How Often and When Should I Have My Piano Tuned?
When to tune your piano obviously depends on your local climate and how responsive your piano is to humidity changes. How often you have the piano tuned will depend not only on the piano and the humidity in your home, but also on your ear (what level of discord you can tolerate) and on your budget. Four times a year is ideal, but impractical for most folks. The rule of thumb is twice a year. If the piano is rarely used, once a year may suffice, but less than that is not recommended.
This article includes material edited from The Piano Book by Larry Fine (Jamaica Plaine, MA: Brookside Press, 1987)ick on the "Edit Text" button to add your text.
Care and Maintenance of the Piano
The piano is a remarkably durable device despite its complexity. However, there are certain steps that you can take to ensure that your piano will last the longest possible amount of time and perform at its best.
1) Keep your piano out of direct sunlight. Direct sunlight will cause a localized area of dry moisture content in the air. In fact, bright direct sun can subject your piano or any other object it falls upon to conditions that equal or surpass that of the Sahara desert.
2) Keep your piano out of drafts of outside air. Just as direct sunlight can cause a dry area, air wafting in through an outside door or window can subject your piano to a sudden moist flow of air. Pianos are made of wood and wood expands and contracts when the moisture content in the air around it changes. The finish material that is on the wood cannot expand and contract as much as the wood can so your finish will degrade if the wood is asked to move too much. Also the glue joints of your piano will eventually fail if subjected to extremes of moist or dry air. In addition the tone of hammers can vary between extremes of humidity and the action can perform differently. Sticking keys is one of the problems that crops up in moist environments. Player pianos can develop leaks if the wood is subjected to extreme swings that cause the air chambers to crack open or the pouches to shrink.
3) Keep the air around the piano clean. Contaminants such as dust or cigarette smoke will build up on the piano in places that are too complex to be able to remove it without rebuilding. After a time the sound board will become ugly with dirt and grime as well as the plate, keys, action, etc if the air in the room is full of these contaminants.
4) Keep your piano tuned at least once a year. If your piano is tuned frequently, the tuner doesn't have to move the tuning pins very much at all. The less the pins and strings have to be moved the more likely they are to stay where you put them. The result of this is that your piano will stay in tune better if tuned at least once a year.
5) Have the hammers reshaped and replaced as they become worn. Grooved piano hammers spoil the tone of the piano and can cause premature wear on the shanks and flanges (the hinges that they swing on.) The grooves in a worn hammer mate with the strings like the teeth in a comb. But when you press the una corda pedal these grooves are shifted on a grand. When a badly grooved hammer strikes the strings in the shifted position it puts stress on the flanges as the hammer tries to slide sideways into the grooves. On an upright, if the hammers are badly grooved and the action parts happen to become misaligned with use (not uncommon) then the same problem will develop. In addition, if the hammers are reshaped and revoiced frequently as they wear then the technician is better able to quickly and cheaply restore them to a very good condition. Hammers that have been allowed to get really bad are very hard to bring back, if they can be brought back at all.
6) Have the action regulated about every five years to ten years depending on how much use it gets. For a concert artist who plays his/her piano for eight hours a day, the action may need to be regulated several times a year to keep it performing at its best.
7) By far the most important factor causing pianos to go out of tune is the change in humidity from season to season that occurs in most temperate climates, affecting all pianos, good and bad, new and old, played and unplayed. The soundboard, glued down around its perimeter and bellied like a diaphragm in the center, swells up with moisture in the humid season and pushes up on the strings via the bridges on which the strings rest. In the dry season, the opposite happens. The soundboard releases its moisture to the air and subsides, releasing the pressure on the strings, which then falls in pitch. Unfortunately, the strings don't rise and fall by exactly the same amount at the same time. The process is more random than that, with the result that the strings no longer sound in harmony with one another and need retuning. An unplayed piano will still go out of tune seasonally, and some pianos go out of tune more than others.
There is a system for humidity control made by Dampp Chaser that can help to keep the damage described about from occurring to your action, sound board and pin block. These systems are excellent in preserving your piano and are available at very reasonable costs. However, the absolute best way to preserve your piano is to maintain a very even humidity in your home. A humidity level of 42% is ideal for pianos. It is also ideal for your other furniture - not to mention how great it it for your sinuses!! By installing good quality humidity control into your home you can ensure that your piano will live long and happily. Also, it is best to keep your piano away from heat sources, sunlight, outside doors, open windows, leaky windows or doors and outside walls that don't have modern vapor barriers built into them.
All you have to do is see a piano that has been kept for fifty years in a room that is very clean and never swings in humidity in the slightest to understand how important humidity and dust control are. Such a piano will look nearly new. On the other hand, I live in a part of the country that is famous for dramatic humidity swings through the seasons and it is more common than not for me to find pianos that have suffered terribly at the hands of father time.
8) One last and very important point to make in the preservation of pianos. Never try to move a piano yourself and never try to restore or refinish one yourself. Pianos should be moved by professionals. They are far too heavy, bulky and expensive to be moved by amateurs safely. Also, piano restoration is a craft that takes years to perfect. A poorly done, amateur refinish or restoration attempt will increase the actual cost of having it done later by a professional and will also reduce the fair market value of the piano.