Should My Piano Be Tuned to A440?

Why should I pitch raise my piano? I am asked that question almost daily as I explain to my clients what I have found upon arrival at their home, and I set up for a tuning job. It is important to understand that pitch corrections before the actual tuning is always the clients option. Let’s consider what tuning is. A simple definition is: the strings of a piano being adjusted so that when the instrument is played, the intervals such as: thirds, fifths octaves, and any other interval that is played will sound pleasing and musical to the ear. It is important to note, I did not include in the definition, the pitch of the piano. That is simply because a piano, like any stringed instrument can be tuned at any pitch that is desired. (all stringed instruments can be damaged if tuned to sharp/to much tension, or if tuned to low can sound dull and lifeless) So if all this is true, why should a piano owner have the pitch corrected on their piano? Quite simple; first, modern pianos were designed to sound their best when tuned at a pitch referred to as, standard pitch or A440. Second, if the piano is within the terms of the manufacturer’s warranty, the piano must be kept at A440 to avoid voiding the warranty. In my opinion all modern pianos should be maintained as close as possible to standard pitch…simply; they sound best when tuned to A440.

When a piano is allowed to set un-tuned for a long period of time the pitch will drop. It is common to find pianos a quarter step flat, a third step flat, and in some cases as much as a whole step flat. This condition brings an option to the table. You; the piano owner must decide what you want done. The piano can be tuned a quarter step flat, or it can be tuned a whole step flat, or you may decide to have the pitch corrected and tuned to A440.

Piano manufactures recommend tuning a piano every six months or more often depending on use and demand. Pianos that are tuned often require very little change in over-all tension of the piano. This one fact helps produce solid and stable tunings, and will help prevent the pitch from dropping. Pitch corrections of one half step can effect the tension on your piano by thousands of pounds. The piano structure will react to this change, making it necessary to make two or three passes through the key board to get the piano to stabilize. Pitch corrections can, and should be avoided, by tuning regularly. If your piano needs to be pitch corrected before tuning, know this: it is a common procedure and all care is taken to avoid damage to your piano during the process.

Craig Cole is a piano technician serving piano owners in Oakland County, Michigan as well as many surrounding communities. Call for your piano service appointment today: (248) 647-6810

 

How to Fix Sticking Piano Keys in Michigan

Sticking keys or a note that plays one time but then will not allow repetition of the note are sources of frustration for all levels of players. I have heard countless frustrated mothers explain the reason her child stopped taking lessons, only to tell me her next child just began taking piano lessons and she wants the piano tuned. As I begin the tuning process it soon becomes apparent why the first child quit, and will be the reason the second child will quit. On the other end of the spectrum the high level player will walk away from the piano, and won’t touch it again till the problem is corrected.

In an attempt to keep this article user friendly I am going to touch on two of the causes of the sticking/sluggish note. First is verdigris which is a contaminate that can be seen as a green moldy looking substance that causes the action flanges to pivot slowly, and in severe cases not at all. The photo below shows a action flange with verdigris:

Sticking Piano Key - Verdigis

video clip shows the slow moving action part effected by verdigris:

Second cause is humidity level changes that cause the small wooden parts of the piano action to expand or contract causing the action parts to bind:

Impact of Humidity on Pianos in Michigan

Please take a look at my video, showing the repining of the action flange that was sluggish as a result of verdigris:

This approach is highly effective and can be performed on two or three notes that are a problem or the entire action can be repined.

In the case of humidity related malfunction, humidity control is the most effective and lowest cost approach. Things like humidifiers on the furnace, digital hygrometers, air conditioning in the summer months, and in some cases the piano life saver, also known as the Dampp-Chaser system are the first line of defense in preventing and reversing the effects of high or low humidity on your piano.

