South Jersey Piano

Piano tuning, repairs, moving, sales & service in southern NJ

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About

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Ben Patterson is a full service piano technician and has served the southern New Jersey piano market for more than a decade. His client list includes professional touring musicians, recording studios, concert venues, schools, churches, and music festivals. He is a Registered Piano Technician (RPT) with the Piano Technicians Guild, and South Jersey Piano 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. Ben lives with his wife and three daughters near Woodstown, NJ. South Jersey Piano grew out of the need he saw for quality piano work in rural South Jersey, and has been blessed with regular referrals from satisfied customers.

When not working on pianos, Ben also teaches privately, performs professionally, and serves as Director of Music at his church. 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.

  • Ben Patterson

Services & Rates

Prices are subject to change. These prices are valid as of January 1st, 2022. Please confirm pricing when scheduling your appointment.
Payment forms accepted:
Cash, check, or credit card (Visa/MC/AMEX/Discover)

Basic Service

Piano tuning
- $135 -

Annual or bi-annual appointment;
for pianos that are regularly maintained
Schedule an appointment

Full service
tuning & cleaning
- $270 -

Optional, but strongly recommended for pianos that have not been regularly maintained. This includes a two-pass tuning as well as cleaning & lubrication.
Schedule an appointment

Piano tuning
w/ pitch adjustment
- $180 -

Two-pass tuning, often necessary for pianos
that have not been regularly maintained
Schedule an appointment

Service call
- $90 -

Minimum charge for house call to diagnose, repair, evaluate, etc. Additional labor and parts charges may apply. Not applicable to tuning appointments.
Schedule an appointment

Additional services

Regulation

Regulation is the adjustment of the mechanical action of the piano to give proper touch, response, and control. Proper regulation is critical for any serious playing.
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Keytop replacement

Keytop replacement is one of the most commonly requested cosmetic improvements and can make a huge difference in a piano's appearance.
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Dampp-Chaser
Piano LifeSaver

The Piano LifeSaver system by Dampp-Chaser is a humidity control system designed to help pianos last longer and maintain greater tuning stability.
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Voicing

Voicing refers to manipulating the hammer felt to adjust the attack, tone, sustain, and timbre of the piano strings. Proper hammer voicing has a tremendous effect on the overall sound of a piano.
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Finish repair

Piano finishes can be very difficult to work with, especially if the repair has to be done on-site. We do on-site and shop repairs, and refer to other specialists for more complex or unusual jobs.
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Restringing

When the life and sustain is gone from piano strings, they have to be replaced. This is the same as any other stringed instrument, except that a piano has well over 200 strings, at 100-200 lbs of tension each!
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Piano moving

We offer professional piano moving services for uprights and grands, throughout southern NJ and surrounding regions.
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Used pianos for sale

We regularly have used pianos for sale, both uprights and grands.

New page coming soon! In the meantime please contact us if you are looking for something.
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Piano Moving

Piano moving quote request

Piano moving rig

If you have a piano that needs to be moved, and you need it done carefully and professionally, we’re happy to help! We have moved hundreds of pianos, have an arsenal of tools and equipment to get the job done properly, and don’t move anything except pianos.

The form below is detailed and allows us to give you a very accurate cost estimate. If you are just looking to get a general idea about the cost of moving a piano, please read this article, which may help answer your questions: “How much does it cost to move a piano?”

Upright piano height is measured from the floor to the top of the cabinet.
Grand piano length is measured from the front of the keyboard to the furthermost point of the tail.
This is the number of steps (up or down) that the piano will have to traverse to get out the door, in addition to any steps outside to get to the driveway/parking area. Do not count steps anywhere that an elevator or ramp is available as an alternative.
This is the number of steps (up or down) that the piano will have to traverse to get to the door, in addition to any steps inside to get to the final location. Do not count steps anywhere that an elevator or ramp is available as an alternative.
Please list any other important information about the move. For example: Is there a deadline the piano must be moved by? Are there any tight turns or narrow hallways the piano will have to move through? Is there dirt, gravel, or grass the piano will have to move across to get to the house? Is parking available at or near the delivery location? Are there any steep driveways or sidewalks? These are all things that can impact the price, and the more information provided here the better.

