Landis Piano Service: Piano Tuning - Piano Repair - Piano Restoration

Serving musicians and the performing arts community of Southeastern Pennsylvania since 1978

CARE OF YOUR PIANO

 

The following articles are reprints of Technical Bulletins published by the Piano Technicians Guild, Inc. They are provided on the Internet as a service to piano owners. Piano Technicians Guild is an international organization of piano technicians. Registered Piano Technicians (RPTs) are those members of PTG who have passed a series of examinations on the maintenance, repair, and tuning of pianos. For a copy of this or other PTG Bulletins and Pamphlets go to: www.ptg.org

Basic Rules of Piano Care
How often should my piano be serviced?
Pitch Raising
Regulation
Humidity Control
Voicing

Basic Rules of Piano Care


Keep your piano in tune. It was specifically designed to be tuned to the international pitch standard of A-440 cycles per second. Your piano will sound its best and give you and your family the most pleasure when it is tuned regularly and kept in proper playing condition.

Keep your piano clean. Keep the keyboard covered when not in use to prevent dust from accumulating (although ivory keys need some exposure to light to prevent yellowing). Clean keys by occasionally wiping them with a damp cloth and drying them immediately. If accumulated debris can't be removed with a damp cloth, try wiping the cloth on a bar of mild soap or moisten with dishwashing detergent before wiping. Do not use chemicals or solvents to clean piano keys. Call a qualified piano technician to remove anything from the keys you can't wipe away.

To maintain the piano's finish, you may wipe the case with a damp cotton cloth to remove fingerprints, or polish with a reliable emulsion-type, water-based solution following the manufacturer's instructions. Avoid aerosol spray polishes that contain silicone. Your technician may suggest a specific brand name.

The maintenance of the inner working of the piano and regulation should be left to a qualified piano technician. Resist dusting the inside of your piano, oiling the moving parts, or using moth or insect repellents. Your piano technician will take care of all internal problems.

Try to maintain a fairly consistent temperature and humidity control in the room where your piano is placed. It's important to keep your piano away from a heating register in winter, an air conditioning vent in the summer, a fireplace, a frequently opened window or outside door, and direct sunlight.

Play your piano regularly. You'll get the most enjoyment from it and also reach your potential much faster. A disadvantage to idle pianos, assuming they also suffer a service lapse, is that a detrimental condition or environment can't be identified, and an escalating problem can result in damage that might not have occurred with regular service. Tuning a piano after years of not having been tuned often requires a pitch raise. As a piano ages, it may begin to develop more major problems which your technician can help you assess. You may look into rebuilding or reconditioning the piano.

Keep all drinks and standing liquid containers off the piano. Should spilled water reach the action, notify you piano technician immediately. In many case, once liquids are spilled, the damage is irreversible which is why prevention is the safest rule to follow.

Select a piano technician with care. It's not only important that the service person be competent to perform tuning, regulation and repairs, but also that the person be someone you feel comfortable calling with questions concerning your piano's performance. Hiring a Registered Piano Technician who is committed to comprehensive service for your piano, and not just an occasional tuning, is your best assurance.

Do not perform repairs yourself. Though a problem may appear easy to solve (such as replacing a loose key ivory), a qualified technician will have the proper tools and parts to make repairs quickly and correctly. It's important to remember that unsuccessful amateur repairs are usually much more expensive to fix than the initial problem and may decrease the value of your instrument.

Use only a professional piano mover to move your piano. You will avoid injury to yourself, your instrument, and your home.

 

 


How often should my piano be serviced?

©1993 Piano Technicians Guild

 

Your piano is an investment in your future. It can bring you and your family a lifetime of music, adding immeasurable joy and beauty to your home. Since it is also such a large investment, it should be maintained with the utmost care. Regular servicing by a qualified technician will preserve your instrument and help you avoid costly repairs in the future.