Each piano must be evaluated and then an approach can be custom tailored to fit the piano’s specific situation. I service pianos in the Oakland County Michigan area, and would love to help you with your piano service needs. If you have any questions, or to schedule an appointment please call Ace Piano at: 248-647-6810

Thanks,

Craig

 

Piano Tuning and Regulation – Michigan

For those of us that have dedicated our lives to the craft of piano technology, answering client’s questions is an important part of the service we offer. Questions like; when should I tune my piano, or why should I humidify my home in the winter months, and where is the best place to put my piano are all commonly asked questions. I was asked another question the other day by a client that was very frustrated with the way her piano was performing. She told me she had made her purchase eleven years ago based on the wonderful dynamic range of the Steinway model B grand piano. She told me of the ease of which she could go from soft and intricate to loud and powerful, had sold her on the piano originally. But now…well, she was not happy. It took only a moment to check her piano and identify the problem. The problem was a maintenance issue. Her piano was suffering from the lack of proper service and maintenance required to keep the action of a piano performing at peak capacity. piano-regulation-miShe interrupted my explanation with a question, “What is action regulation, and why is it needed?” Most piano players are not technicians, and this young lady had very little understanding of the way her piano works, so I made an attempt to give her a user friendly, and understandable answer to her question.

First; I asked her if she had ever driven a car that hesitated, coughed and sputtered when she stepped on the gas to accelerate quickly? Second; I asked her if she ever had a door hinge that squeaked when she opened the door?

She answered yes to both of the questions. I suggested to her that action regulation is to her piano what a tune up is to her car. I told her that a squeaky hinge needs to be lubricated to reduce the friction that is causing the hinge to drag and squeak. I explained that the poor performance she was experiencing with her piano was nothing more than the results of the settling of the moving parts of the action, due to the compression of the felt and leather parts of her piano’s action caused by use and gravity. I further explained that a grand piano action has hundreds of moving parts that rub and move against each other. To keep friction in her piano action to a minimum, lubrication is required on a regular basis. Action regulation is a series of adjustments that put the moving parts of the piano back in proper position and alignment allowing peak performance from the piano’s action, coupled with lubrication of the moving parts of the action that will reduce friction, and eliminate that perceived feeling of heavy touch weight and lack of responsive touch.

piano-regulation-and-lubrication

A smile came across her face and she said, “I get it!” This client took the steps to restore the playability she had loved when her piano was new. If your piano is more than five years old, and if it has never been regulated and lubricated, it is time for normal piano maintenance. Remember; pianos need to be tuned, regulated, and lubricated to keep them performing at their best.

In the Oakland County, Michigan area call: Ace Piano Tuning at 248-647-6810. I would be happy to help.

Piano Tuning in Michigan

Winter is upon us, and our pianos are beginning to react to the dryness of our homes. Those of us who live in cold northern climates need to take aggressive steps to humidify our homes or any space our piano is located.

piano-tuning-mi-1One common problem piano technicians come across at this time of year is the note on the piano that sounds like two or three notes played together, though only one note is being played. The most common cause is a loose tuning pin. The tuning pin can be thought of as a finely threaded screw. When the pin block is dry and old, and in some cases new pianos can, if exposed to extreme dryness, lose the ability to hold the tension of the string. When this occurs, the tuning pin can turn/unwind and the note will sound like two or three different notes.

There are three different approaches to remedy this problem.

  1. Remove old tuning pin and replace the pin with an oversize pin. This approach is great if there are just a few loose pins…perhaps up to a dozen loose pins.
  2. Apply a chemical at the base of each tuning pin, which will be absorbed by the pin block causing the wood to expand and tighten around the tuning pins. This can be an effective approach if the entire pin block is loose. It is also a cost effective way to gain a few more years of use from the piano without the investment of new pin block and new strings.
  3. The third approach as just mentioned is pin block replacement and re-stringing of the piano. This is the best approach when the pin block is unable to hold the tension of the strings through out the entire pin block. It is the most costly approach, and may not be practical if the instrument is of poor quality, or if the instrument has other major repair needs that will cost more to have done than the purchase of a new piano.

piano-tuning-mi-2If you suspect your piano is suffering from the effects of dryness and age, it is best to consult your piano technician. They can provide you with information concerning the best approach to remedy the problem. Keep in mind each piano is unique. The approach recommended should be tailored to your specific situation…no cookie cutter approach will due. Insist on a full explanation of the benefits and problems associated with each approach.

piano-tuning-mi-3Craig Cole is a piano technician servicing pianos in the Metro Detroit Michigan area. He has clients in Howell and Grosse Pointe, Clarkston to Plymouth and Canton. With thirty years of experience and thousands of happy customers Craig is the piano service professional to call. His central phone number is; 248-647-6810. Call for an appointment today.

