Lester spinet doesn’t have any resale value, hasn’t been serviced or tuned in over ten years, and frankly was a low-end piano to begin with.
So why am I writing about it? Because it never ceases to amaze me that pianos like this still have life left in them. When I finished tuning (twice over) and doing some minor regulation, this piano sounded pretty good! In fact, it hit me that it sounded and felt better than most mid-price electric pianos I’ve played. Some of which cost several thousand dollars.
I think that’s pretty impressive for an 80-year-old bottom-of-the-line piano from Lester. There truly is no comparison to quality craftsmanship and acoustic sound.
(Don’t get me wrong here: there are WAY better acoustic pianos than this! Don’t settle for an 80-year-old spinet if you can afford something better.)
They’re probably better known for cars than pianos (and rightly so), but my car and this piano have the same roots!
Hyundai was a huge conglomerate in South Korea that broke apart in 2003. Hyundai Motor continues to make and ship cars all over the world, but Hyundai Music, a division of Hyundai Development Company, continues to manufacturer and distribute pianos all over the world!
Like many large companies, Hyundai’s pianos are manufactured under a variety of brand names. On this particular piano, the “Aeolian” name was used and this Hyundai logo was visible only on the plate. On some other models, the Hyundai name may not appear at all.
Key level, squaring, and spacing: three areas that few pianists notice unless they are very poorly regulated. But all three areas dramatically affect the feel and function of the keyboard.
Adding to the fun on this keyboard were a few loose keytops that had not been glued well when they were replaced.
Taking care of your piano keyboard is one of the most visible and important cosmetic aspects of the instrument, but it also will make it much more enjoyable to play!
Top: before and after hammer reshaping. This can’t make the hammers new again, but can restore some of the tone, even out the sound, and improve sustain. In this case, it was a helpful measure on an old piano where replacing hammers wasn’t currently in the budget. In a perfect world, this should be done every few years on all hammers, especially on high quality or heavily used instruments.
Bottom: new hammers on a 100-year-old upright. This is the ideal solution for this age instrument, where the original hammers really have nothing left to give.
Many people do not realize that hammer quality and maintenance are some of the biggest factors in the tone quality of a piano! They are worth everything you put into them.