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Subject: rec.music.makers.piano FAQ-Piano Purchase and Maintenance

This article was archived around: 21 May 2006 04:22:47 GMT

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Archive-name: music/piano/maint-and-buy-faq Posting-Frequency: monthly Last-modified: 7 April 1997 Version: 1.3a
This is the Piano Purchasing and Maintenance FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) list for the newsgroup rec.music.makers.piano. This FAQ list is intended to present information regarding purchasing new or used pianos, and general maintenance issues which are frequently raised in rec.music.makers.piano. It is posted every month. Updates, additions, suggestions and corrections are always welcome: send e-mail to the address at the end of this FAQ. However, it has become increasingly difficult to keep up with the demand, so response, if any, may be very delayed. This FAQ is periodically posted to rec.music.makers.piano, rec.answers and news.answers. This FAQ is available from rtfm.mit.edu via anonymous FTP under: /pub/usenet/news.answers/music/piano/maint-and-buy-faq If you do not have access to anonymous FTP, you may retrieve it by sending e-mail to mail-server@rtfm.mit.edu with the message (leave the subject line blank): SEND usenet/news.answers/music/piano/maint-and-buy-faq You also have access to rmmp FAQs on WWW: http://rmmpiano.tripod.com/rmmp-faq.html ========================================================== Changes since version 1.3 update RMMP FAQ site address ========================================================== Piano Purchasing and Maintenance FAQ You may run a search using the pattern [#.#] where "#.#" is the topic number. CONTENTS [1] Piano Technicians Guild [2] On Piano Purchasing [2.1] I want to buy a piano. Where do I start? [2.2] I want to buy "The Piano Book". Where do I find it? [2.3] What is new in the "The Piano Book", Third Edition? [2.4] Buying digital pianos [2.5] Word of advice [3] Recommended Things To Do After Piano Purchase [3.1] I bought it from a dealer [3.2] I bought it used from someone [4] Piano Placement Considerations [4.1] Where should I put my piano? [4.2] What atmospheric environment does piano like? [5] What Do I Need to Know or Do About Maintenance? [5.1] Can I Tune or Repair the Piano Myself? [5.2] Maintenance reference books [5.2.1] The Arthur Reblitz books [5.2.2] "The Piano Book" [6] How Often Do I Have to Tune the Piano? [7] My Piano Goes Out of Tune Often. Is Something Wrong? [7.1] New pianos [7.2] All pianos in general [8] Is There a Special Polish to Polish My Piano? [9] Tuning Methods [9.1] Why use an electronic pitch device instead of the traditional A-440 tuning fork? [9.2] What is aural tuning? [9.3] What is electronically assisted, "electronic" tuning? [9.4] What are the pros and cons of aural tuning? [9.5] What are the pros and cons of electronic tuning? [9.6] Which is better, aural or electronic tuning? [10] I Need to Relocate! How Do I Deal With Piano Moving? [10.1] Moving using professional movers [10.1.1] Pre-move [10.1.2] Moving contract [10.1.3] Arrival [10.2] Moving the piano yourself [11] Where Can I Get Replacement Parts? [11.1] Pianos [11.2] Harpsichords _____________________________________________________________ [1] Piano Technicians Guild For more detailed information regarding any technical aspects of piano ownership, there is no better place than the Piano Technicians Guild (PTG). This FAQ is a very "brief" extract of what is available from them, and should be treated as such. If there are any discrepancies between what is said here, and what is said by the PTG, PTG is probably correct. :) If you can't find the information you're looking for in here, or want to learn more, they will probably be able to help you. The home office of the PTG is located in Kansas City, MO, and apparently keeps the usual 9-5 business hours. There are also local PTG chapters located everywhere. Check in the phone book for a PTG chapter nearest you. Here are some methods to contact the home office. The PTG's www home page has many interesting and useful materials. I highly recommend that you take a look, if you haven't done so yet! 3930 Washington Kansas City, MO 64111 tel: (816) 753-7747 URL: http://www.ptg.org/ E-mail: 75032.3711@compuserv.com _____________________________________________________________ [2] On Piano Purchasing [2.1] I want to buy a piano. Where do I start? Most of the questions asked in this newsgroup about piano purchase and maintenance, if they can be answered at all, are answered in the book, "The Piano Book: Buying & Owning A New Or Used Piano" (Third edition, 1994, Brookside Press). People who are new to the field are strongly recommended to get hold of this book and read it. The author of the book, Larry Fine, with the input of at least a hundred other technicians nationwide, has spent the last ten years and three editions of the book refining the advice so the book is really the best place to start for this kind of information. After reading the book, then one is ready to hear and evaluate what others have to say on the subject. If there are any questions or if you need additional information beyond what is covered in the book, everybody is welcome to post to RMMP. There are many newsgroup members who are Registered Piano Technicians (RPT), who are most qualified to give this advice and who, in this newsgroup, have given the best advice. For those with web access, you can also look at the Electronic Piano Buying Guide at URL http://www.golden.net/~mgd/pibg.htm for more