4 – Tuning Your Used Piano
— by Wes Flinn RPT
Not a day passes that someone does not ask me:
When should I tune my piano ?
There are simple answers, and a complete answer
NOTE: Information in this Article 2 “Tuning Your Used Piano” refers to pianos that are already “broken in” and have had at least 7 tunings. The previous Article 1-“Tuning Your New Piano” covers the needs of new pianos. After 6 to 10 tunings, the information in this article applies to pianos of all ages, except pianos that are brand new out of a box.
Following are the logic and explanations for all the different kinds of piano tuning requirements:
The complete answer:
This solution is complex — to develop an answer we must consider various issues:
(a) Temperature and Humidity. Physical acoustic pianos are affected instantly and continuously by changes in temperature and humidity — especially rapid changes — which can “knock” a piano out of tune, or even “knock” it back into tune in an hour’s time!.
Moving an acoustic piano will affect the tuning radically and rapidly, unless piano is moved directly, wrapped in blankets, and moved within a very short time from place to place.
After a piano has been tuned, the following rule helps to best preserve the tuning:
Set steady, constant temperature and humidity values — these are what are always needed — an ideal would be to always maintain this following condition:
Any very even° F. temperature, along with a relative humidity of 45° RH.
(b) Warranty Requirements. Beware! Pay attention to this: Most piano manufacturers require new piano owners to tune their pianos each 6 months, and to keep records, in order to maintain a warranty agreement — which might last 5 – 15 years (same answer as #1 above).
(c) Piano Age and Tuning History. A piano is not really “broken in” until it has had at least 10 or more tunings. [See Article “Tuning and Your New Piano”, which gives more detail about the needs of new pianos] This article here refers primarily to pianos with 7 or more tunings — the Tuning Cycles below apply to “new” pianos after they have had 7 or more tunings.
(d) Type of Use Piano Receives. If temperature and humidity requirements are met (see (a) above), the tuning cycles below will often keep pianos up to pitch and avoid the constant need for “double-tuning”, or “pitch-raising” or “remedial tuning”, which are inevitable with acoustic pianos unless temperature and humidity control are utilized 24/7 as explained in (a) above.
(e) Make Yourself Understand the physical nature of a piano. The overall condition of a physical piano, concerning its hammers especially, but also all the rest of the action mechanism, directly affects the quality of the “tuning” and “tone quality” of the physical piano. These conditions change over time, all the time — the physical parts of a piano wear down, change constantly with use, have to be adjusted and maintained for a piano to sound well. There also come times in a piano’s life that advanced service or new parts are necessary to make the piano even work or work well again. If an owner doesn’t or won’t understand this, then expect a lot of confusion and frustration in your future life with a piano. Solution is to listen to your RPT, get on with piano service like it needs to happen, or get rid of the physical piano completely, and replace it with an electrical device that doesn’t need all this trouble and care and expense.
(f) See “Maintenance Levels” for Used Pianos: Click here: Maintenance Levels
The best ways to stabilize and preserve your tunings are:
(1) Locate your piano in an air-conditioned area, away from doors, windows, heater drafts, and any air-conditioning vents directed toward the piano, and locate piano as centrally in the overall home floor space as your living situation will allow;
(2) Set a temperature you like to live with personally, and leave it set there ALL THE TIME — also, avoid opening doors and windows more than a few minutes at a time;
(3) Humidify your whole house if you can, or acquire a programmable “evaporative” humidifier ($150 – $200) and not a “mist” type unit, locate it in same room with piano (next to piano is OK when air flow is straight up, not toward, and NEVER under the piano), set it at 45° RH, keep it running and full of water all the time; see my references on units to buy: Humidity Control
(4) or install a Dampp Chaser climate control system — and be prepared to maintain and service this system year-round, or lose the value of the installation — see full explanations at:
Climate Control; and,
(5) Keep an acoustic piano completely closed when not in use – Yes, CLOSED up, all the way !! Again: CLOSED. Closing up the piano creates a fairly tight little private closet that enables the piano to stabilize its own temperature and humidity fairly well, and best of all, this is true even without the aid of a climate control system (Dampp-Chaser) or other humidity source.