Because your piano contains materials such as wood and felt, it is subject to change with climatic conditions. Extreme swings from hot to cold or dry to wet cause its materials to swell and contract, affecting tone, pitch, and action response or touch. You can reduce the severity of these effects by placing your piano near a wall away from windows or doors that are opened frequently. Avoid heating and air conditioning vents, fireplaces and areas which receive direct sunlight. Your piano will perform best under consistent conditions neither too wet nor dry, optimally at a temperature of 68 degrees F and 42 percent relative humidity.

While pianos generally fall into vertical and grand model categories, each manufacturer selects its own materials and utilizes its own unique scale and furniture designs. Every piano requires a different level of maintenance, depending upon the quality of materials used and the design and level of craftsmanship. Manufacturers can provide general advice on tuning frequency but your technician can give specific recommendations based upon your usage and locale.

 



Pitch Raising -Technical Bulletin #1

(revised 8/26/94) © 1992 & 1994 The Piano Technicians Guild, Inc.

 

Your piano is designed to sound its best when tuned to A-440 (A above middle C vibrates at 440 cycles per second), the international pitch standard. At this pitch, power and tonal range are optimum and your piano will match the pitch of other instruments. When your piano varies from A-440, pitch adjustments are required to bring it back to standard. By always maintaining your piano at standard pitch, you create long-term tuning stability because the strings and structure stay in equilibrium. You also ensure proper ear training because you always hear your music in the correct key.

Why does a piano's pitch change?
Piano strings change pitch for two primary reasons: the initial stretching and settling of strings when the piano is new, and soundboard movement due to humidity variation. In the case of new pianos, the pitch drops quickly for the first couple of years as the new strings stretch and wood parts settle. It's very important to maintain any new piano at the proper pitch during this period, so the string tension and piano structure can reach a stable equilibrium. (Most piano manufacturers recommend three to four tunings the first year, and at least two per year after that.)

Aside from this initial settling, climate change is the main cause of pitch change. That's because the piano's main acoustical structure -- the soundboard -- is made of wood. While wooden soundboards produce a wonderful sound, they also react constantly to climate changes. As the relative humidity goes up, the soundboard swells, increasing its crowned shape and stretching the piano's strings to a higher pitch. Then during dry times the soundboard flattens out, lowering tension on the strings and causing the pitch to drop. The drop in the dry season tends to exceed the rise during humid times, so the net result is a drop in pitch each year that the piano isn't serviced.


Won't tuning restore my piano's pitch to A- 440?
If a piano has gone without tuning for an extended period, its pitch may have dropped far below A- 440. This means that each of its approximately 220 strings needs to be tightened considerably, adding tremendous additional tension to the piano's structure. The problem is that as each string is tightened, the additional load causes the pitch of previously adjusted strings to change. Thus it is impossible to make a substantial change in pitch and end up with a fine, accurate tuning in one step. Instead, a process called "pitch raising" must first be done, in which all strings are raised to their correct average tension levels. (Likewise, when a piano's pitch is higher than standard, a pitch lowering procedure must be done to reduce string tensions to approximately correct levels.) Only then can the piano be accurately tuned. In other words, accurate tuning is only possible when all strings are so close to their proper tension that only small further changes are needed during tuning. These small changes then do not disturb the tuning of other strings.

How far from standard pitch must a piano be before a pitch raise is necessary?
Just when a pitch raise or lowering is necessary depends upon how accurate the final tuning must be, and the size and quality of the piano. Any net change in a piano's string tension during tuning will distort the final result and reduce stability. Realistically, a pitch difference of a few percent can usually be accommodated successfully during tuning. For average situations, when a piano's pitch is noticeably different from that of other standard pitched instruments, a pitch correction procedure is necessary before tuning. Whenever exact pitch level is critical, such as in concert or recording instruments, any pitch deviation must be corrected before tuning.

How long does a pitch raise take?
A pitch raise is essentially a special tuning procedure designed to leave the piano approximately in tune. For moderate pitch corrections the procedure takes about the same time as a tuning, or less. Extreme pitch changes may require two separate pitch adjustments.

