This web page starts here
COMMON MYTHS ABOUT PIANOS
Copyright 2011 by Wallace T. Scherer
Piano Technician / Music Educator
Serving south Florida in Palm Beach and north Broward Counties
Call (561) 432-4121
During over 30 years of serving piano owners, I frequently hear certain questions and comments which indicate that the customer has acquired some misunderstanding of pianos. Finally, I decided to compile these into this document. I hope it will be helpful to you.
MYTH #1: PIANOS SHOULD BE TUNED EVERY SIX MONTHS.
Not all pianos are the same. Generally, new pianos need more
frequent tunings - perhaps 3 or 4 times a year for the first couple of
years. Some brands do better than others. Older pianos in
good condition tend to be more stable and need less frequent
tunings - maybe once every year or two. I have seen some brands
hold their tuning for several years, while others go badly
out of tune in just a few months.
Your piano technician can judge which is best for your piano
based on how much the pitch varies between tunings, a knowledge
of how much the piano is used, and the environmental conditions.
If you are not comfortable with his assessment, you can always
solicit the opinions of other piano technicians.
MYTH #2: NOBODY PLAYS IT ANYMORE, SO IT DOESN'T NEED TUNING.
Unfortunately, the steel wire used for piano "strings" will gradually lose its tension whether or not the piano is played. As the tension of each wire decreases, the pitch of each note goes lower. I have found that in general, pianos between 15 and 30 years old will drop in pitch about 3% to 5% a year. (New pianos drop in pitch faster.) Every 2 or 3 years, the piano should still be tuned up to pitch even if it is not used. This will enable the strings to keep their proper tension and make the piano useable in case someone visits unexpectedly and wants to play it. It's embarrasing to have to say to visitors, "I'm sorry the piano is so badly out of tune."
A piano sitting idle for several years will still collect dust, even on the inside! It may become a haven for insects, termites, and other pests. When the piano technician comes to tune the piano, after he opens it up, ask him to tell you if there are any such problems that should be taken care of.
Keeping your piano properly maintained will ensure a higher resale value if you decide to sell it. It will also make you more appreciated if you decide to give it to someone you love.
MYTH #3: PIANOS SHOULD NOT BE PLACED AGAINST AN OUTSIDE WALL.
House construction has changed over the last 100 years, so now,
with better insulation in the walls, this is not such an
important consideration. More important factors in considering
placement are: How does it look? Is there adequate lighting to read the music? How does is sound there? Can the technician access the tuning pins and action easily enough?
Be sure to locate it so that no direct sunlight is on it and so it
is not in the line of fire from heater or air conditioner vents;
and certainly not near a radiator or a fireplace! Also consider
the effects of opening doors or windows nearby. The rule of thumb
- avoid extremes of temperature and humidity if at all possible.
MYTH #4: PIANOS SHOULD ALWAYS BE TUNED AFTER MOVING.
Not necessarily. If the piano sounds OK to you and everything
seems to be working fine, it is alright to wait until the next
regular tuning time. But, if you have any doubts, you might want
the technician to come and check it out for you just to be sure.
This will generally incur a minimum service call fee rather than
a full tuning fee, depending on your technician's policies.
If the tuning is due in May, and you know you will be moving to a
new house in June, for instance, you may want to wait until after
the move, and then give the piano a couple of weeks to acclimate
to its new environment before having it tuned. If the move is
within the same house and no rough handling is involved, it may
be OK to wait for the next scheduled tuning.
I was tuning a new piano that had been rented for a party. It
involved a pitch raise before I could do the fine tuning. When
the pitch raise was done, it sounded pretty good. Then I found
that it had to be moved about 15 feet in order to be located
properly for the invited pianist. The wheels were metal, and the
patio floor had a very rough pebble surface. The short move
jarred the piano so much that it went extremely out of tune. Good
thing I was still there!
MYTH #5: YOU SHOULD LEAVE THE LID UP OVER THE KEYS.
When key tops were genuine ivory, some people thought that
covering the keys would make them yellow faster. However, with modern plastics, this is not a consideration. I
prefer that the keys be kept covered when not in use to reduce
the accumulation of dust on the unplayed or seldom played
MYTH #6: TUNING A HIGH QUALITY OR PROFESSIONAL GRADE PIANO IS
DIFFERENT THAN TUNING A CHEAP ONE.
While it is true that better materials and workmanship go into
the "top of the line" pianos, the basic engineering, and
therefore the basic tuning techniques are the same for any modern
piano. It makes no sense to pay double for a tuning just because
you have a more expensive piano. I have worked on pianos all over
the spectrum in quality and price, and have found virtually no
difference in how I work to get them in good tune.
MYTH #7: BUY A CHEAP PIANO FOR YOUR CHILD TO SEE HOW WELL HE DOES
AT PIANO LESSONS.
This may sound like an economically sound plan; after all, we
might reason, we wouldn't buy a new Cadillac for a teenager after
getting his first driver license, would we?
It is true that students who play on instruments that sound good
and work well generally do better than those who attempt to play
inferior instruments. But also important is the role that parents
and teachers play in encouraging and motivating the student to
succeed. Talent may be a strong factor in ultimate success, but
hard work can often trump talent.
Before buying a piano, whether new or used, it would be a good
investment to hire a trustworthy piano technician to check it out
for you. Also, please see my brochure BEFORE YOU BUY A USED PIANO.
Here's the rule of thumb I would recommend: Buy the best quality
piano you can afford. If you rent a piano, also rent the best one you can afford.
MYTH #8: A STRING COVER WILL MUFFLE THE SOUND OF A GRAND
Whether it is a luxurious 100% Wool String Cover, or a simple 70% wool cover that your technician makes while in your home, the string cover will not muffle the
sound significantly. Some sensitive listeners or players may
notice a slight change, but the advantage of having a string
cover in place to protect the piano against dirt, moisture, etc.,
far outweighs the slight "attenuation of upper frequencies" that only a very few
people will notice.
MYTH #9: A PIANO THAT IS VERY FLAT SHOULD BE BROUGHT UP TO PITCH
GRADUALLY OVER SEVERAL TUNINGS TO AVOID STRING BREAKAGE.
I seldom find pianos more than a whole step (200%) flat. Most
neglected pianos I tune are not even a half step (100%) flat.
There are several factors which increase the chances of string
breakage. Very old strings, 80 years or more old, have lost most
of their elasticity, and are more likely to break even if they are
only a half step flat. Rusty strings are also more prone to
breakage. Other factors include defective strings and loose
Generally speaking, though, unless a piano is more than 300%
flat, one or two pitch raises and a fine tuning can be completed
on the same visit by the technician. It may take two more tunings
during the following year for the tuning to become stable enough
to not drop in pitch significantly between regular tunings.
If your technician uses one of the new computerized tuning aids,
the pitch raise can be calculated more accurately and the tuning
may last longer.
Download as printable pdf file.
Use your printer to make this double sided brochure.
Other helpful brochures:
Before You Get A Used Piano.
What Is Piano Tuning? (Has good questions to ask a piano technician before hiring his services.
This web page ends here