8 Frequently Asked Questions about Piano Tuning & Servicing

1. What causes a piano to go out of tune?

 

There are several factors: most dramatic is humidity and temperature changes that affect the soundboard, causing it to expand and contract, altering the strings. Over time a piano's strings will continue to stretch.  Moving the piano can “bump” strings slightly out of tune. Finally, frequent playing, especially aggressive playing can “settle” the string’s tension between bridge points if they haven’t been properly set.

2. How often should I have my piano tuned?

 The strings of a new piano will continue to stretch and settle during the piano’s first year or so, requiring several tunings the first two years (4 – 6 are recommended) to keep it in tune and up to pitch. Thereafter, a piano should be tuned at least yearly here in Utah where the humidity is fairly constant, or every 6 months in an environment with more extreme humidity or temperature fluctuation. Heavily used pianos will also increase the need for tunings. Strings will continue to stretch and alter even if the piano is not used, so regular piano tunings are still a must to keep a piano in optimum shape. 

3. What does it cost?

 Cost for a Full Service Piano Tuning is $130 plus tax.This is recommended for a piano that hasn't been serviced recently and includes inspection and adjustments, minor repairs, and pitch raise as necessary.  (If a piano hasn't been tuned for a few years it will usually have dropped in pitch. In this case it will need a pitch raise before it can be effectively tuned.) 

A Maintenance Tuning is $100 plus tax and is appropriate for pianos that see regular (usually annual) tunings.  Other repairs (broken strings, keys, pedals, etc.) are billed at $60 per hour. Major repairs, regulation, etc. will require a bid after seeing the piano. 


 Repairs  are $60 per hour (minimum charge time of 1 hour) plus parts and tax  This is recommended for a piano that hasn't been serviced recently and includes inspection and adjustments, minor repairs, and pitch raise as necessary.  (If a piano hasn't been tuned for a few years it will usually have dropped in pitch. In this case it will need a pitch raise before it can be effectively tuned.) 

Other services (prices listed don't include tax):
Piano cleaning--Grand pianos $120, Upright pianos $80; A thorough and professional interior and exterior cleaning  includes removing the action and completely cleaning the cavity, sound board and frame area, all action parts and keys. Recommended for every quality piano at least every five years!  
Inspection and informal appraisal $50 (usually done when evaluating a piano for purchase)
Formal appraisal $120 (for inheritance, insurance, etc.)

 (includes formal written evaluation & cost comparisons. Please note that piano values are more arbitrary than a used car. Call for more information)
*Call me for costs relating to keytop replacements, regulation, hammer replacements, voicing, complete string replacement, etc. These costs usually require a visual inspection as there can exist other hidden factors or needed repairs affecting their function.


Please note that travel outside of Davis county may require an additional mileage charge. 

4. Why do I need to tune my piano?

Seems like a no-brainer since strings out of tune can sound real sour. But in addition, a piano that is not tuned regularly and kept up to pitch will never give you the full tone and richness of sound for which it was designed. A piano is almost always slowly dropping in pitch which, if not corrected over time, can require even more maintenance and pitch raising. 

5. Does a piano require other maintenance besides tuning?

Yes! Many people are unaware of this fact. With eighty-eight different keys the feel and sound of each note may become unbalanced and the touch may lose its maximum efficiency and sensitivity. Often, a pianist will complain of sluggish feeling keys, lack of response, a heavy touch, bobbling or double striking keys, and uneven sounding notes. This will happen to every piano over time without proper ongoing maintenance.

  • The action of a piano is comprised of hundreds of intricate moving parts which need to be adjusted or “regulated” as the need arises. A regulation is probably one of the most overlooked services for a piano that will dramatically affect its playing action and feel. Just like a 'tune-up" for a car, a piano's action needs to be kept at its optimal settings. A competent technician will be able to recognize and adjust/correct/maintain the piano’s action for maximum performance. 
  • Over time pianos also require “voicing” (adjustments and corrections made to the hammer felts and their density) which will make the keys sound much more "even" and of similar tone and quality.)
  • A thorough cleaning of the action and all inner parts should be done by a competent technician every 5 – 10 years or more often if the environment requires. Dust, dirt, and grime will work its way into the moving parts of every key and will negatively affect their proper function.
  • Worn pads and bushings will cause the keys to wobble and make excess noise, and look uneven and unlevel. The pads should be replaced and adjusted.
  • Hammers with excess "grooves" in them (at the point they strike the strings) create problems. The grooves will "muddy" the sound as they strike. The wear will affect the blow distance of the hammer which results in a less favorable touch. In less extreme situations hammers can be filed to their proper settings with greatly improved results. In more extreme situations or where the hammers have already been filed previously and have worn new grooves, the hammers should be replaced.
  • Pedals need to be adjusted and repaired if necessary for their maximum effectiveness.

These are just a few of the common problems that can be remedied by a trained technician. Please feel free to visit with me about any other problems you make be experiencing with your piano!

