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.

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.

String splicing: often the best option

When a string breaks on a piano, it often breaks at or very near the tuning pin. This means the majority of the string’s length is still perfectly viable, and in fact is ideally suited to the rest of the piano in age, timbre, and general wear. In these cases, it’s often best to splice the string (tie a knot, essentially), creating a new lead wire to attach to the tuning pin, but leaving the rest of the string’s length almost exactly as it was before.

This is especially preferable on bass strings, where the length of the string and the thickness of the copper winding is completely customized, meaning a replacement string must be a custom order, and even still will not match the old strings very well in timbre and appearance.

The picture is of a recent splice on a customer’s old spinet piano. The piano is not worth the investment of new strings, and even a single custom-order replacement is expensive and time-consuming, so this was a far better option. The string is practically as good as new, sounds identical to its neighbors, will hold its tune better than a new string, and should last for many more years.

Occasionally, strings break in odd places which make a splice impractical or impossible. But more often than not, a splice is the way to go. So if you ever break a string in your piano, don’t throw it away!

Key Dip: All pianists notice it, few think about it

One of the biggest and most immediate factors in how a piano “feels” to the player is the key dip. You’ve probably played a piano with very shallow key dip, and disliked it, but not been able to put your finger on the culprit (pardon the pun).The keyboard may have felt sluggish, clunky, hard, unresponsive, or just plain weird.   

Key dip is the distance the key travels downward when you play it. As pianists, we are used to a key dip of about 3/8″, and even the smallest fraction of an inch makes a significant difference in how the piano feels. Part of this is due to the fact that the key dip is directly related to several other action regulation items, such as how far the hammer travels, at what point it stops being driven by the action (let-off), how far the key continues to move after let-off (aftertouch), and the timing of damper movement.

Recently, I have worked on two different pianos that have had significantly shallow key dip. This is often due to somewhat spotty regulation work in the past, perhaps to give a bandaid repair to other regulation issues. Key dip is adjusted by felt and cardboard punchings under the fronts of the keys.

While the difference between the two pictures may seem minimal, the difference in feel is enormous. The top picture is a keyboard with excessively shallow key dip, and the bottom picture is a keyboard with proper key dip.

Piano Lifesaver System

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!


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Cleaning matters

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!

Quality tools for quality work

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!

Heat and direct sunlight taking their toll

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!

Soundboard crack in Yamaha C3

Mezzo-thermoneal stabilizers (Or: Marketing Gimmicks)

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!