Your piano is probably the second or third largest purchase you will make in your lifetime. Pianos cost as much and sometimes more than a new car! Just like your car, it requires regular maintenance to keep in "running". It was designed to be both an attractive piece of furniture and a beautiful sounding musical instrument. It needs and deserves intelligent care.
How many times have you received a large bill for a household repair that might have been avoided with routine maintenance? Most of us have. Many times we put off getting routine maintenance performed without realizing that we are allowing more long term damage to occur. We do this to our pianos. I find many pianos that have not been serviced due to neglect or because the owner was unwilling to pay for regular service. By the time I see the piano, it takes a lot of money and time is then necessary to make the piano playable again. Many times the owner does not want to spend the large amount of money required to make up for the neglect and I have to watch a fine instrument go "down the tubes". PREVENTION is the best medicine! Having your piano regularly serviced saves you money in the long run.
MATERIALS: The piano is a complex blending of many diverse and costly raw materials; there are more than 4,000 parts in the key and action combination alone. If you were to analyze the materials in your piano, you would find top quality wood of many species, iron, steel, copper, brass, plastics, wool, cotton, various adhesives, etc.
STRINGS: Piano strings represent the highest development in steel wire; only a few mills can manufacture them. There are about 150 strings in a standard piano, and their combined tension exerts a pull of around 18 tons! Wooden bridges transfer the vibrations of the strings to the soundboard where the sound is amplified. Each string must be kept at the proper designed tension or it will be off pitch and produce an inharmonious tone; in other words, it will be out of tune.
SERVICE: To maintain your piano in proper order, and to protect your investment, it must be regularly serviced by a trained piano technician. In addition to adjusting the string tension to keep the piano in tune, the piano technician should, as a part of his regular maintenance visit, check for worn, broken, or out of adjustment parts including the action, pedal assembly and key movement. He will then inspect the interior of the piano case for presence of foreign objects and pests. Pencils, paper clips, and torn off corners from pages of music are common. It is not uncommon to find spiders, cockroaches, and even mice, taking up residence inside of pianos. Even if none of these things are present, every ten years or so the keys should be completely removed and the piano given a thorough vacuuming.
TUNING: Piano manufactures recommend 3 to 4 tunings during the first year and a minimum of 2 tunings per year thereafter. How often a piano needs tuning depends somewhat on the use that it receives. Concert pianos are generally tuned before each concert. Pianos used by music schools, professional pianists, or music teachers, generally are tuned between two and four times a year. I recommend most pianos be tuned every 6 months. The minimum, though, for a person who cares at all about his piano as a musical instrument, is once a year. The strings in your piano are putting over 40,000 lbs of pressure on the piano's frame and harp. We are talking about a combined tension of as much as 20 tons! Every string has from 130 to 300 lbs of tension and there are over 230 strings in the average piano. This would easily lift a house from its foundation! It's going to go out of tune whether you play it or not!
HUMIDITY: A piano will stay in tune better if the atmospheric conditions are uniform. Changes from moist to dry air cause the wooden soundboard and bridge to swell and shrink, thus changing the tension on the strings. Over many years, frequent humidity changes will affect other parts too, causing loose tuning pins and a cracked soundboard. Keep the humidity as constant as possible and your piano will need less frequent tunings and repairs. Humidity control systems are a very worthwhile investment and can increase the life and stability of your piano considerably. Ask your piano technician which system he recommends for your piano.
CLEANING KEYS: To clean the piano keys, slightly moisten a soft clean cloth with water, to which a few drops of dish washing detergent has been added. (Some people will want to add a few drops of a disinfectant as well.) This method can be used on both the black and white keys; but if the black keys are not made of plastic, to ovoid discoloring of the white keys, it is best to use different cloths. Remember to dampen the cloth only slightly and rub gently. Dry with a soft cloth. Be sure to keep the piano keys covered when not in use. See our Store for products specially designed for cleaning your keys.
POLISHING: Piano finishes are famous for their quality, and are equal to or better than those used in fine furniture. You may polish the piano case just as you would any of your fine furniture, only avoid spraying anything directly onto your piano, as some may get inside and discolor or corrode the strings or other parts. See our Store for products specially designed to polish your piano.
MOVING: If it should become necessary to move your piano, remember that the cast iron plate which holds the strings under high tension also makes the piano very heavy. Two strong men may be able to move a spinet piano without much trouble. (Be careful that belt buckles donít scratch the finish.) Larger pianos may require the help of additional men. If you rent a truck, also rent a furniture dolly and protective pads. It may be best to contact a professional mover with experience in moving pianos, but if you do, be sure that their insurance will cover damages that they may cause. The cost of their services will very depending on piano size, distance being moved, and whether it must be carried up stairs.
MORE: For additional information about pianos, if you have computer access to the World Wide Web, please visit The Piano Page, hosted by the Piano Technicians Guild, an organization dedicated to the technical and professional training of piano technicians. The URL is:
INVITATION: You may wish to consider inviting your piano technician, or another member of the local guild, as a speaker for your music class, music club, or other group whose members may be interested in piano technology.
With the proper care by its owner, and regular maintenance by a professional piano technician, your piano will continue to be a beautiful musical instrument that can be enjoyed for generations to come.