IMPORTANT: The accuracy of the quote will be dependent on the accuracy of the information submitted, and quoted prices are subject to change if information is incomplete/inaccurate.

Drop your files here or click here to upload You can upload up to 4 files.
Please upload a clear picture of the piano. If you have any unusual conditions at the pickup or delivery location, such as tight turns or a lot of steps, please upload a picture of that as well to help obtain a more accurate quote.

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.

What COVID-19 precautions do you take?

I am fully vaccinated and make a habit of disinfecting the piano keyboard when I am done working as well. I am happy to wear a mask upon request, and can also offer contact-less payment and can accommodate most any other health or safety precautions requested.

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 logoThe 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 Differences Between Grand And Upright Pianos

The Differences Between Grand And Upright Pianos

A Brief History of the Piano

The first piano was created by an Italian named Bartolomeo Cristofori around 1700. His intention was to make an instrument with a more dynamic tone than the harpsichord, which does not allow musicians to have much control over the volume of the notes they are playing. It was originally called a pianoforte, because in Italian the terms “piano” and “forte” mean “soft” and “loud”, respectively.

Cristofori did this by changing the mechanism that causes the strings to vibrate. Whereas a harpsichord uses a plectrum to pluck its strings, Cristofori designed a system that uses a hammer that is pushed toward the string at first and then allowed to travel the rest of the way on its own momentum. This made the piano more responsive to the touch of the musician, since playing a note harder would result in a louder sound, and vice versa.

Modern pianos, though they have evolved over the years, still use the same concept. Allowing the musician to play both loudly and softly is still a core goal in the design of the instrument. At some point the strings were placed in a vertical position to save space, which led to the modern upright piano.

Grand Pianos

 

Side view of a grand piano action. (graphic from: https://www.pianoemporium.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/grand_piano_action.gif)

The design of a modern grand piano offers musicians the highest degree of responsiveness. This is due in large part to the grand piano using gravity to help the hammer return, which allows the musician to play faster and with more control. As you can see from the image above, the felt part of the hammer, which is the heaviest, is set horizontally in relation to the string. This means that once the hammer bounces off the string, gravity helps it quickly return to a position in which it can be played again.

The speed with which a note can be repeated is referred to as its repetition. This is important when gauging the quality of a piano, since better quality pianos have a higher degree of repetition.

The horizontal position of the hammer on a grand piano also makes grand piano actions feel smoother.

The biggest drawback of a grand piano is that it takes up a lot of space. In general, the longer a grand piano is the better it sounds and functions. The reason concert grand pianos are so large (they tend to be about 9 feet long) is that bigger pianos are much louder, and the longer keys allow energy to be transferred from the finger of the musician to the string more efficiently. The smaller a piano action is, the harder it is to switch between playing loudly or softly, and being able to switch between playing loudly and softly is part of the reason the piano was invented in the first place.

Here is a virtual representation of a grand piano action in action.

Upright Pianos

Side view of an upright piano action. (graphic from: https://rennerusa.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/main.jpg)

Upright pianos were created by taking the soundboard, plate and strings and making them vertical in order to save space. The hammer is also set vertically in relation to the string.

This means that uprights are not able to use gravity as effectively to help the hammer return to a position in which it can be played again.

Upright actions incorporate springs to help compensate for this lack of gravitational force. Even so, upright pianos generally have a slower rate of repetition than grand pianos, and are less responsive. They also tend to be on the smaller side, which negatively impacts their tone and feel.

Although uprights are, by design, not able to have the same advantages as grands, they are more practical for many players who simply want to enjoy a piano in their home. They are also common in music school practice rooms.

The average upright is cheaper than the average grand and takes up less space. In addition, the aforementioned disadvantages of uprights are not so severe as to interfere with a musician’s ability to play complicated pieces with expression. Uprights are even used for performances in certain situations.

Spinets


Side view of spinet action. (graphic from: https://pianoguidelessons.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/dropAct.gif)

The spinet is a type of upright that was designed to save even more space. Spinets have what is called a drop-action, which means that the action was taken below the level of the keys and connected to the keys with with a rod. They take up little space horizontally as well as vertically.

Spinets offer the least in terms of responsiveness, repetition, and tone. They are very small and the design of the action means more energy is lost in the transfer between the finger of the musician and the string. The awkward design also makes them difficult to maintain or repair.

