|We are told that Murphy's Law is
enjoys a universal reign--that if anything can go wrong, it will. And
true to reputation, legions of evil forces always seem to be at work on
your piano, wrenching it out of tune and adjustment, scratching and
smudging its cabinet (and you thought the kids did that!), and filling
its obvious and hidden places with dirt and dust. On the other hand,
remember that your piano technician benefits from all of this, so
perhaps Murphy's Law has some limits after all.
With all of the above in mind, then, the purpose
of this pamphlet is two-fold: to provide some basic information about
your piano and its ability to stay in tune; and to give tips for
keeping your instrument in tune as long as possible.
Your Piano's Construction:
Realize first that a piano is, in many ways, like a living, breathing
organism. Its skeleton, or sub-structure, must support over 200 strings
tightened to about 200 pounds each, a total of about nearly 20 tons.
This is accomplished by the strength of three major components:
four to six large wood beams,
are visible from the back of the piano. They are usually made of solid
oak or maple, and mortised into the rest of the hardwood frame.
Obviously, the heavier and more tightly constructed these braces and
frame are, the better your piano will be able to stay in tune.
(2) The metal
plate, the part many
call "that big,
gold harp," is carefully screwed into the wood frame to give extra
support. It is made of solid (usually cast) iron (a rather unbendable"
metal), and may weigh from 200 to 600 pounds; thus, it is the heaviest
part of your piano. Crack it, and in most cases, kiss your piano
||(3) The pinblock
is tightly fitted and
the back side of the upper edge of the plate. It is a little over
one inch thick , 4" to 6" wide, and runs the entire
length of the
piano. It is usually made of laminated maple (i.e., thin layers glued
together, like plywood). Its job is to hold all 200-plus tuning pins,
allowing them to be turned while being tuned, but holding them firm the
rest of the time. Because it is laminated, it is resistent to cracking;
yet because it is made of wood, it is somewhat vulnerable to drying
out, which in turn enlarges its holes and releases its grip on the
tuning pins. This is much less likely to happen in higher quality
pianos because the block is made of better quality wood.
Factors Affecting Piano Tuning:
The three previously mentioned components--backbraces, plate, and
pinblock--have the awesome responsibility of remaining firm despite a
total pull of nearly 20 tons when all of the strings are tuned to
pitch. In a perfect world, this may be a routine task, but remember
that Murphy's Law is in effect; therefore, pianos do not stay in tune,
and the reasons they do not are the results of the following factors:
Internal Factors (i.e., the piano itself):
In new pianos, these include weaknesses in materials and/or workmanship
in braces, plate, or pinblock). Generally, the lower quality pianos are
strong structurally and so are likely to go out of tune more quickly.
in older pianos include the above plus those problems that can develop
the most commmon being loose tuning pins.
These are all of the outside forces--"the elements"--that, over time,
cause even the best pianos to slip out of tune. Again, think of the
a living organism, changing or "breathing" along with seasonal changes
in weather and the piano's environment. During warm and humid weather,
absorbs moisture and expands; during dry or cool weather, it dries out
This cycle is most evident with the changing of the seasons, but it
to a lesser degree with day-to-day changes such as weather, heating and
practices, and moving routines (common in schools and churches).
What Can I Do?
After hearing how all of the previous "unseen enemies" stage a
onslaught aginst your piano, the fearful person may be tempted to
give up. Not so, friend! You can do a number of things to help your
least stay in tune longer.
First, keep your piano in an environment that will protect it from
The ideal is a perfectly temperature
- and humidity - controlled
room. But since
most homes fall short of this ideal, try to avoid the following:
As a rule, a piano in a basement for any length of time will develop
rusty metal parts, weakened glue joints, peeling veneer, and cracks or
ripples in its soundboard.
wood stoves, or any direct heating source. Baseboards should be
at least on a different wall from the piano's; woodstoves are risky
even in the same room. Both will cause your piano to dry out unevenly,
thus affecting its overall stability.
heating or cooling. This keeps your piano not sure whether to
expand, contract, or do both at the same time. Keep things as even as
Second, avoid needless abuse:
Of course, this does not mean not playing the piano to preserve its
tuning (like my grandfather, who "saved" his phonograph needle by not
playing records). It does mean teaching children to play, not bang or
smash. The technique may also help them when they learn to play
someday. (If they reach virtuoso status, then they can bang until their
fingers fall off.)
Third, and finally, keep your piano
The average piano, in fact, will go out of tune in two years to such an
extent that it may take two or more tunings to get it back in tune.
Thus, you pay the same but don't get the pleasure or peace of mind that
regular tunings will give you. Keep in mind that in most areas, having
your piano tuned once a year will cost you only about 15 cents a day.
Compared to keeping your car running, that's a steal.