The Importance of Routine Piano Maintenance

The average 88 key piano has 221 strings. Those 221 strings are attached to 221 pins whose job it is to resist 20 tons….yes, 20 tons of tension. In the course of a year, whether the piano is played regularly or not, all that tension will typically pull a piano’s pitch down ten percent flat. In a perfect world, the notes will all pull flat relative to each other. Most of us won’t hear a dramatic change for quite a while. HOWEVER, the flexibility of the pin really only allows a tuner to bring it up ten percent at a time without the pitch pulling down again within 30 seconds. If the piano falls say a half tone flat, an experienced technician can do a pitch raise and then a tuning. A less experienced technician may need to do two full tunings with several weeks in between tunings. Additionally, if a piano is left untuned for too long nodes can develop on the strings at the capo bar. Extra work may be needed to correct this as the string will tend to work its way back to rest at this node.

Indeed, older pianos (75 years old or more) often hold their pitch better because the strings have done their youthful stretching and are more stable. And a piano that falls in pitch relative to itself will often sound o.k. if not challenged by another instrument or recorded audio orchestration, as in the case of a piano with a digital player system with complementary audio accompaniment. However, the uneven distribution of tension in a piano that is below concert pitch can cause pins to loosen and even crack the pinblock rendering the piano untunable.

As a rule, it is basic piano maintenance to have your piano tuned once a year (more often for a more critical ear). A seasoned technician will be able to tell you if your piano is in such a stable environment that you can wait longer between tunings.




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