In this age of disposable digital equipment, many families who appreciate quality and craftsmanship have opted to purchase a handmade piano instead. Not only will it provide musical enjoyment for the current generation, but if properly maintained, will become a cherished family heirloom to be handed down to successive generations. One caveat about caring for a fine instrument, however; it is not something that can be entirely carried out by amateurs. To preserve the quality of your instrument, this article will cover the scope of piano maintenance, as well as what owners can do and what tasks must be left exclusively to professionals.
Throughout its (hopefully) long life-span, your piano will likely be moved. Not only is it important to locate your instrument in a dry, dust-free, temperate room, but to also be mindful of your region’s climate. In humid or hot areas of the country, be sure to locate your piano in a climate-controlled environment. Why? Pianos are not entirely made of wood. Actually, they are mostly cast iron with steel strings which are tightened to a very high tension that must be maintained. A consistent temperature of about 70 degrees and a humidity level of about 50 will prevent failed joints and a cracked soundboard. BTW: it does not matter if your piano sits on wood, tile, or carpeted flooring, but if you opt for carpet, consider low pile to reduce airborne filaments and dust.
The best accessory you can buy for your piano is not sheet music but a unit that offers both humidification and dehumidification. This will keep the wood casing from swelling and shrinking throughout the year due to the increased and decreased moisture content in your home. The need to place the instrument is a dry location generally rules out the lower level which is good news for those without a walk-out basement! Other considerations when placing your piano are to avoid direct sunlight unless your window features low E-type glass, and do not allow your pets to roam anywhere near your piano as their fur is difficult to remove from a piano interior.
Additional no-nos relative to placement: never position your piano near a fireplace for reasons that should be obvious. Conversely, those floor-mounted AC vents can wreak havoc and also avoid direct contact with through-the-wall AC units. If the only place you can put your piano is near a garage or workshop, keep the door closed to avoid both dust and fumes from settling on and inside your instrument.
While we are on the subject, plan to dust your piano every other week, and do not forget the keys! When not in use, the keys should be covered with their fallboard. If you own a grand piano and have a vintage house, retro piano shawls will evoke the past and keep your piano’s finish dust free. Be sure to dust the keys then follow using a mild soap and damp cloth, not a paper towel. Also do not use aerosols as these contain solvents and other chemicals that could damage your instrument’s finish.
Why Pianos Are Not Tables
If you are social and entertain in your home often, care should be taken to prevent guests from using your instrument as a prop or worse a place to leave drinks and plates of food. Not only will you avoid damage to the piano’s finish from water rings, but you will also prevent costly repairs should a drink be spilled and settle inside on the strings or the soundboard. BTW: major piano repairs require the piano to be transported to the repair shop, so think twice before you allow your instrument to be used as a ‘piano bar’- literally!
When you buy a piano, lessons should not be the only expense that you budget. Be sure to locate a reliable piano technician. Registered Piano Technicians (RPTs) may be located online or just ask your piano dealer if they have one on staff, or ask your friends to refer one. Did you know? Your piano has over 200 strings! These need to be properly maintained. You’ll need to tune your piano at least twice a year, but possible three or four times within the first year if your instrument is new. That is because the wire used for the strings will stretch during the first few months it is played. Your instrument may also slip out of tune along with seasonal temperature changes inside your house.
In yours and your piano’s lifetimes, several moves are likely to take place. To avoid damage to your instrument and your central nervous system, simply pay for professionals to handle the task. Why? Because pianos range from several hundred to over a thousand pounds and are generally the most expensive, not to mention valuable item you are likely to own. Professional piano movers will have moving blankets just for this purpose, piano skid boards, and dollys designed just for moving pianos. And unlike you, your family, and friends, they are highly experienced in, wait for it, moving pianos. (Ask your piano dealer for a recommendation.) All the same, we strongly advise that you check to make sure that your household insurance is in order and covers the transport of all your valued possessions on moving day.
Over time you may notice a couple of changes in the way your piano sounds. If its tone changes from note to note, this does not mean that your instrument is damaged. Check with your technician about having its ‘voice’ adjusted to your satisfaction. When you move or if yours is an older instrument, expect that your piano might need ‘regulation’. When this occurs, your technician will adjust and/or replace any warped or worn parts so your piano will ‘sound like itself’ again.
What is the best way to maintain your cherished instrument? Play it once or twice a week at the very least! When you own an heirloom piano, its stewardship and obligation to maintain it for the next generation is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. However, let’s not forget why you purchased the instrument in the first place: as an investment in you and your family’s wellbeing. Follow these simple instructions and you’ll enjoy your piano for generations to come!