How Often Should Your Piano Be Tuned
That's the age old question isn't it when considering acoustic pianos. I mean, really, "How often "should" your piano be tuned?" I have no problems with this question. The trouble is when all is said and done will you heed the advice given because it is all up to you, the piano owner, in the end.
I'll tell you right up front that it is a myth to think that your acoustic piano will stayed tuned if you never play it. The strings of your piano will stretch and lengthen because of the tremendous pressure they are under therefore tuning is inevitable.
In this article I intend to set some facts straight and get everyone on the right path as to piano tuning in terms of the How Often Should You Tune Your Piano question to the Why Does It Go Out Of Tune question.
So, if you are ready come along for the journey and learn some things about your piano....that you perhaps didn't know before.
Personally, I have clients who want their piano tuned every six months and would accept nothing more or less. Then I have clients who are very happy with once every twelve months. I also have clients who specifically say call me every two years.
Which leads me to say "most people are unpredictable or they are uninformed, which is more likely the case, or they have a goodly dose of "Scotch" which is a polite way of saying they are just plain old "cheap". Thinking they will put up with an odd-sounding piano at the expense of it deteriorating right in their living room.
Ideally, it is recommended that a "new" piano be tuned every four months for the first year at least. Then the second year every six months. This gives the new strings, which stretch faster than old strings because they have never been stretched before, a chance to expand.
Personally, as a piano tech, I am a huge proponent of having your piano tuned every six months after the initial first year with a new piano. I think that any longer than this and you will notice changes in the sound as the pitch lowers.
So, when you ask "How often should your piano be tuned?" I'm thinking that's a real good question but there is some back ground questions we need to ask and answer first. Questions like:
Why does your piano go out of tune?
Again, this is a fair question especially when there are ways to prevent it from happening or I should say ways of slowing down the process. Identifying and defining the culprits helps. I'll start with the basics like:
Age slows everything down but on the same token it speeds the unwanted things up. Let me explain. If we compare the growth of a human body to a piano we can at least give the piano some perspective.
The human body is born and starts to age. Nothing unfamiliar so far. But, in a few short years it reaches puberty, then man/womanhood is developed followed shortly by extended use of good health which produces, in the good cases, years of well-being and help and fine tutering of family and friends.
A time of maturity and vibrant blossoming where all connected to this person leaves their presence blessed. Then that body reaches their 40's, 50's, 60's and well, so on. I think you can see what I mean.
Your piano is similar to this and if you know pianos even a little you see this is not an over exaggeration or imagination gone wild. I mean, your piano is manufactured (born) but the process is just beginning. It will take some early groanings to get these many hundreds of parts adjusted, lubed, settled and so on.
There are 231 strings to be stretched to make 88 notes sound at A440 concert pitch.....and stay there. All the tuning pin tensions must be stretched to meet the required note as represented by that particular key on the keyboard.
When they do we enter what we could call the mature years of the pianos life. Your piano is now ready and willing to give you many years of wonderful music. Music that when the talent of a skilled pianist sits to play gives the room yea the world a peace from Heaven. All are blessed. Then comes the 40's, 50's, 60's and well, so on.
So, age is potentially a great culprit. There are others of course, but let's start here. What does age do to a piano you may ask? In a nutshell.....it fatigues the piano and all its many delicate and varied parts.
Did you know that before one hammer (any one hammer on a piano keyboard) strikes the strings as the result of a key being pushed that between 52 and 59 parts in the action must have an event. This is a staggering thought. Every key that is struck calls to duty over 52 parts in the piano action. Think about that for a minute.
These parts are various felts, narrow wires that represent springs, leathers that play a role, center pins that connect flanges to parts like the hammer butt and wippon. The list goes on so it's know wonder these parts wear out, break and fatigue as time goes on.
The tuning pins, for instance, at the top are screwed into pre drilled undersized holes for tension in what is called a wood "tuning block". This tuning block is situated behind the heavy metal frame. These pins and strings hold an estimated 170 pounds of tension.
As the piano ages the tuning block dries out hence the resistance on the pins decrease. They back off allowing the strings to lose the note they were set to represent. If you can grasp the last two sentences in your mind then you are at least half way to understanding why your piano goes out of tune.
Humidity by way of definition is simply, "The amount of water vapor present in the air....water vapor is the gaseous state of water and is invisible to the human eye...."
Most pianos are 85% wood. Wood absorbs moisture caused by humidity. This, in turn, causes the wood to expand as it drinks in the extra moisture when humidity levels are high or contract when humidity levels are low in the winter when your furnace is on all the time. This will affect the pianos pitch.
