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Los Angeles and Boston Piano Service and Tuning
  Some Common Questions about Pianos and their care.

Q.: "What makes a piano go out of tune?

A.: Humidity fluctuations, pure and simple. In the winter months the wooden parts of a piano, especially the soundboard, may dry out and cause the pitch level to drop. In the summer, when the humidity is too high, the wood will swell and a piano will drift sharp.

Q.: "How can I prevent these seasonal pitch swings?"

A.: The use of a humidifier in the winter and a dehumidifier or Dampp-Chaser(tm) humidity control system in the summer will greatly improve tuning stability.

Q.: "My new piano goes out of tune faster than my old one. How can this be?

A.: It is normal for a brand new piano to require extra tunings its first year to compensate for the stretching and settling of the new strings.

Q.: "Does the amount of use a piano gets affect it tuning stability?"

A.: No. A well-tuned piano cannot be knocked out of tune no matter how often or hard it is played. If your piano does not stay tuned for a reasonable period it may be due to a mechanical problem such as loose tuning pins or excessive friction caused by rusty strings.

Q.: "How often should a piano be tuned?"

A.: Virtually all manufacturers recommend a minimum of two tunings a year, more if brand new or if humidity control is poor.

Q.: "When should a piano be tuned?"

A.: In Los Angeles the best times for tuning are fall and spring when humidity levels are in the normal range. Ideally, a piano should also be tuned immediately before a concert or other special event regardless of the season.

Q.: "What does A-440 mean?"

A.: It is the internationally accepted standard pitch level. The A is the A above middle C and it is tuned to a frequency of 440 Hertz or 440 cycles per second.

Q.: "What is voicing (also called tone regulation)?"

A.: Voicing involves evening out the tone and/or volume level of the individual notes of a piano so that there is no difference in sound between any two adjacent notes except for pitch level. It also involves eliminating extraneous buzzes, rattles, clicks, etc., and adjusting the overall volume level of the piano to suit the size of the room, the type of music most often played, and the personal preferences of the piano owner/player.

Q.: "What is regulation?"

A.: Regulation is a process of aligning and adjusting the thousands of moving parts within a piano. The goals are evenness, predictability, reliability, speed, and control.

Q.: "How often should a piano be regulated?"

A.: A new or rebuilt piano should have a touchup regulation after about a year of service to compensate for initial settling of parts. All pianos should have a complete regulation every five to ten years depending on level of use. An instrument used for concerts or professional caliber study should be adjusted annually and checked before each major performance.

Q.: "Should a piano be tuned even if it isn't being used much?"

A.: Yes. Tuning is largely cumulative. That is, the more often a piano is tuned the easier it is to tune and the closer it remains between tunings. A well-tuned piano invites use whereas a poorly tuned one discourages it.

Q.: "What should I use to clean my piano's keys?"

A.: A damp rag, well wrung out, ought to be enough to remove all but the most stubborn dirt. If necessary, a small amount of mild soap (liquid dishwashing soap, for example) can be used. Do not let water run down between keys. Wipe dry with another rag or paper towel. Use a separate rag on the black keys if they are real wood as some have a black stain, which will come off and could discolor the white keys.

Q.: "Should I close the keyboard when the piano is not in use?"

A.: If your piano has real ivory key tops they should not be covered as the darkness may cause them to turn yellow. If they are plastic, it really doesn't matter.

Q.: "What size piano should I buy?"

A.: Generally the bigger the better. Pianos do not take well to miniaturization. Virtually every aspect of a piano suffers when made smaller including serviceability, tuning stability, tone quality, durability, and proper touch. Remember that a full upright takes no more floor space than a spinet.

Q.: "What is so special about a grand piano?"

A.: Aside from the obvious visual difference, the real difference is in the moving parts or action, as it is called. The grand action is considerably more complex than an upright action and allows far better speed, control, and reliability, especially when playing pieces where rapid repetition of notes is required.

Q.: "Are my ivory keys valuable?"

A.: A well maintained ivory keyboard could add considerably to the resale value of a piano. However, even one missing or damaged ivory can greatly reduce this value. Your technician can tell you whether your ivory can be restored at a reasonable cost or whether the time has come to install new, plastic key tops. New ivory can still be obtained and installed but at great expense (currently over $2,000).

Q.: "If my soundboard is cracked is my piano ruined?"

A.: Usually not. Most cracks are merely cosmetic flaws but they do indicate less than ideal humidity control. If the hostile environment persists over a period of years the piano can develop major structural problems.

Q.: "My last tuner said my piano couldn't be brought up to standard pitch. What is the reason for this assessment?"

A.: There are two common reasons for an un-tunable piano: 1) chronic string breakage, 2) loose tuning pins. Both require restringing and possibly a new pin block to correct the latter. However, it is equally common to find a piano that is perfectly tunable but was left flat because the previous tuner was either too lazy or too timid to bring it up to pitch, a process that involves tuning the piano twice or even three times in rapid succession.

Q.: "How can I keep moths out of my piano?"

A.: A clean piano is the best moth repellent. Your technician can thoroughly clean your piano and check for any existing moth damage. Modern pianos use felt which has been treated by the manufacturer to repel moths. Moth balls and camphor cakes are not recommended as they give off corrosive fumes which can attack your piano's metal parts.

Q.: "How often should a piano be restrung?"

A.: The average home piano will never need restringing under normal conditions. There are however, special cases where restringing is necessary or desirable as follows:
1) Loose tuning pins or chronic string breakage
2) Excessive friction from rust causing tuning problems
3) Bass strings have gone bad
4) Soundboard in need of replacement or major repair

Q.: "What kind of heat is best for a piano?"

A.: Heat is heat. A piano does not know or care whether it has steam heat, baseboard hot water, or hot air heat. What is important is the proximity of the piano to the heat source and the relative humidity level of the room.

Q.: "What is the ideal humidity level for a piano?"

A.: The precise figure given by manufacturers is 42% relative humidity. Under no circumstances should a piano be subjected to levels below 30% or above 70% for more than a day or two. European pianos are generally built for a higher average humidity level (50%) and require extra vigilance to get them through Maine winters.

Q.: "Will it hurt my piano to be left in an unheated summer cottage during the winter months?"

A.: Usually not, unless the room is especially damp. In fact, a piano kept in an unheated or semi-heated room in winter will usually fare better than one kept in an overheated, under-humidified room.
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