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Heidel Piano Services

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Why do pianos need tuning?

“If I move my piano to another room, does it need to be re-tuned? My grandmother had a fine old upright that she never got tuned. Why does my piano need regular tuning? Back home we always kept a jar of water in the bottom of the piano. Does this help keep the piano in tune? How often does my piano need tuning?” Piano technicians hear these questions every day. Tuning is the most frequent and important type of piano maintenance, but it’s often the least understood. Here we’ll look at why pianos go out of tune and how you can help yours stay in better tune between visits from your technician.

First, new pianos are a special case; their pitch drops quickly for the first few years as the new strings stretch and wood parts settle. It’s very important that a new piano be maintained at proper pitch (A-440) during this period, so the string tension and piano structure can reach stable equilibrium. Most manufacturers recommend three to four tunings the first year, and at least two annually after that.

Aside from this initial settling, seasonal change is the primary reason pianos go out of tune. To understand why, you must realize that the piano’s main acoustical structure, the soundboard, is made of wood (typically 3/8-inch thick Sitka spruce). And while the wooden soundboards produce a wonderful sound, they also react constantly to weather. As humidity goes up, a soundboard swells, increasing its crowned shape and stretching the piano’s strings to a higher pitch. During dry times, the soundboard flattens out, lowering tension on the strings and causing the pitch to drop.

Unfortunately, the strings don’t change pitch equally. Those near the soundboard’s edge move the least, and those near the center move the most. So, unless it’s in a hermetically sealed chamber, every piano is constantly going out of tune!

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