A piano can serve as a wonderful centerpiece to any home, church, or business. It also can be one of the more expensive items acquired. Once you have made the investment, take the best care of your piano as possible to ensure that it lasts for generations. Dale can handle the tuning, cleaning, and repair of your beautiful instrument, but what about the rest of the time? Check out the answers to our most frequently asked questions below. Do you have a question that isn’t answered? Let Dale know!
Dale’s Piano Service provides service from North Pierce County through King County and south Snohomish County, including Seattle, Tacoma, West Seattle, Beacon Hill, Burien, Des Moines, Normandy Park, Federal Way, Auburn, Kent, Renton, Tukwila, and SeaTac. On the Eastside, Dale also services pianos in Newcastle, Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Woodinville, and Mercer Island, and in North Seattle, Bothell, Edmonds, Mukilteo, and South Everett. Find out if Dale’s Piano Service works in your area by calling (206) 300-8732 or sending Dale an email.
The first thing you’ll want to find out is how the piano sounds and plays. Make sure that all of the keys work, and that the piano has a tone that you like. If you are satisfied with the sound and functionality, we recommend hiring a qualified piano technician to check it out for you, especially if it is an older piano. A “free piano” may end up costing you more to repair than it’s worth.
Most pianos need to be tuned once or twice every year, depending on how often they are played. New pianos or pianos with new strings might need to be tuned three or four times in the first year as the strings continue to stretch during that time.
If you Google “piano tuning,” you’ll find a lot of posts and videos that tell you anyone can tune their own piano. All you need are a few simple tools and a free tuning app on your phone, and you’ll be off and running. Turn a few tuning pins until your app tells you the pitch is correct, and you’re done. In a couple of hours, your piano will be perfectly in tune, and you will have saved yourself any money that you would have paid a professional piano technician.
Brimming with enthusiasm, you set off on this grand adventure—and then reality strikes. The first thing you notice is that there are a lot of tuning pins on a piano, somewhere between 200 and 230. Then you discover that it’s almost impossible to get the pin set just right as even a small adjustment results in a dramatic pitch change. And finally, after many painstaking adjustments to get the pins set, many of them simply will not remain in tune. So, what went wrong? What does the professional piano technician know that you don’t?
Believe it or not, there is an art to piano tuning. In his book Piano Servicing, Tuning, and Rebuilding, author Arthur Reblitz discusses two skills that a piano technician must master in order to tune a piano properly. The first is setting the pins. When a tuning pin is turned, it will bend or twist slightly as a result of the tension holding it in place. When the tension is released, the pin will relax back into shape and cause the string to go out of tune. Therefore, the pin must first be turned a little too far and then eased back into a position where it will stay.
Additionally, a piano technician must learn how to settle the strings. The string passes over a number of bearing points, dividing the string into different segments. The pressure of the strings at each of these bearing points creates friction. This friction causes a greater degree of change in the tension at the upper end of the string. When the string is played loudly, the vibration from the hammer blow will cause the string to equalize a little. If the note was being raised, then the string will go sharp; if the note was being lowered, then it will go flat. Consequently, the tuner must play the note loudly during each movement of the tuning lever in order to equalize the tension.
These two skills are the building blocks that every competent piano technician must master in order to tune a piano. However, they are only the initial steps in creating a tuning that will remain stable and produce a pleasing sound.
The first item in proper piano care is making sure your piano is in the best location possible. Direct sunlight can cause fading and warping of the wood. Large changes in temperature and humidity can cause the finish to develop small cracks or bubbles, so be sure the location limits exposure to drafts, dampness, or heat sources. The ideal temperature for most pianos is 68 degrees Fahrenheit with 42% relative humidity. Dale is available for consultation on the ideal place in your particular location.
The piano finish can be scratched very easily, so we recommend always protecting it. Put a soft cloth under pictures, lamps, or anything else that you want to place on the piano. Keep plants, drinks, or anything with liquid away from the piano. And remember that moisture can leave rings or cause the finish to warp. And if liquid gets into the interior of the piano, it can cause severe damage.
Dust is very abrasive, and can scratch the finish if wiped off with a dry cloth. To avoid scratching, it is best to dust gently using a feather duster or similar product. You also can wipe softly with a soft, damp cloth to remove dust, immediately followed by a dry cloth to remove any excess moisture. Avoid using synthetic fibers as they may cause scratches. Cotton works best. Always dust in long straight strokes to prevent leaving swirl marks.
