How often should a piano be tuned?

The tuning interval that is best for your piano depends on many factors, like the piano’s overall stability, surrounding temperature and humidity changes, amount of daily usage, and what the piano is actually used for. Some pianists are more sensitive to a piano being out of tune, and may choose to tune more frequently. Also, brand new pianos may require more tunings in the first year or two because new strings stretch more rapidly.

To be more specific, twice a year is ideal. This allows the piano’s tuning to stay within a stable range, and it allows your technician to stay ahead of the many maintenance items that must be addressed to keep every piano healthy. Once a year is acceptable for many situations. But tuning less than once a year is where things become problematic.

What happens if when a piano is not tuned regularly?

If a piano settles to a lower string tension (pitch) due to infrequent tuning, it cannot be tuned in the same manner as a piano that receives regular service. The string tension must first be restored with a tension correction tuning. This process adds cost to the appointment, increases the risk of string breakage, and the subsequent fine tuning might be less stable than that of a regularly tuned piano: Neglected pianos not only sound poor, but infrequent service makes it difficult or impossible for the technician to stay ahead of the degradation in mechanical and tonal performance that ultimately occurs.

Does my piano need anything besides just tuning?

Yes. The piano is a complex machine with thousands of moving parts, many of which will start to wear down, change shape, and get out of adjustment. If you only tune the piano, but pay no attention to it’s other service requirements, it will begin to develop issues that make it harder to play, or less pleasing to listen to. Over time, these minor annoyances can develop into serious problems. When you purchase a piano, you should do so with the knowledge that the piano’s performance will decline over time, and that it will eventually be necessary to regulate the action, reshape and voice the hammers, or replace or recondition worn parts to keep the piano playing and sounding like it did when it was new.

Besides regular service by a qualified technician, is there anything more I can do to protect my investment and care for my piano?

Yes. By having a Piano Life Saver (Dampp-Chaser) installed, you can stabilize the humidity in the vicinity of the piano’s soundboard. This will keep the piano sounding better in between tunings, help keep the action (touch response) consistent, and significantly prolong the life of the piano. Arizona is a dry climate, but the humidity still changes. It is the change in humidity that causes the piano’s wood fibers to expand and contract. This not only throws the piano out of tune, but weakens the wood’s cellular structure, eventually causing serious damage. My piano has a Piano Life Saver system, and I would not invest in a piano without one installed. It’s worth every penny, and easily pays for itself in the long run. Many people assume a room humidifier will be a better solution, but room humidifiers will cost more to buy and operate, and achieve inferior results in most cases. Unless you have a very sophisticated expensive system that uses a large amount of water and electricity, and are willing to maintain it constantly, you cannot expect to achieve better results. The Piano Life Saver is so practical and effective because it only needs to regulate the small “micro-climate” of air immediately surrounding the piano’s soundboard! (Mark Purney, RPT of Mesa Piano Service is a Certified Installer for Dampp-Chaser Piano Life Saver systems.)

What else can be done to protect a piano?

Make sure the piano does not receive any direct sunlight. Ultraviolet rays will destroy your piano’s finish, and the daily cycles of heating and cooling will be damaging to the piano. Keep drinks and fluids away from the piano at all times. Whenever possible, keep your piano away from fireplaces and heating/cooling ducts.

What about dust and dirt?

Dust is a serious problem for grand pianos. The strings, soundboard, plate, and tuning pins collect not just dust, but other airborne pollutants (like cooking oils). Over time, these pollutants form a residue that permanently embeds itself into the exposed surfaces and strings, and is impossible to remove unless the piano is completely disassembled for a full restoration and rebuilding. We can clean and detail your piano, and even show you how to do it yourself. But the most effective way to protect your grand piano from contaminants is to allow us to install a custom string cover that stays on the piano at all times. With a 100% wool string cover, you’ll never need to clean under the lid again, and 50 years from now, things will still look like brand new!

How can I make a good choice and avoid being ripped-off when purchasing a piano?

Regarding used pianos, we cannot stress enough the importance of having the piano professionally evaluated before you purchase, or even accept a piano as a free gift. Unfortunately, many people obtain a free piano from a relative or buy a very cheap one from Craigslist, and expect it will just need a tuning and they will be all ready for piano lessons. A $200 used piano is just as likely to be a great purchase as a $200 used automobile. If you see a car for sale for less than $1,000, the first thing you think is, “What major problems does it have, and how much money is this car really going to cost beyond the purchase price?” The same skepticism should be applied to a piano purchase, but we’ve seen enough bad piano purchases to know that is often does not happen. Part of the problem is that while most people can tell if a car has problems with the steering, brakes, engine, and transmission, most people would not know how to determine if a piano has a cracked pinblock, cracked soundboard, major action component degradation, water damage, separated bridges, string termination problems, regulation issues, etc. Most piano dealers are trustworthy and reputable (the dishonest ones simply did not survive the recent decline in the economy and the piano industry), and you can usually do well with a dealership. Buying successfully from a private seller is much more risky, and a professional evaluation is the best way to avoid buying the wrong piano.

Also remember that some pianos were designed for the very lowest end of the market (the case for many ultra-compact spinet or drop-action models), and they were not of high quality when they were brand new. After a few decades of decay (and often neglect), they become even less capable of meeting the needs of a piano student. We suggest resisting the urge to buy a poorly performing piano for a few hundred dollars, and consider making a real investment that will bring learning and good music into your home.

This answers only a handful of questions. If you have other questions about caring for your piano, please give us a call.