Piano Maintenance Programs

Piano Tuning Phoenix by Wes Flinn RPT

Mythological Greek Phoenix

Piano Maintenance Programs

— by Wes Flinn RPT

Piano Maintenance Programs — ? — What’s That ?

Information below
takes almost no time to read !

It’s about the same as a 2-page letter —

Here goes:

Definition of a Piano Maintenance Program.

It is a set of Piano Care Proceduresthat is based on:

•    Calendar dates,
•    on the type and quality of Piano involved,
•    on the expectations the users have for it,
•    on the kind of use it is expected to receive, as well as
•    on the place where is it located.

The Procedures involved could include:
Tuning
Regulating and Lubricating
Voicing
• Maintenance of a Climate Control System
• Repairs that are necessary prior to being able to tune
• Recurring repairs when old parts fail

Piano Definitions

The first Piano – Bartolomeo Christofori c.1709

The first Piano –
Bartolomeo Christofori c.1709

"Giraffe" Upright Piano with a Clock !A unique
oddity
– a
one only
“Giraffe”
Upright
with
a
Clock !
-maker
unknown
 Steinway -- Square Grand Piano - c.1876

Steinway —
Square Grand Piano – c.1876

All such procedures are physical actions, and not related to turning knobs or switches like on electronic devices. The tune, the tone quality, pitch clarity, even volume and softness of piano tones are one and all dependent on the highly complex and purely physical adjustments of the procedures listed above that are appropriate for a particular piano “machine”.

A Piano Maintenance Program is the only route to finding out what a piano really sounds like, and also how well you as a pianist can play.

Explanation of need for a Maintenance Program:
A Piano is a machine, and needs maintenance performed in a regular manner just like any other machine, such as an automobile, an airplane, a motorcycle, a boat, etc. Not only is it a machine, it has more working parts than most any other machine made. A simple home Upright Piano has around 10,000 parts, and a huge 9 to 10-foot Concert Grand Piano has over 12,000 parts — compare this to a jet airplane engine with only some 5000 parts!
Collard Art Grand - c. 1850

Collard Art Grand – c. 1850

The first miracle here is that with so many parts in its design, a piano requires such an extremely low amount of maintenance to work well compared to any other machine of such complexity.

The tragedy here is that the piano as a class usually gets almost no maintenance during its working life, because very, very few people understand that it does need a minimum amount of regular maintenance in order to hold up well.

The second miracle here is that even though a piano as a class never gets much maintenance, the piano as a machine just keeps trudging on through life and still survives for decades, often more than a century with nothing more than neglect for a reward.

The big surprise here for new piano owners is when they discover that a piano is actually a machine, in fact, a physical machine — and not related at all to a plug-in stereo or an electronic keyboard, and that their new machine has to be maintained throughout its life! In our high-tech culture of today, we are not educated to understand physical machines. We understand a little about automobiles, that we have to make oil changes, etc., and that’s because the majority of all people today are involved with an automobile in some way and have learned something along the way about auto maintenance. And, if we have a bicycle or boat or airplane, etc., we sometimes learn a little about the maintenance involved with physical machines.

Boesendorfer -- Court Piano - c.1897

Boesendorfer —
Court Piano – c.1897

Next, a big mystery to most of the world that has to be taught:
A piano by design is always going flat ! !
Yes ! — from the time it is manufactured until the time it reaches the end of its service life. The strings are under a tremendous amount of tension, from about 25,000 lbs to 65,000 lbs on a huge concert grand piano. The strings are always stretching, especially noticeable when new. It takes about 7 to 10 tunings for a new piano to become “broken in” and to settle down to stable tuning behavior — with a lightly used home piano this might take several years or more. Once this happens the tuning might go gradually flat, but the piano stays relatively in tune to itself, and we find mature pianos that sound quite well up to a year or more between tunings.
Williams & Son - c. 1905

Williams & Son – c. 1905

Finally, then, How often should a piano be tuned, or maintained?

This is a very complex subject, and needs to be considered carefully with the advice of an RPT, or “Registered Piano Technician“, who has the expertise and experience to give you a truthful answer.

The correct answer has to be based on you and your piano, and what are your expectations for it.

The answer goes from A to Z — if you want to just keep your piano out of trouble and not break apart due to lack of tuning, perhaps 1 tuning a year is good enough. If you are a recording studio, your Maintenance Program could be really often — Like DAILY !

Bechstein Upright - c.1906

Bechstein Upright – c.1906

Julius Hilse - c. 1885

Julius Hilse – c. 1885

The complete answer has to be tailored to you, and includes consideration of: the condition of the piano, its age, type, location, type of use and the wishes of its owner and users. A “pat” standard or universal answer is not possible. It’s easier to answer: “How often should you buy new shoes?” “Do you change oil in your car as often as a taxi cab?” “When should you wash your car?” The correct answer is: “It depends. Let’s discuss all your needs and see. A recording studio may tune its piano every day; a music school like ASU every 30-60 days; a new piano needs more tuning than an older piano,” and so on. It is completely correct to say that how much a piano is used does not exactly determine how often it should be tuned. Playing a piano does not necessarily knock it out of tune, but Mother Nature can knock out a tuning in 15 minutes with a weather change if the piano does not “live” in some kind of a climate controlled environment.

 Clementi Square - c. 1825

Clementi Square – c. 1825

The final answer to just tuning a Piano is: ‘Tune it when it needs it, or when you want it done, but once a year even when you don’t use it.’ Tuning about 2 times a year satisfies the needs of many people.

Other issues listed above, such as Regulation and Lubrication, Voicing, maintenance of Climate Control Systems, and Repairs have to be discussed specifically about a particular piano. Click here for Definitions of these terms.

An example of a good Maintenance Program for a Home Piano is:
• Tune the piano 4 times the first year of a program – especially a new piano
• Tune the piano at least 3 times the second year of a program
• If the piano responds well, tune it at least 2 times a year onwardNote: Sometimes a piano will never respond to good tuning frequency until a full service is done to set it up properly, which can include Regulation, some Voicing and / or Repair.Note: Maintenance Programs are less expensive in the long run than only sporadic care.

Finally: The true Piano Maintenance Program has to be worked out individually for you and your piano, and cannot be predicted in advance. However, if you want to find out what your Piano really sounds like, and if you play the piano yourself and want to know what YOU really sound like, you will set up a Piano Maintenance Program and just keep on smiling from that time forward !

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