information. [2.2] I want to buy "The Piano Book". Where do I find it? (1) If the book is not available through your local bookstore or library, you may order it directly from the publisher: Brookside Press P.O. Box 178, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130 USA. Phone (800) 545-2022 or (617) 522-7182. (2) Also see the following Web site for information on the book. http://www.tiac.net/users/pianobk (3) Some music stores and piano dealers or technicians also have copies to sell. [2.3] What is new in the "The Piano Book", third edition? The third edition has all new brand reviews (at least to the extent they need to be revised after four years) based on a new survey of technicians and the pianos they service. Baldwin is again included in the book. (They had been left out of the second edition, because of potential legal problems.) The section on shopping for a piano has been revised to include information and advice on the all too prevalent piano mega-sales, as well as more ideas on how to negotiate the best price. Prices (in the form of price ranges) have been included in this edition as well as "ratings." The first edition had a very detailed numerical rating system. Although the general public loved it because it made buying a piano seem like a science, it wasn't realistically a good idea and was much abused by dealers. In reaction, ratings were left out of the second edition entirely. In the third edition, a much looser rating system is used that puts piano brands into broad classifications. The list of older Steinway models has been revised and refined quite extensively based on the ongoing historical research by the list's creator, Roy Kehl. Additionally, many small changes to technical descriptions of piano parts, a couple of new illustrations (Fandrich piano back and action), a little more information on electronic player pianos, and some new miscellanies are included. Oh yes -- and a green cover. [2.4] Buying digital pianos Please read "Digital Pianos FAQ" and "Digital Pianos Hardware List" available from anonymous ftp at rtfm.mit.edu under: pub/usenet/news.answers/music/piano/digital-pianos-faq pub/usenet/news.answers/music/piano/digital-pianos-list ...or whatever similar method you used to get hold of this "RMMP General Topics FAQ". [2.5] Word of advice Whatever you do, take your time when you are shopping for a piano. Don't let the words "on sale" or "great deal" push you into a blind purchasing panic. There are many excellent pianos at bargain prices out there, and at the same time there are many lemons sold at some outrageous prices. The only way you will be able to distinguish between the two is through careful research, shopping around, and understanding the key points mentioned in "The Piano Book". Don't rush! _____________________________________________________________ [3] Recommended Things To Do Immediately After Piano Purchase First of all, congratulations! on becoming a piano owner! Here are few things you might want to consider when you first get your piano. [3.1] I bought it from a dealer Some dealers will regulate and tune the piano before delivery, but not all do. The best would be to talk the dealer into having the piano regulated and tuned before delivery (at the dealer's place) and then have it checked and tuned once it is delivered to your place. If you can get this service packaged with your delivery contract, that would be the best thing to do. Check for any visible damages on your piano. If you see any scratches or bruises, make a note of it on the delivery receipt and notify the dealer immediately. [3.2] I bought it used from someone Before delivery, if possible, make a thorough inspection of the piano and make note of any damages prior to delivery (take pictures, if you can). Once the piano is delivered, check for any visible signs of damage. If you see any, make a note of it on the delivery receipt if you had it professionally delivered. If you moved it yourself, well... Once you have put your piano in a semi-permanent position, have the piano tuned. _____________________________________________________________ [4] Piano Placement Considerations [4.1] Where should I put my piano? Pianos are very much like babies. Keep them out of drafts, keep them out of direct sunlight. Basically, avoid any extreme conditions (stay away from near the fire place, etc.). It is also a good idea to keep sharp objects and wet things (cups, potted plants) away as it can damage the finish. Also keep them a couple of inches out from a wall to prevent condensation behind it. [4.2] What atmospheric environment does piano like? Pianos can degrade rapidly if the environment is too humid or too dry. The ideal humidity of the room where the piano is kept is about 40-45%. _____________________________________________________________ [5] What Do I Need to Know or Do About Maintenance? [5.1] Can I Tune or Repair the Piano Myself? The general consensus is, "If you don't know what you are doing, leave it to the professionals." Piano is a very delicate instrument. You do not want to mess with it unless you know what you are dealing with. If you carelessly fiddle around too much, you may do more damage and end up with costly repairs, and the last thing you want on your hands is your piano irreparably damaged. But for those who understand the risks involved and still choose to pursue tuning and repairs themselves, there are several books available on the subject. [5.2] Maintenance reference books [5.2.1] The Arthur Reblitz books If you want to know all the technical details of how piano