As digital keyboard technology has gotten better, spinets have been pushed toward obsolescence. A modern digital keyboard does not take up much space and has a sound that is comparable to if not better than a spinet.

Conclusion

Bartolomeo Cristofori created the design for the piano to give keyboardists a greater range of expression. This led to the modern grand and upright piano.

There are three main types of pianos in circulation today. They are the grand, the upright, and the spinet. The design of the grand piano offers the best tone, feel, and repetition, but is expensive and takes up a lot of space. A standard upright is less expensive and takes up a lot less space, but sacrifices these attributes to some degree. A spinet costs the least and takes up the least amount space, but sacrifices the most in terms of tone, feel and repetition to achieve this.

5 things to consider when buying a used piano

5 things to consider when buying a used piano

grand piano

Pianos use a complex system comprised of thousands of parts to make music. They are a marvel of engineering, but all that complexity can present a problem to any layperson looking to purchase a quality used instrument. If a piano is reasonably well maintained, however, it can be passed on to multiple generations, and provide decades of enjoyment to music lovers.

In order to find such an instrument at a reasonable price it is important to keep a few things in mind:

1. If possible, hire a piano technician to do an evaluation.

Many technicians charge somewhere in the range of $100 to evaluate a piano. Since a decent used piano might cost thousands of dollars, having an experienced, trustworthy, and impartial technician go over it before you buy it could keep you from spending all that money on a lemon. I fully encourage you to research your purchase on your own, but a technician will still be better at spotting potential problems. For instance, when I evaluate a piano, I tune a couple of strings to see how well they hold. A layperson is not likely to be able to do this. Even with the proper equipment, one would need to have a feel for how a tuning pin should move in the block of wood in which it sits. If a piano can’t hold a tune this is obviously a serious problem, but it’s not one you would notice just by looking at it.

Also, whichever piano you end up with will likely need at least some work, even if it is just routine maintenance or tuning. A technician will be able to estimate what work is necessary and how much it will cost.

Getting a piano evaluated before purchase is always a wise choice.

2. Don’t assume that a used piano is in good condition just because it is in a store.

Don’t take it for granted that a store owner has taken the time to properly care for the used instruments in the store’s inventory. A piano on a showroom floor can have just as many problems as a piano in someone’s home. Store owners are just humans, and, like the rest of humanity, they run the gamut in terms of honesty and trustworthiness. If the store or the company that owns the store employs some well-trained technicians that is a good sign. If your purchase comes with a warranty for a year or more that is another good sign. However, you should still be on the lookout for potentially costly defects. Again, hiring a trustworthy and impartial technician to do an evaluation is always a good idea.

3. Beware of damage that may have occurred from the piano being housed in a poor environment.

The environment in which a piano resides has an enormous impact on its useful life. A piano is made from materials that are sensitive to climate conditions, such as wood, felt, and metal. If it sat for years in a place that was too humid, for instance, it could cause a wide range of problems from sluggish parts to mold. If its environment was too dry, it could cause issues like cracking in the wood or loose and wobbly parts. In some instances, like on the east coast of the U.S., it can be exposed to both extremes, which will wreak havoc on it. Pianos fare best in stable climates with a humidity level of about 50%. The humidity level being too low, or around 30% or below, presents the biggest problem, because that could seriously damage the structure of the instrument.

In addition, pianos make nice homes for pests like mice or insects. You can clear them out and possibly repair some of the damage they’ve done, but not always, and it’s definitely best to start out with an instrument that hasn’t been infested with vermin.

Try to get some information about the history of the piano you’re looking to buy. I’ve come across an unsettling number of people who think that a barn with no insulation or climate control is an acceptable place to store a piano (Hint: it’s not). Take a look inside the piano as well, because you can probably spot things like mold or evidence of infestation yourself, and you may be able to rule out a couple of options before getting a professional evaluation.

Anyone can see this piano is in bad shape. But more often, there may be problems inside that aren’t as obvious!

