Piano Service by Rose
Servicing Pianos in Northwestern VT since 2003
Steps Toward a Stable and Lasting Tuning
Myth #1: A piano tuning includes taking care of sticking keys, squeaking pedals etc.
Fact: Technically, a tuning only involves tightening or loosening the strings to achieve the desired tension (without going into too much detail) which when done correctly, results in a properly tuned piano. Tuning the 230 strings (on an average piano) is like tuning 55 violins.
Other repairs/adjustments might be done without an additional fee by another piano technician as a favor, but they are in the right to charge extra for that service.
Myth #2: You don't have to tune a piano unless you move it.
Fact: Moving a piano can put it out of tune, especially if it's moved roughly, or over long distances, or to a different climate- even from room to room. However, there are many other things that make a piano go out of tune. These include loose tuning pins, hard playing, changes in humidity, and the 18 tons + of tension constantly pulling on the strings.
Myth #3: A piano tuning should last for at least a year- if not several years.
Fact: As mentioned in myth #2, humidity changes will affect the tuning, sometimes within days! A piano tuned in December in Vermont, will go more and more flat until the end of March. The humidity in April, May and June will sometimes bring it back in tune. However, the piano will go more and more sharp through September. Then the heating season will start the drying process in October and November. By December, it may be somewhat back in tune. These conditions vary widely from piano to piano. Other factors that may affect tuning longevity are the tremendous tension pulling on the strings, hard playing, loose tuning pins, a poorly-performed tuning, a poor piano design, etc. In other words, a typical piano goes in and out of tune, but- given enough time- it goes out and stays out.
Myth #4: If I'm not playing my piano, I don't have to tune it.
Fact: Whether or not you play your piano, the 18 tons + of tension on the strings will pull the piano more and more flat over time. If you wait several years between tunings, the piano will not tune as nicely as it would if it were closer to being "on pitch". It will almost always need to be tuned more than once before it becomes accustomed- once again- to holding all that tension. Additionally, there is more risk for string breakage when they have to be stretched back into tune.
Myth #5. If I haven't had my piano tuned for a long time, one tuning will make it sound "as good as new".
Fact: Picture a lawn that hasn't been mowed for 5 years. One lawn-mowing will not make it look its best. Although the physics of piano tuning are different from lawn mowing, the fact remains that a badly-neglected situation will not be made perfect in one visit. There are many forces acting on a piano. It has to be conditioned to holding 18 tons + of tension. [See also myth #4.]
Myth #6. If a piano has a cracked soundboard, it's no good.
Fact: Usually a high quality soundboard is made of solid spruce and solid wood can crack. Many good pianos have soundboard cracks. However, if the ribs are pulling away from the soundboard due to the cracks and/or bad glue joints you may experience buzzing or loss of tone. What you don't want is a badly cracked pinblock. What's worse, and perhaps fatal to the piano, is a cracked plate.
More helpful information:
If you have just moved a piano into your home, it is a good idea to let it sit for at least three weeks before having it tuned. This way the piano has time to acclimate to the new environment.
I always preform a quick visual assessment and tuning pin test on a piano that I am not familiar with. I do this before attempting to tune it, and I will alert you if I find any structural damage. Occasionally, certain problems are not evident until the piano is tuned or brought back to pitch, but this situation is rare.
I will happily help you to choose the ideal tuning schedule for your piano. There are certain times of year that are not as good for tuning stability because of a changing climate. HOWEVER if you have an event, stable climate or "pianolifesaver" system/"dampp-chaser", I'm not as concerned and will tune for you during these times. The climate can vary from year to year so this timing can be vague. It's a good idea to keep on your regular tuning schedule. The ideal situation is to tune the piano close to the same hygrometer reading, every time.
Fluctuation in humidity levels will not only knock your piano out of tune, but it can also cause serious damage that affects the piano's structural integrity. Minor damage due to humidity fluctuation includes "sticking keys", sluggish action, and loose screws. More serious damage that can occur may include issues such as string corrosion, glue joint failures that cause loud buzzing, cracked bridges, cracked soundboards, and loose tuning pins.
For those of you who would like to see this in action, I've provided a handy video that will break it down.
Start at the 2 minute mark if you are short on time.
Low humidity-pitch goes down
High humidity-pitch goes up
The sample on the right shows the soundboard contracted during a time of low humidity. There is less tension on the string, so the pitch sounds lower (again, greatly exaggerated).
The sample on the left illustrates the the bow or "crown" in a soundboard during a time of high humidity (greatly exaggerated). There is more tension on the string so the pitch sounds higher.
Here is a diagram of a cross section of a vertical piano's soundboard, bridge and strings:
How does my piano go out of tune?
A tuned piano is under a significant amount of tension. (The average medium size piano has about 230 strings, each string having about 165 pounds of tension, with the combined pull of all strings equaling approximately eighteen tons!) As the piano goes through climate change, the wood expands and contracts. As it does so, the tension on the piano flexes, changing the way the tension is spread across the instrument (hence, changing the tuning).