TUNING STABILITY

WHY YOUR PIANO GOES OUT OF TUNE

There are multiple factors that will help determine how long a piano stands in tune.

 


ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS
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Creative Commons

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A piano will stand in tune longer in an environmentally stable location.

Pianos are made mostly of wood. Wood expands and contracts with variations in humidity and temperature.  The more consistent the humidity and temperature is, the longer the tuning will last.

 A piano kept by a frequently used entrance during the winter will not hold as well as if it was kept in an area where it is not subjected to wide temperature variations. A piano in a church sanctuary will be probably not hold tune as well if the sanctuary is kept  unheated during the week. To maximize the life of your tuning and safeguard the well-being of your piano, it should not be kept in front of a heating vent or where the sun will bake it for several hours a day.

Here in southwest Pennsylvania, we tend to have hot, humid summers followed by cold, drying winters.  A typical tuning schedule is to have the piano tuned twice a year  because of the change of seasons.  If finances are a bit tight, the piano should be tuned once a year at the same time each year.

The Piano Lifesaver System manufactured by Dampp-Chaser is a very effective solution for pianos that will not hold tune because of widely varying humidity and temperature conditions.  The PLS has 3 main components: a heating bar, a humidifier with”smart” bar , and a humidistat.   schema_pls

 

If the humidity rises too much, the heating bar turns on. If the humidity drops too much, the humidifier turns on.  The system is installed inside the piano.  It runs silently and continuously 24/7/365.

The Piano Lifesaver System also helps to protect the wood and strings from the ravages of extremes in dryness and dampness.


mechanical FACTORS

The mechanical condition of the piano also plays a role in tuning stability.

If the tuning pins are loose in the pinblock, they lack the necessary torque to hold the strings at tension. 

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Both the tenor-treble bridge and the bass bridge should be in good condition.  Although a little surface splitting is not necessarily a problem, severe splitting and cracking can affect the piano’s ability to hold tune.  The apron, if present, should also be in good condition.  If this part of the piano’s structure is splitting, the strings can change position after tuning. The strings may drift off pitch.

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An old bass bridge

 

Other structural problems, such as a cracked plate,  or the pinblock separating from the core, affect stability.


change in pitch and tension

The degree of change in tension pre-tuning vs. post-tuning affects stability. If the piano is only  moved a few hundredths of a half-step, there will be less settling than if the piano was raised a full half-step.

If the tuner changes the tension on the strings significantly, the piano will begin to react.  This reaction will continue after the tuner leaves.  The piano will slowly start to drift out of tune again, though not as far as it was before tuning..

Some settling is normal. This is why a followup tuning is recommended after a major pitch raise or pitch lowering.

There may be times when you may want to tune the piano lower than A=440. Some very old pianos were not designed to be tuned to A=440.  Other old instruments may no longer be unable to take the tension of the strings at A440 because of beginning structural problems.

The strings on a modern piano tuned to A = 440 can exert 18 tons per square inch on tension on the plate. It is very important that the piano is structurally sound.  


hard use

Playing can also affect the tuning stability, though under normal circumstances this is unlikely. If this is a practice room piano that  is pounded on for 12 hours a day, the piano will need  tuned more often.  Hard use will require a more aggressive maintenance schedule as well.

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pianos used for public performance 

Pianos that are played in concert need to be tuned more often.  Concert pianos are often tuned before every public performance and then retouched during intermission. 

Excellence is on display.  The greatest musicians are playing the greatest music on the greatest instruments. The musicians and the audience deserve to have these pianos tuned and maintained to the highest level possible.

This is high art. 

Professional reputations are on the line. 

There also is a considerable investment of money in putting on a performance. 

Cutting corners cheats everyone involved.


new pianos

Brand new pianos have a break-in period of about two years.  It takes that long for the strings to finish stretching and for the piano to truly stabilize.  

Most manufacturers recommend having the piano tuned three or four times the first year for this reason.    

Although it may seem counter-intuitive, it is true that the more often the piano is tuned, the less often the piano needs tuned.  If the piano is tuned correctly and regularly, it will continue to stabilize.  Each time it is tuned, the adjustments made to the strings will become smaller and smaller. The piano will settle less and less after each tuning.  Each tuning creates the foundation for finer and finer adjustments that will last longer and longer.  

Sometimes piano buyers will purchase an expensive top tier piano because they demand quality.  They will then refuse to tune or maintain their piano because they consider tuning, voicing, and other maintenance a waste of money.  Maintaining quality is an ongoing process.  

A quality piano may require even more care than a lesser piano if you want it to express its full potential.


recently moved pianos

After a piano is moved,  it requires time to acclimate to its new home.  A common recommendation is to allow the piano to settle for about three weeks before tuning it. 


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