Piano Lifesaver System

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! #pixlr

Pitch raise

This piano was more than a half step flat! Tuning something this poorly maintained is not much fun, but the task is made much easier by an ETD (Electronic Tuning Device). If you watch the display carefully, you can see, as well as hear, each of the three strings rise in pitch until they are all at the target pitch. Customers often ask about the difference between tuning by ear (aurally) vs. using an electronic device. Some people hold to strong positions one way or the other. At the end of the day, the quality of the tuning is what matters! I use both methods, but I tend toward mostly aural for fine tuning quality instruments, and mostly electronic for a first-pass pitch raise like this, where all you can expect is to get it in the ballpark.

Soundboard cleaning – easy with the right tools!

Soundboard cleaning – easy with the right tools!

Grand piano soundboards tend to collect dust, and unfortunately they are pretty difficult to clean with any standard household equipment. However, there are some specialized tools, both commercial and handmade, that can do the trick! Pictured here is a soundboard cleaning set that I carry everywhere with me (3 pieces). They’re not too expensive, if you hate dust and want to do it yourself on a regular basis. Alternatively, most piano technicians will do it for a nominal fee. For annual customers who keep up with their tunings, I often do this service free of charge!

Regulation – more important than you realize

Regulation – more important than you realize

For every single key in a piano, there are dozens of parts working behind the scenes to produce the sound. Translate that to several thousand parts in a piano action, and you have a good reminder that tuning is not the only maintenance pianos need! The adjustment of the mechanical workings of the action is referred to as regulation. Regulation, not tuning, is what determines the “feel” of the piano – heavy, light, bouncy, stiff, fast, slow, etc. Often, your piano playing experience may be improved dramatically by some quality action regulation. If there are a number of issues, this can be a more involved job and may be scheduled as a separate appointment from your tuning. However, good piano technicians often will perform some limited regulation as part of a regular tuning appointment, if time allows, or may recommend some additional work that can be performed on the spot.… Read More

Hard-to-find serial numbers

Hard-to-find serial numbers

Virtually all pianos have a serial number, which can be used to determine the age of the instrument and often the location of its manufacture. Sometimes, however, serial numbers are hard to find, particularly in older pianos and those that have been rebuilt. This 1960’s Steinway had been rebuilt, and the rebuilder not only painted over the serial number next to the pin block, but also did not write or etch it anywhere else on the piano as is often done on rebuilds. Thankfully, there was one remaining place that the serial number had been inscribed – on the back of the keyslip! This is the piece that runs across the front of the keyboard, covering most of the front of the keys. Sometimes finding a serial number makes for a fun scavenger hunt. Most often, though, they are easy to find and provide helpful information both to the piano… Read More

Piano plate – the heaviest part of the piano!

Piano plate – the heaviest part of the piano!

This metal frame inside the piano is known as the “plate.” Many people erroneously refer to it as the soundboard. The soundboard is in fact just that – a thin board behind the plate that resonates with the strings and amplifies the sound. The plate is purely structural. And sorry, even though it’s often a nice shiny gold color, the plate is not made of gold! Or even brass, bronze or copper. Other than a few rare, experimental exceptions, all piano plates are made out of cast iron. And that’s why pianos are so heavy.

What’s the most out-of-tune piano I’ve seen?

Pianos do not naturally go out of tune this badly! For a single note on a piano to be this wild, it is highly likely that a previous owner tampered with the tuning pins in some way, perhaps in a less-than-successful tuning attempt. It would not be the first time I’ve run across that… I don’t ever discourage people from working on their own piano – in fact, I think it’s a good thing. Just make sure you do your research first and know what you’re getting in to! Suffice it to say it’s more complicated than it appears. A very out-of-tune piano

Spinet “drop” action

Spinet “drop” action

This is what’s known as a “drop” action. This type of action is found in spinet style pianos, the smallest of upright pianos. Frankly, it’s a pain to remove due to the lifter rods (which “drop” down to the action inside the piano), and since spinets are generally not valuable instruments, it’s often not worth removing the action to do extensive work. In this case, the plastic elbows connecting the lifter rods to the action needed to be replaced. You can see the brittle old plastic on some and the clear new plastic on others. A number had already broken. This is a very common problem in old spinets, and other than a couple hours of labor, it’s not too expensive of a repair. Despite their small size and low market value, spinets can be perfectly viable instruments with the right upkeep!

Know your humidity levels!

Know your humidity levels!

Did you know that pianos are very sensitive to humidity changes? The most vulnerable parts of a piano are the soundboard, bridges, and pinblock. Excessive dryness can cause wood to shrink or become brittle, which can cause cracks and major tuning stability problems. Excessive moisture can cause swelling and warping, creating tuning problems as well. Moisture, particularly in the summer months, is often also the culprit for stuck keys and action sluggishness.Relative humidity is measured with a hygrometer, or with a simple humidity monitor like this one. The optimal range for pianos (as well as other musical instruments made of wood) is 40-60%. It’s a little damp in the room right now for this piano!You can pick up a simple humidity monitor for $10-15 that should typically be accurate within +/- 5%. If you find that the area around your piano tends to have humidity levels well above 60% or… Read More

Piano strings – how many are there?

Piano strings – how many are there?

A standard piano has 88 keys, but well over 200 strings. Typically the lowest octave or so consists of single-string notes, or monochords. The next section, usually ending somewhere in the octave below middle C, consists of two-string notes: bichords. All monochords and bichords are wound strings, meaning they have a steel core but have one or two layers of copper winding on top which increase the size of the string and yield a lower pitch. The rest of the piano consists of three plain-wire strings for each note.And that is part of why it takes a while to tune a piano. Not to mention re-stringing one!