works, there are two books published by Arthur A. Reblitz. Reblitz, Arthur A. "Piano Servicing, Tuning & Rebuilding", Second Edition, Vestal Press, Vestal, N.Y. 1994. $29.95. Reblitz, Arthur A. "Player Piano Servicing and Rebuilding" Reblitz Restorations Inc. PO Box 7392 Colorado Springs, CO 80933 (719) 598-2538 (719) 598-9581 (fax) Reblitz writes that: "there's no reason why anyone willing to take some time to study its [the piano's] mechanisms can't learn to repair and tune it well," and states that hobbyists have even done fine piano rebuilding jobs. You just need "persistence, common sense, and a bit of mechanical aptitude", the proper tools, and a book like this one. The books cover: the history of piano styles and construction; the internal workings; evaluating an old piano for purchase or repairing; how to clean a piano and perform minor repairs; adjusting the action and pedals (regulating); and tuning theory and procedure; and provides a 70 page discussion of rebuilding. (Regarding rebuilding, the author does not minimize the difficulties or skill requirements of this undertaking.) [5.2.2] "The Piano Book" "The Piano Book" by Larry Fine, referred to above (see "[2] On Piano Purchasing") regarding purchasing a piano, is also a good source of information on maintenance. With the information from this book a piano owner will be able to conduct an informed discussion with a piano technician. The book gives an overview of how the piano works, describes what maintenance is required, and what to do in case you move or have your piano stored. While providing much that a piano owner needs to know about maintenance, the author does not even raise the question of whether to make repairs or do a tuning yourself, but rather assumes that the technician will do it all -- and this suits for most people. _____________________________________________________________ [6] How Often Do I Have to Tune the Piano? For a brand new piano, the general recommendation is to tune it about four times during its first year and twice a year thereafter. This is also a good rule-of-thumb for older pianos which were moved into a different climate condition. Most other pianos generally need to be tuned about twice a year. However, some pianos may require more frequent tuning, and some less. The frequency will vary depending on the age, model and the environment of the piano. _____________________________________________________________ [7] My Piano Goes Out of Tune Often. Is Something Wrong? [7.1] New pianos As the wood and strings settle in a new piano during its "break-in" period, it requires a bit more maintenance during its first year. Wood may shrink or swell a bit, changing the tension on the strings; strings stretching; compacting of cloth and felt throughout the action, etc. It is common to have to call for maintenance more frequently than an older piano. You can expect to have the new piano tuned about 4 times a year during its first year, and need regulating and perhaps voicing more quickly than later on in the piano's life. This is also true for older pianos which were moved into a different climate condition. Loosening of tuning pins is rarely a symptom of "settling". It would instead be a symptom of a defective piano that needs warranty repair. Tuning pins should not loosen appreciably for many years. [7.2] All pianos in general The best way to find out if something is wrong with the piano mechanically, is to have a piano technician evaluate the problem. If mechanically nothing seems wrong, you may have the "environment control" problem. Pianos go out of tune primarily because of seasonal changes in humidity that cause the soundboard to swell and shrink, thus raising and lowering the tension on the strings. A constant humidity level will reduce the amount of movement that the sounding board will experience. This will then help to keep the piano in tune. If the piano is placed near a window or source of heat, it is likely that humidity and temperature changes will have the piano go out of tune. If the piano is placed against a non- insulated exterior wall, that too could have a negative effect on the tuning. _____________________________________________________________ [8] Is There a Special Polish to Polish My Piano? There are specific polishes for different finishes and pianos are using many different finishes these days. The PTG WWW page has a brochure on it you could read and download. See section [1] for URL. _____________________________________________________________ [9] Tuning Methods Brief answers are given here for a general understanding of this topic. If you wish to learn more, contact a local Piano Technicians Guild chapter, or check out their www homepage (URL and other conventional contact addresses given in section [1]), or post your questions on the newsgroup and have our friendly RPT's answer your questions! [9.1] Why use an electronic pitch device instead of the traditional A-440 tuning fork? Electronic tuning forks are quite accurate and some piano tuners use them to replace the old-style metal forks, which are highly subject to temperature changes which make them "drift" from the standard. [9.2] What is aural tuning? "Aural" tuning is how piano tuners have traditionally tuned instruments -- tuning strictly "by ear." Usually after a reference note is established, tuners adjust the pitches of all the other notes based on the reference note without relying on anything else other than their ears. Sometimes, instead of setting pitch "A" to a reference, tuners will simply set that "A" to whatever pitch