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Should I Take Care of My Piano?
©1993 Piano Technicians Guild
A piano brings a lifetime of enjoyment to you and your
family. As you might expect with any investment of this size, a piano
requires periodic servicing to provide outstanding performance year after
year. But to understand what maintenance is required, it's important to
understand the nature of the piano.
The beautiful, natural sound of a piano is due to the remarkable
blending of such materials as wood, metal, buckskin, and wool. Together
they create a uniquely timeless sound that no other instrument in the
world can duplicate. While electronic synthesizers may approximate the
sound of an acoustic piano, they cannot approach the true beauty of the
How should I care for my piano's wood finish?
As with any piece of fine furniture, keeping drinks off
finished wood surfaces is a simple rule always to follow. New piano finishes
generally require only occasional cleaning with either a dry or damp cotton
cloth. Older piano finishes may benefit from an occasional polishing with
a good quality polish, but frequent polishing is not recommended. The
PTG technical bulletin on finish care
discusses this subject in detail.
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What is the piano's action and why does it need maintenance?
When you look inside your piano, you'll find a cast iron
plate or "harp" strung with steel and copper-wound strings over
a large expanse of wood which is the soundboard. If you look closer, you'll
discover an intricate system of levers, springs, and hammers connected
to the keyboard.
The complex system which causes a hammer to strike a string when
you press a key is called the piano's action. It is a marvel of
engineering composed largely of wood and wool felt. This mechanism needs
to be responsive to every nuance of the pianist's touch -- from loud,
thunderous chords to soft, delicate passages. We have technical drawings
available for both vertical and grand piano actions.
When a piano leaves the factory, each of its parts is adjusted to a tolerance
of a few thousandths of an inch. This process is called action regulation.
Because the wood and felt parts of the action may change dimension due
to humidity and wear, the action must be serviced occasionally to maintain
its responsive qualities.
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How does humidity affect my piano?
Extreme swings from hot to cold or dry to wet are harmful
to your piano. Dryness causes the piano's pitch to go flat; moisture makes
it go sharp. Repeated swings in relative humidity can cause soundboards
to crack or distort. Extreme dryness also can weaken the glue joints that
hold the soundboard and other wood portions of the piano together. Moisture
may lead to string rust. A piano functions best under fairly consistent
conditions which are neither too wet or dry, optimally at a temperature
of 68 degrees F and 42 percent relative humidity.
Using an air conditioner in humid summer months and adding a humidifier
to your central heating system will reduce the extremes of high and low
humidity. Room humidifiers and dehumidifiers, as well as systems designed
to be installed inside of pianos will control humidity-related disorders
still further. The PTG technical bulletin on humidity control
discusses this topic in further detail.
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What is voicing?
A piano also periodically requires a service called voicing.
Because the tone changes as the felt hammers wear, periodic voicing of
the hammers is necessary so that your piano will have an even, full tone
throughout the entire scale, and produce the widest possible dynamic range.
The PTG technical bulletin on voicing discusses this subject in further detail.
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How often should I have my piano fully serviced?
The three components of musical performance that need
to be adjusted periodically are pitch, tone, and touch. Tone is maintained
by voicing, and touch by servicing the piano action, called regulation.. Piano tuning is
the adjustment of the tuning pins so that all the strings are of the proper
tension (pitch), to have the correct sounding, musical intervals.
An out-of-tune piano or an unresponsive touch can discourage even
novice musicians. Regular maintenance also can prevent expensive repair
in the future.
Most manufacturers recommend
servicing at least two to four times a year to keep the piano sounding
good and working properly each time you sit down to play. This is especially
important the first year of your piano's life. Some tuning instability
should be anticipated during the first year because of the elasticity
of the piano wire, combined with the piano's normal adjustment to the
humidity changes in your home. A piano which has gone a long time without
tuning may require extra work in pitch raising. But most importantly,
be sure the regular servicing of your piano is performed by a qualified
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How do I find a qualified person to service my piano?
The Piano Technicians Guild,
Inc. (PTG) is a nonprofit organization dedicated
to expanding the knowledge and skill of professionals in the piano industry.
The largest organization of its kind in the world, its membership includes
tuner-technicians, rebuilders, piano designers, and manufacturers, retailers,
and enthusiasts (We also have a list of other technician organizations).
PTG certifies Registered Piano Technicians
(RPT) through a series of rigorous examination
designed to test their skill in tuning, regulation and repair. Those capable
of performing these tasks up to a recognized worldwide standard receive
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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
- 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
Technician who is committed to comprehensive
service for your piano, and not just an occasional tuning, is your best
- 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.
The preceding article is a reprint of a brochure
published by the Piano Technicians Guild, Inc. It is provided on the Internet
as a service to piano owners. The 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, or a list of RPT members in your area, contact:
Piano Technicians Guild, Inc., 3930 Washington, Kansas City, MO, 64111-2963
Phone: (816) 753-7747
FAX: (816) 531-0070
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