6. How should I clean my piano?

The exterior of any piano, the keys, and inside the cabinets of grands require regular cleaning that you can do. Clean your piano’s finishes and keys with a soft damp cloth (preferably a microfiber cloth). You can use a solution of 2 tablespoons white vinegar to 1 gallon of warm water, or a mild dish soap on particularly soiled areas. The inside area of a grand piano (above the strings) should be frequently vacuumed. 


As a qualified technician I will clean inside and around the action and all of its parts, under and behind the strings, and many other areas that are not as easily accessed. After a good piano cleaning you will notice that your piano will look and feel and play and sound more like it did when it was brand new! Very old pianos may still have real ivory keytops (no longer used on newer pianos) which can stain or discolor and may require special treatment by a technician. Modern keys are made of a hard plastic that can be cleaned with a non-abrasive window or kitchen cleaner (such as Windex or Formula 409). For high gloss piano finishes I recommend a high gloss piano polish available at www.corycare.com.

7. Where can I locate my piano?

 Homes today are well insulated so the old taboo of pianos against an outside wall is no longer a concern. However, pianos should not be exposed to extreme temperature changes such as heat or air conditioning vents or long periods of direct sunlight.  In areas with high or extreme changes in humidity a specially designed climate control system can be installed in your piano. Feel free to visit with me about this. An ideal range of temperature is between 65 to 72 degrees, and a constant humidity level of close to 42% percent is optimum. Pianos in homes with swamp coolers will often require special attention to humidity concerns. 

8. What about purchasing a new piano?

Whether buying a new piano from a dealer or a used piano off of the want-ads, a newer piano can be an exciting and wonderful addition to your home or studio. Piano dealers in our area are trained and reputable and are almost always a safe bet for purchasing a piano. You may expect to pay slightly more than you would through the want-ads, but you should also be able to expect their professional services and care for your piano. Buying a piano from the want-ads can also find a great instrument, but there are things to beware of:


  • Avoid pianos that are "give aways" (fixer uppers, $50 or free if you pick up, etc.) They almost always are in need of several hundred if not thousands of dollars of repairs. Yes, pianos can outlive their playability and sometimes just need to be "retired". I have visited many a home of a client that found a cheap piano on KSL classifieds for a very low price and I've had to deliver the news that it needed over a thousand dollars of repairs and even then won't be worth the money they put into it. Far better to spend more on a piano that is still in good condition.
  • Have a technician inspect the piano you are considering buying. Less obvious problems may present costs you weren't expecting! For an informal inspection like this I would charge $50 to come and look at the piano. 
  • Be very cautious of the tall, older upright pianos (sometimes called an upright grand). Many people are enamored with the charm of the beautiful cabinet work or the vintage appeal of the piano, but ALMOST ALWAYS these pianos are in need of maintenance or major repairs and part replacements resulting in hundreds of dollars. Often the strings will be rusty and the bass strings (with copper or steel winding) will be so full of gunk and residue that their resulting sound is as much a "thud" as a tone! The only way to know for sure is to have it looked at by a qualified technician. 
  • Be cautious of what is referred to as a "spinet" piano. Spinet pianos became popular after WWII as they saved space with their compact design. A spinet piano will be shorter and also "deeper" from the front to back. This is a result of locating the interior action of the piano down inside the keys instead of on top of the keys such as you would find in a normal console piano.  This design presents many problems, the biggest of which is the shorter strings resulting in less tone, richness, and volume. This also presents tuning and stability problems. Other problems result from spinet pianos being much more difficult to service because of the their design. Also, while there are still some spinets of good quality, many were built on the "cheap" and are fraught with problems such a brittle and breaking glue joints, disintegrating plastic parts, and more.
  • Never buy a piano sight unseen, even if you have seen pictures. Just like buying a used car, many problems are not immediately evident without proper inspection. If you are looking at a used piano, some of the things you can check for are straightness and evenness of keys, properly function pedals, and a desirable and consistent touch and sound. Even more important, open the front part of the cabinet (usually done quite easily by lifting the lid and undoing small latches or screws at the top corners of the front piece) and inspect the action and the wires. Things to beware of are: rusty, discolored strings in the mid to upper sections (should shiny silver) and strings in the bass section that are discolored or dusty looking but the dust doesn't clean off.  These wound wired strings should be a bright and shiny metallic copper look. Beware of felt hammers that are un-even, discolored or stained, or have noticeable deep grooves where they strike the strings (anything more that 1/16th of an inch can be a problem) or are loose and wobbly. Extreme amounts of dust and dirt in the cabinet.  Any loose wooden fragments on the wooden keys that should be securely glued. Look at the felt "bushings" (the holes in the keys that allow the keys to sit straight. They should be even and usually a bright red felt. As they become worn you will notice the keys are loose as you wiggle them from side to side.

Feel free to contact me with any servicing questions!