Frequently Asked Questions

Piano Tuning

Atlanta piano tuning?

The short answer: A piano tuning is an incremental adjustment to the tension of the piano’s wires by manipulating the tuning pins.  Once the middle ‘A’ note has been adjusted to a frequency of 440hertz, then all other 87 notes are incrementally adjusted utilizing the standard set by the middle ‘A’ note until the sound (by ear) is technically ‘correct’ for the entire piano, not forgetting technical preferences, considerations given to personal taste occasionally, and acoustic/sound environment considerations.

What is the real reason why would my piano be out of tune?

Completely unsubstantiated is the prevalent belief that playing a piano is the number one cause of it ‘falling’ out of tune.  The greatest effect to your piano’s tuning stability comes from the expansion and contraction of the wood and metal components in the instrument.  This normally occurs during the seasonal changes throughout the year (whether the piano is played or not).  Heat, cold and varying humidity all affect your instrument’s tuning stability causing the strings (or piano wires) to stretch.  At various times throughout the year, the wood in the piano will be in a state of expansion or contraction, affecting the pitch/tension of the piano’s wires.  Also, dependent on your piano’s age the tuning pins will turn or twist incrementally small or increasing amounts, as your instrument ages and the pinblock’s hold on the tuning pins loosen.  Another factor with newer instruments is when the piano is rushed out of the factory, then rushed out of the showroom and the initial (and critical) steps to adequately stretch the wires of a newly ‘strung’ piano are never completed.  I have encountered many pianos allegedly rebuilt by others that are also in this state.  With proper maintenance and care provided by the fastidious attention of a piano technician your piano’s sound, stability of pitch and the life span of your piano will all be positively affected.

How often should I have my piano tuned?

The frequency with which you schedule your piano tunings is dependent on factors like seasonal changes (note the times of the year when the environment is changing from winter to spring and summer to fall), newly manufactured pianos or pianos that have been freshly rebuilt, and pianos that have been neglected.  In regard to newly manufactured pianos, pianos that have been recently rebuilt, and neglected pianos you’ll want to schedule several frequent piano tunings to train new wires or re-train older wires that have become accustomed to tension lower than A440 tension levels.  Next in importance is your commitment to proper maintenance, then last (but certainly not least) would be your personal preference relating to the tone or sound of your piano.  Piano manufacturers are in consensus that two to three times per year is optimum.  Keep in mind here that while infrequent piano tunings will shorten your piano’s lifetime of usefulness, frequent piano tunings will dramatically extend your piano’s life.  Probably the strongest position to support frequent piano tunings is that most piano teachers like their students to work toward a discriminating ear in hearing pitch level combined with increasing sensitivity to evenness of touch.  This is corrupted or compromised through practicing on a piano which is not properly maintained, and tuned at A440.  It is much easier to learn something right the first time, than it is to re-learn after developing a compromised feel, sense of acuity and awareness.  Professional players have their pianos tuned monthly, weekly or even prior to every performance.  What is important to understand here is that it is impossible to tune a piano too frequently.  The more frequent, the less adjustment is needed and the more lifetime your piano enjoys.  Doesn’t this make good sense?

Why does my piano require multiple piano tunings to reestablish correct pitch and maintain it?

The wires in your piano literally have to be retrained.  In the industry we call this ‘pitch raising’.  Your piano, with the amount of tension at A440, CANNOT be tuned in one session and have the piano wires’ tension stabilize.  Taking into account the tremendous amount of tension on your piano at A440, a standard pitch raise my have elevated the tension on your piano by several TONS.  The piano has to acclimate itself to the new tension.  Some instruments affected by age or neglect will need more consecutive tuning than others, and certainly one must consider the piano’s quality and the environment as well as they also will affect these facts.

Someone told me that my piano must be 'present' pitch tuned. What does present pitch piano tuning mean?

Present Pitch Piano Tuning is a term used by your technician to explain that the tuning they are executing on your piano is ‘at’ what the overall pitch level of the piano was when they first detected its present or current pitch.  Let’s say, for example, that your piano’s overall tension level translates to 1/4 step below A440, then a present pitch tuning would be a relative adjustment to all the wires in the piano to achieve an overall melodious sound where all 88 notes are tuned or adjusted relative to 1/4 step below A440.  For my part, the primary reasons I’ve recommended present pitch tunings have been low interest or budget concerns.  This is entirely understandable as long as the customer is informed of their options.