The pitch adjustment and subsequent tuning may be done in one visit, or the tuning may be scheduled for a short time later depending upon how far the pitch had to be changed. In general, the longer a piano has gone without regular service, the more tunings will be required to reestablish tuning stability.

Like your car, your piano is a major investment which deserves regular servicing to keep it working well and preserve its value. Most importantly, the well-maintained piano sounds better, plays better, and gives you and your family a wealth of musical pleasure.

 



Regulation - Technical Bulletin #2

© 1993, 1994 The Piano Technicians Guild, Inc.

 

As a conscientious piano owner, you probably have your piano tuned regularly by a qualified technician. You may, however, notice a deterioration of its performance despite regular tuning. It's important to note that tuning is only the adjustment of the system of strings and pins that determines the pitch of each string. Your piano also requires a periodic servicing called regulation, which attends to the mechanical parts which cause strings to sound when keys are played and affect the sound through use of the pedals.

What is regulation and how does it affect my piano's performance?
Regulation is the adjustment of the mechanical aspects of the pianos to compensate for the effects of wear, the compacting and settling of cloth, felt, and buckskin, as well as dimensional changes in wood and wool parts due to changes in humidity.

The three systems involved in regulation are the action trapwork and damper system. The action is the mechanical part of the piano that transfers the motion of the fingers on the keys to the hammers that strike the strings. It is comprised of over 9,000 parts which require adjustment to critical tolerances to be able to respond to a pianist's every command. The trapwork is the assemblage of levers, dowels and springs that connects the pedals to the action affecting sustain and dynamics. The damper system is the mechanical part of the piano that stops the vibration of the string when you release the key and is controlled by the key and pedal systems.

If I have my piano tuned regularly, why do I need to have it regulated?
While tuning corrects the pitch of your piano, it is only one component of a complete maintenance program. Regulation attends to the touch and uniform responsiveness of your action, all vital to making each performance pleasurable. In addition, regulation ensures that your instrument is capable of producing a wide dynamic range -- a critical factor, particularly in pianissimo passages.

Music is one of the most complex vehicles for expression. Its beauty is reliant upon personal dynamics and tempi. These changes require extremely fine adjustments to respond to the pianist's nuances and subtle shadings. A smooth, even response throughout the entire range of the keyboard and an extremely quick action capable of playing rapid passages and repeated notes evenly is essential. Outstanding response is essential for a pianist to create an outstanding performance.

Do all pianos need to be regulated?
All upright and grand pianos need periodic regulation to perform their best. Frequency of regulation is dependent upon amount of use, exposure to climatic changes, and the instrument's quality, age and condition. New pianos may require regulation in their first year because settling and compacting of parts sometimes necessitates adjustment.

 

How often is regulation needed?
Only you and your technician together should decide how frequently your piano needs regulation. Several factors can contribute to this. The intensity and number of hours your instrument is played, and climatic conditions are all determinants. A piano kept in relatively consistent conditions which are neither too wet nor dry, optimally at a temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit and 42 percent relative humidity, will require less adjustment.

The quality of the instrument itself also can affect frequency of regulation. Some manufacturers decrease costs by not going over the regulation and voicing processes in the factory as much as needed. Reputable retailers sometimes do the necessary regulation themselves prior to selling the pianos, but others do not.
Also, performance instruments may require some regulation before each use, due to the higher demands placed on them.

What are the signs that my piano needs regulation?
If you instrument displays a lack of sensitivity or a decreased dynamic ranges, it's a candidate for regulation. If you notice that the keys are not level (some higher or lower than the rest), the touch is uneven or that the keys are sticking, the need for regulation is indicated. However, a sluggish action or deep grooves in the hammers indicate the need for reconditioning or repair. Ask your technicians to show you what needs adjustment on your piano.

No amount of practice can compensate for a poorly maintained action. Poor legato touch, chord playing where all notes of the chord don't speak clearly, a gradual loss of subtlety in phrasing and an inability to execute quick passages or note repetitions evenly may be the fault of the piano -- not the player.