But do NOT dust the interior of your piano! Many parts inside your piano are extremely fragile. Let a qualified technician do any cleaning of the interior.
To remove smudge marks and fingerprints that build up over time, first dust the piano as explained above. Then lightly clean with a damp cloth and a mild cleaning solution, such as Murphy’s Oil Soap or Cory Pre-Polish Finish Cleaner. Be sure to apply the cleaning product to the cloth and not directly onto the piano. If kept clean, your piano should maintain its natural beauty for many years.
But don’t over polish. Most finishes are designed to last for years without the addition of polish or wax. However, older pianos might benefit from a light application of polish to help restore luster to a dull finish. If your piano needs polish, we recommend using a product that is specifically formulated for the particular finish of your piano. Dale recommends Cory Care Piano Products, which have been individually designed for every piano finish. Avoid using common household products, such as lemon oil or furniture polish, as these could contain harmful chemicals.
Be sure to dust and clean the piano before adding polish. If there is a large buildup of old polish, it might be necessary to use a wood cleaner that also has wax remover. As with cleaning, be sure to add the polish to the cloth when applying. Use sparingly—a little goes a long way.
Over time, the keys on your piano will become soiled from the oil and dirt from fingers. Clean the keys with a soft damp cloth and mild soap. Make sure the cloth is not too wet. Clean the white and black keys separately, as paint from wooden sharps can create smudges on the white keys. Another excellent product to clean keys is Cory Key-Brite. Clean the keys from front to back, not side to side to avoid moisture seeping down the sides. Do a few keys at a time and then dry immediately afterward. Of course, a simple step to limit buildup on the keys is to wash your hands each time before playing.
Pianos are generally divided into two classes, grand and vertical. In grand pianos, the strings run horizontally—away from the keys with the action located beneath the strings. The inclusion of a repetition lever in the action allows for a more rapid playing of repeated notes. Grand pianos can range in size from under 5 feet for baby grands to more than 9 feet for concert grands.
In a vertical piano, the strings and frame are vertical, with the action in front of the strings. Upright pianos are divided into several classifications according to their height. Generally speaking, the taller the piano, the better the sound because of the greater string lengths.
The shortest piano is the spinet, which became popular in the 1930s because of its compact size and inexpensive cost. Most spinets are less than 34 inches tall and, because of the short length of the strings, tend to sound very harsh, with poor tone quality.
Other vertical pianos are consoles (36 to 42 inches tall) and studios (42 to 45 inches tall). Any piano taller than 45 inches is simply called an upright or, in the case of very tall pianos, an upright grand. In high-quality tall uprights, the tone can rival that of a mid-sized grand piano.
The piano exterior or cabinet is made of wood and covered with a variety of materials, such as lacquer, polyurethane, and polyester resin. The finish could be high gloss, semi-gloss, or satin (dull sheen). The piano may be black, wood tone, or even white. Occasionally, some pianos have decorative painting.
A little over 300 years ago, around the year 1700, Bartolomeo Cristofori—also known as the “Keeper of the Instruments” to Ferdinand de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany—invented an instrument that changed music forever. The primary keyboard instruments of that day were the harpsichord and the clavichord. However, both instruments had limitations. The clavichord allowed for dynamic expression but had a sound too soft for large audiences. On the other hand, the harpsichord had sufficient volume but didn’t provide any expressive control.
Cristofori wanted an instrument that combined the volume of the harpsichord with the control of the clavichord; thus, the piano was born. It employed a unique mechanism (the piano action), which caused the hammer to strike and then rebound off the string, thereby allowing the strings to vibrate freely. By varying the force applied to the keys, the piano could be played louder or softer, giving composers more freedom for emotional expression.
The word “piano” comes from part of an early description of the instrument by Cristofori: un cimbalo di cipresso di piano e forte (“a keyboard of cypress with soft and loud”). This phrase was shortened to pianoforte or fortepiano and eventually just piano.
Over the next 300 years, many advances were made to the piano. The earliest pianos had a range of just five octaves with thin strings and a wooden frame, which limited their overall volume. With the advent of the industrial revolution came the introduction of high-quality piano strings, the cast iron frame, and an increase to the modern 7-plus octave range.