How Often Does my Piano Need to be Serviced?

Few people actually ask this question, and although we know that pianos need tuning from time to time, pianos are mechanical instruments, consisting out of many tiny parts.
From tiny pins and screws, to large parts like the soundboard, pin block, and the steel frame.
All of these play an integral part in your piano’s ability to bring you enjoyment, and need to be maintained.

Over the next few articles or posts, I will give a brief synopses of the different parts of your piano that you should keep maintained.
If neglected, or over time “with age” these parts can get worn and old, and may need replacing, reconditioning, or may get to the point where “ due to cost”, may not be worth repairing.

Tuning involves bringing every string onto pitch, and in harmony with the neighbouring strings.
This involves turning the tuning pins, and setting the pins and the strings at a stable point of rest, where it would stay stable for a time.
It is important to have a piano tuned at a regular schedule, at least once every year, preferably every six months.

Tuning pins:
The tuning pins are threaded pins, knocked into a wooden block, called the pin block, that all the strings are attached to.
These are the pins we put our tuning hammer onto, to turn and change the different pitches of the strings.
If the tuner isn’t careful he-she can wear the heads out, so they may be impossible to tune.
Another frequent issue is where the tuning pins get loose in the pin block.
This can be caused by dry weather, or just by the age of the piano.
The only way to fix this problem, is to replace them with slightly larger pins.
Other methods may include to use a certain glue to form a bushing around the pins, or if there are only a few loose pins, to insert a bushing made from sand paper or veneer.
If, however, the pins are very loose, and none of the above methods work, it might be necessary to replace the pin block.

The strings:
I would like you to guess how many strings an average piano has?
The question is actually a bit complicated.
You can count the strings on a guitar or violin, etc., but piano wire wrap around pins on the opposite side of the tuning pins, pins we call the hitch pins.
The string comes from the one tuning pin, and goes around the hitch pin, and comes all the way back to the next tuning pin.
So what may appear to be two strings, is in fact only one piece of wire.
So, if you break a string, you often need to insert the wire into two tuning pins, looping it around one hitch pin.
But, simply put, there are about 220-230 pins, on an average piano.
And about 70-90 kilograms of tention on every string.
If your piano is off-pitch by a half-tone, and I were to raise the pitch up to standard pitch, it would be the equivalent of me lifting a small car off the ground with one hand.
I usually charge R450-R500 extra for raising the pitch of a piano.
After this information, don’t you think I should charge more?
Anyway … in the process of changing the pitch, if the piano hasn’t been tuned for a long while, or if the strings, or bearing points are rusted, strings could start breaking.
The only way of fixing this, is to replace them.
But the base strings, have copper windings around them to slow down the vibration.
So, if one of those break, we’d have to duplicate them, or, if you are lucky, we could splice it, if there is enough plain wire left.
Strings “and their pitch” get affected by many things.
Temperature and humidity plays a big role in how your piano sounds.
The steel strings expand and contracts with warm and cold temperature.
Added to this, the wood of the soundboard and bridges on the soundboard, will also expand and contract with humidity, or the lack thereof.
This is the reason why pianos go out-of-tune very easily, and why you need to carefully consider where to put your piano.
Naturally, if strings are replaced, the new strings will take time to stretch, and get used to the new tention.

The pin block:
The pin block, “like previously mentioned”, is a piece of laminated wood, layered at different angles, usually made out of maple.
They attach it to the cast iron frame of the piano, and holes are drilled into it, for the tuning pins.
Over-time, the wood can get worn out from tuning tuning tuning, but that takes years.
More often, it is the case of the weather being too dry, or the tuning techniques of some tuners who like to bend the pins in the wood.
When these holes are enlarged, and the tuning pins are loose, the tuning pins would have to the replaced with a size larger, like discussed above.
However, if the pin block is cracked, it would have to be replaced with a new one, which is very expensive, and would be better to get a new piano.
This kind of repair is only really done on old grand pianos, that are restored in special cases.

In the next post I will discuss servicing the playing mechanism of the piano.
Stay tuned. “Pun intended” 🙂

Keep your piano happy.

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