For almost 30 years, I have been tuning pianos in all sorts of places and in all kinds of conditions. I’ve tuned in concert halls and school hallways, on moving trains and outside in the rain. I have tuned concert grand pianos in tiny apartments, and dreadful wrecks in stately mansions. And all pianos, no matter where they are or how they are cared for, go out of tune over time.
Some piano owners drive their pianos out of tune through hours of playing. But even a piano that is never played is affected by the change of seasons. In the northeastern United States, the change in the relative humidity from summer to winter is quite dramatic. And all pianos are very sensitive to this. A piano’s soundboard is a very large and very thin (1/4”) piece of spruce that swells and shrinks with the slightest changes in the air’s moisture content.
The effects of humidity can be mitigated by the installation of a humidity system, but all piano makers recommend that their instruments be tuned at least twice a year to compensate for changes in humidity. When a piano has not been serviced for several seasons, the tension of the strings steadily drops and the pitch of the whole piano goes down with it. When I encounter a piano in this condition, I have two choices: (1) tune the piano at its present pitch, or (2) raise it up to standard pitch (A440). There are advantages and disadvantages to both choices.
Raising the pitch to A440 allows a piano to sound as it was intended to sound. It will match the pitch of other instruments, recordings and singers, and allow students to hear the proper pitches as they learn to play and listen for themselves. Raising the pitch does destabilize the tension of the strings and requires several follow-up visits to re-establish that balance. Since it requires several more tunings a pitch raise is more expensive than leaving the piano’s pitch where it is.
Not raising the pitch is the least stressful choice for the instrument. If it’s an older piano it might be the best choice to prevent stress cracks in the bridges, soundboard and pinblock, and lessen the chance of strings breaking. The piano tuning will also be more stable and require fewer follow-ups, and the price is the same as any straight-forward tuning. But the piano won’t sound right when played with another a musical instrument or recording, and students taking lessons will not be training their ears to hear the correct pitches.
There’s an old adage in the piano business that a piano can’t be tuned unless it’s in tune, and it’s true. Regularly-scheduled seasonal maintenance is the only way to achieve a really good, solid, fine tuning that will last. Contact us to arrange your next appointment
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