"It's been over ten years since the it was tuned, but it has great tone!"
    "How can you tell??" I ask as I comb down the hair on the back of my neck.

    Ten years is long enough for a piano to have gotten so far out of tune that any
    melody played on it is not recognizable. The cacophony of dissonant frequencies
    emanating from it is akin to nails on a chalkboard. Ten years seems to be the "Magic"
    number for a piano to sit and gather dust before the owner sells it. If only they had
    invested in tuning prior to advertising it, they would have a more accurate assessment
    of its worth, sound a bit more "knowledgeable" during the sales presentation and
    would have had an instrument that sounded like it was worth more than its price.

    The circumstance is not confined to just pianos. Cars that are washed prior to selling
    fetch a higher price. Cars that are detailed are worth more still. Nobody wants a chore
    looming over their purchase. Even if it's a bargain, it won't appear so if some of the
    enthusiasm is robbed for the product. When a piano is delivered, knuckles are cracked
    with anticipation of tearing into music. Waiting a couple of weeks for a tuner can be
    agonizing and instill doubt as to the wisdom of the purchase.

    For the first year,
Steinway's website recommends at least 3 tunings. Baldwin's
    site suggests 4 times.
Yamaha, one of the world's largest piano manufacturers,
    advises 4 times. They, along with all the other piano makers, are adhering to the
    guidelines set forth by the National Piano Manufacturers Association. They go on
    to say that after the first year, twice annually is adequate.


Why pianos require frequent tuning can be explained
in a seemingly unrelated example. During the summer my backdoor was so tight that I had to nudge it with my shoulder to open it. In the winter, when a tight seal would be desirable, I saw daylight through the door jam. The reason is humidity. Wood is like a sponge. It soaks up the moisture and swells during the summer, dries out and shrinks in the winter.

Some technicians sell humidity control devices that mount inside the piano. These allow moisture to wick
up from a tray of water in the winter. In the summer, it chases it away with a heating element, hence the brand name "Damp Chaser".

The problem with these systems is :

  • There is an upfront expense of several hundred dollars
  • They require a periodic service by a qualified technician (Change wick and clean tray)
  • The owner has to perform regular maintenance
    by checking and adding water - something most
    people are not willing to do "Religiously"  

By the time you factor in these expenses, you might be better off just purchasing a room
humidifier at your local hardware store for winter and an air conditioner for summer. Your
sinuses will love you for it. Either way, frequent tuning or controlling its environment, 
ownership incurs a continuing maintenance expense.

Another concern for tuning stability is the piano's harp. The
treble strings are steel; bass strings are copper. Both are
stretched over a cast iron plate. These different metals have
different temperature expansion coefficients. As the temperature changes, these materials expand or contract at different amounts
from each other. Since the harp is responsible for a third of the
piano's weight, the volume  of this material is significant.
Movement due to variants in temperature are continuously pulling
and twisting the piano's frame.

All things considered, it's a minor miracle that pianos stay in tune
as well as they do. To solve the backdoor dilemma I opted for fiberglass. Synthetic materials are impervious to climatic hazards.
You too can go synthetic with an electric piano. They're easy to
move, never need tuning and if you tire of it, slip it under your
bed for storage. Of course, I advise against it ---
I need the work!


Servicing the Kansas City, Gladstone, Overland Park
metropolitan area
moving • tuning • repairing • rebuilding • concert rentals

Jones Piano House

5742 N. Lenox Ave 
          Kansas City,  MO  64151


© 2012 - Stephan Cantu.  All rights reserved