I have heard that pianos can be tuned two ways. One method is 'by ear', and the other is called 'electronic' piano tuning. Which is the better piano tuning, Atlanta Piano Tuner?

Atlanta Piano Tuner tunes pianos by ear utilizing an electronic device to complete the “set the temperament” stage, assessing the pitch of a piano.  The actual fact is that there are no differences in the final product of piano tunings ‘by ear’ or ‘electronically’.  The tunings are identical if performed by piano tuners who know how to tune pianos PROPERLY.  While I can appreciate the old school argument attempting to protect the trade’s age old method by spreading this rumor/myth, I must respectfully insert here, “Welcome to the 21st century.”  Here are the facts when it comes to piano tuning from this perspective:

Key: Setting the ‘Temperament’

Technically, your piano’s tuning has multiple parts if it is to be done correctly.  For the main body of your piano’s tuning… ALL EXPERIENCED PIANO TUNERS TUNE BY EAR.  Now, some use the age old method employing a tuning fork to set the ‘temperament’ or foundation or 1st step of a tuning.  Others utilize the accuracy of modern technology’s ‘crystal’ to set the piano’s ‘temperament’.  Electronic piano tuning devices are nothing more than an electronic tuning fork!!  Tests have been run on the human ear with the resultant findings that a human’s ear cannot ‘hear’ any more accurately than a give or take variance from 1-3%.  Now an electronic device, utilizing modern technology’s crystal can ‘hear’ with an accuracy that is measured in the hundredths of a cent (a measurement related to sound/frequency).  Get my point?

Furthermore, here’s a test for your local, “Oh, I only tune by ear (with a tuning fork)…” piano tuner.  Ask them how quickly they can assess the exact number of cents above or below pitch a piano is.  Then know this.  As I work in recording studios and regularly field requests to tune at let’s say- A440+2cents.  Another good example is when you must tune to perfectly match a church organ (particularly pipe/pneumatic organs).  They will vary by as much as a quarter step from A440.  An old school “tuning fork” tuner cannot do this to within one cent accuracy without a metronome and utilizing an old school method of timing the number of ‘beats’ in a second.  For me,  I set my device, adjust the pitch and I’m off to the races in seconds with a perfectly pitched tuning.  The deception involved in trying to berate the accuracy of an electronic device has, in truth, to do with crutches and I’ll get into that in a moment.  My Dad (a fine master craftsman with over 4 solid decades of experience) trained me to tune old school, but, unless we go back to horse and buggy you won’t see me running around with tuning forks… lol!

After the ‘setting of the temperament’ stage of piano tuning, the only way to achieve Concert ready/ Standard Pitch accuracy is to tune the piano to itself uniquely.  This can only be achieved at this point in human history by utilizing the human ear.  While an electronic device can perfectly set the frequency of a sound, for one to be able to tune a piano entirely with an electronic device one would have to start with a perfect piano… and perfect pianos DO NOT EXIST!  Due to the fact that every piano on the planet earth has dissonance (is not perfect!) it must be tuned by the highly trained human ear of an expert piano tuner/technician.  No machine can accurately tune beyond the simple establishment of the frequency for the first note.  An untrained, novice tuner grabbing an electronic device and setting all 88 notes to a preset frequency is simply not truly tuning a piano.

This is one of those issues in life where the value is in an expert doing an excellent job.  Piano tuning must be set with the bar very high, no different than the professional golfer, the doctor, lawyer or any other highly specialized trade.  The only acceptable average for piano tuning IS EXCELLENCE.  A novice tuning is at best incomplete and many times is a mistuning that will need to be completely retuned.  It is unfortunately easy to deceive unwitting or unknowledgeable piano players with a simile of a piano tuning without truly doing excellent work… however, 85% might fool some but a highly trained ear will always hear within 1-3% accuracy.  By the way, the individuals that I regularly meet that do truly hear near perfect pitch practice music for several hours a day, like myself (concert pianists, opera singers, professional singers, etc.)… and these are the true concerns that the old-schoolers really have, but are not articulating correctly.  To my knowledge the best (and only) method I know of to train a piano tuner is the apprenticeship method (old school, but no improvement to the method has come along yet)… (whew! What a book!)

Piano Rebuilding, Piano Repair and Piano Care

Should I purchase a new piano or rebuild the current piano I have?