Why is reconditioning or rebuilding of the mechanical systems sometimes necessary prior to regulation?
Prior to regulation, your technician will assess the condition of your instrument. If it has badly worn parts or if there has been corrosion or moth damage, the piano may not be able to be properly regulated without some repair or replacement of parts.

Reconditioning is the process of putting your piano back in good condition by cleaning, repairing, and adjusting your instrument for maximum performance with replacement parts only where specifically indicated. If you piano has deteriorated beyond simple reconditioning, it may need to be rebuilt.

Rebuilding involves complete disassembly, inspection and repair as necessary with replacement of all worn or deteriorated parts. The piano is then reassembled, tested and adjusted to the same or similar tolerance and performance as when it was new.

Your piano is a major investment which deserves to be protected through regular servicing by a qualified technician. Properly maintained, your piano will sound its best and give you and your family a lifetime of enjoyment.

 



Humidity Control - Technical Bulletin #3

© 1992, 1994 The Piano Technicians Guild, Inc.

 

Your piano is made primarily of wood, a versatile and beautiful material ideal for piano construction. However, being made of wood, your piano is greatly affected by humidity. Seasonal and even daily changes in humidity cause wood parts to swell and shrink, affecting tuning stability and touch. Extreme swings in humidity can eventually cause wood to crack and glue joints to fail.
Other materials in your piano also are affected by changes in moisture content in the air. The many felt and leather parts in your piano's action can change dimension, affecting regulation and friction, or stiffness of the touch. Very high humidity can even create condensation on metal parts such as strings, tuning pins and hardware, eventually causing them to rust.

How does humidity level affect my piano's tuning?
Swelling and shrinking of the piano's soundboard is the most immediate and noticeable effect of humidity change. The soundboard, a sheet of wood approximately 3/8 of an inch thick, is made with a slightly crowned shape. The strings pass over the soundboard and are connected to it by a wooden piece called a bridge. The upward crown of the soundboard presses the bridge tightly against the strings.

As the moisture level in the soundboard increases during periods of high relative humidity, the crown expands and pushes the bridge harder against the strings. The strings are stretched tighter and the piano's pitch rises. Because this increase in crown is greater in the center of the soundboard than at the edges, the pitch rises more in the middle octaves than in the bass or treble registers.

During periods of low relative humidity the soundboard shrinks, reducing the crown and decreasing pressure against the strings. The pitch drops, again with the greatest effect noticeable in the center of the keyboard. When relative humidity returns to its previous level, the average pitch of all the strings will return to normal, although the exact pitch of individual strings will be slightly changed from their original settings. Thus, a piano only will stay in tune as long as the relative humidity level in the air surrounding the soundboard remains constant. Extreme humidity changes require making greater changes in string tension to bring the piano into tune. This upsets the equilibrium between the string tension and the piano frame, and the piano never becomes stable.

What is relative humidity?
Wood swells and shrinks in response to changes in the relative humidity of the air around it. Relative humidity (RH) is the amount of moisture contained in the air, compared to the maximum amount of moisture that the air is capable of holding. The moisture content of air is affected by weather as well as conditions and activities within the home, while the moisture- holding capacity of air varies with temperature. One way of thinking about RH is that it is a measure of air's tendency to absorb or release moisture to its surroundings. Thus when the RH of air in a room increases, moisture will tend to transfer from the air to wood and other absorbent materials in the room. When the RH of air decreases, moisture will transfer from other materials back into the air. The RH of the atmosphere is always changing by the hour, and more dramatically, with the seasons. Consequently, the wood and felt parts in your piano are constantly changing dimension as they absorb and release moisture.

Since RH depends upon the temperature and moisture content of the air, it is not possible to maintain a constant RH by controlling room temperature alone. In fact, maintaining an even temperature while moisture content varies will cause RH to change.