Your piano needs humidity now

piano-humidity-miYour piano needs humidity now. I service pianos in the Oakland County Michigan area. My clients live in cities like Troy, Rochester Hills, Bloomfield Hills, West Bloomfield, Livonia, Novi, Northville, and many other cities in southeast lower Michigan. One thing this area has in common is cold wintry days. This is the time of year we service our furnace, rake our leaves, and buy our boots and hats in preparation for the months ahead.

If you are a piano owner in a cold climate there is another thing you should prepare for; dry air in your home that will cause many problems with your piano. I have provided a photo of a rather severe dryness related problem. In the photo of the piano’s bass bridge a large split can be seen. This split is caused by years of dry wintry conditions that has caused the wood of the piano to become dry and brittle. Many other problems such as; tuning instability, sticking keys or the occasional note that will not play, cracks in the soundboard, and loose tuning pins are a few of the problems caused by winter dryness.

To avoid the expense of major repairs on your piano, HUMIDIFY. Humidity is cheap insurance that will protect your piano from the dryness monster. You can humidify your whole house with a furnace mounted humidifier or a stand alone console type humidifier that is rated for the number of the square feet of your home. If you choose either one of these two options you should purchase a digital hygrometer. This simple battery operated devise will help you zero in on the best humidity level for your home and the things in your home like the piano. As a rule of thumb 38 to 42 percent is a good humidity level to protect your piano.

A third option is a piano humidity system. I install the Dampp-Chaser system in pianos to protect the piano from the effects of both winter dryness and summer time excessive humidity. If you are thinking about protecting your piano I would be happy to discuss this option with you.

Now is the time of year to prepare your piano for the winter dryness that lies ahead. If you have a humidifier clean it, change the wicks/filter, and test it to see that it is operational. Also have your piano tuned and prepared for the times ahead with family and friends that will enjoy a well played Holiday favorite.

In the Oakland County area call: Ace Piano Tuning for an appointment.

How should I clean my piano keys?

How should I clean my piano keys?  The answer to this question depends on what type of material has been used on your piano. If you are not sure, ask your piano technician before cleaning.

The two types of material used are plastic and ivory. Most modern pianos have plastic keytops, while many old pianos have ivory. Keep in mind if your piano has ivory, though the cleaning method is virtually the same as with plastic tops, allowing moisture and harsh detergents to penetrate the ivory will loosen the old glue and the key tops may begin to lift off.

First: gather all the needed gear. Lint free cotton rags, two small bowels (one for soap and water, the other for clean rinse water), a good mild detergent. I like Simple Green detergent; it works great and leaves no residue. Note: if you have ivory key tops white toothpaste can be used to brighten the tops.

Second: start cleaning. Always work with a small number of keys. I find eight is manageable. Working with a damp cloth and detergent keep the key top moist for a few seconds, use a little elbow grease, use a clean damp cloth to rinse, move on to the next section, and continue the process till all tops and sharps are sparkling clean. Remember to work with a damp cloth only! Water between the keys will damage the piano.

A note to those of you that have ivory key tops; have a hair dryer on hand to dry the ivory quickly after rinsing. This step will help prevent moisture penetration that will cause key tops to lift off. Be sure to use the cool setting only. Heat will cause the glue to soften and the key tops will lift off.

If you have any concerns, check with your piano technician before tackling the job.

How Should I Clean and Polish My Piano?

piano polishEvery piano technician is asked, “How should I clean and polish my piano?” In order to answer this question the technician must have at least a basic understanding of the types of finish products that have been used in the past as well as an understanding of the types of finishes that are put on a piano cabinet today.

To help piano owners understand how to maintain the beauty of the finish of their piano, it is necessary to understand the two different types of finishes used in the piano manufacturing industry. The first type of finish is an old style used on many pianos from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. I will refer to this type of finish as a finish that allows penetration of oils to condition the wood and the finish itself. This type of finish includes shellac, and old style varnish. The second type of finish we will discuss is a finish that does not allow oils to penetrate the finish. This type of finish includes lacquer, and polyester.

