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Piano Repair and Restoration

Learn about piano repair and restoration and how to preserve pianos.

Piano keys should be properly cared for to preserve their function and color. [©Jupiter Images, 2010]
©Jupiter Images, 2010
Piano keys should be properly cared for to preserve their function and color.

Only a trained professional should engage in piano repair and restoration. However, if piano owners understand common problems and keep their pianos in good condition, they will limit the number of times they have to call a pro.

Common Piano Problems

Many problems can contribute to the need for piano repair and restoration. The most basic and common problems have to do with tuning. Listening to an out-of-tune piano is not a pleasant experience. Environmental factors can negatively affect a piano's sound. For example, pianos are extremely sensitive to humidity and barometric pressure. In the winter, when the heat is on in most homes, the air is dry. This lack of humidity causes the moisture in the piano's soundboard to evaporate, which causes the piano's board to shrink and the strings to grow slack, all of which contribute to a drop in pitch.

Other environmental factors that may cause problems with sound include:

  • Climatic changes
  • Extended amounts of playing time
  • Moving
  • Neglect

A weak tuning pinblock is another common problem that requires piano repair and restoration. The pinblock (also called a wrestplank) is the block of wood that sits behind the plate of the piano. It should have a firm grip on the tuning pins. Each tuning pin holds a string with less than 150 to 200 pounds of tension. The amount of friction between the pinblock and the tuning pins determines how easily the piano will tune.

As a piano gets older, humidity and extremes in temperature can cause the tuning pins to become loose. If only one or two tuning pins are loose, a technician can simply install a larger tuning pin to increase friction. If the entire pinblock is weak, however, a piano repair and restoration technician has two options. The first is to apply a pinblock restoring solution, which restores moisture to the pinblock and increases friction. However, this is only a short-term solution, and it can cause additional problems such as rust on the piano strings. A more feasible option is to install an entire set of larger tuning pins. This is an in-home repair and can be completed in one day.

If a piano has gone a long time without being tuned, it may lose its A440hz stability, which is the standard for musical pitch. If this happens, a technician will need to do a "pitch raise." During this procedure, the strings are pulled to over-pitch, allowed to settle for a week and then retuned to A440hz.

Basic Care of a Piano

Piano owners who take good care of their instruments can avoid costly piano repair and restoration down the road. The Piano Technicians Guild recommends that piano owners have their instruments serviced regularly. Pianos require routine maintenance in tuning, action regulation and voicing. Most professionals recommend getting a piano tuned two times a year—four times a year if a piano is played frequently.

A piano should be kept clean at all times. The keyboard should be covered when not in use to prevent the accumulation of dust on the keys. Ivory keys, on the other hand, need exposure to light to avoid yellowing. Dirty or dusty keys may be cleaned with a damp cloth and immediately dried. If the damp cloth will not remove debris, some mild soap or dishwashing detergent on the cloth may do the trick. Chemicals and solvents should never be used on piano keys. A technician may be called to professionally clean any stubborn stains. A technician can also clean the inside of the piano and oil the moving parts, something that should never be done by the piano owner.

Piano owners should play their instruments regularly. An active piano is easier to keep in tune. Also, by playing the piano on a regular basis, owners can catch potential problems earlier, when they are easier to fix. Drinks and other liquids should never be near a piano. If liquid is spilled inside a piano, the damage may be irreversible. Only a professional piano mover should move a piano in order to avoid damages or injury, since pianos are very heavy.

It's important that piano owners not attempt repairs on their own. A qualified service technician should always be called upon to perform piano repair and restoration, no matter how basic. Unsuccessful amateur repairs are often more problematic and costly to fix than the initial problem would have been.

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