Don Rose Piano Tuning
3004 Grant Road
Fine Tuning the Environment (for Pianos)
The longevity of a tuning is often used to praise or condemn the quality of the piano technician's work. However, at least three factors determine the staying power of a tuning - not only the skill of the technician, but also the instrument's age and environment.
A skillful tuner will probably measure the rise or fall of the pitch of the piano. The technician may recommend trying to stabilize the instrument by making a pitch correction. The total string strain on a piano is enormous, with a combined tension of 35 000 pounds. If the pitch is stable, no major change is made in the overall compression on the frame. If the deviation is four or more cents (one hundred cents equals one semitone, so a change of a quarter tone, 50 cents, is a huge correction) the piano may need several tunings over a brief period of time.TESTING TUNING
If no major pitch correction has been done, after the technician has left play the piano softly and listen for the clarity of the unisons. If you enjoy the sound, play the instrument at a forte level for some time, then play quietly and listen again. If the clean sound remains, the tuning was successful.
New pianos require far more frequent service in their beginning years. New strings may stretch for months.
TO PLAY OR NOT TO PLAY
Whether a piano is being played or not, changes in temperature and humidity may have a dramatic effect on tuning. Ordinary room temperature is ideal with the instrument five feet from any heat source, eight inches from the wall and away from direct sunlight.
At any temperature there is a maximum amount of water that air will hold. This maximum is 100% relative humidity. For pianos 42% is considered ideal, 30% or less may be too dry and may be inviting trouble. Over 60% may cause rusting of strings and tuning pins. It is important that humidity be kept constant.
Mr. Lou Tasciotii, technical editor for the Piano Quarterly, did research which showed that if humidity varied between 19% and 65% the pitch change was 29 cents. In Saskatchewan, according to Environment Canada, levels vary between 4% and 84% so pitch variation may be even greater. If we divide 29 cents by the maximum allowed for a stable domestic tuning (four cents), theoretically the piano would need servicing more than seven times per year!
Later research on small upright pianos has indicated that a change of 5% in humidity level will affect the pitch of the piano at the A above middle C by 4 cents.
The major component of a piano is wood, which will try to reach equilibrium with the relative humidity in the room. If humidity drops the air acts as a sponge and draws moisture out of the wood which shrinks and may sometimes crack. If humidity rises the wood expands.
In particular, the soundboard may be sensitive to humidity. To be flexible enough to vibrate it is only about 3/8 of an inch thick. It is curved against 1 000 pounds of pressure from the strings, and held at the edges by a heavy wooden frame and metal plate. Even a small change in humidity may affect the soundboard. As the wood expands from rising humidity the curve increases and as humidity lowers the curve flattens. These variations affect the pitch of the piano.
The ideal solution may be to stabilize the instrument's environment, but this may not be practical or economical. A forced air system with central air conditioning may have a humidifier added to the furnace with the controls in the room where the piano is kept. Without central air conditioning a portable humidifier may be used in the dry season and a portable dehumidifier in the summer. Keeping the humidity level at 42% through cold winters may be a near impossible task because moist air which comes in contact with cold walls may condense. If this happens there may be permanent damage to the walls. A better approach may be to have a miniature climate-control system installed onto the piano.
A climate control system installed onto the instrument may be effective and may keep changes to a minimum by dehumidifying and humidifying. Benefits may be somewhat localized in grand pianos, and may sometimes need to be supplemented with a portable room type humidifier.
A healthy environment for a piano is even in temperature, but more importantly, constant in relative humidity level. If environment is carefully controlled, both the life of the tuning and the instrument may be extended, while reducing maintenance costs.
WHAT SHOULD I DO TO TAKE CARE OF MY PIANO?
The Registered Music Teachers Association suggest tuning twice a year. In our extreme climate a piano with a humidity control system will stay in tune longer and have better tone.
It is wise to employ a recognized tuner-technician - one you can trust. The letters RPT signify craftsman membership in the Canadian Association of Piano Technicians. Member have access to the latest mechanical and technical information. The high standards of the Association are in the interest of all piano owners.
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