4. Understand the difference between reconditioning, rebuilding, and restoring.

You may hear terms like “reconditioned”, “rebuilt”, or “restored” on your quest for a used piano. These terms are sometimes used in confusing ways or even interchangeably, but they have specific meanings that are not interchangeable, and aspects such as pricing and quality are dependant on what was actually done to the intrument. The best way to think about these terms are as follows:

Reconditioning

This is the most common form of work done to prepare a used piano for sale and the least costly to the seller in terms of parts and labor. Reconditioning involves standard maintenance procedures, such as tuning and regulation, and minor repairs. This type of work should be done on pianos that are already in fair condition and have not suffered any structural damage or extensive damage to parts.

Rebuilding

Rebuilding is far more costly and labor intensive than reconditioning. During the course of a rebuilding, the rebuilders will do serious repairs to the instrument and will in many cases replace existing parts with new ones. They may even change certain characteristics of the original piano, such as the weight of the keys. This type of work done by someone with skill and experience can yield beautiful results. It can extend the life of a piano for decades, and can signifcantly reduce the price of a high end piano, like a Steinway B, compared to what it would cost new.

If the work is not done well, however, it could exacerbate existing problems, or even not function properly at all. Fixing a poorly rebuilt piano is a major headache because problems pop up everywhere, and the best you can usually hope for is something that barely works in the best circumstances.

Restoration

Restoration is costly in terms of parts and labor as well. Unlike rebuilding, however, a restorer will stay close to the original design of the piano and try to use as many existing parts as possible. This is often done on old pianos that have unique features or historical or sentimental value.

5. Play it!

One of the best ways to get a feel for the quality of an instrument is simply to play it. Play every key on the piano and make sure the pedals are doing their jobs. If you already play the piano, play something you know well, and play the same thing on every piano, so the differences really stand out. While you play it, think critically about how it feels and sounds. Do the keys feel heavy or light? How quickly are you able to repeat notes? Is the tone harsh or mellow or somewhere in between? Many of these things are highly subjective, and only you can truly know what you’re looking for.

Playing it is a quick and easy way to get a basic feel for how it is functioning overall. If the keys and pedals are working smoothly and you are able to repeat notes quickly it may be in pretty good shape. Listen for unwanted sounds as well. When parts of the structure of the piano come loose they will often make buzzing or rattling noises while someone is playing. These issues can be costly and difficult to fix, so it’s good to be aware of them as soon as possible.

Conclusion

Buying a used piano can be a little overwhelming if you are taking it seriously. There is a lot to watch out for. Doing your own research on the instrument before you buy it is always a good idea, but you need some training to properly evaluate a potential purchase. If you keep the above points in mind, especially hiring a technician, you will greatly increase your chances of finding a quality instrument. Choosing a piano is a fun and exciting process, and totally worth it if you enjoy music. Happy hunting!

Author: Andrew Larzelere

Can I tune my piano with a guitar tuner?

Can I tune my piano with a guitar tuner?

Many people wonder if they can simply tune their pianos with a guitar tuner. It’s a question I’ve asked myself, before I became a piano technician. The first tuning I ever did was on a little Schumann grand piano with a guitar tuning app.

The short answer is yes; but it’s highly inadvisable. It will sound awful to anyone with a decent ear, and downright unacceptable to piano players. There are subjective elements to tuning instruments, and an “accurate” tuning is a slightly shifting scale. A good tuning on any given instrument, including pianos, will take into account the design of the instrument and the mechanism it uses to produce sound. For example, a pipe organ is tuned differently than a piano because a pipe organ uses air forced through pipes, and a piano uses a felt hammer which is hurled at a tense wire.

The key difference between instruments from the perspective of tuning is something called inharmonicity. An instrument is inharmonic if the tones it produces don’t line up with the harmonic series, which is an important factor in deciding the best tuning. There are varying degrees of inharmonicity in instruments, and a piano has more inharmonicity than a guitar. This means that pianos are tuned differently than guitars, so something that is meant for tuning guitars won’t work well on pianos.

If you want to go down the rabbit hole of the harmonic series, inharmonicity, and how they affect tuning, the following will get you on your way.

The Harmonic Series

When a note is played on an instrument, your ear is actually hearing a stack of different frequencies at the same time. The range of frequencies contained in that note is known as the harmonic series. It is also referred to as the overtone series or the partial series, because, apparently, having one name for it isn’t complicated enough. For the purposes of this article I will refer to it as the harmonic series, and the specific frequencies within it as harmonics.

