~Roberto De Clara
Oakville Symphony Orchestra
Kevin checking tuning intervals
for a good sound
Kevin tuning the high end in a
Heintzman grand piano
When to get your piano tuned
Piano Tuning 101
Pianos typically require tuning at least twice a year due to seasonal changes in humidity. This holds true for pianos of all ages, brands and whether they are played or not.
A good rule of thumb in Southern Ontario is that you’re about two weeks away from needing a tuning when you turn on the heat in the winter and turn it off in the spring. These are the times of year when the humidity change shrinks or swells the wooden structure of the piano, and it starts to drift out of tune.
In the winter, dry heat draws moisture out of the piano’s soundboard. In the spring, the air is usually more moist. The soundboard absorbs this moisture, expands and causes the piano to go sharp by the summer. These seasonal changes in tuning are often most obvious in the mid-range of the piano.
When you move, it is not so much the transportation of the piano that throws the tuning out as much as the piano acclimatising to its new room environment. Wait about two weeks after you move before you request a tuning.
New strings can also cause the pitch of a piano to go flat. New music wire is quite elastic and they start to stretch as soon as they are pulled up to pitch. This is why new pianos or recently restrung pianos need to be tuned more frequently in the first year. In addition, slipping tuning pins can cause a piano to go flat. Older pianos that have been exposed to regular seasonal humidity changes over the years can have loose tuning pins resulting in poor tuning stability.
The louder and more often you play a piano, the faster it goes out of tune. The force of a hammer repeatedly hitting a string can affect the equalization of tension along the string’s length, and cause its pitch to be slightly altered.
To put tuning in perspective, a concert piano is tuned before every performance, and a piano in a professional recording studio—where it is in constant use—is tuned 3 or 4 times a week as a matter of course.
Tuning alone has no effect whatsoever on the tonal quality of a piano. With use, the felt of piano hammers becomes both grooved and compacted from continually striking the metal strings. The deterioration of your piano’s tone may be very gradual. Consequently, we can offer the best advice as to the necessity of voicing.