Your primary concern here, in my opinion, is financial.  Financially speaking many (not all) vintage/antique pianos are intrinsically superior to the ‘new’ (exceptions are hand made, ‘high end’ new pianos) particularly in regard to the wood in the piano.  It is also extremely important that the piano has not been exposed to climatic conditions that might have weakened the basic structure of your piano.  If you can afford the investment, and the piano’s basic structure is sound then Piano Rebuilding will (in the long run) cost less and deliver more than what is available in the ‘new’ market.  If finances are a concern to the point that a several thousand dollar investment simply is not possible, then financing a new piano may be your only option.  I would, however, strongly recommend that you peruse whatever options are available to you before you pass over your piano choosing to dispense with a piano that is superior to anything you can buy new.  When we restore a vintage piano, we rebuild/restore the life of that piano.  Brittle wires, cracked soundboards, hazy/oblique finishes, chips/scratches/dings/dents to the finish, impacted/hardened/dirty mechanical components and worn/weakened overall condition can usually be completely reversed in the piano rebuilding process.  I’ll tell you this because I’ve seen it hundreds of times.  Our piano restorations typically introduce shock/amazement/joy to a customer that has entrusted their piano to our fastidious care… and once they have recovered from disbelief that what we’ve returned is the same piano that rolled out of their house, they settle in to play a vintage piano that looks, feels and plays like the initial craftsmen that built it, saw it.

Atlanta Piano Tuner, Is it possible to segment out piano repairs ?

 It is a fairly simple task for a piano technician to split up some piano repairs, and there are others that will need to be repaired together for a couple key reasons.  First, some parts of the piano’s mechanisms are too interdependent to segment repairs.  Secondly, some piano components, while not interrelated can not be repaired without removing or disabling other components.  Now to segmenting piano repairs, some elements can be easily segmented because the repair of one segment will enhance the piano’s performance without receiving degradation from operating adjacent to an unrepaired component.  An example of non-segmented piano repairs would be the piano’s wires, tuning pins, bridges, soundboard, pinblock, plate and accompanying felts.  This is a facet of piano rebuilding that, with only a few exceptions, must be repaired in one session of piano service.  The soundboard and bridges are literally under the piano’s wires, which have to be detensioned and removed to effect repairs to the soundboard and bridges.  The pinblock is typically completely hidden under the piano’s plate.  An exception would be the tuning pins, as there are several repairs that can improve a piano’s performance by employing ‘tricks’ to the pins that dramatically improve tuning stability.  I will insert here that as a master piano rebuilder, I am very much against the liquid repairs available for tuning pins, as they can ruin an otherwise rebuildable pinblock once a piano is in the shop for rebuilding.  This particular ‘band-aid’ I would recommend a piano customer steer clear of if recommended by a piano tech.  Please consult with a piano technician for particular answers to segmenting repairs if your primary concern proves financial.

Is piano tuning all I need for proper maintenance?

 In addition to having your piano tuned regularly, you will also want to keep your piano’s action and pedal trapwork functioning nominally.  The action in your piano contains most of it’s moving parts (hundreds of them) and could be compared to your car’s engine.  While your piano’s action and other mechanisms do not need attention as frequently as its tuning, you will want to keep in mind that approximately every seven to fifteen years the screws in the mechanisms will need tightening, the mechanisms will need to be cleaned and lubricated, the hammers will need to be dressed, and regulations will need to be checked to maintain proper alignment.

Will I harm my piano if I clean or dust it?

 Anyone can clean or dust their piano if they remember a few common sense guidelines.  Most of your piano is easily accessible to clean.  If the area is not easily accessible consult a piano technician before proceeding.  With easily accessible areas, an important rule of thumb that prevails is that moisture and pianos do not mix well.  Use blue or green 3M emory cloth for the keys (blue for plastic and green for ivory).  For the case (the exterior of the piano), a dry cloth with a non wax product only applied to the rag then the piano.  For the plate and piano wires in a grand piano utilize a brush attachment on a vacuum.  Never touch the piano wires with your fingers as the transferring of oil we all have on our hands (no matter how clean) will rust piano wires (treble will rust, copper wound bass wires will corrode)

Do most pianos in the southeast U.S. require some form of humidity modulation?

