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The sound of a piano is produced as a lever (the key) pushes a mechanical action to launch a felt covered hammer into the strings. The hammer strikes from 1-3 strings tuned in unison. The average 230 strings on a piano will require tuning.
The strings on a piano are held in tension upon a cast iron plate. Tuning pins on one end of the strings are driven into a hard maple pinblock to hold their tension. The strings themselves are held over a convex shaped soundboard which greatly amplifies their vibration.
As the soundboard absorbs and releases humidity through the seasons, the amount of tension increases and decreases on the strings. In the dry winter pianos will tend to be flat in pitch, and in humid summer they will go sharp.
Is there a piano that can't be tuned? Yes and no. There are pianos where tuning instability is only one of many problems, and the piano is not worth repair. For all others, tuning stability can be improved. Tuning pins can be replaced with oversize pins to hold them in a pinblock that has become loose. Cracked pinblocks can spell the end for an upright but can be replaced as part of a rebuild in a grand. Soundboard issues are best repaired as part of a rebuild but some stabilizing of weak areas can be done with the strings in place.
Humidity is the biggest factor in tuning stability for pianos made last year to pianos made over 100 years ago. The best way to increase tuning stability in a piano is to control humidity. The single best control for a piano is the Dampp-Chaser climate control system which can be installed right into your piano. In the winter months the system requires regular watering so I do not recommend installing the system for people who know themselves to be neglectful of such things (letting their plants die from thirst!).
As a prelude to the Dampp-Chaser piano climate control unit, the next best solution is to have a humidifier installed and working on your forced air furnace.
If the installation of a furnace humidifier is the first step you would take, we can help with this service, and at a very competitive rate to a full-time HVAC installer.
Piano owners who are looking for cheap pianos on the used market are often focused on the outward appearance of the piano: the cabinet and the keys. A call or an email, and a service call would prevent buying a problem. Minor cabinet defects on pianos can be repaired or hidden on site. Newer pianos, such as the black Yamahas and Kawais can have missing chunks of finish repaired on site. Complete refinishing is not something you will want done in your living room, so consider refinishing before moving to your house. More importantly consider if the inside of the piano is worth investing in the appearance.
Two main services on keyboard besides repairing broken keys, are changing the keytops, and replacing the bushings. Older pianos with broken or chipped ivories can have a few ivories replaced, or if most of the set is gone, the ivories can be removed and replaced with plastic key tops. Sharp keys, if they are ebony can be cleaned at the same time, or replaced if necessary with plastics. Key recovering is a good time to replace bushings which are the felts which enclose the pins on which the key glides up and down. This will take out a considerable amount of sloppy feel to keys that are worn.
The upright piano action can be removed and repaired in the workshop. On a grand piano the action is attached to the keyboard and the keyboard is removed as well as the action. While all the component pieces can be replaced, the single most difference in the character of a piano will be changing the hammers.
Repairs and adjustments that can be done on site will be limited to that which can be repaired in less than four hours. Beyond that, it is more conducive to a better repair to remove the action to my shop where I am not constantly bent over and have the time saving advantages of my full complement of tools. Worn grand piano actions can be vastly improved with new hammers, shanks, and backcatches. Upright actions can often have their hammers replaced to bring back tone lost to dried out hammers. Older actions may be too old to work on without the liability of having to replace more than was originally bargained for. This will be known at the initial tuning and assessment.
As much as I love old pianos, I love pianos that work well and sound great even more. There are many old pianos available out there. If your piano is at the end of life and you cannot find a new owner, you may consider hiring a moving company to remove your piano.
If the knowledge that your piano will become landfill is not something that you can easily countenance, as an alternative I offer piano recycling. For the competitive price of $350 your piano can avoid the landfill. The process takes between 3.5 and 5 hours and the piano is disassembled in your home and removed. What can be recycled out of a piano, will be recycled - cast iron, lead, copper, cabinet parts, sometimes action parts although if a piano is that far gone, then likely the action is not worth salvaging. The picture above is the remains of a small grand piano made into a bookshelf. Please enquire to discuss.
Our philosophy revolves around maintaining the joy of a dynamic sound, the feel of a responsive action, and the pride of owning a beautiful piano. Investing in a quality instrument and then investing yourself or your family into drawing beautiful music out of that instrument requires the expertise of a trained technician who loves their work. We hope we can exceed the expectations of clients.
If your questions are not answered here please email or call with questions.