How to Keep a Piano in Tune
Do Pianos Go Out of Tune?
To Keep Your Piano In Tune
Do Pianos Go Out of Tune?
There are several factors
that can alter the tuning of a piano: humidity, temperature, moving,
excessively hard playing, aged or worn materials, and abuse.
To Keep Your Piano In Tune
There are three key ingredients
for keeping a piano in tune: location, humidity control and frequent tuning.
Humidity fluctuations is the number one cause
of changes in piano tuning. When the soundboard, pinblock and bridge
are in a moist environment, the wood cells absorb the moisture and swell
up, and as they expand they pull the strings tighter, causing the piano
to go sharp. Logically, if the piano moves to a drier atmosphere,
the wood shrinks, the strings loosen and go flat, and sometimes cracks
and splits may open and start buzzing. Every seasonal change -- every
wet season and dry season -- alters a piano's tuning, and on a smaller
Temperature is somewhat related to humidity.
When the steel strings heat up, they loosen and go flat. When they
get cold, they tighten and the piano goes sharp. Every winter and
summer, day and night, wood stove crackling or doors and windows wide open,
the temperature is in constant flux. A piano on stage in an auditorium
or sitting in a church spends all week in a cold environment, until Sunday
or the evening of the concert when the heat is turned on, the hot stage
lights shine down and the warm audience enters and breathes hot humid air
into the room. The tuning makes a major shift.
Moving always knocks a piano out of tune.
The position of the tuning pins in the pinblock and the wires over the
bridge pins is quite sensitive. Any time a piano is tilted or jostled,
there is bound to be a shift in these positions. If a piano is moved
from one environment to another, then there may also be a change in humidity
Excessively hard playing causes a piano to
go out of tune when the force of the hammer is strong enough actually to
stretch the speaking length of the string enough to pull it over the friction
Many materials can become aged or worn.
Those specifically related to tuning stability are generally wood, although
some metal parts can give as well. In particular, the pinblock can
become split, or the tuning pins can become loose in their holes from repeated
tunings or wood shrinkage. The bridges can split, usually along the
line of the bridge pins; as the strings are tightened during tuning, the
pins then move and do not keep the piano wire in place. Sometimes
V-bars, agraffes, and hitch pins can bend or move as well.
Abuse of the piano or the tuning can also
be a cause of a piano's going out of tune; avoiding abuse is common
sense for proper piano care and maintenance.
Location is important. The ideal situation
for a piano is a room with constant temperature and humidity. Avoid
proximity to frequently open doors and windows, to heaters and fireplaces,
to the steam from kitchens and bathrooms, and direct exposure to the sun.
Humidity control is now a realistic possibility
almost regardless of location. Since it is not always practical to
keep a room or a large space heated or dry, it makes sense and "cents"
to localize the treatment. A covered piano equipped with a humidity-control
device will hold its tune remarkably well. (For more on relative
humidity, click here.)
Frequent tuning assures the player of hearing
proper sounds. The more often a piano is tuned, the smaller are the
adjustments that need to be made each time. The smaller the adjustments,
the more stable the tuning will be. The more stable the tuning, the
longer it will last. Tune at least twice a year, or every significant
weather change. Concert pianos are tuned before every concert, sometimes
weekly or daily, just as violins and guitars are tuned before each performance.
drawers, sticking doors and loose furniture joints all change with the
weather and the seasons. In the summertime when humidity levels
in the air are higher, wood absorbs this moisture and swells. In
the winter when the air becomes dryer from winter heating and lued wooden
joints become loose and wobbly. Just as doors and drawers become
tight withhigh humidity and loose in dry air, the keys of your piano may
stick down when struck in times of high humidity. When the environment
surrounding your piano is dry the keys may seem to rattle when played.
As you play your piano, you will notice how responsive the keys are to
your touch. The way the keys cause the wood hammers to strike the
piano strings is apart of thousands of interconnectred wooden parts called
the piano action. With high moisture levels in the piano action,
the action is sluggish, and the keys seem non-responsive to your touch.
