Michael GirondaPiano Tuning

The Truth about Staying In Tune

You know, a fine piano is a work of art. To pay a lot of money for a fine piano and then allow it to go to ruin for lack of expert care is not merely aesthetically wrong it is bad business. If a piano is neglected, if it is allowed to go from one season to another without tuning, it will probably, at the end of that time, be considerably lower in pitch than it was originally. It will have gone through a rise and fall in pitch.

No matter what any salesman may say, no matter how well the piano may be made, no matter, in fact, what the physical circumstances or the price or the domestic conditions may be, there is no such thing as a piano staying month after month in tune. The better the piano, the more frequent and careful tuning it should have.

In order to understand why a piano goes out of tune, it is first necessary to remember that the whole instrument is always under a varying stress. The strings are stretched at an average tension of from one hundred and fifty to two hundred pounds apiece; so that the iron plate, together with the heavy wooden framing, carries a strain totaling an average of 32,000 pounds.

The soundboard is merely a thin sheet of spruce a three eighths of an inch in thickness. If it is properly constructed, the whole board becomes something like a highly elastic spring. The more elastic it is, the freer and more agreeable will the tone be emanating from the piano.

From the layman's standpoint, two tunings a year should be sufficient. The tuner knows, however, that if he had time to tune his own piano as often as his ears tell him, he would tune it once a month at least. From a strictly scientific point of view, it is probably true to say that no piano ever made has stood in tune, without a drop or a rise, for more than twenty four hours, unless it were maintained at constant temperature and at constant barometric and hygroscopic conditions.

Sensitivity To Atmospheric Changes

The very construction is extremely sensitive to all changes of temperature and barometric pressure. In summer time, throughout the greater part of the country, there is much moisture in the air most of the time, and rain is frequent. Wood, under these conditions, swells up; nor will any kind of coating protect a wooden soundboard from these influences. On the contrary, when the heat is on during the colder months, the air in rooms becomes much drier, owing to the evaporation of moisture and failure to keep on hand open vessels of water, flowering plants or other moisture retainers or evaporators. Consequently, the moisture in the soundboard rapidly passes off, the hoard shrinks, the strings slacken down, and the pitch drops.

Now, it is perfectly evident that even where conditions are not extreme, and even in climates which have only a comparatively short range, this process is continually going on. "Every change of a degree in temperature, or of one tenth of an inch in a barometer, has its effect.

The soundboard of the piano, then, is always slowly rising and falling through short distances, and constantly, therefore, suffering variations in its ability to hold the strings up to proper pitch. On the other hand, if the piano be neglected and unless it be tuned at least once every change in season, say four times a year, during Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, it will not stay in tune.

The most common cause of a piano going out of tune is fluctuations in temperature and of humidity changes. The best temperature for a piano is the same as the comfort of a person. Inside each case is an enormously complex piece of machinery, you have up to 12,000 parts that are incorporated into an elaborate, precision musical instrument. In addition to the usual factors of friction, wear, and tear, add more than 32,000 pounds of string pressure and the adverse cumulative effects of climatic flux of temperature and humidity.

When a piano is tuned, it begins to go out of tune immediately, and each time it is played the strings stretch a little more. Pianos of lower cost are more likely to be made out of lower cost materials and will be more difficult to service or keep in tune, because of the quality and construction of the piano itself.

In high humidity climates such as Florida or near a large body of water, a piano can be helped by the use of a climate-controlled system (Dampp Chaser). These dehumidifiers will help keep the piano in tune longer as well as extend the life of the piano. A twenty five watt heating element is installed inside the piano where it won’t be seen and plugs into a wall outlet. This will keep the humidity out of the piano and help keep the wood from swelling.

Pianos will go out of tune and should be maintained consistently to assure a long life of playability and beautiful tone for all to enjoy.

How Often and When Should I Have My Piano Tuned?

Have your piano tuned as often as you feel necessary, but a minimum of twice a year is the rule of thumb.

Just remember: when you turn on the heat in the winter, and when you turn it off in spring, you're about 2 weeks away from needing a tuning. These are the times of year when the humidity change starts to shrink or swell the wooden structure of the piano, and it starts to drift out of tune.

A piano used mainly as a furniture piece probably won't "need" to be tuned more than once a year. A piano that is played regularly and is in good condition would be better off with 2 tunings per year, each time the seasonal humidity changes. A piano given a daily workout by a professional or serious student might need to be tuned more frequently, maybe 4 times a year or more. At this level of use, it's really up to the individual.