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Philip Jamison Pianos
A tuned piano is much more fun to play!
Some neglected pianos require more than one tuning to raise them to "standard pitch" (A440).
This is referred to as a "pitch raise". A pitch raise is not necessary if your piano is tuned to "relative pitch" (that is, wherever its pitch is, and not raising it to A440)
Every piano requires tuning. Over time, the pitch of the 200+ strings in a piano drift away from their correct relationship with one-
another. Eventually, the piano sounds "tinny" like something in a western saloon. It also will not match other instruments
To schedule a tuning, just telephone me or send an e-mail. Most tunings can be scheduled the week you call.
What Causes A Piano To Fall Out of Tune?
Some people think neglecting, moving or simply playing a piano will cause it to fall out of tune. Actually, the main cause
of disharmony (other than bad playing) is climate, especially humidity changes. A piano is built mainly of wood and, like a guitar
or violin, it has a soundboard which amplifies the vibrations of the strings. The piano soundboard is usually made of
solid spruce or similar softwood, about 1/4" to 3/8" thick. This thin board absorbs and gives off moisture according to the
humidity where it is kept. In a typically damp Pennsylvania summer, the relative humidity may reach 90% or more. This causes
the piano soundboard to expand as the moisture enters the wood cells. The same effect is apparent in your sticking doors and
windows. The piano soundboard, unlike a door, has nowhere to expand. If you look at the rear of a vertical piano (or the bottom of
a grand) you'll see the soundboard is glued around its perimeter. So what happens when the wood expands? If you picture a violin,
the soundboard has a distinct crown (hump) where it meets the strings. A piano has this same crown, only not so great. Still, when
the soundboard expands, it has nowhere to go but "up": the crown increases. Since the strings rest on the top of the soundboard,
they are pushed upward with it. This causes the strings to increase in tension and pitch. Come winter, the humidity drops to, say,
25%. The soundboard now shrinks and the string tension lessons causing the pitch to drop. Now if these pitch changes were perfectly
even, the piano would always sound pretty good but, unfortunately, the individual strings do not generally rise and fall in pitch
perfectly in relation to each other. Your piano sounds worse and worse with each change of season.
Other Causes of Tuning Instability
Of course, heavy playing can push a piano out of tune, but a well-designed piano in good condition should hold a tuning
quite well, even after several weeks of Liszt etudes. If that piano is not in top shape, however, its tune may suffer.
A prime cause may be loose tuning pins. A piano's tuning pins are much like the tuning pegs of a violin. They are a friction-
fit into a piece of wood. Of course, a violins tuning pegs are wood and adjusted by hand while a pianos tuning pins are steel
and must be turned by a special wrench. It's that "force-fit" that can cause the problems. The wood that holds the tuning pins
is a type of maple plywood called the "pinblock". If this wood splits or delaminates, the tuning pins may loosen. The constant
pull of the string may cause the tuning pins to turn. The effect can be a tuning that lasts for only a few weeks to a
piano that cannot be tuned at all.
Another cause of tuning instability is the pianos "scale". This is the design and layout of the soundboard, bridges and strings.
Some pianos simply are so poorly-designed they do not have a clear tone. They may have weak bass, dead treble, or tuning
instability. They may react more to seasonal changes than a well-designed piano would. In some cases, poor scale design can be
improved with new, different gauge strings, replacement hammers, or re-voicing.
How Often Should A Piano Be Tuned?
This depends upon several factors. If you are sensitive to pitch changes, you will certainly know when it is time to get
your piano tuned. For a piano in good condition, once or twice a year is often sufficient. Some recital pianos are tuned weekly.
Concert pianists require a tuning before every performance. Waiting too long between tunings can cause the piano to drop in pitch
until a "pitch raise" is necessary to bring it up to "standard pitch". A pitch raise may require several tunings before the
tuning is stable. A really good piano in a stable environment may require only one tuning a year, but the same piano may need
additional tunings if it is heavily played or if the pianist has a particularly critical ear.
Usually about 60 to 90 minutes.
Yes. Repairs (stuck or broken notes, etc.) do cost extra. I will tell you in advance if any repairs are needed, and
how much they will cost. A sticking note may be repaired for minimal cost (a couple dollars or less) or new parts or
more extensive repairs may be required. Often, there are less-expensive alternatives if your piano budget is low. I believe you will find my prices to be quite reasonable.
Do You Tune By Ear, or With An Electronic Device?
I tune by ear.
Though it is rare, piano strings can break during a tuning (even on a new piano). This can be caused by unseen defects
in the piano wire, rust, or other reasons. Luckily, any string be repaired or replaced. The customer is charged for
broken strings. The cost depends on the type of string (bass or treble). Again, I should stress that string breakage is rare,
and most piano strings last for many years with no problems.
The current "standard pitch" in most countries is A440. This means the middle note "A" on your keyboard vibrates 440 times per second. A pitch standard allows your piano to match any other instrument when they play together. The A440 standard was first adopted by the Paris Conservatoire in 1812, and accepted by the American music industry in 1925 and the American Standards Association in 1936. Before that date, American pianos were generally tuned to A435. The A440 pitch was internationally accepted in 1939. Throughout this period, many pitches were used, everything from A404 to A455, and many more. Most pianos, even those from the 19th century, can be tuned to the modern A440 pitch without problems. It is interesting that many concert artists and orchestras in Europe prefer a hogher (A444) pitch, even today. For more information on pitch, see http://www.uk-piano.org/history/pitch.htm.
Relative pitch involves tuning the piano with itself. If a piano is not tuned for several years, it may slowly drop in pitch. A neglected piano may drop a half-step or more in pitch (in other words, "C" will sound like "B" or even lower). These pianos may be tuned just at the pitch they are found, and not raised to A440. They will sound fine to most people, excepting those with a perfect pitch sense of pitch. A below-pitch piano will not sound good when played with other
instruments or to recordings, however! Also, for an old piano with strings in poor condition, or with loose tuning pins, a pitch raise may not be possible.