If you’ve never heard of piano climate control, you might be paying for tuning and other such routine services more often than you should, and even shortening the lifespan of your instrument! Piano bodies and many of their internal parts are made of wood, which expands and contracts according to the environment in which it’s kept.
The ideal piano climate control includes a consistent temperature of 68-72 Fahrenheit or around 20 Celsius, and humidity levels between 45% and 70%. Climate control for a piano should also stay as consistent as possible, with little to no fluctuation in temperature and average humidity levels.
A piano is typically a costly investment, or a family heirloom that deserves proper care. Piano climate control is part of that care, reducing the risk of damage to an instrument while also helping to keep it in proper tune.
For new piano owners or those wondering how to ensure their instrument stays in proper tune for as long as possible, consider some vital tips on piano climate control and maintenance overall. This information will help you keep your piano looking and sounding good for as long as possible and ensure you’re doing all you can to protect your investment or that precious family heirloom.
What is Piano Climate Control and Why It’s Needed
Piano climate control is a vital part of caring for your instrument and helps to reduce the need for tuning and other such services. Note a few tips on proper climate control and how it keeps your instrument in good condition.
- Wood continues to “breathe” even long after it’s cut, absorbing water and drying out, depending on its surroundings. In humid conditions, wood absorbs water and then expands; in drier conditions, wood dries out and shrinks.
- Wood continues this expand-shrink cycle even indoors, as the humidity levels change throughout the year. Cold weather also dries out wood, causing it to shrink.
- A piano body is typically made of wood; even with a coating of shellac or other materials, this wood body will expand and shrink according to its environment, putting pressure on or pulling interior parts as it does.
- Many parts inside the piano are also made of wood and these also expand and shrink according to a room’s humidity levels, also pushing or pulling parts to which they’re connected including piano wires!
- The more often a piano moves, the sooner it tends to go out of tune. Movement affects the tension of piano wires and the sound they produced, so the more often piano parts move, the more often you’ll need to schedule piano tuning.
- A piano’s sound is also affected by the overall shape of the hammers that strike the wires. These hammers are also typically made of wood. When they expand and shrink, they might strike the wires too firmly or not firmly enough, so your piano produces an uneven or tinny sound.
- Piano climate control ensures that the overall room temperature and humidity levels remain consistent day and night and throughout the year, reducing this expand-shrink cycle on piano pieces and keeping your piano in good condition and sounding its best.
How to Humidify a Piano
If you live in a very dry climate or one prone to long, dry winters, it’s vital that you humidify your piano, or add humidity to the space around it. There are two ways of doing this; one is to purchase an evaporative humidifier with user controls, so you can set the humidity you desire and not need to monitor or adjust it manually.
Another way to humidify a piano is to add humidity inside the piano body, under its lid. Some piano users put a cup of water inside the piano; as that water evaporates, it gets trapped in the piano and absorbed by its wood pieces.
While this is a very cheap way of humidifying a piano, it’s also impossible to monitor or control those humidity levels! Water might not evaporate fast enough to keep piano pieces from drying out, or it might evaporate too quickly, causing them to expand.
A more precise option for humidifying a piano on the inside is to purchase a system designed to sit inside the piano and monitor humidity levels around the soundboard. These systems cycle on the humidifier as needed, according to the condition of the piano, to ensure proper humidity levels.
What Is Piano Tuning Versus Regulation and Voicing Services
Regular piano tuning involves adjusting the tension of piano wires; the tension of those wires is what affects the sound produced when they’re struck with a piano hammer. Those wires lose tension over time, when a piano is moved, and as the wires are struck.
Piano regulation involves adjusting many of the other moving parts inside a piano, including the hammers and their surrounding felt, so that they all work in unison. Shaping hammers, setting the distance from the hammers to the strings, and other such steps ensure the moving parts of a piano work as they should while also helping to reduce undue wear and tear on the instrument.
Piano voicing is slightly different than both tuning and regulation. Voicing refers to adjusting certain parts of the piano so that it produces a deeper or a crisper tone. Voicing is an excellent choice for those who often play a certain type of music; for example, funeral music is often deeper in tone than music played at a wedding. If you keep a piano at a funeral home, you might arrange voicing for that deeper sound, while churches and chapels might request voicing for a brighter, more high-pitched tone.
Understanding Piano Repair and Restoration
Some piano owners are surprised to learn that piano tuning doesn’t typically involve repair work! Piano tuning is only the adjustment of wires; while a piano tuning contractor might dust the inside of those wires for more precise tuning or replace a broken string, they typically don’t perform any other repair work.
Piano tuning and restoration are also somewhat different. Piano repairs fix and replace broken parts as needed or adjust severely damaged parts, such as hammers out of position or worn-down felt. Piano restoration is more involved and is often needed for pianos that have more than just a few broken parts.
If your piano is not playable due to the extent of damage, it will probably need restoration. In some cases, a piano restoration contractor might even need to bring that instrument back to their workshop, so they can take it apart and better access its internal parts and pieces.
How to Keep a Piano in Good Repair
One of the best ways you can keep your piano in good repair is to invest in high-quality climate control. This protects the piano body and many of its parts under the lid! Note some added tips for ensuring your instrument always sounds it best and stays in good condition:
- Play your piano regularly! Wires and parts allowed to sit might lose tension, move out of place, or become stiff and rigid. Regular playing keeps those moving parts in good condition and ensures your piano is also in tune.
- Mind how you strike the keys when you play. If you find that you “bang” on the piano keys, your instrument might need tuning or voicing. Those keys might also need cleaning so that they move freely.
- Never move your piano yourself, even from one room to the other! Moving a piano without taking time to protect its parts can result in damage to the hammers, wires, and other pieces. Hire a professional mover experienced in moving pianos, as their fee is worth the protection they offer your keyboard.
- Invest in regular tuning as needed. Proper tuning keeps piano wires taut and in good repair, less likely to break or snap when played. A piano tuning contractor might not perform repairs but he or she might also alert you to damage to your piano, so you can arrange repairs quickly and avoid more expensive fixes down the road.
- Keep pianos away from windows, exterior walls, fireplaces and heating vents, and air conditioning vents. Harsh sunlight and fluctuations in temperature affect how a wood responds to its surrounding environment, so keep a piano away from these and other sources of heat, cold, dampness, and harsh sunlight.
Can you tune a piano yourself?
If you’re not overly concerned with the accuracy of sound from a piano, you might perform DIY piano tuning. However, no amount of online tutorial videos and store-bought equipment can substitute for the skill and expertise of a piano tuning contractor. Invest in professional piano tuning services if you perform, teach, are learning the piano, or want to ensure you get the most accurate sound from your keyboard.
Is good household climate control enough for a piano?
Never assume that keeping your home at a consistent temperature and humidity is enough to keep a piano in good repair. Drafty rooms, harsh sunlight, and other factors affect the environment of any space, so ensure you maintain proper piano climate control to protect your piano.