How often should my piano be tuned?
A piano’s tuning stability is affected by changes in humidity and temperature, frequency of playing and the quality and age of the instrument. The pitch can become sharp during the cold, damp months of winter and flat in the hotter, drier months. This is because the soundboard, which is made of spruce, absorbs and releases moisture from the surrounding air. The pressure exerted on the strings through the bridges by expansion and contraction of the soundboard affects tuning stability. If a piano is played regularly the continual force upon the strings can alter the tuning. Aim to have your piano tuned on an annual basis but if you are a professional pianist or student that plays a lot you may like to have it tuned more often.
What if my piano is really flat?
A piano that hasn’t been tuned for a long time can be up to a semitone or more flat. In the majority of cases these pianos, even if they are very old, can be successfully bought back to concert pitch (A440 Hz). Generally they require a double tuning on the first occasion and another tune a week or two later and ideally again in a few months time before they really begin to stabilise at concert pitch again. A piano that is 30-50 cents flat or more will usually require more than one tuning to settle.
Does moving a piano affect the tuning?
Generally moving a piano won’t upset the tuning (eg. from one room to another) but if you have moved your piano to a new house let it settle for a couple of weeks to allow the soundboard to adjust to its new environment before tuning.
Buying an old piano?
BEWARE! After you've found a lovely looking old piano, paid a few hundred dollars for it and then paid more to have it moved the tuner arrives and tells you that it can't be tuned because the tuning pins are slipping. Having said this a lot of the old pianos you see for sale are still quite good. They're well made and still playable, they might need extra tuning to bring them up to pitch but they often come up well. You can't expect the action to feel as good as a new piano but with time and money spent they can be improved.
So before you commit to an old piano it may pay you to talk to a piano technician to make sure you're making the right decision.
At least have a look inside at the action to see if it looks neat and tidy, making sure there are no broken hammers or strings.
What is regulation?
Regulation, as it is called, are the adjustments that a piano technician makes to a piano’s moving parts (the action). The inside of a piano is made up of hundreds of felt, wooden and metal components and over time these parts wear and move away from the tolerances that they were originally set to by the manufacturer. Each note has to be set up so that the hammers are a certain distance from the strings, the hammer "lets off” a certain distance from each string, the key is a certain height from the keybed etc, etc.
Once your piano is set up properly it will feel much more even and responsive to play. Generally a piano that is played regularly could do with a complete regulation after about 10 years. A complete regulation could take 7-15 hours of labour, depending on whether it is an upright
or a grand piano.
Care of your piano.
The position in the room that you place your piano can have an influence on the tuning stability. If you can, an internal wall is preferable, outside walls experience more temperature fluctuations. Avoid exposure to direct sunlight for long periods or locating it next to a ducted heating outlet. It is often difficult to find the perfect place for a piano because of other requirements within the room. Keep your piano clean inside and out. Dust built up over the years can affect the moving parts. Careful vacuuming of accessible areas inside the piano using the brush attachment is beneficial, the front and bottom panels can be easily removed. Keeping the key cover down when not in use will also help keep dust out.
Many repairs can be done on the job such as; broken strings, broken hammers, missing keytops, sticking keys, ringing dampers etc. If the piano requires more extensive work the action can be removed and taken to the workshop. Major repairs can be expensive and will often be worth more than the value of an old piano. While a one hundred year old piano may have sentimental value and often look attractive the cost to get it playing properly may be prohibitive. The piano may also have underlying structural problems such as a damaged pinblock which can affect the tuning stability, making any repair work a waste of money. Pianos do have a use by date so it may be worth investing the money into a new or good secondhand piano.