It has been my experience over the last several decades working only in the Southeast U.S. (primarily Georgia and Florida) that automatic modulation is preferable. I stress automated because the installation of a heating element style of (commonly called a damp chaser) humidity modulator does not work well if plugged directly into a wall outlet and left on. Plugging one into a humidistat is preferable because it will turn off the heating element if the humidity is acceptable. In homes where heating and air conditioning maintains comfort levels around 50% is also comfortable to your piano. A simple heating element bar plugged in and left on 24-7 might drive humidity levels too low and dry out your piano. Not only this, but many times in my travels I have encountered heater bars installed in such a way the wiring was heated due to wire constriction and in several cases of this had gotten the piano hot enough to melt the finish on the piano at the point of wire contact. If this smacks of a fire hazard to your understanding, you’ll understand why I recommend caution with simplistic devices. Now, with the more complex devices that include a humidistat, the benefits are there especially if you, like most of us, like to open doors and windows in the spring and fall. Consult with your piano technician and please (for your own safety) do not settle for heating elements without a humidistat installation as well… and insist that the installing technician be mindful that electrical wires compressed will heat up, can melt, and might cause a fire.

Does a piano need to be tuned every time it is moved, and how soon should that be?

 If the piano is only moved room to room probably not.  If you are moving to another house, it will likely need at least a brush up piano tuning.  Be informed that when your piano is at proper tension there is an incredible amount of tension on the structure of the piano.  Lift it, move it, pick it up in the air and twirl it if your that strong, but DO NOT JAR IT.  What knocks a piano out of tune with moving is receiving sudden impact.  Things like bumping walls/doorjambs, dropping it even an inch to the floor when it is being set down, running rough shod over rail road tracks/speed bumps or slogging over cracks or holes in the road are all the kinds of things that will affect the piano’s tuning adversely.  It is actually possible, though rare, to move a piano and have it’s tuning remain stable.  Remember this.  The tuning pins that support the piano wires’ tension are being held in a block of wood (hard rock maple typically) with about 45-75lbs of torque.  One piano wire’s tension can be around 200lbs.  Jarring or sudden impact will cause the pin to move or twist releasing some of the wire tension, and the associated pitch will fall.  I usually recommend no less than a few weeks to as much as three months to wait before tuning after a move.  Most piano dealers will recommend the same after new piano purchases and I’d advise you to request the extended end of this period for your warranty tuning.  These new pianos should be somewhat well tuned when they are delivered, and it they aren’t, I’d express concern to my salesperson.

Do you have any tips for me to move my own piano without damaging it?

Refer to the, “Does my piano have to be tuned after a move question…” click here for the answer to being careful never to jar your piano.  Because of the weight involved always plan every minute aspect of the piano’s motion and anticipate any and all eventualities.  Once the instrument is in the air or halfway up a flight of stairs is (trust me) no time to hear the word, “OOPS!”.  There is also no way I’d attempt a piano move without procuring a piano dolly.  Most vehicle rental places will rent them for a nominal fee.  Simply lift one side of the piano 2 1/2 feet to 3 feet off of the floor, correspond the angle of the dolly to the bottom of the piano, slide it under the middle of the piano (flush with the backside of the piano), have someone hold the dolly in place, then slowwly lower the piano back to earth.  The increasing weight (on the dolly) of the piano will prevent the dolly from sliding, although it may slide a little right at first.  Remember to position the dolly flush with the backside of the piano.  To dismount from the dolly simply reverse these steps.  Proceed at your own risk.  Pianos weight as much as 400lbs and up.  Large Grand pianos weigh over half a ton and should only be moved by a professional.  The man in front lifts if necessary (single stairs, door thresholds, etc.) while the man in back provides the impetus.  Keep in mind that that 400lb. plus monstrosity will tend to tip over on hills or slants.  A strong man will need to be positioned downhill from the piano to keep it from tipping as the two on the ends control lateral movement.  Please be extremely careful!!  Take your time, pre-think each process before proceeding, make certain all involved are on the same ‘frequency’, and do it right the first time!!  Hitting the replay button is nearly impossible once many aspects of piano moving are in motion.  A few more tips include placing the piano directly behind the driver in pick up trucks/box trucks and trailers, keep the main body of the piano’s weight over the rear axle, tie off securely to prevent tipping or sliding and pad well to prevent dents and dings to the case of the piano.  Warning:  In regard to attempting to move or repair your own piano know that many aspects of these two items (particularly piano moving) are best left to a professional with the equipment to accommodate every foreseeable eventuality, and the expertise to accommodate every unforeseen eventuality.  While the ingenuity and desire of the do-it-yourselfer is appreciated, please be extremely careful!  Any advice offered here is acted upon at the individual’s own risk and we assume no responsibility for mishaps, damage to property, or injury ensuing from techniques we’ve offered that are performed incorrectly due to a novice’s inability anticipate the unforeseen. 

