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Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Dear Tuner's Blog… #1 (Tuning Stability)

If you have a question for The Tuner's Blog, please leave a question here.

Dear Tuner's Blog, 
Our School Piano never stays in tune for very long. It was bought brand new about 10 years ago, and has never settled down. Buying a new piano, we expected it would at least hold its tuning, but we have been disappointed and find it hard to understand. Could you please explain what is going on here. Thanks,

Tuner's Blog replies

There are many reasons why a piano will not hold its tune. A piano could be affected by one or by the whole list of these reasons. The number of possible combinations and variations of these problems, while not infinite, is very large, so reducing a reply to a universally applied single reason is impossible.

Tuning stability will depend on:
  1. The condition of the piano strings 
  2. The piano being kept in a piano-friendly environment
  3. The piano being in good mechanical condition.

With a new piano, (10 years old makes this still a very young piano!) one can expect the strings NOT to be a problem.  

Pianos are not generally moved about, they are almost considered a fixture. In a School, the hall often becomes a thoroughfare. A piano will not take kindly to coping with all the temperature fluctuations that even humans would find uncomfortable. This is bound to affect tuning stability.

The mechanical condition of the piano is probably where most tuning stability mischief has its source. Every moving part of the piano action, directly or indirectly, has an impact on tuning stability. Poor alignment of parts, sluggish centres, even dried-out grease where springs are in contact with action parts, all affect how the hammer strikes the string and consequently, on the tone and tuning. 

With a newish piano, there will be nothing wrong with the design of the action, there will be little or nothing that can visibly be pointed at and accused of being the root of the problem. Getting what is a very sophisticated piece of engineering to work flawlessly takes many hours of skilled labour at the piano factory. If this close-up attention to detail is not done - despite whatever quality controls there may be - in the end, the poor customer has to deal with the upshot.

Very few modern pianos with tuning stability issues cannot be vastly improved by going the 'extra mile' in getting the basics right. It is frustrating that manufacturers and retailers can be so focused on pushing pianos through their doors that they seem to care very little about whether or not the piano is really ready to go.

For the end users: private owners, schools etc. a bad taste is left in the mouth! They ought not to be spending more money before they can properly enjoy the piano they bought!•

© Steve Burden

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