Preserving Your Investment


When it comes time to have your piano tuned, or to have other work done on it, you do well to get in touch with someone who really knows what he is doing. If he has been well trained for his job, and has kept himself up-to-date, you will get the benefit.

An old piano has old-piano problems; a new piano has new-piano problems. Any new string goes out of tune rapidly from molecular creep along its length and lateral yield where it bends at any bearing point. So it is advisable to tune a new piano four times the first year. During that time it is rapidly settling, just as a new house settles. After the first year, it should be tuned as often as necessary. The manufacturers recommend a minimum of twice each year.

There is a difference between tuning a piano and regulating it. Tuning adjusts the tension of only the strings, about 240 in all, whereas regulating involves timing, spacing, and adjusting most of the nearly 9,000 movable parts of the piano. Regulating can be minor, at little or no cost, or it can be a major undertaking, taking one to three days at a high cost.

Make the best of your investment in your piano technician’s service visit. Save his time for the actual work to be done. Have the piano cleared of all articles. Keep the area quiet while he is working. Your tuner is not listening to tones that you hear, but, rather, to whisper-soft "beats" emitted between tones. So try to make it quiet enough that a whisper can be heard across the room. Avoid such noises as from a vacuum cleaner, dish- or clothes-washer, running water, and others in the house and yard. Even silently walking through the room creates, to the tuner’s ear, a "Doppler effect" that combines to confuse the "beats" for which he listens. So when the tuner visits—quiet is the word.You’ll likely get more for your money.

Mothproofing of the thousands of piano felts is done at the factory, but your technician should check this point on each visit. You may leave the keys uncovered and, if you wish, the piano open at all times, except when working or vacuuming around it or when strong cooking odors are present. Close the piano at such times.

Humidity and Your Piano’s "Tensions"

There are two major factors that determine how frequently your piano needs service: First and foremost, the amount of atmospheric change, especially humidity change—with emphasis on the word change. Second, and surprisingly a less important factor, the amount of use. Now let’s consider these and see how you can save yourself some money.

When your piano goes out of tune it does so largely due to shifting tension brought on mainly by humidity change. It goes out of tune in much the same way as your body ‘goes out of tune’ with certain atmospheric or humidity changes. You know how a weather change can cause an ache in your elbow, back, knee, or some other weak spot. Well, with the piano this is also true. It has certain "weak spots," unstable areas. That’s right, the whole piano does not go out of tune evenly with a humidity change. Quite to the contrary, only certain parts of it go drastically out of tune, while other parts remain stable. The stable areas include strings having a high tension-to-mass ratio and a low ratio of speaking length to mute length. The unstable areas include strings having the reverse in high-low ratios. The unstable areas shift flat with a humidity change toward dryness, and they shift sharp with a change toward dampness.

This seasonal pitch drift you will find most noticeable at the tenor-bass break, where the upper bass strings stay quite stable but where the low tenor strings shift drastically. Furthermore, in this unstable area the three strings of the unison of one note do not shift evenly within the one note; but, rather, the one shortest from tuning pin to hitch pin shifts most, the middle string less, and the longest string even less. So not only intervals shift, but unisons do also.

Now a word of caution: Tuning the piano in an adverse humid or dry condition will help the piano only for a few weeks at most. What is needed is to correct the humidity situation in your home. First, be careful where you place your piano—away from any heat vent and definitely away from direct sunlight. Such dryness could cause it to go out of tune within minutes. Also, keep it away from an air-conditioning vent. Humidity causes rusting, sluggishness in the action, bursting case parts, and so forth. So you may want to consider installing an electric humidity-control device. This may prove to be, as one author stated, "worth its weight in gold."

When you have the humidity controlled, have your piano tuned. The humidity-controlled piano tuned once a year stays far better in tune throughout the year than the piano in uncontrolled humidity tuned four or more times a year.

Before You Invest—Investigate!

A wise buyer, when purchasing expensive items, will often arrange to retain a professional consultant. If you contemplate buying a piano, you should be able to hire a consulting technician at about the cost of a tuning fee. Investigation may save you the grief of buying a piano that looks excellent and even sounds excellent but has a hidden flaw that could require a very expensive repair or rebuilding job, or could render your piano unusable. Your consultant can estimate the cost of whatever work should be done—repairs that would, of course, affect the purchase price.

So, ask yourself: Can I afford the initial investment? Can I afford the maintenance? Before you invest, investigate. Then, if you own a piano, take good care of it.




Ball's Piano Service