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40 West Pleasant St, Bristol VT 05443-1042
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At Hilbert Pianos, we hear a lot of frequently asked questions about pianos. People visit our shop in Bristol, VT, because they know that we possess a lot of piano knowledge thanks to our more than 90 years of combined experience.

How often should my piano be tuned?

Like taking your teeth to your dentist for regular checkups, regular tunings will serve you best. It is best to keep your piano well in tune for several reasons. By maintaining a regular tuning schedule, you will keep your piano at its best and be able to prevent it from deteriorating. Delayed, or postponed tunings and maintenance will often cost more in the long run to return your piano back to its proper playing performance level.

Tuning once a year should be considered a minimum, even for a piano not being used very much. Twice a year would be considered a good interval for most home pianos being used for student lessons or recreationally. Many serious pianists have their pianos tuned four or more times a year depending on how critically they listen. Concert pianos are often tuned several times a week – certainly before every concert and often “touched-up” at the intermission

Truthfully, there is no one correct answer to this question. As for you, how often you should tune your piano will largely depend on how you use your piano and how stable your piano and your environment are.

Why does my piano go out of tune?

There are two main reasons pianos will go out of tune: first and foremost are changes in humidity and temperature, and secondly the slow progression of time gradually causes changes in the piano.

Changes in humidity cause the largest pitch changes in most pianos by causing the wooden parts to expand and contract. This is especially true with the wooden soundboard which has a crown (or curve) built into it. The strings pass over the bridges which are glued to the soundboard. As the humidity rises (as it does in the summer months in our part of the country) the wood in the soundboard expands which increases the crown and that raises the tension on the strings causing the pitch to rise. As the humidity drops (think winter months) the wood in the soundboard contracts and the tension on the strings lessens. This causes the pitch to fall. Hence, in the Northeast, the pitch is changing all year round; but the changes are most notable in the winter and in the summer.

However, the pitch doesn't rise or fall evenly across the scale of your piano. Some areas are affected much more than others and thus certain areas go in and out of tune more than others.

Changes in temperature will likewise affect the tuning and can affect it very quickly if it changes very much.

Changes in humidity and temperature can also be affected by where the piano is located in your home. Placing your piano where the sun shines on it or near to a heating unit can cause rapid and dramatic changes. Likewise being placed near open doors and windows can cause the tuning to change quickly.

The overall structural condition of your piano can affect its ability to remain in tune. Especially as pianos get older, they can develop problems which cause the tuning pins to slip and for individual notes to change dramatically. Soundboards and bridges can also deteriorate and cause tuning problems. Often these problems can be repaired by a good technician.

What Can Be Done to Make Tunings More Stable?

The single biggest thing to make tunings more stable is to control the humidity and temperature. Room humidifiers in the winter and dehumidification in the summer months can help a lot.

Still better is to have us install a Dampp-Chaser Piano Life Saver System in your piano. We are both Certified Installers and are listed by Dampp-Chaser as being among their most experienced/trained installers. Between us we have installed hundreds of these units and find they work very well.

The placement of the piano in the room is also very important. Being placed away from heaters of all kinds, kept out of the sunlight and away from open doors and windows will all help to keep your piano more stable.

We'll be pleased to discuss with you how to keep your piano as stable as possible.

What does regulation mean?

There are over 12,000 parts in most pianos and they all need to be in proper condition and adjustment for your piano to function at its best. Over time the felt, cloth, and leather parts of your piano slowly wear away and compress. As they do, the various parts lose their proper geometric and mechanical relationships.

As these changes occur, the piano will get out of regulation. When this happens the notes no longer play as they should and the pianist finds dynamics are not controllable, and notes don't repeat as well as they should.

Reconditioning and regulating the action will help to restore the mechanical parts so they again function optimally. Your piano will feel and play much better when properly regulated.

What does voicing mean?

Voicing is adjusting the tonal quality of the piano to suit the musical needs of the pianist.

To a large extent the tonal character of a piano is built into the instrument by its maker. However, within limits, we can make your piano more mellow or bright as you may prefer.

Voicing is accomplished by adjusting the position of the strings, properly mating the hammers to the strings and by properly shaping and adjusting the resiliency of the hammers. This is truly work best done by technicians with a lot of voicing experience.

How do I get my piano moved/Can I move my piano myself?

While many pianos have been moved by owners and their friends, it is also true that many people have been seriously injured trying to move pianos. Likewise many pianos have been badly damaged as well as floors and other parts of homes.

Whether you should try to move a piano by yourself is a decision only you can make. Typically smaller pianos weigh around 400 pounds and up. Large uprights can weigh 700 to 800 pounds. And large concert grand pianos can weigh 1200 pounds or more.

That said, we would highly recommend you use a professional piano mover to help ensure that your piano arrives at its destination in good condition. You and your friends will also feel much better that you avoided the risk of injury.

Where should I put my piano?

Where it will be played and enjoyed. And please, don't place it where it will isolate students from the rest of the family.

Pianos are best placed in the most stable environment possible. Inside walls are preferable, but outside walls can sometimes be made safer.

Keep your piano away from heaters of all kinds. Baseboard heaters behind pianos can literally destroy a good piano in just a few years.

Also keep your piano as far from wood stoves as possible. Radiant heat and sunlight can both ruin the finish on a piano. Open doors and windows that allow overly moist or dry air in will rapidly affect the tuning and can also change the regulation.

We will be happy to discuss your options with you on this often complex question.

What are the best conditions for my piano?

Piano manufacturers state that pianos are generally designed to be kept around 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit and around 45% Relative Humidity. Here in Vermont we have very unstable climate conditions. Our humidity easily varies from the mid teens in the winter to the high 70s or 80s in the summer. This can be very hard on a piano's structure and will easily put a piano way out of tune from season to season. Room humidifiers in the winter and a dehumidifier in the summer can help; but the easiest and most convenient way to stabilize the piano is to have us install a Dampp-Chaser system in your piano. These work very well and are worth installing in your piano. Give us a call and we can discuss the benefits of the Dampp-Chaser systems with you.

How do I clean the keytops?

Most keys today are made of either plastic or synthetic composite materials. They can often be cleaned with a damp cloth(wrung out well) or if really dirty with some added mild soap.

Some older pianos still have ivory keytops. These keytops were glued on with hide glue which readily loosens if it gets wet. Thus the use of water with ivory keytops can be dangerous. We can supply you with a cleaner especially made for ivory keytops. Please ask us.

How do I remove objects that fall inside my piano?

In many cases you can lift the top on the piano, see the object, and then just pick it out. If the object is not in plain view you should probably call us to discuss your best remedy. We may be able to help you over the phone or if need be, we'll come to your piano and take care of the problem for you,

Why do keys stick?

Keys stick for various reasons but mostly due to changes in the humidity which can cause wooden parts to shrink and expand. This can cause parts to bind up. Another problem can be objects that have fallen between keys or inside the action making parts jam and not function properly.