Once the type of finish has been determined by your piano technician, recommendations can be made to the piano owner on the best products and ways to clean and oil or polish the piano. If your piano is an old style varnish or shellac finish you will want to use products like lemon oil to both clean the finish and help condition the wood to avoid cracks and that dull worn look that is common when the wood and finish dry out. If the finish of your piano is lacquer or polyester, there are many fine products you can use to clean and polish the piano. I service pianos in the Oakland County, Michigan area, and I can provide my clients with products that are specific to the finish they have on their piano. I can provide products from; CORY and STEINWAY.

One final suggestion; do not use oil on lacquer or polyester finishes. If you do the oil will sit on the finish surface giving an oily dull appearance. To keep your piano looking beautiful for years to come, use only products developed specifically for the finish of your piano.

For product information in the Oakland County area; call Ace Piano Tuning today.

When to tune a piano

Is it time to tune my piano? It depends on who you ask. If you ask your Aunt from Tuscaloosa, she will tell you, “No, not yet…wait three more years.” If you ask your piano teacher, you may be told, “Sounds good to me, wait a few more months.”

I have heard those two responses from piano owners that I contact as a reminder, that it is time to tune. The problem with the Aunt from Tuscaloosa is, she has a hearing aid, and the problem with the piano teacher is, most piano teachers are not piano technicians. So how can you get a honest answer to the question, “Is it time to tune my piano?”

Piano manufacturers are a great source of information on this subject. I am providing three examples of what piano manufacturers suggest;

Steinway says; Your Steinway has been designed and built so that in normal use and under normal conditions it should need only periodic tuning. We recommend that your technician be called at least three or four times a year.

Kawai says; Due to string stretching, settling, and the effects of climate, a new piano should receive at least four tunings in the first year. After that, the type of use and the location of the piano will dictate the number of tunings required, but Kawai recommends two tunings per year as a minimum.

Baldwin says; In the first year, the National Piano Manufacturers Association recommends that you have your piano tuned four times. This is a period of environmental adjustment for a new instrument, and proper attention is important. After the first year, the piano should be tuned at least twice each year, depending upon the frequency of use and atmospheric conditions.

A second source of information on best times to tune, would be your piano technician. Technicians can provide a wealth of information on best times to tune that will be specific to the area of the country you live in. I service pianos in the Oakland County Michigan area, and due to our hot and humid summers, and our cold and dry winters piano owners need to have their piano tuned at least twice each year. Humidity level changes that occur in your home, or other locations will cause the soundboard of the piano to expand as it absorbs moisture, and shrink as it looses moisture. The change in the pitch of a piano can be quite dramatic in Michigan. I have found pianos can fluctuate as much as a quarter step. This fluctuation in pitch is why the piano needs tuning at certain times of the year. The humidity levels at this time of the year, (May 2011) are quite high. The piano has reacted to that change making this a perfect time to tune your piano. The humid season in south east Michigan runs from May through October. Be sure to have your piano tuned during the wet season, and then again in the dry season. Call your piano technician and schedule a tuning today.

For an appointment with Ace Piano Tuning, call Craig at: 248-647-6810

How to buy a used piano in Michigan and love it.

The purchase of a used piano does not need to be as difficult as preparing for, and climbing Mount Everest. Over the thirty years I have serviced pianos I have heard many a tale of woe and grief from those that ventured into the used piano market and got stuck in a tar pit of unknowing. If you would like to avoid the tar pit, put these tips to work for you.

First; take the time to become an informed buyer. Get a copy of; The Piano Book, written by; Larry Fine. You can find a copy at your local Library, or purchase at most book retailers.

Second; find a piano technician that will talk with you about the piano you intend to purchase. You should limit your questions to the one or two pianos you are serious about purchasing.

Third; always have the piano inspected before purchase. As a part of the evaluation, have the piano rough tuned. This process will allow the technician to determine if the piano is tuneable, and it will allow the technician to get a feel of the action of the piano. Sticking and malfunctioning keys will be easily spotted. At the end of the process you will know of any problems and the costs to remedy those problems.