When the note C is played, for instance, what that note consists of is a stack of frequencies with C at the bottom. Ascending from that first C, the stack goes like this:

harmonic series of C

(graphic from: https://www.beyondmusictheory.org/the-harmonic-series/)

As you may have noticed, all the notes in a C major chord, and then some, are present. This natural phenomenon is deeply intertwined with the formation of music. The frequencies in the series are also mathematically related to each other. The 2nd harmonic is roughly twice the frequency in hertz of the 1st harmonic, and in musical terms is one octave up. So, if our sample note is C4, the 1st harmonic would be about 262hz and the 2nd harmonic would be about 524hz. The 3rd harmonic is the first G after the 2nd harmonic and the 4th harmonic is two octaves above the 1st harmonic, or about 1048hz.

Here it is represented on a keyboard:

Overtone series of C

(graphic from: https://scienceofmusicperformance.blogspot.com/2015/10/harmonic-overtone-series-lesson-plan.html)

The first 6 harmonics in the series are vital in determining the best tuning for a piano. When tuning a C5 on a piano, for instance, the tuner has to make sure that the 1st harmonic is tuned to the 2nd harmonic in the C4 below it in a way that is pleasing to the ear, and so on and so forth. This, as you will see, is not always straightforward. That’s where inharmonicity comes into play.

Inharmonicity

Inharmonicity refers to the fact that, depending on the mechanism with which the note is sounded, the harmonic series shifts slightly. To return to the example from before, the harmonic series from a C4 played on a pipe organ doesn’t exactly match the harmonic series from a C4 played on a piano. The values in hertz of the harmonic series on the pipe organ are identical to the values of a pure harmonic series, where every octave up is twice the value of the octave below it. The harmonic series on a piano, however, is stretched, meaning that in many cases the 2nd harmonic is more than twice the frequency of the 1st harmonic, and all the other harmonics usually have higher values as well. This is because hurling a felt hammer at a tense wire produces a more chaotic result than continuously forcing air through a pipe, or picking a string with a guitar pick.

Different instruments have different levels of inharmonicity inherent in their design. Bowed string instruments, brass instruments, and reed instruments are perfectly harmonic, meaning they match the purely mathematical harmonic series perfectly. Plucked instruments, such as guitars and harpsichords, are nearly harmonic. Pitched percussion instruments, which is the category that the piano falls into, are approximately harmonic. This means that pianos have more inharmonicity than guitars, which is why a guitar tuner won’t give you a good piano tuning. The harmonic series from a note played on a guitar is different than the harmonic series from a note played on a piano, and a good tuning needs to take that into account.

Aural Piano Tuning

When piano technicians tune a piano aurally, meaning by ear, they listen to how the harmonics in the notes they are tuning interact with each other. For the sake of simplicity, which is desperately needed when trying to wade into the seething waters of tuning theory, we will stick with the 1st harmonic and the 2nd harmonic. Just keep in mind that piano technicians and sophisticated piano tuning apps use multiple harmonics to determine the best way forward when tuning.

When tuning a C5 to a C4 on a piano, for example, the tuner has to take into account how the 1st harmonic of the C5 interacts with the 2nd harmonic of the C4. Since C5 is one octave above C4 and the 2nd harmonic of the C4 is one octave above its 1st harmonic, the frequencies of the 1st harmonic of C5 and the 2nd harmonic of C4 need to be in tune with one another. If they aren’t in tune they will produce a rapid wah-wah-wah sound that is unpleasant to the ear, which piano technicians call “beating.”

Since a piano has a high degree of inharmonicity, the frequency of the 2nd harmonic of the C4 will usually be more than twice frequency of the 1st harmonic. In musical terms it will be sharp compared to what it should be in a perfect harmonic series. This means that the C5 that is being tuned must also be sharp, or it will cause beating. If there is too much beating in the tuning of a piano it will sound muddy and inarticulate. Furthermore, that means that the C5 on a piano will most likely be tuned sharper than the C5 on a guitar, because that will help the piano sound more in tune with itself.

So, all things considered, a guitar tuner is a poor substitute for the tuning you would get from an experienced technician. A well-crafted piano tuning app will give you the measurements for a good tuning, which is a good start, but tuning a piano well also requires a certain skill set that can take years to cultivate.

Author: Andrew Larzelere

What do you do with an old piano?