The soundboard is
the single largest piece of wood in your piano. It actually vibrates
to amplify the sound produced by the strings. The bridges of your
piano are joined to the soundboard and support the strings. As the
soundboard absorbs moisture from the air surrounding the piano, it swells,
producing an upward bulge. Through the bridge, this puts additional
tension on the strings. Now the pitch is too high in the lower mid-range
and extreme treble strings. When the soundboard shrinks and flattens,
the tebnsion of strings over the bridge becomes inadequate. The pitch
of the mid-range and treble strings is now flat. Over time, constant
changes in humidity levels, with the corresponding shrinking and swelling
of the soundboard, will damage the integrity of the soundboard. You
will see this damage in the form of a crack in the soundboard.
The strings of your
piano are held tight by the pins in the pinblock. As the pinblock
absorbs moisture in periods of high humidity, it swells, crushing the wood
fibers against the pin. In dry periods, the wood shrinks away from
the pin, loosening it and causing the string to sag. When this cycle
is repeated time after time, the wood fibers surrounding the pin are destroyed
and lose their resilience. With continuous swelling and shrinking,
the wood can no longer provide the snug fit required to hold pins in place.
The strings of
your piano are responsible for producing the musical sounds. With
exposure to high humidity levels over long periods, strings become rusted
and corroded. At the junction where rusted strings wrap around rusted
pins, rust corrosion forms a hardened bond between the two. Then,
during a tunig, when your piano technician turns the pins to stretch the
strings, the inflexible rusted string snaps at this joint.
Climate Control System maintains your piano at an average 42% relative
humidity as recommended by major piano manufactureres. Then your
piano soundboard is kept at a constant moisture level, shrinking and swelling
are minimized. Your piano goes out of tune when the humidity levels
in your home environment are controlled to some extent by the temperature.
Generally, an air conditioner will remove some summer humidity, but the
drop in humidity, when winter dryness sets, in, presents a significant
moisture change which will put your piano out of tune. When your
piano is maintained at 42% relative humidity, it will stay in tune longer
The Dampp-Chaser Climate
Control System is made up of three basic components whcih work together
to control the humidity levels within your piano, maintaining the recommended
42% relative humidity, no matter what the external conditions are.
How it works
HUMIDISTAT - this is the brain of the system, which
senses whether the wooden parts of your piano are too moist or too dry.
DEHUMIDIFIER - carries moisture away from your piano
using air currents when humidity levels rise.
HUMIDIFIER - moisturizes the dry wood of your piano
when the humidity drops below 42%.
These components cycle together to maintain the
wood of your piano at 42% relative humidity. When the humidistat,
located less than an inch from your soundboard, senses that the wood is
dry, it turns the power on the humidifier. Then, when the humidifier
has provided enough moisture to the soundboard, the humidistat turns off
the humidifier and turns the power on to the dehumidifier. The dehumidifier
carres away moisture from the soundboard on air currents until the humidistat
again senses that the soundboard is dry. The system again switchews
to the humidifying function. The cycle continues day after day, year
after year, protcting your piano from external conditions. The system
must be installed by a qualified piano technician. Only your technician
can be sure that each component is located for optimal effectiveness and
protection. Each Dampp-Chaser System carries a 5-year guarantee.
The early 20th century
saw peak production of pianos as economic prosperity permitted many families
to own a piano. Thousands of those vintage pianos survived the years
and are now being restored to their original condition. Today, leading
piano remanufacturers strongly recommend the installation of a Dampp-Chase
Climate Control System to prevent continued wood cell deterieoration and
metal erosion in the older piano. The System is installed out-of-sight
in your piano, maintaining the same environment now provided for the treasured
pianos on display in the Smithsonian Institue. If you value your
piano, it is well worth installing a humidity-control device.
YOUR HUMIDITY CONTROL DEVICE NOW
Call Dean Petrich, RPT
By the way, if it has been longer than six
your piano is probable ready for a tuning.
Call and schedule your next tuning
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