What can be done to minimize humidity problems?
Keeping the humidity level around your piano as constant as possible will help it stay in tune longer as well as slow such damage as soundboard cracks, loose tuning pins, and glue joint failures. The first and simplest precaution you can take is to position your piano away from areas where it would be exposed to extremes of temperature and humidity such as heating and cooling vents, stoves, doors and windows. Direct sunlight is especially damaging. If your home is not well insulated, an interior wall is preferable to an outside wall.

Controlling the humidity within the home is another step you can take to preserve your instrument. In most areas of the country the relative humidity is very low during the cold winter season, and very high during the spring and summer. In other areas these humidity cycles are reversed. Wherever you live, you have probably noticed the symptoms of low RH (shocks from static electricity when sliding out of a car or after walking across carpet), and the signs of high RH (limp, soggy feeling newspapers and sticking doors). To monitor RH changes in your home, you may wish to purchase a moderately priced wall hygrometer available from most instrument supply companies or electronics stores.

Use of a room humidifier during dry seasons will help somewhat. However, too much moisture added to a room during winter months can cause condensation to form on cold surfaces such as windows, eventually causing mildew, rot, and in extreme cases, damage to the building structure. During the humid season de- humidification is needed. If your humid season is winter, keeping the home evenly heated will help. However, humid summer situations require much more elaborate de- humidification systems. Unfortunately, it is seldom possible to adequately control the relative humidity of a piano by controlling the room environment alone.

A very practical and effective answer to humidity problems is to have a humidity control system installed in the piano itself. These systems consist of three parts: a humidifier for adding moisture to the air, a dehumidifier for eliminating excess moisture, and a humidistat or control unit which senses the RH of the air within the piano and activates the system to add or remove moisture as needed. These systems are designed to maintain the RH of the air within the piano at the ideal level of 42%. The components are installed out of sight, inside the case of a vertical piano or under the soundboard of a grand. They are easy to maintain, and can be installed by your piano technician.

How will humidity control benefit my piano?
While not eliminating the need for regular piano maintenance, humidity control will allow more stable tunings by reducing the radical pitch changes your piano may experience through the seasons. When your piano stays closer to its correct pitch level of A440 (A-440 cycles per second), your technician does not have to perform a large pitch raising or lowering procedure prior to fine tuning. Thus, a balance of forces is maintained between the strings and the frame of the piano, allowing more accurate and stable tunings to be done.


In addition, a stable environment will help to preserve your piano through the years. Wood parts, glue joints, metal parts and your piano's finish will all last longer if not subjected to excessive humidity swings. Maintaining the correct environment will preserve your piano investment for a lifetime of enjoyment.

 



Voicing - Technical Bulletin #4

© 1993, 1994 The Piano Technicians Guild, Inc.

 

Every piano has its own unique sound. One might be described as 'glassy,' another as 'warm'. One might have a 'full singing' tone, and yet another sounds 'thin.' Although the original design establishes the basic character of your piano's tone, your technician can modify it to better suit your taste or restore its original tone if it has deteriorated with age. The process of modifying a piano's tone is called voicing.

What is the difference between tuning and voicing?
Tuning is the adjustment of the tension of all of your piano's 220 (or more) strings to the correct pitch or frequency. This ensures that notes played in a musical interval (octaves, chords, etc.) will sound in harmony.

Voicing is the adjustment of a piano's tone or quality of sound. Tone can be changed without affecting the pitch. For example, turning the bass or treble knobs on your stereo changes the tone but does not alter the notes the musician recorded. A skilled piano technician can voice a piano to change its tonal personality from mellow to bright or robust to delicate. The degree of change possible depends upon the piano's design and condition.

What is good tone?
Tone varies, even among pianos of the same make and model. No matter what its size or cost, any good piano should provide a wide range of tone, from soft and sweet to loud and bright. The tone should be even from the lowest to the highest notes. Most of all, it should sound musical.

What does the perfect piano tone sound like? There is no single answer, because everyone's taste varies. Also, certain tonal characteristics are more suited to specific styles of music. A bright, lively tone might be best for jazz, whereas you might prefer a rich and dark sound for Beethoven's music. There are many different sizes and models of piano available in the market place; you chose your piano because it sounded good to you.