Tens of thousands of new acoustic pianos are sold every year in the US. While this may sound like a lot, changing domestic norms and the development of electronic pianos have brought acoustic piano sales down from many times that amount a few decades ago. Peaks of over 300,000 piano sales per year in the US were hit in the early 1900’s and again in the post-WW2 boom.

One thing that has not changed: pianos do not live forever. And eventually, usually decades after they are bought, they have to be disposed of somehow. The chances are, you have stumbled across this page because you are trying to figure out what to do with an old piano from the boom years many decades ago that is now past any musical life.

Don’t be discouraged by this – no manufactured object lasts forever, and most fall to pieces or stop working much more quickly than an acoustic piano. I still regularly service pianos that are over 100 years old. Do you have any working appliances in your home that are over 100 years old? Likely not. Pianos are incredible instruments that will last more than a lifetime if well-made and well-maintained.

Still, nearly every piano will eventually reach its end of usefulness. And what makes pianos difficult to get rid of is their size and weight. Further complicating the situation is that it may not be immediately obvious whether a piano is actually at the end of its life or whether it just needs to be serviced. So let’s tackle that question first. (If you already know your piano has no future, skip to the next section.)

How can I tell if my piano has any potential still or not?

  • How big is it? As a general rule, smaller pianos are less desirable and musical. This is especially true of spinets – very short (3ft or less) upright pianos with compressed internal components and other design compromises. A larger upright or a grand piano might have more potential, although it’s no guarantee.
  • How does it look? No one wants a banged up piano with broken cabinet parts and chips and dents in it. While those things can be repaired if the piano has enough going for it otherwise, it’s a big drag on any chances of it getting sold or of anyone wanting it in their living room.
  • Does it work? This doesn’t require a PhD to figure out. Play every key on the piano and see if it works (the key goes down and comes back up, and makes a noise, for starters). If someone musical is around that can test some octaves and some chords, even better.
  • Do repairs make financial sense? Ultimately, if you think the piano might have some potential, you’ll need to just hire a piano technician to look it over and give a professional opinion and any repair estimates. But if you look online and see other pianos like yours being given away for free, it’s probably a sign that it’s not worth a lot of repair investment. This is especially true at this point in history, where millions of mediocre pianos that were made to satisfy sales booms in the 50’s and 60’s are reaching the end of their useful life.
Larger uprights and grands, familiar names like Steinway and Yamaha, and good condition cabinets are all factors that may make a piano worth some investment, even if it’s old.
Pianos more than 50 years old, especially small uprights & spinets, and especially those with finish damage or discoloration, may be at the end of their practical life.

OK. My piano is junk, and I just need to get rid of it. What now?

There are a few things you can try, depending on the piano, where you live, and what manpower you have available:

  • List it for free on online marketplaces. Be honest about the condition of the piano and include pictures of any damage or problems. You may have a taker or you may not. Please do not try to pass it off as a donation to a unsuspecting nonprofit that knows even less about it than you do. This is not kind or helpful! Most nonprofits won’t take pianos anyway, unless they have someone that can evaluate it first, but be a good neighbor and don’t try to pass off junk to someone else, if you know that’s what it is.
  • Pay to have it removed. It may be simplest, safest, and even cheapest to just pay professionals to haul it away. Many removal services also do their best to recycle what they can of the piano, which is better than landfilling it. If you are in southern NJ, we offer piano removal services. Check current pricing on our website.
  • Take it to your local dump/landfill. Chances are, there are either municipal or private disposal sites within driving distance if you do some local searches. You may pay a nominal fee for disposals in some cases.
  • Take it apart yourself. If you are handy with tools and want an interesting project, then take the piano apart yourself! You will want to have good hand and eye protection, and if you attempt to remove the strings you should do some additional research first to make sure you understand what you’re getting into. But a quick search on Pinterest or Google will show you dozens of creative furniture projects made out of repurposed pianos. The cast iron plate inside the piano, nearly half of the overall weight, can also be taken to a scrap yard to get a few extra dollars in your pocket!

How much does it cost to move a piano?