Piano Generalities

Where do I find the serial number on my piano?

On grand pianos check around the tuning pins (usually between the bass and treble set of pins), on the front left side of the soundboard, on the key-frame (the large rectangular butcher block that supports the piano’s action) under the piano & back edge of the key-frame, or painted somewhere on the piano’s plate. Otherwise, call a piano technician. With Upright/vertical pianos lift the lid (the top board) and check between the bass and treble set of tuning pins, (on newer pianos) a plate or poster affixed inside the interior and on the sides of the piano, stamped or imprinted on the backside of the pinblock (rear of piano and near the top), or (don’t laugh) on paperwork… perhaps in the bench. Otherwise, call a piano technician. If the serial numbers are in none of these obvious places, an experienced piano tech will know which slip or leg or part to remove to locate the number for you. All pianos have serial numbers, but all manufacturers did not think ahead to make them readily readable for the layperson.

What is the difference between solid spruce soundboards and laminated (plywood) soundboards?

The fact here is that the statement is a bit of a misnomer. Truly, the question is which way the spruce wood is laminated. Spruce is selected as soundboard material because of its resonant qualities. Some manufacturers use spruce planks which they glue edge to edge or horizontal lamination. Other manufacturers use what we call plywood or vertically laminated spruce. Analysts ran tests several decades ago on both kinds and found no significant difference in resonance. The spruce plywood (vertically laminated) is much less expensive to use in construction, so you’ll usually see it used in lower price point pianos.

Are aluminum action rails better than wooden ones?

I wouldn’t characterize one way or the other. What you need to know is that there are unique facts relevant to each. It has been my experience that wooden rails don’t require as much attention as aluminum rails. Every decade or so the screws in a piano’s action need to checked and tightened and the associated component checked for proper alignment in the action. Theoretically, wooden rails absorb vibration more efficiently than aluminum rails, and they have a rate of expansion and contraction that more closely aligns with the other wooden components in the action. Now the aluminum rail is more rigid (less expansion and contraction) and more consistent for adjustment uniformity than wood rails. I’ve just noticed that the screws tightened in an aluminum rail tend to loosen incrementally sooner than wood rails. Please understand that this (either way your piano goes) is not a burning house emergency, but you will encounter in the piano sales field this issue regarding rails in an action of a piano. Now you have the facts.

Do you have any tips for me as I shop for a new or used piano

Soundboards typically are made from spruce wood whether vertically laminated or horizontally laminated (click here definition) and it boils down to six of one and a half dozen of the other as to which is the better soundboard.  Don’t permit a salesperson to tell you one is better or worse than the other.  Cracks in soundboards in used pianos are not necessarily a problem sign.  The problem arises, when you play, and you hear wood on wood vibration.  This is usually related to the soundboard and its ‘ribs’ that are laterally glued to the back of the soundboard and perpendicular to the soundboard’s grain.  If those two components separate, then you’ll have vibration noise that will indicate a costly repair is needed.  If not, then in all likelihood the piano is fine now and will be fine for years to come.  With new or used pianos, a fresh tuning is key because an out of tune piano (particularly in used) may indicate that there are problems with the piano’s tuning stability.  I’d insist, prior to a purchase, that the piano be freshly tuned so that a piano technician can ascertain if there are repair issues you need to know (like loose tuning pins).  In regard to ABS Styrene parts vs. wooden parts, I have found the comparison of the materials to be evenly matched and the performance to be comparable.  No need for you permit a salesperson to attempt to bias you one way or the other.

Should I buy a new piano, or are pre-owned pianos a better investment?

