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 real thing.
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.
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.
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 nor 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.
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.
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 piano technician.
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 RPT certification. Visit our online directory of Registered Piano Technicians.
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.
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.
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 action 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.
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.
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:
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.
THE LID -- Both grands and verticals sound louder and brighter if the lid is opened.
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:
Your piano sounds different than when you purchased it.
You don't like the sound even after it has been tuned.
Tone varies radically from note to note.
You cannot achieve a range of tone (mellow to bright) at different volumes.
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.
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 music 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.
A piano not only serves the art of music, it is a work of art itself. A wonderfully complex machine, it has thousands of moving parts, a framework and soundboard supporting tremendous string tension, and beautifully finished cabinetry.
Although remarkably durable, pianos are subject to deterioration with time and use. Felt wears, strings break, wooden structures weaken and crack, and the exterior finish loses its beauty. Regular service and periodic action regulation can compensate for minor wear, but heavy or extended use -- especially when combined with wide seasonal humidity swings -- can eventually cause severe deterioration.
Today, many high-quality older pianos exist in various stages of wear. Because it happens so gradually, this wear often goes unnoticed, leaving many pianos operating far below their potential. In extreme cases, some older pianos are simply left unplayed because of their poor condition.
Some technicians possess the skills to restore such instruments to excellent condition. This work is variously described as rebuilding, restoration, or reconditioning. To establish some uniformity, the Piano Technicians Guild uses the following terms:
How do I decide if major repairs are appropriate?
Not all pianos are worth the expense of reconditioning or rebuilding. In consultation with your piano technician, you should consider the following factors:
The overall condition of the piano. Can it really be restored to original condition or is it deteriorated beyond repair? Pianos subjected to severe fire, flood, or moving damage may not be repairable.
What work is included in reconditioning?
Reconditioning may include:
What work is included in rebuilding?
Complete rebuilding typically includes:
How do I arrange for these major repairs?
If you suspect that your piano needs major repairs, have a complete evaluation done by a qualified piano technician who specializes in rebuilding. Discuss costs versus benefits of various repair options, and whether the completed piano would meet your performance requirements. Most rebuilders will provide you with a written proposal. Expect to pay a modest fee for this service.
You may want to visit the rebuilder's shop to inspect other work in progress, or ask for a reference list of past clients. Checking out similar jobs will give you a sense of how your instrument could be improved, as well as a feeling for the technician's workmanship.
When you decide to proceed with major work, be sure to ask for a written contract. This enables you to know exactly what will get done to your piano and the associated costs, estimated completion date, payment method, and guarantee policy.
Q. What is the first step towards purchasing a piano for my family?
A. Purchasing a piano for your family can create a lifetime of enjoyment and intellectual stimulation. Before you spend money for either a new or used piano, a little preparation is helpful so that you purchase a piano that is appropriate for your needs and will insure your family's musical success. The first step in choosing a piano involves establishing your musical and furniture needs to fulfill your dreams. A piano will provide elegance, sophistication and beauty to your home, so you want an instrument that will play properly and compliment your home's décor. Musically, you need to select a piano that has the key touch and musical tone that you like. The best way to accomplish this is to visit your local retail piano dealer. Find a dealer that has a large selection of new and used pianos at various prices. It is important that you sample or have the salesperson demonstrate a wide variety of pianos. When you play each piano, discover which piano keyboard has the touch most responsive to your fingers. Listen to many pianos to discover which tone is most appealing. You will also have an opportunity to view different cabinet and finish styles so you can select a piano that is attractive in your home. Once you discover what you want to purchase, and have an idea of the cost, you can either purchase a new or used piano from the retail dealer or attempt to locate a used piano privately.
Q. What are the differences between buying a piano from a retail dealer or a private individual?
A. When purchasing a new or used piano from a retail dealer, you'll find:
new pianos usually come with a manufacturers warranty, a complimentary tuning, moving, and more cabinetry and finish choices.
used pianos are generally reconditioned, and they usually come with a dealer warranty, moving and complimentary tuning.
many dealers have a trade up policy that will give you the full purchased price of your piano when you desire a higher quality piano.
you can expect to pay a little more for the manufacturers warranty, and the advantage of selecting a piano from a wide variety of new and used instruments.
To locate and purchase a piano privately, look in the newspaper classified ads. The Internet also has some opportunities for locating a piano. The best way to locate a used piano is to find a Registered Piano Technician (RPT) in your area. Often they are aware of used pianos for sale, and more importantly are aware of the piano's condition. If you are determined to locate a piano on your own, you are at risk buying a piano without having a Registered Piano Technician (RPT) evaluate the condition and appraise the value of the piano.