Moving a piano is unlike any other type of moving. It can’t be compared with any other type of furniture, nor can it be compared with any other type of musical instrument. Many people successfully move their upright pianos by themselves, but there are also many pitfalls and many reasons to hire a professional – particularly if you have a grand piano. Prices vary widely across the country, and depending on logistical details at each location, but upright piano moving prices may range from $150-400 for typical local or regional moves, while similar grand piano moves may range at least $100 more due to the break-down and setup that is required.

Moving a grand piano safely requires good equipment and careful procedure

The smallest upright pianos still weigh in at around 400 pounds, while baby grands may easily weigh 600-700 pounds, and larger grands even more. Full length concert grands can weigh as much as 1,500 pounds.

The weight of a piano is mostly in its plate – a cast iron frame inside the piano (usually painted gold/bronze) that essentially holds the entire piano together and allows the thousands of pounds of tension in the strings to remain stable. For this reason, there is really no effective way to make a piano lighter for moving. Removing cabinet parts, hardware, even keys and action, makes almost no discernible weight difference. The weight has to be dealt with . . . and carefully.

Why is piano moving so expensive?

Many people are surprised by the cost of piano moving. It doesn’t seem complicated – maybe you’ve even moved your piano yourself before with reasonable success. There are a lot of factors, but here’s a quick break-down:

  • Travel time: a piano moving crew will be 2-4 people, who are all on the clock for the entirety of the piano moving job, including all travel time to, from, and between.
  • Liability: there is an immense amount of liability in piano moving, and not just for the piano – as you can surely imagine, a piano falling on or crashing into things (or people) can cause a lot of damage. Good piano movers carry good liability insurance, but work even harder to never have to use it.
  • Equipment: moving anything well and safely requires good equipment, and pianos even more so. This goes for everything from piano boards and dollies, to the trucks and trailers being used for transport.
  • Business overhead: this goes for every type of business, and especially any in-home service. Remember, the hourly rate you’re being charged is not anyone’s hourly wage. That hourly rate has to cover all expenses of running the entire business before it even begins to pay anyone’s salary or benefits.

In conclusion, the more you care about your piano, the more you should consider having it professionally moved. Some general movers have significant experience with pianos and carry all the needed equipment – but in most cases, if you are going to pay to have your piano moved, you would be best to hire piano moving specialists. You might be surprised to find one nearer than you think. Start by asking your piano technician. Or do a Google search in your area. And of course, if your move is in southern New Jersey, well, you can start right here.

What is a Registered Piano Technician (RPT)?

Registered Piano Technician is a technical certification awarded by the Piano Technicians Guild to piano technicians who have passed a series of exams to demonstrate competency. There are currently three exams: a written exam, a 4-hour tuning exam, and a 4-hour technical exam (demonstrating various common repairs).

There are no government bodies regulating or certifying piano technicians in the US. As a result, the Piano Technicians Guild was founded in 1958 (with the roots of the organization going back to 1910), to provide a common space for piano technicians to learn from one another, and later, to provide a standardized competency certification.

There are other organizations in North America and worldwide, but the Piano Technicians Guild is by far the largest and most well-established, and for that reason I chose to complete the PTG’s Registered Piano Technician certification.

It is very important that you hire a piano technician whom you can trust! I view the RPT certification as one of several ways that I communicate to my customers my seriousness about the craft, and my intention to care for their pianos properly.

Ben Patterson, RPT

RPT Logo   

Loss of tone on bass strings?

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 ways to do this, and a good cleaning can yield surprising improvements in tone quality, at a lower cost than string replacement. To be thorough, however, the strings have to be removed from the piano.

So there you have it. If your piano has a tubby-sounding bass, poor sustain, or just in general a dead tone in the bass, there are things that can be done! Talk to your piano technician about the options.

What is a pitch raise, and why is it necessary?

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 pianos do not go uniformly out of tune. As you can see in the picture, the notes on this neglected piano vary from 90 cents flat to 176 cents flat, just within a couple of octaves. That’s the difference of almost an entire note! Obviously, tuning the piano at a pitch lower than A440 (known as “floating” the pitch) is not a good option, since it would still require massive adjustment of some notes for the piano to be in tune with itself. And large variances like this are quite common in instruments that have not been regularly tuned.

Keep on top of your piano tuning! You don’t want to be in the position this piano is in, because the piano will take multiple tunings to be stable again, and the longevity of the instrument will be negatively affected.

Heat vents vs. pianos

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 tuning and regulation.

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!