People see the statement: “Tune your piano twice a year,” and often say to themselves: “why?” Perhaps you had your piano tuned a few years ago, and it still sounds okay. Or perhaps your piano was tuned the last time that it was moved, but you don’t play it much, so it should be just fine, right?
Well…not so much, actually.
There are many outside factors that affect the tuning of a piano, the two most important being how much the instrument is played, and the changes of the weather.
Humidity and temperature change rapidly with the change of seasons (summer and winter) and the change in conditions in the atmosphere, (especially when you use central heating/air conditioning,) wreak havoc on your piano.
With the changes in conditions, the tension on the 200+ strings changes slightly, with even more severe changes the longer they are allowed to remain at the mercy of the weather. Over time, even though the piano may still be in tune with itself, the tension on the strings may be considerably less than is ideal.
A piano that is roughly 1/2 step out of tune or greater is what we consider to be an extreme case. These pianos can not simply be “tuned” in the regular manner. When bringing one of these pianos up to snuff, we must perform what is known as a “pitch raise” tuning, meaning several tunings are needed. First, the strings must be brought roughly up to their normal tension, with a more important emphasis on tension than pitch. There is a specific pattern than must be followed to prevent damage.
And oh, how damaging it can be…
Remember our post on how much pressure is exerted on the back plate? Right…around 60,000 lbs or 30 tons. Well, if all of the strings in a piano are 1/2 step out of tune, there is roughly 5,000 less pounds of pressure on the backplate than if the piano was perfectly in tune. This means that when a piano has been allowed to slide and adapt to the new pressure, changes up to pitch put a great deal amount more pressure on the instruments.
This allows for the potential of all sorts of problems, including broken strings, cracked wood within the superstructure, and in the worst case senario: a cracked or broken backplate.
And when this happens, dollar signs abound because major surgery is needed.
This can’t happen to you, right?
Well…if a piano is played every day without regular tuning, after roughly 4 years, it will be what we consider an “extreme case.”
Don’t risk it–tuning a piano is not just a way to keep tuners in business, it may save your piano. Brush and floss twice a day, and have your piano tuned twice a year.