When purchasing a used piano privately, you'll find:
they are generally less expensive than retail, assuming the seller has a realistic understanding of the value and condition of their piano.
your search requires extra travel to several homes to locate a suitable piano.
there is no warranty.
the moving cost is usually the responsibility of buyer.
less selection in furniture cabinetry and finish.
that extra service is often required to restore the piano's touch and tone.
Despite the obvious drawbacks and hidden costs of purchasing a used piano privately, you can still do fine as long as you allow a Registered Piano Technician (RPT) act as your guardian angel to guide you through this potentially confusing purchase. Although it is possible for a technician to make some recommendations by telephone on site evaluations are good investments and can prevent costly errors.
Q. How much money is required to purchase a piano for my family?
A. Pianos are like anything else, you get what you pay for! If your goal is to have music provide a lifetime of enjoyment and intellectual stimulation for your children, you need to seriously consider making a reasonable investment in their future. What most people do not realize is that young children actually require a piano with keys that are very touch sensitive. With their small fingers, if the piano keyboard mechanism is not adjusted properly, the children will have great difficulty achieving success. Purchasing a quality piano will substantially increase your child's success. When students play on a quality piano with touch sensitivity and good tone, they are not just playing musical notes. They can “feel” the music and have the music penetrate deep into their hearts and minds.
Parents that successfully incorporate musical training into their children's educational curriculum generally purchase a high quality new or used piano. They recognize the more resources and parental guidance they provide for their children's education, the more successful and well adjusted they will be as adults. Also, intuitive parents understand that children do not always listen to their advice and instructions. But they understand that their children pay close attention to their actions. When you purchase a quality new or used piano, they truly understand that musical training is an important part of their education. Purchasing a quality piano demonstrates through actions the value you place on their education and wellbeing.
Q. How can I tell if a used piano is in good condition?
A. Often problems that don't seem that big are major problems and vice versa. Keys that don't play are usually not a big problem. Often something has broken or come unglued which is easily fixed. There are a few older pianos with old plastic action parts that are problematic.
Look for notes that sound terribly out of tune when played by themselves. Most of the piano has three strings per note. The strings wrap around a steel tuning pin which is set into a wooden pinblock. When the pinblock goes bad it can't hold the tuning pins tightly and a tuning pin will slip. This leaves one of the three strings very flat to the others. This is not just an out of tune honky-tonk sound, but it will sound like you are playing two distinct notes. A bad pinblock may very well be the end of that piano if it is not a good enough piano to warrant rebuilding. On a high quality piano it may be worth doing a major rebuilding to replace the pinblock as these pianos are considerably more expensive if purchased new and would therefore warrant the work.
Another serious problem is the presence of strange rattles or buzzes. The soundboard, which is the large wooden board you can see from the back of an upright piano or from underneath a grand, has ribs glued on it to strengthen it. Sometimes when the soundboard gets cracks in it the ribs come unglued from it in places. This can allow the soundboard to rattle against the loose rib as it vibrates. This can sound like a speaker distorting when it is played too loudly. Pianos have a wooden bridge which is attached to the soundboard and has the strings running over it. The bridges have two pins for each string to hold the strings in place. Because there are so many pins very close together, sometimes the bridges split and allow the pins to become loose. This allows the strings to rattle against the loose pins. Bridges are often made in sections that can come unglued from each other also causing buzzes and rattles.
Look at the hammers for deep grooves cause by the strings. Layers of felt can be removed to restore the rounded shape to the hammer but eventually there in not enough felt left above the wooden molding to get a good tone. The high treble has the least amount of felt and you can sometimes see that the felt is all the way worn through and that the wood molding is actually striking the strings. Hammer replacement is fairly expensive and the piano needs to be good quality to warrant this work. You can't just replace the felt on the hammers. The felt is put on the moldings in special presses under tons of pressure.
The most important thing is to call a Registered Piano Technician to look at a piano before you buy it. You should look at the piano first and be sure it is something you are interested in. “Free or “cheap” pianos can actually be the most expensive if the condition of the instrument will require complete rebuilding in order to be a playable instrument. Ask your RPT to check out the structural condition of the piano. An investment of a service call before buying it can keep you from buying and moving a piano that won't be playable much less an instrument you can be proud to play and own.