The main advice here is that you need to know the difference between the way pianos were made now and the way they used to be made. I like to borrow a statement my father used to make to answer this question. He used to say, “The wood in vintage/antique pianos came from the most sturdy trees usually in mountainous regions because of their innate hardiness. They were typically selected from the northern side of the mountain and the wood used came from the north side of the tree.” This is a bit of an overstatement, but I think you’ll see his point. Number one, aged wood only gets stronger and more resonant. Number two, in most newly manufactured pianos today (I did say most) the wood is not even close to the same quality as the wood in vintage pianos. Believe me, in a surprising number of new pianos particle board (wood chips glued together and pressed into a board) is used. Do you know what happens to particle board if it ever does get wet? More than this being a reason to not buy new, I just want you to be informed. If you have the means seek to purchase a piano that has a natural wood structure. They usually will cost more. A surprising number of the ‘price leader’ (cheap) pianos have particle board for the non-structural pieces in the piano’s construction. This is why they are sold more cheaply than others. With vintage/antique pianos you are definitively going to be starting from a more solid foundation, that you can then go on to have it restored/rebuilt. In the long run, this option will cost less and beyond any shadow of doubt you will have more piano in the long run than most of what is available today in the new market.

Grand pianos vs. Upright/vertical pianos... What are the actual differences?

First, I’ll touch on the obvious differences.  However, there are several differences between grand pianos and vertical pianos that are not so obvious.  In general, grand pianos have the piano’s structure, piano wires and all accompanying components horizontal in relation to the floor, and vertical pianos are just that , vertical to the floor.  ‘Vertical’ pianos (which includes upright pianos, studio pianos, console pianos and spinet pianos) all have the main frame or structure and all accompanying components vertical/perpendicular to the floor.  Other seemingly obvious similarities like piano keys, hammers, happens, jacks and so forth are where some of the not-so-obvious differences lie.  Keep in mind for the sake of this dialog, sound and touch.

Technically, the key of the piano translates to the ‘touch sensitivity’ of the instrument.  Imagine a see-saw, if you will, for that is precisely what a piano key is.  You depress your end of the see-saw and the other end reverses your touch or pushes up, literally duplicating the firmness, speed and so forth once the impetus is completed.  In piano teaching parlance you’ll learn about a term, ‘dynamic range’, or how loudly/firmly and how softly/lightly you depress the key.  The longer the see-saw, the more control you have over ‘dynamic range’.  In grand pianos, the key is typically 4″ to as much 10″ or much longer than the vertical piano’s keys.  More control over the touch= more potential regarding dynamic range= superior mechanism.  I will insert here that better quality vertical piano keys utilize lead weights to address this difference with some limited success.  Nonetheless, it is because the grand pianos mechanism is superior that they typically cost more.

 In the action the difference is a matter of gravity… and repetition.  In a vertical piano, there are several primary places where a metal spring is utilized to push or press a component in the process of repetition.  In a grand piano, the primary function of the action is controlled by gravity.  Now, what do I mean by repetition?  You press a key, setting off a chain reaction that completes once the hammer in the action strikes the piano wires.  The springs in a vertical piano force the components back to their beginning point, so that key can be depressed again.  The principle of gravity causes the grand piano’s action to return to the starting point.  The difference in the types of pianos is the difference between man’s metal spring and God’s principle of gravity.  Translation, gravity is infinitely more consistent than a metal spring, and never wears out or weakens.  Once again I’ll insert that quality vertical pianos are just fine as instruments for most applications and experience levels, but you’ll never see one in front of an orchestra if they can afford a grand piano.  (Thank you for your patience to read all this I am attempting to wrap this up).

In a grand piano there is also an additional component you’ll never see in a vertical and that is called the repetition lever.  Simply put, the repetition lever permits a more controlled/consistent and potentially rapid repetition than is possible in a vertical piano.  As far as escapement the repetition lever also enhances the escapement once again lending itself to more consistency in ‘touch’ vs. the vertical piano.  Structure/Frame-wise, grand pianos are essentially suspended in mid-air, and for this reason need a more stable/solid structure for their frame.  Upright pianos do not need, nor do they have the frame requirement of a grand piano.  The frame of a piano is the part you won’t see unless you look behind the vertical piano, and up from the underside of a grand piano.  The ‘case’ is simply a facade that looks appealing and supports the mechanism used to play the piano. Now to give the upright/vertical piano honorable mention here, I will tell you that better quality upright/vertical pianos can be comparable in sound to some grand pianos, and these verticals’ action mechanisms can be very enjoyable to play for even the most discriminating touch.  Let’s certainly not forget cost, and that verticals can run thousands of dollars less than owning a grand piano… but don’t let anyone tell you that what they have is a ‘vertical grand’.  If it’s vertical, it is not a grand piano…. even it is simulates a capo’ bar on the plate.  In closing, and if you’ve actually read all of this my hat is off to you.  If you are just starting to learn or are seeking to optimize your loved ones interest in learning to play a piano (and have the money) obtain a grand piano and rest assured you’ve done well for you and yours.  If your budget won’t permit, or your house’s space is limited, then know that owning any type or kind of vertical piano (whether an upright piano, a studio piano, a console piano or a spinet piano) will be very satisfying to own and play for the real reason here… which is music.  Buy, beg or borrow (don’t steal!!) a piano and discover all that music can and will do you and bring to your life.  Music is the real reason.  Music answers so many needs not just artistically, but literally helps us to think more effectively.  We need this more than ever in this world today, wouldn’t you agree?