I want to mention and define the term Relative Humidity or RH as we will refer to it as. RH is the amount of moisture contained in the air, compared to the maximum amount of moisture that the air is capable of holding.
This definition of RH then identifies and explains why humidity exists. On very humid days the moisture in the air exceeds that which the air we breath can hold. It's like filling a glass of water to the top then trying to put more in the glass after it exceeds its limit.
This is interesting when you bring RH into perspective. The perspective is that the extra RH in the air then must land or go somewhere. It is a well known fact of how wood absorbs moisture and conversely when RH levels decrease moisture will transfer from where it has been absorbed (piano) back into the surroundings.
So you see where the piano being 85% wood will take more than its share of this RH moisture hence the vicious cycle of expansion and decreation begins. Make no mistake, this all affects the performance of your piano. Unless an attempt to control RH in the piano room or better, in the piano itself, is introduced by way of humidifier/dehumidifier then all pianos will suffer from RH year after year with consequential results.
Humidity is a huge culprit for pianos trying their hardest to stay in tune as you can imagine.
(3) CONTROLLING HUMIDITY
The title of my third point here may be a bit misleading. The thing is can you ever "control" humidity. I'm not sure that you can but what I can say with confidence is that you can definitely hold it to a healthy and comfortable zone by following some of the suggestions I will mention next.
Let us come back to RH again, yes, Relative Humidity. We will approach this excessive amount of moisture by identifying when it is most noticeable. For most of us it's as simple as this: very low RH in winter and very high RH during spring and summer.
We have all felt the dampness and well, ecky feeling of putting on a tee shirt that is damp due to RH. Its that time of year when the cupboard drawers won't open very well and squeak all the way to full extension or you pick up your novel to read after it has been sitting around and it is damp almost to the point of dripping. These are signs of RH roaming about your home.
Some people will monitor the RH level by purchasing a little hand-held electronic device called a hygrometer. A hygrometer is a portable test instrument that indicates the temperature and humidity level. These are not real expensive and are battery operated although, like anything else, you also can purchase a wall-hygrometer for a constant visual.
Research indicates that for health and comfort, a relative "indoor" humidity of 40 to 60 percent is desirable. But, as we all know, trying to keep the air at that level of moistness is difficult in winter with the dry air and summer during the high RH months. So, this is the challenge. What is the solution?
Some people attempt to control this indoor humidity level in a variety of ways. One way is by using a room humidifier during dry seasons. During the spring and summer when Relative Humidity (RH) is at its highest then some will use a dehumidifier to try to control RH levels.
Unfortunately, although that very room may be "controlled" it does not control the effects of RH on the piano in that room. After all, it is the piano we are concerned with for the sake of this article at least. Therefore, since the answer is "no" we must address RH levels in the piano itself in a slightly more drastic way.
When we consider the piano itself in this matter then the only way to lower the RH level of it is to deal directly to its needs. When we do that most owners will turn to purchasing and installing what is called a "Humidity Control System". Simply put these are systems that (1) Humidify the piano (2) Dehumidify the piano and (3) control the amount of RH in the air with in the confines of the piano.
The video below should be very helpful. I do recommend this system as it is what I have installed personally. Also, I have bumped into this particular "Damp Chaser System" in many pianos I have tuned.
I have installed and set these systems up. They are a self-contained unit that is governed by a Humidistat which is kind of the brains of the system. When installed properly the Humidistat is positioned between the dehumidifying bar and the humidifying water container. Every thirty minutes or so you will hear a click as the Humidistat shifts its attention from humidity control to de-humidity control. It is programed to maintain a 42% RH level within the piano.
At this point you might be thinking "Should I even consider humidity control in my piano? I mean what advantages does it carry with it? What will I glean from going to all this expense and bother?" These are common and valid questions for sure.
My answer is this. Piano Tuners will always seek to tune your piano to "Concert Pitch" which is by way of definition called A440. Now A440 means the A4 note (A in the fourth octave) is set to peek at 440 cycles per second.
If this is maintained or at least kept in the relative vicinity between tunings that means your piano will stay closer to tune hence avoiding major pitch raises. In the end longevity of, not only the tuning, but the life of the piano itself.
Okay, there you have it. I have tried to answer the question, "How often should your piano be tuned". I think I have given that question a run for its money or at least have given you something to think about. In addition, I have given you some reasons for keeping your piano in the best condition you can through proper maintenance and by addressing basic facts of piano age and relative humidity.
I wish you the very best with your piano as you learn more and more of how to play it, yes, of course, but also how to maintain it and why. Please leave a line below if you so desire. I would love to read your viewpoints and your experiences with your piano. All the best to you.
Written by Duane Graves or Duane's Piano Tuning & Technology