Frequently Asked Questions

Tuning a piano means setting each pin and string in a certain way, to allow the piano to sound in harmony. There are over 200 strings in the piano, each attached to a tuning pin, each needing adjustment during tuning. Every string needs to be under a certain amount of tension to be considered in tune, and the process of tuning involves raising or lowering that tension, and then setting each tuning pin to hold the tension.

 

Standard pitch is A=440, meaning that when the A above middle C on the piano is correctly tuned to 440, that string vibrates 440 times per second. This is the starting point for tuning a piano, and the rest of the piano is set in reference to that A=440. This standard is recognized throughout the world, though there are occasions where the pitch might be set differently. There are a few pianos that are recommended by their manufacturers to be set as high as A=443, but for the vast majority of pianos, the recommended standard is A=440. There are also a variety of pitch settings used by symphony orchestras around the world, some using A=442 or A=443, but some use A=440 as well.

In general, pianos should be set at the international standard of A=440. When a piano is allowed to fall far below that (A=436 or lower), this can have a detrimental effect on the piano itself, the sound the piano makes, and the person playing it. When the strings are set at A=440, the correct amount of tension is put on the strings, allowing them to sound the way they were meant to sound. A piano that is kept too low in pitch will sound dull and lifeless, and could be discouraging to the pianist. Young children taking piano lessons should have a piano to practice on that is tuned as often as possible, since they are developing a sense of pitch and musicianship along with the physical ability to play the piano.

 

The amount that a piano is being played has little effect on whether the piano will stay in tune or not. The piano will go out of tune, regardless of how much it is played. The piano is a living, breathing thing, made of thousands of wooden, felt, plastic and metallic parts, and responds to every change of humidity and temperature in the environment surrounding it. The wooden bridges on the soundboard hold tension on the strings, keeping the piano in tune. When the soundboard and bridges shift (either swelling from high humidity, or shrinking from low humidity), the tension of the strings changes right along with it, therefore throwing the piano out of tune. Every change in the humidity and temperature causes the wooden parts in the piano to shrink and swell, thereby changing the tension of the strings, causing the piano to go out of tune.

While there is no way to completely prevent every little change of temperature and humidity in the room, you can certainly make the situation better. Try not to open windows in the room, as this will invite changes from outside air to affect the piano. Don't put the piano in any location where hot or cold air will blow directly on it from heating or air conditioning ducts. If the changes in the room's environment are too drastic for the piano to hold its pitch for very long, consider having a Dampp-Chaser Humidity Control system installed in the piano. (More on that subject below...)

 

The general recommendation from major manufacturers is 2 to 4 times per year. This will help keep your piano from needing any pitch adjustments. If it has been more than a year since your piano was tuned, it is possible that the piano will need more than one tuning to bring it back to standard pitch. Think of tuning as being equivalent to changing the oil in your vehicle. If you really want to protect the investment that you made when you bought the vehicle, you'll make sure it gets its oil changed regularly. The same idea applies to your piano. If you really want to protect your investment, and to make sure that your piano lasts as long as it possibly can, working up to its highest potential, you have to make sure you get it tuned and serviced regularly.

 

In the first 1-3 years of its life, since the strings are still stretching, the piano needs to be tuned 3 to 4 times per year to maintain stability. New pianos that are not tuned at least 3 times within the first year will have wild swings in pitch, and will need pitch corrections when they are tuned.

 

If your piano hasn't been tuned in over a year, you can expect that it may have dropped significantly in pitch, and may need a pitch adjustment, which requires extra time tuning. The severity of the drop in pitch will determine how much extra time the tuning will take.

 

Moving a piano can expose the piano to changes in humidity and temperature, which, as stated above, can throw a piano out of tune. If you are moving a piano into your home, it is ideal to wait a few days or so to tune it, so the piano has a chance to adjust to its new environment.

 

Most piano key tops these days are made of plastic, and can be cleaned of fingerprints with a lightly damp soft cloth, and a mild detergent. Make sure to fully wring out the cloth before using it on the keys. If there's something other than fingerprints on the keys, try rubbing alcohol to clean them.

Old ivory keys should be cleaned with a cleaner such as Cory Key-Brite, or a specialty keytop polishing paste. Rubbing alcohol can also be used sparingly to clean ivory keys.

Even if kept closed, pianos can still acquire a surprising amount of dust and dirt, which can be swept or vacuumed out. Doing this regularly can help keep the piano looking as new as possible.

If you must use a furniture polish on the outer finish of the piano, make sure you use a product that does not contain silicone. There are a number of products on the market that are made specifically for piano finish care, and I highly recommend the Cory Piano Care line of products. Please see www.corycare.com for more information on these products.

 

Regulation is adjusting the many thousands of parts in the action of the piano to make sure that they are working as intended. Each key is made up of many working parts, and sometimes those parts become slightly out of place. This is primarily due to playing the piano, as well as humidity/temperature changes, in some instances. This can affect how easy or difficult the piano is to play, and even how the piano sounds. Each part of the piano is set to a certain specification before it leaves the factory, and regulating a piano involves making sure that these parts are put back as close to specification as possible.

Pianos are regulated before they leave the factory, so a brand new piano should not need a full regulation, barring any unforeseen circumstances, for at least a few years. It is, ultimately, up to the piano owner to decide how, when and if the piano should be regulated, but in order to keep your piano at its prime level of playing, it should be regulated at least every 5 to 10 years.

 

Voicing usually goes along with regulation, though in some cases, it can be done as a separate job. As a piano is played, the hammers are constantly striking the strings, which will wear grooves into the soft felt of the hammers. Over time, the harder felt just below the surface of the hammers can get exposed, thus leading to an uneven sound throughout the piano, as the grooves on certain hammers will be deeper than others. If you are noticing that some keys are sounding brighter or more mellow than others, your piano probably needs to be voiced. If the hammers haven't been worn down too much, they can be filed down to make a new, clean hammer surface, and the tone of the piano can be evened out.

 

This system is installed inside your piano (upright) or underneath the piano (grand) to control the humidity levels within your piano. The system will maintain a consistent relative humidity, no matter what the external conditions are. There are three main components to the system: a humidifier (which moisturizes the wood of the piano when the humidity drops), a dehumidifier (which takes moisture away from the piano when humidity levels rise), and a humidistat (the "brains" of the system, which senses which component of the system to use). This system is recommended by most piano manufacturers, including Steinway, Yamaha, Baldwin and Mason & Hamlin.

Benefits of the system include a more stabilized pitch (the piano won't be as susceptible to humidity changes, therefore tunings will be more stable), minimizes buildup of rust on the strings and other metal parts in the piano, and protects the wood of the piano from drying out due to low humidity. Installation of the system takes 1 to 3 hours, depending on your piano.