Piano Care

clock with humidity meterPlease do not put your piano anywhere near a radiator, or in direct sunlight, or in a conservatory. If you do, it has a very short life expectancy.

Loose tuning pins are not the only problem caused by dryness – the damage could run well into the £1000′s.
Aim to keep the piano’s environment at a stable relative humidity of between 40-70%.

Most pianos come to the end of their life prematurely due to prolonged exposure to dry conditions.

Since the late C19th the frames of decent pianos have been one-piece of cast iron,
to handle the 20-odd tons of tension from more than 200 high tension steel and copper-wound-steel strings.

the naked iron frame of a piano

But even to this day perhaps the most important parts of a piano are still crafted from various types of wood.

The soundboard is responsible for amplifying the vibrations of the strings.

the naked soundboard of a piano

 

But the most unfortunate victim of dryness is the wrest plank (or pin block).
Each string is wound around a long tuning pin, which is deeply embedded into this very thick, cross-laminated plank of wood.

Tuning pins in the wrest plank

Tuning pins emmedded into the wrest plank. Only about one-third of each pin is visible.

New tuning pins

New tuning pins.

Wrest plank

All the pins have been removed from this wrest-plank, and it has been taken out of a piano

Wood expands when it gets wet, and shrinks when it dries.
If the wrestplank dries up, it’ll shrink and this will enlarge the holes into which each tuning pin is embedded.
Eventually, the tuning pin has no grip at all, and needs to be replaced for a thicker one.
If too many tuning pins have gone loose it won’t be worth changing them one by one,
the piano should go to a proper workshop where professional restorers can take all the old pins out and carefully, evenly put new,
thicker ones in. This opens the piano up to many other possible restoration jobs – the restorer now has access to the soundboard,
and they might as well put new strings on while they’re at it.

re-stringing a grand piano

 

This is expensive business. It’ll cost about £1000 including delivery both ways to have your piano re-pinned,
and the figure can double should you want it restrung and re-hammered, for example.
Which brings me to the purpose of this page.. please do not put your piano anywhere near a radiator,
or in direct sunlight, or in a conservatory.
If you do, it has a very short life expectancy.
Loose tuning pins are not the only problem caused by dryness – the damage could run well into the £1000′s.
Aim to keep the piano’s environment at a stable relative humidity of between 40-70%.

humidity meter

12 thoughts on “Piano Care

  1. Hi Rick!
    How’s things? Lydia and I have been meaning to get in touch with you for FAR too long, so I’m glad I’ve finally found you again!
    I’ve been reading your site with interest; a real gutsy choice you’ve made, well done. I hope it’s going well?

    Lyds and I now live in Cornwall and are having some piano-based issues! Could you get in touch?
    Best regards,
    Mat
    Tel 07968 300 525

    • Hi Matt (and Lydia) great to hear from you! I wished I was in Cornwall at times this past Winter.. when it was -10 degrees C in Oxford but on the same night it was +7 C in Penzance!

      Will e-mail you now…

  2. Hi Richard

    My wife and I were looking online to find more info on the Eavstaff Pianette Mini Piano. I am a musician and have just inherited one from my recently deceased grandmother. My grandfather used to play it so it has been neglected for well over a decade.

    I see online some pretty unfavourable comments on the piano, but whilst the pragmatist in me thinks I could pick up a reasonable piano inexpensively these days on Gumtree, I kind of think it would be nice to have our children grow up with the Eavstaff here in the house.

    Is your feeling that it is worth the cost of transporting? Once worked on, is it a nice piano to have or are we about to saddle ourselves with a piano that will cost a fortune and never sound or feel lovely?

    If we decide to take the piano, would you be able to come and have a look at it when you are back from Argentina? We will in North West London about 9 miles from Charing X.

    Our Google search for the Evestaff pianette took us to your Belgravia entry. From there we were compelled to read more as your Blog is really well written. It’s been very interesting learning more about you and the film on your site is lovely.

    Many thanks

    Paul and Sarah

    • Hi Paul and Sarah,

      Thank you for your kind comments.

      I can certainly work on an Eavestaff piano nine miles north West of Charing Cross when I get back to London. However I’d be hesitant to recommend a piano that I haven’t inspected myself. Please check your email so we can exchange information on this piano.

      Best wishes.

  3. Hi Richard,

    do you or your father have any information on “Waldberg of Berlin” Pianos? Last year I rescued a nice looking upright from a sports club. It’s overstrung & over damped with a 3/4 frame (totally wooden pin block), estimated 1880′s manufacture. Serial number available on request. All I have found out is Waldberg was one of the brands owned or licensed by Danemann.

    It holds it tuning very well for an wood framed upright – in the last year it’s lost less than 0.5Hz on A440.

    I am interested in restoring the case and parts of the action in the future – I’ve been tinkering with pianos for ages & really should go on a proper course!

    Is it worth restoring or just leave it be? – it has a very warm & gentle tone, unlike the harshness of many later uprights.

    Any ideas or advice?

    Glen

    • Hi Glen,

      I’m not familiar with the make, only tune about one of those every two years so I’m afraid I can’t add to the information you’ve gathered.

      Most times I hear that a piano needs to be ‘fully restored’ this is completely unnecessary, all it needs is a few hours of TLC, minor repairs and regulation. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it is the golden rule when working on pianos of that age. It’s difficult to find a replacement part that will work as well as the original, even if that means some creative repair work with PVC glue and cotton thread.

      In my experience, with strategic lubrication and gentle fingers they will all reach concert pitch and can be regulated to play smoothly.

      Well done for getting it up to concert pitch. I’m glad you appreciate the warm tone that only ancient, relaxed hammers can produce.

      • Thanks for your reply, Richard.

        As regards to restoring it, the action is perfectly working though the dampers need new felt – they are really worn badly. The damper fingers are actually very heavily weighted and drop quickly on key release, but she sings on a little because the felts are so bad!

        The case has no knocks/dents but the finish is a little faded and flaky in places so while not making it look new, I want it to be a presentable, but usable piece of furniture.

        Would changing the damper felts and french-polishing the case be worth it? I have seen the odd Waldberg on eBay go for around £500-£1000, though none as early as this model. I can supply photos for you if needed.

        Glen

  4. Hello, I have an 1890 Challen piano. It is over damped and needs tuning. The strings are quite rusty. Do you think you can tune the piano? Another tuner said that it is very old and very risky of having it tuned, the strings may break. I’d like to have a second opinion….. Appreciate your advice. Thanks.

    • Hi Iza, I have successfully tuned several 1890′s overdamped Challen pianos with rusty strings, up to concert pitch, it’s not a problem. Some of them have gone up several semitones in pitch. Snapping strings is only a major problem if one doesn’t lubricate strings properly at the main points of friction and release tension before increasing it.

      I will send you an email to make contact should you wish for me to come and take a look.

      • Thanks Richard. Glad to hear that. I have responded directly to you by email. Yes I’d like you to look at the piano. Many thanks.

  5. Hi,
    could really do with a piano tuning very soon, Very old piano now so needs a bit of tuning. We are In penzance aswel. And in urgent need of a tune up!
    Thanks:)

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