Now it is time to go on the piano hunt. This may prove to be the most time consuming part of the process. If you would like to cut some of the time involved, I recommend shopping at your local piano retailer. Most retailers have an inventory of used pianos that will be priced below new piano pricing. Keep in mind, as a rule of thumb you will pay more for a used instrument from a retailer than you will from a private individual. If you do not mind the leg work and time it will require, shopping on line,(Craig’s List for example) or your local news papers are a good source for used pianos for sale by owner. If you have the opportunity to talk to the seller by phone, a few questions to ask the seller are: when was the piano tuned last? Do you have the name and phone number of the person that tuned the piano? Have you used the same tuner over the years, and have you tuned and serviced the piano regularly? The answers that are given can help you screen the pianos you want to invest more time into. If for instance, you are told it has not been tuned for twenty years because no one is using it, you may want to scratch that piano from your list. Try to find those pianos that have a track record of service, and a technician that can vouch for the pianos condition. Those are the pianos to invest your time and energy into.

A final note; avoid the purchase of a piano that will cause the player of the piano to become frustrated and stop playing the piano. Purchase the maximum piano you can afford. Purchase only a piano that can be played without the hassle of notes that do not play, or play only some of the time. Keep in mind some pianos can not be tuned due to age or dryness related damage.

Enjoy the process, take your time, and call your technician before you buy.

Craig S. Cole

Direct Line – 248-624-0940

Website – http://acepianotuninginc.com

Email – acepianotuning@sbcglobal.net

Why won’t my piano stay in tune in Michigan?

Have you ever said, “My piano tuner was here two weeks ago…my piano was tuned, but it sounds terrible!?” First, I would like to tell you, that you are not alone. Many other piano owners have experienced the unstable piano tuning syndrome. Let’s eliminate the obvious. The piano tuner should be able to tune your piano using the proper technique to set each tuning pin, as well as equalize the tension of the strings so they do not go out of tune the first time the piano is played. An experienced, and highly skilled tuner is worth their weight in gold.

Now lets consider the most common cause of the unstable piano tuning syndrome. I service pianos in Oakland County Michigan, which has dramatic weather changes, accompanied with humidity level changes that are quite extreme. It is common to have humidity levels as high as eighty percent on a hot humid day in August, followed with humidity as low as ten percent in January. This change in humidity level will cause the soundboard of your piano to expand and contract, causing the strings of the piano to move and settle. This can happen seasonally, or as often as the weather changes, even as quickly as a few days.

humidty-systemA simple, and cost effective way to bring your piano tuning under control is the Dampp-Chaser system. The system is installed inside an upright piano, or it is installed on the underside of a grand piano. Humidity levels at the piano are kept at a constant level for year around protection. Please take a moment to read what piano manufacturers have to say about the Dampp-Chaser system.

Steinway& Sons:

“The installation of a Dampp-Chaser Humidity Control System can, in our opinion, provide a degree of climate control for the piano which may not otherwise be attainable.”

Bösendorfer

“The usage of Dampp-Chaser humidity control systems effectively compensates climatic changes within the piano’s environment and is for that reason beneficial in terms of stability and long term reliability.”

Schimmel

“The best way to preserve the value of fine grands and uprights is to automatically regulate the humidity right within the instrument .. with a System from Dampp-Chaser Corporation.” – Nikolaus Schimmel

Yamaha

“…Yamaha fully endorses the use of the system with Yamaha pianos in areas that are subject to extremes in humidity. Without such a system, it is very difficult to control the humidity around the piano.”

Kawai

“Your Dampp-Chaser humidity control systems are the best and most carefully designed systems we have seen.”

Pearl River Piano

“Pearl River Piano Group USA believes that a properly installed and maintained Dampp-Chaser system can enhance the performance and longevity of our pianos.”

Seiler

“The Dampp-Chaser Climate Control System helps retain both the regulation and pitch of top quality instruments, thus stabilizing the tonal character inherent in a particular make or instrument as well as its long-term value.” – Ursula Seiler

Baldwin

“Baldwin recommends the Dampp-Chaser system as a valuable means to help insure the longevity and stability of our pianos.

To schedule your Dampp-Chaser installation, call Craig at Ace Piano Tunining today at: (248) 647-6810