it's at (which may be too high or too low because of seasonal or other factors) and then tune the rest of the piano relative to that pitch. This avoids having to drag all the notes very far up or down in pitch with each change of season, with consequent tuning instability or, in the extreme (where the pitch is very low), possible string breakage. [9.3] What is electronically assisted, "electronic" tuning? There are a few electronic tuning aid (ETA) devices on the market which will assist a piano tuner in doing his or her job. Typically, an ETA device will produce a series of pitches to establish the "ideal" tuning of a given piano. A piano tuner will then match the piano to the device. It is inevitable to use some aural techniques as well to refine the tuning. It does not replace the ear, but is an aid to it. The level of the "idealness" produced by an ETA device is highly dependent on what kind of device is used. The best one, the Sanderson Accu-Tuner II (costs you a few thousand dollars), allows a tuner to measure several parts of the instrument and it will calculate a reasonable tuning for that particular instrument. This machine also stores tunings so they can be used at any time, which is particularly good for recording studios and concerts as the tunings are consistent and can be completed quickly. [9.4] What are the pros and cons of aural tuning? One of the supposed disadvantages of aural tuning is really one of the advantages -- that no tuners do the job alike, and that the tuning may vary from time to time. One could as easily insist that an advantage to player piano is that they mechanically reproduce a given performance over and over. Further, the ear remains the best judge of intonation. A tuner who tunes without the aid of an electronic tuning device occasionally will be decidedly disadvantaged due to sinus congestion resulting from allergies and/or viruses. Pianists generally like a good tuner's "touch of personality" in a tuning. Aural tunings, because they require individual judgments, vary from one tuner to the next. Any given tuner may, at one time or another, be preferred over another because of their particular "flavor" of tuning. Because pianists have different tastes, it is sometimes necessary to shop around before settling on a tuner whose tuning pleases the pianist. The level of skill among technicians varies, as well, and this, too, contributes to whether their particular method or "flavor" of tuning is desirable. [9.5] What are the pros and cons of electronic tuning? For technicians who spend the majority of their time tuning every day, ETA devices can give the tuner's ears a brief respite from the negative effects of sharp, often loud sounds emitted by the piano during the tuning process. It also saves somewhat on the mental process of deciding aurally when a note is in tune -- less mental fatigue. An electronic tuning device can be extremely beneficial in institutional settings where multiple tunings must be performed in rapid succession. Since the pitches can be stored in some ETAs, it is possible to have a given piano tuned identically over and over. In other words, electronically assisted tuning is at its best if it succeeds in reproducing some previous tuning. The greatest pitfalls in electronically assisted tuning are inexperience and in-attentiveness. Historically, "semi- professional" tuners (a.k.a. "weekend warriors") are notorious for purchasing electronic tuning devices and attacking friends', neighbors', and relatives' pianos to practice their hobby. Because these individuals do not have a complete grasp of exactly what it is they are doing, they are completely reliant on an electronic device that cannot distinguish between pianos and therefore cannot make the judgments of a skilled technician. Although the risk of a non-professional ruining a piano is only slight, the potential of the damage which may result can be costly to repair (e.g.. twisted tuning pins that eventually shear off at the plate, broken strings, mutilated dampers, etc.). [9.6] Which is better, aural or electronic tuning? There is a great misconception among the public that anyone who uses a "machine" isn't a real tuner. By the same token, someone who just buys a machine and a few tools don't necessarily qualify as a "piano tuner." They are both valid methods. Electronic tuning aid is just that -- an aid to tuning. It doesn't replace an aural tuning, but is an assistant -- a tool used by piano technicians to provide the best service to customers. Many technicians today use both methods to produce the best possible tunings. To be a good tuner, aside from being able to pitch a note, one must understand the overall effect of the tunings. Technicians who perform electronically assisted tunings usually do an aural check of the tuning to make certain that the tuning is the best it can possibly be on each instrument. _____________________________________________________________ [10] I Need to Relocate! How Do I Deal With Piano Moving? [10.1] Moving using professional movers The most important thing, whether it is a cross-country move or a local city-to-city move, is to find a mover who is experienced in piano moving. Unlike furniture, a piano needs special attention during a move, because of its delicate moving parts, wood frame, environment sensitivity, etc. You can pretty much kiss the possibility of receiving the piano "in tune" good-bye, but you don't have to take more trauma than necessary. The following guideline was written to give you an idea of how to go about dealing with the move as