It’s a question I get asked all the time, usually when I’m saying goodbye to a customer whose piano I’ve just finished tuning: When will it need it to be tuned again?
My response is preferably every six months, but at least once a year. When they invariably ask “why so often?,” my rather dramatic answer usually shocks them a little, but it’s the unfortunate truth: The northeastern part of the United States of America is quite possibly the worst place in the world for piano.
When the look of surprise leaves their face, I explain that the difference in the humidity here between January and July is especially hard on an instrument made mostly of wood.
Dean Petrich, a fellow Registered Piano Technician, says it well.
“Humidity fluctuations is the number one cause of changes in piano tuning. When the soundboard, pinblock and bridge are in a moist environment, the wood cells absorb the moisture and swell up, and as they expand they pull the strings tighter, causing the piano to go sharp. Logically, if the piano moves to a drier atmosphere, the wood shrinks, the strings loosen and go flat, and sometimes cracks and splits may open and start buzzing. Every seasonal change — every wet season and dry season — alters a piano’s tuning.”
In my experience, this is certainly true. I have, on occasion, tuned a piano in November, and by January the piano is already beginning to drift out of tune, because the humidity level has dropped so dramatically in just a two-month period.
To wait more than 12 months between tunings allows this cycle to take the tuning farther and farther away from its optimal setting. And if a piano owner continues to let time go by without a tuning, at some point – precisely when depends on the environment – the tuning will have drifted so far from ‘concert pitch’, that it may require a double tuning (a rough tuning and then a second tuning in the same visit), or worse. Worse? A triple tuning is not out of the question … but, in extreme cases, it could mean your instrument is heading to the junkyard. Which, of course, is something none of us wants.
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