Piano maintenance basics – what, when, who and why

Pianos are mechanical instruments requiring maintenance to continue operating optimally and sounding great; you will derive far greater pleasure from a well-maintained piano. In order to function to the best of the piano’s potential, its mechanical components need to be aligned and attention needs to be given to the evenness of its tone. As an acoustic instrument made from organic materials like wood, leather and felt, pianos change constantly and are particularly sensitive to changes in humidity. When a piano is played, its felt hammers hit the strings and over time the hammers harden slightly which changes the piano’s tone and it can sound less sweet and even. Although most pianos don’t need to be maintained on a daily or weekly basis, they require more maintenance than is generally expected. And it’s important to remember that it’s not possible to over maintain a piano.

Tuning

Tuning refers to the process of adjusting and correcting the pitch of each string so that melodies and harmonies played sound true and pleasing. An out of tune piano greatly reduces its musicality and diminishes the playing experience. Most pianos drift out of tune with time and changes in humidity. Pianos that get a lot of use also go out of tune through continued playing.


At a minimum, an annual tuning is advisable. It prevents the tuning drifting too far from true and gives the technician an opportunity to check the overall condition of the instrument and advise accordingly. On average, our regular clients have their piano tuned every 6 months. It’s also quite appropriate to have a tuning every 3 months to coincide with the seasons. By way of comparison, our performance venue clients have their pianos tuned once a week and concert pianos are tuned before each performance. You can’t tune a piano too often so tune when you think it needs it and at least once a year.


Servicing

Every piano requires a different level of maintenance, depending upon the quality of materials used, the design and level of craftsmanship, the age of the piano, and the amount of use. As a rough guide, a piano undergoing light use should be serviced every 5 years, moderate use every 3 years and heavy or daily use should be serviced every annually or every 2 years. The service regularity also depends on the expectations of the pianist and the level at which it’s played.


Servicing involves adjusting the mechanical components of the piano, assessing and repairing general wear and tear, filing the hammers, replacing worn or broken parts, addressing any tightness or looseness of the moving mechanical mechanism and partially taking the piano apart and thoroughly cleaning it, for generally playability and to avoid fish moth infestation.


Regulation and voicing

You may have heard technicians refer to piano regulation, which is a broad term relating to any of the adjustments to the mechanism, keyboard and pedal system of a piano. Regulation is often performed as part of general servicing.


Another area of a piano technician’s work is voicing, which covers a wide range of techniques that are used to control the tone of a piano; for example softening the felt hammers to change the tone when they strike the strings. Voicing is arguably the most skilled element of piano making, rebuilding and servicing. Good voicing can elevate the tone of an instrument to its highest possible capabilities for expression. Bad voicing can destroy the tone utterly and ruin the hammers!

Why choose IBSP to maintain your piano?

We are the leading concert technicians in South Africa supporting all the major orchestras and concert venues. Our technicians have trained at the Steinway, Kawai and Fazioli factories. We are also the official technicians for all new Steinway and Fazioli pianos sold, two of the highest quality instruments available today. We have been able to achieve this due to the skills, training, experience and incredibly high standards instilled in the business by its founder, Ian Burgess-Simpson. We apply these standards and bring this concert experience to each of our customers, be they private, professional or institutional, and that’s the reason we are the right partner to help maintain and improve your piano.


Each piano has an optimal potential sound and feel, which is determined by the quality of its design, the materials used, and how it was built. A piano often falls short of its potential sound because it hasn’t been correctly technically adjusted (set up) and hasn’t been voiced. It takes technical expertise and experience to bring a piano as close as possible to its potential. The difference a good piano technician makes to the quality of sound and feel is significant, through our high end work we bring this level of expertise to your piano and help you get the best possible result.


Many piano tuners and technicians don’t have the skills and experience required to voice pianos correctly. IBSP on the other hand does have these skills, and when performing standard tunings and servicing we spend time adjusting the piano’s tone to provide you with the best possible instrument to enjoy.


19 Stibitz Street, Westlake - Cape Town - 021 788 9389

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