Pianos have, on average, around 220 strings which are stretched at great
tension across the soundboard of the
piano. Pianos are made from living,
breathing materials which are susceptible to changes in their environment. These changes affect the tension of
the strings which causes your piano to sound out of tune.
How often does my piano need tuned?
All pianos need to be tuned at least once a year to sound their best. Even if the piano is not being played
regularly, changes in temperature and
humidity throughout the seasons can
affect its tuning. These changes are
happening all the time and you may not notice until it is extremely out of tune. A tuning on a piano that is
very badly out of tune will not be as stable as a tuning on a piano that was close to being in tune to begin
Ideally, a piano should be tuned to
concert pitch (A440 Hz). If it is tuned and maintained on a regular basis, the piano should just need small
adjustments to achieve it. When a piano has not been maintained, has been moved or kept in a bad place, the
pitch may drop to a point where a fine tuning will not be
sufficient. In these cases it is necessary to carry out one or more rough tunings just to get the piano back
to a point where a fine tuning will achieve the
desired result. In all cases a huge amount of tension is being added to the structure of the piano which
invariably makes it a little unstable in the short term. For this reason it is necessary for the piano to be
tuned again within a shorter period than normal.
Sometimes it may not be possible to raise the pitch of an instrument because of the state of the strings,
tightness of the tuning pins etc. In this case the
piano will have to be levelled out and tuned to the pitch at it is most stable.
Where is the best position for my piano?
Pianos do not like to be too hot or too cold. A constant 18 to 21 degrees celsius is ideal. Fluctuating
humidity levels cause wood to shrink and expand
affecting tuning stability, so within 45-60 per cent relative humidity is optimal. When positioning your piano
try to keep away from windows and radiators. An interior wall (unless there is a radiator in the next room
backing onto the piano) is the most suitable place. If you think your piano is being adversely affected by its
environment you can also consider buying either a humidifier to counteract excess dryness or a dehumidifier
for excess dampness. Underfloor heating may also affect the stability of tuning. If this becomes an issue,
specialist insulated mats can be placed under the piano to solve this problem
What is regulation?
Another element in servicing a piano is the regulation of its moving parts. The action and keys are the
playing mechanism of your piano, with each note having approximately 35 pieces that need to operate properly.
Symptoms of a piano being badly out of regulation are: keys are not level, lack of forceful sound (even when a
key is struck hard), uneven volume or feel, bubbling hammers, keys seeming to sink too far down when played
etc. No two
pianos feel exactly the same when played, but ideally all the notes on one piano should feel the same.
Adjustments to the action to make it as close to where it was originally can make a dramatic difference.
What types of repairs might my piano need?
Occasionally components of a piano can break and need repaired. A lot of these repairs can be done in situ but
some require the removal of the action, or even the whole piano, to a workshop for more extensive
refurbishment. Listed are
examples of some of the more serious issues that can affect a piano. LOOSE PINS
The pinblock is
a laminated piece of wood several inches thick. Finely threaded tuning pins are pounded into this through an
iron plate. Most commonly pins can become loose from years of having them turned back and forth in the holes
during tuning. In this case, the pins can sometimes be pounded a little further into the pinblock or treated
with tightener. If the pins are already in as far as they should go, the piano can be restrung with oversized
pins which can be a good long term solution. A more serious problem is when there is a crack in the pinblock
which cause holes to open up and the pins to become so loose they will not stay in place when tension is
placed on them. In these cases major work is needed to replace the pinblock and it is very often not worth the
cost of fixing it.
Some pianos never break a string, but we have to accept that it does happen and
sometimes during tuning. A good tuning requires the tuner to set the pin so that the piano remains in tune for
a reasonable length of time, assuming the piano is in good condition. This requires the strings to be struck
with considerable force, more than you would use in normal playing. Sometimes a string which has been weakened
by time or rust breaks during this process which could be an early warning sign that others are also about to
break. A steel treble string can normally be replaced on the spot, but, despite all efforts to stretch it at
the time of replacement, it will still stretch and therefore drop in pitch over the ensuing weeks. The best
solution is to tune it high and mute it until it has settled. A copper wound bass string needs making to
specification so takes longer to order andreplace. Sometimes it is possible to splice the wound string and
repair it at the same time. This is only possible with bass strings that have broken in the right place, and
are in reasonable condition. It is not recommended to continue playing a piano for long with a broken string,
especially a bass bicord as it will damage the hammer, and possibly snap the shank.
Hammers strike the strings with quite a force. Over time this can cause the hammer felt to
become grooved and affect the tone of the piano. Reshaping the hammer can improve this alongside adjustment to
the action to account for the new size of the hammer. Occasionally a hammer can break along its shank. This
calls for a replacement shank to be fitted.
These are just a few of the major issues that can come up when tuning and servicing a piano. The majority of
the time regular tuning and maintenance can prevent any problems before they ruin your enjoyment of your
There is an abundance of information about pianos and piano tuning and repair online.
PIANO TECHNICIANS GUILD
Thanks for taking the time to read this leaflet. I hope it has helped you to understand how best to look after
your piano and some of the issues that may come up over the years. Playing the piano is a wonderful thing to
do and, by investing in your instrument, you can maximise your own enjoyment and the enjoyment of the future
generations of learners.