Soundboard Cleaning

Soundboard Cleaning

The soundboard of my grand piano is covered with a thick layer of dust. Can you clean this for me? Of course. Cleaning the soundboard is quite tricky as it involves getting a cleaning pad underneath the strings. Trying to clean it using a vacuum cleaner just won’t work – you can try blowing the dust towards the bass end and wiping up what accumulates there which will get some of the looser material out, but the heavier, greasy dust will stick. I carry some specialist cleaning rods which are perfect for wiping the soundboard over its entire area but please ask me to do this before I tune your piano! Some of the strings are likely to get knocked which will put them out of tune...
Old or new pianos best?

Old or new pianos best?

My grandmother’s old Collard and Collard grand is about to passed down to me, much anticipated by my son who is about to take his Grade 6 exams. I had intended buying a decent piano but now I’m not sure which to go for – much loved old or good quality new. Help! Collard & Collard were a well respected make of piano many years ago and your grandmother’s grand piano is likely to be a rather elderly example which has rather outlived its sell by date. It is common for piano owners to become very attached to their old family piano and allow sentimental value to cloud their judgement when assessing the condition and quality of the instrument. Very occasionally it has been maintained admirably well and is worth the effort in preserving it for another few years of happy service to the family. More often than not, the passing of the years will have seen the tone fade and the action deteriorate to the point where it is positively difficult to play with expression or enjoyment. No matter how loved the piano is, how many happy memories are associated with it or how beautifully the casework has aged, it is time for a new piano. If in doubt, why not ask a reputable tuner (preferably PTA qualified) to give you his honest opinion before you tell him your attachment to the piano? Grade 6 level piano deserves the very best you can provide if you are not to hinder your son’s musical progress. Hanging on to an old, unsatisfactory piano might just prevent him from reaching the...
Effect of environment

Effect of environment

I recently inherited my Grandmother’s piano and, having moved it into my house, found it is not the same piano at all – the tuning is awful and notes are sticking – can moving a piano really have such a drastic effect on its condition? This is actually quite a common problem and is partly due to the moving process but more to do with the change in environment to which the piano has been subjected. Moving a piano, even from one room to another, can upset the tuning just because the temperature might be different, or because it catches the evening sun, or it’s now sitting in a draught. It is quite possible that, if the piano has been kept in an unheated or barely heated front parlour for many years and is then moved suddenly into a warm centrally heated house, this type of problem will occur or indeed, be almost inevitable. Dampness and even mildew can lie dormant deep inside the piano without appearing to have any effect until it is moved into a warmer, drier environment where the piano will mysteriously develop classic symptoms of damp such as sticking notes or a sluggish action. The only solution is to wait until the piano has completely acclimatised to its new position before having it properly tuned and repaired which may possibly entail quite a major...
Cleaning

Cleaning

When my tuner takes off the casework to tune my piano I notice how dirty and dusty it is inside. Is there anything I can do to keep the piano clean myself? Treat your piano like a valuable piece of furniture: keep it clean and avoid standing drinks, vases of flowers, or potted plants on it. Spilled liquids can cause serious damage, the repair of which may amount to a serious overhaul. New pianos are generally finished in polyester which requires only to be wiped over with an anti-static cloth or special cleaning preparation, definitely no wax polish! Unless you are very confident in what you are attempting, it is probably best to leave the inside of the instrument to the care of your tuner. Even removing the top door, fall, and bottom door can prove problematic as can replacing them properly. The dust and debris you can see when the tuner is working on your piano is best left where it is, not causing any problems. Dust tends to settle inside where it does no harm and moving it around could change that delicate balance; it takes only a small bit of grit to jam two keys together. That said, if your piano is really dirty, ask the tuner to clean it for you. At least if he knocks the delicate action out of kilter, he will be able to put it right...
Humidity

Humidity

I have had my Steinberg upright piano for over 40 years during which time it has been regularly tuned every 6 months. Recently, however, the strings in the upper register go considerably flat two weeks after tuning. What could be causing this? If the tunings over the last 40 years have been stable and have only recently become less so then you will need to look closely at what may have changed. Assuming the piano has not been moved then the most obvious thing to look for is a change in the heating system of the house. Anything which affects the temperature and most importantly, the humidity of the room in which the piano is kept is likely to have a detrimental effect on the piano. Has the central heating changed in some way? A more efficient boiler or new radiators, even the installation of double glazing may dry the air to the degree that the wrest plank (the block of laminated wood which holds the wrest, or tuning, pins tightly in place) becomes over seasoned or too dry which in turn causes the pins to become loose and unable to hold the high tension required to keep the strings at pitch. The fact that in your case the top treble seems to be affected most might indicate the presence of an over efficient radiator near that end of the piano. If you are very lucky, removing the source of heat (e.g. turning that radiator off) may restore the wrest plank to its former condition. Otherwise there are several options which you must discuss with your tuner. The easiest...
Where to position?

Where to position?

Where is the best place to position my piano? When deciding where to place your beloved instrument it is a good idea to consider how climate and environment can affect a piano. The important thing to try to achieve is stability with a constant temperature of around 20 degrees Celsius (65-70 degrees Fahrenheit) and a relative humidity of between 45-60 per cent. A simple greenhouse gauge is inexpensive and will give you a general idea of temperature and humidity in your chosen room. Central heating systems can dry the air, drawing moisture from the wooden components of the piano. When the heating is switched off at night the humidity rises, and conversely, as it is switched on in the morning, the humidity drops. These changes in relative humidity cause the wood to alternately expand and shrink causing tuning instability and much worse, can be responsible for serious problems such as loose tuning pins and a split soundboard. Radiators are an obvious hazard to avoid then, as are other sources of heat – direct or indirect – such as a radiator in an adjacent room where heat may be transmitted through the wall behind the piano. Direct sunshine (blinds may be a solution here) can be a particular problem for a grand piano where the spot in which it looks perfect is that sunny bay window. If you have underfloor heating then the best advice is to consider another room although a heavy rug underneath the piano may insulate it sufficiently to survive the winter months. A separate music room is obviously the ideal, even if a little ambitious, solution...