Why is a piano called an escapement mechanism?

I love answering this question, because this is what makes the invention of the piano inspired.  Technically, ‘escapement’ means that with adjustable precision the mechanism of a piano ‘escapes’, after translating your touch in motion toward the piano wires, and this process occurs all in the last fraction of an inch from the piano’s wires.  Then the precision of the instrument permits you to repeat, in a fraction of a second, another touch.  Bartolommeo Cristofori should be ranked highly in history for this invention, because there is no other instrument on earth like a piano… and in my opinion no other trade that is more satisfying than piano repair.

What is a vertical piano, and how many different sizes of pianos are there?

A vertical piano is a piano that has its basic structure vertical/perpendicular to the floor.  A grand piano has its basic structure horizontal to the floor.  Vertical piano sizes range from the spinet piano- measures vertically 33-39″, the console piano- measures vertically 39-47″, the studio piano- measures vertically 48-51″, the upright piano- measures vertically 51″ and up.  The grand piano starts out with the baby grand piano- measures horizontally (from in front of the keys to the furthest rear point on the piano) up to 5’8″, the parlor/ living room/ professional classes of grand piano- measure horizontally from 5’8″ to 7’4″, and the concert grand piano measures horizontally from 7’4″ and up.  Note- although you may be told that some vertical pianos are vertical grand pianos don’t be misled.  The grand piano has mechanisms that can not be duplicated in a vertical piano.

Mom says, "Never place a piano against an outside wall." Is this true?

With due respect to our mothers, that answer is, “False.”  The old saying originated from a time period when insulation was for the most part, unheard of.  However this brings up a very good point, and something I wish most piano owners knew about their pianos and how those pianos relate to ambient temperature and humidity.  Ambient humidity and temperature have a lot to do with an instrument’s stability or lack thereof.  A little over a century ago, when a piano was mistakenly placed against an outside wall, it would experience extreme variations in the ambient temps and humidity in the room it was placed.  Imagine this: if the wood heated house (fireplaces or stoves in most cases) had the ambient temp in front of the piano at 75-85 degrees and the temp behind the piano and next to an uninsulated wall was 20-30 degrees colder, you can imagine how these conflicting exposures could adversely affect the wood (expansion and contraction) in the piano?  In these modern times, homes have insulated walls, so this is (beyond a couple exceptions) not a factor at all.  Have no reservations to put it on that outside wall if you wish, only be mindful of two key cautions.  One, no closer than three feet or so from air conditioning vents, or the hot and cold air will destabilize the piano’s tuning stability.  Two, non-insulated windows apply for the same reason.

What are the differences between ivory and plastic keys?

There are several differences.  The first which is fairly well known is that it is illegal to use ivory (elephant tusk) keys in new piano construction any longer.  Otherwise ivory would most likely still be utilized today.  Experienced players find that ivory, with its inherent tacky feeling, provides a more controlled touch than plastic.  Many times ivory has a grain that is judged to be more visually appealing than plastic as well.  Another characteristic of ivory is that it is porous.  What this means to a player is more control… a non-skid/non-slip surface.  If you’ve never felt an ivory keyboard before, then if the opportunity presents itself you’ll know what I mean.  I’ll add here that not all players like the feel of ivory.  All pianos had ivory keys certainly before the 30’s and most still had them through some of the 40’s.  It became illegal to use them any longer in the 50’s.  Another difference is the ivory key’s color.  Dependent on its exposure to light, amount of usage and natural characteristics ivory will have a color somewhere between barely off-white to a medium neutral tone.

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