Virtually all piano manufacturers and technicians agree that pianos should be tuned at least once per year. This is a good benchmark. More frequent tunings are often necessary for churches, schools, or private studios where pianos get heavier use and/or less climate control. New pianos also require more frequent tuning for the first few years – most manufacturers recommend 2-4 tunings per year at first. For the average home piano that is not subjected to heavy use or extreme temperature and humidity swings, one or two tunings per year is usually appropriate.
This depends largely on the build of 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, which leads to issues such as the loosening of the pin block that results in a drop in the piano’s overall pitch.
- Dust accumulates, slowing down moving parts inside the piano and eventually leading to keys and other action components sticking due to the buildup.
- 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.
The most basic and important part of 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 our 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, We consider an annual piano servicing appointment an opportunity to make sure every aspect of the piano is functioning optimally. We frequently fix or adjust small problems as we go, and for larger or systemic issues, we 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 the benefits of modern technology. We use electronic tuning devices for certain parts of the piano tuning, but we also constantly check its results by ear. There are also parts of the tuning that we 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 to 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 affect 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. 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 we 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 heating, 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.
Again, often a simple fix, but best taken care of by a professional technician during routine repairs. I do not charge extra for minor repairs or adjustments during a piano tuning appointment.
To determine a piano’s age in the absence of official documentation, the make or brand of the piano is needed, along with a serial number. Serial numbers are found in a number of different places. For grand pianos, the most common is directly underneath the music desk, etched into the brass-painted plate next to the tuning pins, or in the pin block itself. For uprights, it can sometimes be found on the back of the piano or inside the top of the piano, in the pin block area.
The make and serial number of a piano can be used on websites such as Bluebook of Pianos to look up the age, although the number of brands represented is limited. For other piano brands, 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 most cases, customers with multiple pianos being serviced in the same location and same appointment are eligible for a discount. Also, we have discounted pricing plans available for concert venues, churches, studios, or other institutions that contract regularly weekly or monthly piano services.
Our technicians are in contact primarily with your piano, and as a result make a habit of disinfecting the piano keyboard when done working. We are also happy to wear a mask upon request, and can also offer contactless payment and accommodate most any other health or safety precautions required. Feel free to contact us ahead of your appointment if you have any questions.
We are South Jersey’s trusted piano experts
Contact us today for all your piano-related inquiries and service requests