But a piano's tone changes with use. As the hammers wear and compact, the tone often becomes too bright and harsh, robbing the pianist of the ability to produce a sweet sound. As parts wear, the regulation (adjustment of the mechanical parts that transmit motion from the fingers to the hammers) becomes uneven, and the pianist loses control over volume and tone. This is most noticeable in quiet playing. A delicate pianissimo passage becomes very difficult or impossible to play, and some keys may not sound at all if played very lightly.

Aging of the piano's strings and structure also can diminish its tone.

Other factors that affect the sound you hear from your piano are:

  1. ROOM ACOUSTICS -- Hard shiny surfaces such as windows and bare floors reflect high frequencies, making a piano sound bright and loud. High ceilings or large adjoining rooms add resonance. Rugs and upholstered furniture soften tone and add warmth.
  2. THE LID -- Both grands and verticals sound louder and brighter if the lid is opened.
  3. YOU -- Your ears are sensitive, and will perceive sound differently if you have spent all day in a quiet office or at a loud construction site.


Does my piano need voicing?

Your piano may benefit from voicing if:

  1. Your piano sounds different than when you purchased it.
  2. You don't like the sound even after it has been tuned.
  3. Tone varies radically from note to note.
  4. You cannot achieve a range of tone (mellow to bright) at different volumes.
  5. The piano has lost its ability to play softly.


Before deciding if a new piano needs voicing, make sure it is well-tuned and well-regulated. Then, play a wide variety of music on it. Most voicing procedures are long-lasting, so give yourself some time to explore the sound of a new instrument before deciding to change it.

How often voicing is needed depends upon the piano's usage and its intended audience. Pianos in concert halls and recording studios often receive minor refinement of the voicing before each performance. A home piano may need some initial voicing to customize it to the owner's taste, then once every one to five years to maintain its tone.
Your piano and your musical needs are unique -- your own schedule for periodic voicing is a matter for you and your technician to decide. To find out how voicing might improve the tone of your piano, ask for a demonstration on one or two notes.

How does a technician voice a piano?
Before you or your technician can fully evaluate then tone of your piano, it must be well-tuned. Tuning is the first step in improving the sound of any piano and may actually provide the tone you desire. If the tone is still not satisfactory. Your technician will inspect the action, hammers and strings. If these components are severely worn, major repairs may be required before an improved tone is possible.

  1. Moderately worn hammers can be re-shaped with sandpaper to remove string grooves and restore their original rounded shape. Next, the hammers are aligned to strike each string squarely.
  2. Action regulation should be checked or adjusted. This ensures an even, powerful response from each key.
  3. If tuning, hammer shaping and regulation are correct, the tone probably will be balanced but still may be too bright or mellow for your taste. If so, your technician might recommend voicing the hammers.
  4. For a tone that is too loud, too bright or seems to die out too quickly, softening the hammers felt often is recommended. This is usually done by inserting needles into specific areas of the hammer to increase flexibility.
  5. For a tone that is too weak or too mellow, hardening of the hammer felt may be necessary. This is usually done by filing away soft outer layers of hammer felt or by applying a chemical hardening solution.
  6. Once the overall tone is correct, individual notes are voiced to make the tone as even as possible from one end of the keyboard to the other. In some pianos certain notes still may sound different from their neighbors, no matter how skillfully the technician voiced the piano. This most commonly occurs about an octave below middle C, where the strings change from steel wires wrapped with copper to plain steel. Such irregularities are a result of design compromises, and usually cannot be corrected by voicing.

 

Getting the most enjoyment from your piano
One of your piano's most important assets is its tone. Properly voiced, your piano can offer you a rich palette of musical expression, and inspire good practice habits in every member of your family. However, piano owners are not always aware that tone can be customized to their own tastes and room acoustics, and to correct for deterioration and age. If the only service your piano has received is tuning, the sound can likely be improved by voicing.

 
Website Design by Sysgen Media, LLC