Have you found that your piano has lost its tuning rather quickly after having it serviced? Or does it feel like your instrument is not sounding like it should?
Today we are exploring the importance of piano tuning and the various factors that can affect the tuning stability of a piano. When we talk about tuning stability, we are predominantly referring to how long an acoustic piano is able to stay in tune for before requiring a visit from a technician to be re-tuned. For most people, generally speaking we recommend getting your piano tuned every 6-12 months, depending on how often it is played and where it is placed in your home.
Occasionally however, you may find that after just a few weeks of having your instrument tuned, particularly if it has not been tuned in a while or has had a pitch raise, that your piano may have lost its tuning. Much like plants, pianos do require a little care and attention every so often in order to truly thrive and reach their full potential, so it is important to keep your instrument in good health to stop it losing its tuning stability.
In this article, we’ll outline a handful of the most common reasons why pianos lose their tuning stability and what you can do to help keep your instrument in top condition if you are finding that the tuning is slipping more often than you would like.
Amount Of Play:
The first and most obvious reason for a piano losing its tuning is the amount of play it is receiving. This happens at both ends of the scale, if a piano is used predominantly for leisure and is played every few days for 1-2 hours at a time, it shouldn't normally need tuning more than every 6 months.
That being said, piano tuning is very much like servicing a car, in that you should get your car serviced every 10,000 miles or every 12 months, whichever comes first. For example, we have teachers or schools who use their piano for 6-8 hours a day, every day. All of this frequent use of the piano is fantastic, however it does mean that the strings and components of the instrument are put under more pressure from being consistently hit. If this is the case, these pianos broadly need to be tuned every 8-12 weeks in order to fully remain at perfect pitch.
The same is true for pianos that are not used very often or are only played perhaps once a month for a few minutes. You may be wondering why an unused instrument has difficulty keeping tune, again, this is similar to cars in that an engine needs to be run in order to keep everything flowing properly. Cars that sit in place for too long or are rarely used have far more difficulty starting than ones that are used daily and driven over long distances. In terms of the piano, an unused piano leaves itself far more prone to things such as sticking keys caused by lingering moisture and as the strings are not being used, over time they will lose their tension slightly.
Another incredibly common question our technicians get asked when it comes to tuning stability is when a brand new piano loses its tuning within the first 6-12 weeks of being in their home. When a piano is moved into a new environment, it needs time to settle into its surroundings. As acoustic instruments are made from natural materials such as woods, wool, metal strings and leathers, as these materials adapt to their new home, they will shrink, contract, expand and eventually adjust over the course of around 6-12 weeks. During this time, it is not uncommon for the piano to lose its tuning as the materials adapt.
This is why at Millers Music, our technicians not only prepare every piano that we sell before being delivered, but as part of our aftercare process, we will tend to a customer’s piano in their home if they are finding that the instrument has slipped its tuning within the first few weeks of arriving with them.
It is important not to worry here if your new piano is losing its tuning, the only thing that can help is patience and time as the piano adapts to its new home. In order to try to speed this process up and reduce the risk of any tuning slips, try to keep your piano’s temperature as consistent as possible.
Often one of the most overlooked aspects of why a piano may be losing its tuning is its positioning in the home. We speak about this in our guide to finding the perfect positioning for your piano, however this is an incredibly common issue we see.
When placing your piano in your home, you need to be aware of any potential dramatic heat changes that the piano will be experiencing. For example, if your piano is placed next to a radiator, or is in a kitchen/dining room or next to bathroom that is frequently filled with steam, all of these things will affect the piano’s tuning stability.
Pianos like consistency in their temperatures and dramatic changes like these will again cause the materials in the instrument to expand or contract and ultimately the instrument will lose its tuning. Moisture from steam is also a leading cause of damp inside a piano which can cause sticking keys and even potentially damage components inside the instrument and in rare cases can even crack the soundboard.
One fantastic example of this that we recently had was one a client who’s instrument kept consistently going out of tune after just a few weeks of it being tuned. Upon visiting the home, our technicians noticed that the piano was being next to his double french doors. During the summer, these doors were frequently opened, letting in both the outdoor heat and cooler breezes; these sudden changes in temperatures were what was causing the instrument to lose its tune.
Whilst heat is the main cause of pianos losing their tune, cold or damp rooms will also cause the same, particularly during winter. If your piano is in a room that is frequently filled with condensation or perhaps the heating does not work or is not put on, if the piano is too cold, its tuning stability may be affected. If this is the case, we would also recommend considering a dampp chaser for your piano.
Another common reason why a piano may be losing its tuning stability is its age. Whilst acoustic pianos are infinitely repairable and can easily last well over a century if maintained properly, there are a few times during an instrument's life where refurbishment or reconditioning work will be required. This is typically around the 50-60 year mark where certain components of the piano may need replacing, such as the hammers needing to be re-felted. Learn more about this in our guide to the lifespan of acoustic pianos here.
The reason we mention tuning stability here is because if a piano’s pins have come loose overtime, then this will almost certainly affect tuning stability. As tuning pins are only held in by friction, they can become loose overtime if the piano is not regularly maintained. This is relatively simple to fix if spotted early, however if left for too long can lead to the pins falling out, which is a rather expensive job to do.
One Off Factors:
The above are just a few of the most common reasons why acoustic pianos may lose their tuning stability. However, something to also note is that there may be one off external factors that can affect the instrument.
One core example of this that we did see in 2022 was that of extreme heat. When temperatures in the UK reached up to 40 degrees celsius and were the hottest on record. We had a number of clients who suffered tuning stability issues after this as the weather changed into the autumn where temperatures dropped to around 10-15 degrees, which is a 25-30 degree shift. This sudden drop in temperature acted much like turning on the radiator behind the piano and caused the tuning stability to be affected. The same can be said for the likes of sharp frosts that may cause the piano to lose temperature extremely quickly, perhaps if a window is left open overnight.
Other one off examples that may cause a piano to lose its tuning stability would be that of any sudden interactions with the piano, for example the piano being bumped into very hard, perhaps by a piece of furniture or if the instrument is played excessively hard by a young child or toddler, so these are also things to be cautious and aware of.
We have a number of articles also explaining some of the common reasons for other occurrences in your piano, for example if you are hearing buzzing in your instrument, or the things to note if your piano was brought for free from a secondhand selling website.
For more information on improving your tuning stability, contact our technicians today, or if you are looking to upgrade your piano or are considering part exchanging your instrument, contact our experts or visit our piano showroom today.