trouble-free as possible. [10.1.1] Pre-move Research the moving companies. For many local moves, there are professional piano movers who specialize in piano moving. Ask what kind of experience they have with piano moving, and the methods they use to move the piano. Also see if they can give you any references from other customers. Take very detailed photos of the piano. You will need these in case any damage was done to the piano during the move, you have proof that it was okay before the move. [10.1.2] Moving contract For cross-country move, try having the following conditions added to your moving contract. (1) The piano will not be transferred at shipping terminals across the country, and will not be unloaded off the 18-wheeler trailer once it has been initially loaded on (2) The piano will be blanket wrapped, and strapped to the side of the trailer (3) The trailer will be one of the "computer air-ride" trailers that maintain a constant/controlled air environment. (There exists such trailers which are designed to handle computer and other instruments) (4) Insure the piano for its full replacement value [10.1.3] Arrival (1) Take the photo of the piano in the trailer as it is being unloaded. (2) Check the piano thoroughly for any visible damages. If you see any, make sure you note it on the delivery receipt before you sign it. [10.2] Moving the piano yourself Pianos are HEAVY. A small upright can easily weigh as much as 400 lbs. Also, many of the older uprights are extremely top-heavy (All the weight of the plate, action, and pinblock are at the top of the piano, making it unstable when it is moved on its casters). If you do need to maneuver more than few steps of stairs, it is highly recommended that you use a professional piano mover. However, if you still choose to move the piano yourself, you will need a few people to help you move the piano. It may not be such a bad idea to get a back brace to protect yourself from over-straining. Following are some tips to aid you, directed for upright, console, spinet piano moving (you probably don't want to move a grand piano yourself): (1) You will need thick wrapping blankets to protect your piano from being scratched. Don't use the thin blankets usually supplied by U-Haul and other rental agents. Use a lot of those plastic packaging tapes to secure the blanket around the piano (don't tape the blanket onto the piano... That may damage the finish. Just wrap the blanket, and "mummify" it with the tape) (2) If you chose not to carry the piano, you will need a big cart (a heavy-weight flatbed with big casters on the bottom) since the casters on the pianos are not made to move it across the floor or on irregular ground, but only to position it after it was moved close to its final resting location. (3) Get hold of a large, (preferably covered, but not a necessity to move it just across town) truck or trailer. (4) Once you get the piano in the truck, place some 2x4 or 4x4 wood planks under the piano, from back to the front (parallel to the sides, perpendicular to the front and back surfaces), lifting it off its casters. Place a few to distribute the weight. This will help stabilize the piano on the floor, and also alleviate any strain to the casters caused by the irregular floor of trucks. It also will help reducing the "rolling-off" accidents. (5) After you check that the piano is stable on the wooden planks, secure it against the wall with *moving straps*, not ropes. Moving straps are usually thick, 1-2 inch wide nylon/acrylic tape, and is much stronger than a rope, and doesn't stretch out of place as much when the truck gets bumped around over the potholes. Above all, BE CAREFUL. You can easily hurt yourself if you strain too much, and it's better to be over-kill in protecting and securing the piano (the alternative can lead to disasters... like a flying piano off or through the truck cargo...) and having extra pairs of hands available. _____________________________________________________________ [11] Where Can I Get Replacement Parts? [11.1] Pianos The piano supply outlet which deals with hobbyists is, Player Piano Co. 704 East Douglas Wichita, Kansas, 67202 Tel. (316) 263-3241 Just call and they will send you a free catalog. They also sell the Arthur Reblitz books mentioned in section [5.2.1]. [11.2] Harpsichords Gerald L. Self, Inc. Early Keyboard Instruments 5119 St. Nicholas San Antonio, TX 78228 (210) 434-2040 ************************** end RMMP General Topics FAQ I would like to extend my thanks to many in the RMMP newsgroup for bits and pieces of information contained in this FAQ. Special recognition goes to Tim MacEachern, Guy Klose, Larry Fine, Tom Sheehan, and John Musselwhite, for directly contributing to this FAQ. Special thanks goes to Phil Tompkins, for his countless suggestions, proof-reading, contributions, etc. If I missed anyone, please let me know! This is really a collective effort of the entire newsgroup. This document is copyright (c) 1995-1997 by Isako Hoshino. It may be freely distributed in its entirety provided that this copyright notice is not removed. It may not be sold for profit nor incorporated in commercial documents without the author's permission. This article is provided "as is" without express or implied warranties. While every effort has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this article, the maintainer assumes no responsibility for errors or omissions, or for damages resulting from the use of the information contained herein. Isako Hoshino rmmpfaq@yahoo.com ==========================================================