The copper-wound bass strings on your piano collect dust and grime much more quickly than the plain-wire treble strings. If you don’t believe it, you can see it plainly in the picture; the portion of the string under the damper on a grand piano looks as good as new, while the exposed part of the string has turned almost brown over time. And this was not an old piano! This is the primary cause of tone loss in the bass over time. Gunked up bass strings, unsurprisingly, do not produce good tone. The best solution, of course, is new bass strings. Measurements can be taken to replace all copper-wound strings with a complete set of new strings customized to the proper size and length (different on every piano model). New bass strings are often needed well before treble strings. Another option is to clean the bass strings. There are several… Read More
When a piano has not been regularly maintained, it often drifts very far from its target pitch center. Most pianos are manufactured to perform optimally at A440: with the note A4 being tuned to 440hz and everything else tuned to that. When a piano has been neglected for a number of years, it’s not uncommon for it to be as much as 100-200 cents flat – 100 cents being the distance between two notes on a piano. In other words, a piano that is 100 cents flat sounds a B when you play an C. This is a problem for many practical reasons, but the most basic is that the piano is designed to work and sound best at a certain level of tension on the strings, and anything significantly less is compromising the performance of the instrument. The other fact that many piano owners do not realize is that… Read More
Quite often this time of year, I have conversations with customers about heat vents in their home. It has been a cold winter in New Jersey, and many home furnaces have been working overtime. Particularly in homes with forced air (blowing) heat sources, it’s important to protect pianos and other musical instruments from the hot, dry air. The simplest and most effective way of accomplishing this is simply keeping the piano away from heat vents. If that’s not an option, consider vent redirect options like the one pictured. Notice the air from the vent is being diverted away from the piano, without any significant loss to the amount of airflow into the room. Your piano will thank you for your attentiveness to this detail – pianos that are kept away from dry heat sources are far less likely to develop soundboard and bridge cracks, and remain much more stable in… Read More
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!
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… Read More
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… Read More
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… Read More
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: 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. Strong, direct airflow around the piano could be destabilizing. Make sure it’s not too exposed. Be sure to… Read More
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.
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!