Fequently Asked Questions
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ‘ACOUSTIC’ AND ‘DIGITAL’ PIANOS?
An acoustic piano is the traditional piano that has a sounding board, strings, action etc. It can be a grand or vertical piano however new or old. A digital piano is a newer invention that is combines electronics and computer technology to create the sounds of piano and many other instruments within one keyboard instrument. Digital sampling is taking the real, live instrument, (piano, violin, drums, etc.), recording the sound and then digitally recreating it when the keyboard action is played.
WHY DOES A PIANO GO OUT OF TUNE?
The short answer is because the strings are being pounded in the playing process and will stretch a little and the wooden parts that deal with tuning (soundboard, bridges; pinblock, etc.) move with the changes in humidity and thus the pitch can go down or even up.
HOW OFTEN TO TUNE PIANO?
From the moment a piano tuner is finished tuning, little by little the piano starts to go out of tune, imperceptibly at first yes, but steadily and gradually. Pianos that are played more often with heavier pounding will probably need tuning more often. With lighter more incidental playing you can go longer. Most of the time you’ll hear people say that once a year is adequate and that’s probably true. The great Horowitz had his piano tuned on the first Tuesday of each month at 11:00 AM! What makes the difference is how ‘in tune’ you need it, and how ‘out of tune’ you hear it.
WHERE SHOULD A PIANO BE PLACED?
Most would ask this question being concerned about heating vents. If a piano can be distanced from a heating vent or return air the better. The same would hold true for a fireplace or wood stove. It all relates to the humidity issue. (See the FAQ about humidity on this page.) The more stable the instrument can be the better it will be with the tuning and other factors.
Pianos can be anywhere in a room that people like. Vertical pianos can be against a wall or out in a room. Grand pianos can have the straight side against a wall; angled a little bit; or even the tail (smaller rounded part) into a corner. It’s true that the lid of a grand piano only opens one way and many like that to open up into the room for better sound distribution. Moreover, the curve of the grand piano, when towards the center of the room, seems to feel like it takes up less space. But, hey… everything works!
HOW SHOULD YOU KEEP PIANO KEYS CLEAN?
We’ve found that the best thing to do is use a little warm water with some dish soap in it and a soft rag to clean the keytops. Be sure not to get the rag too sopping wet so the wooden part of the key gets too wet. Take a corner of the rag; wet it and wring it out and do about an octave or two at a time. Use the dry corner of the rag to buff dry. This works whether your keys are original ivory or the newer plastic material.
WHAT DO ‘REGULATION’ AND ‘VOICING’ MEAN?
Regulation is the process of putting the piano in the proper condition for the best playability. Another way of putting it would be adjusting what people would call the ‘touch.’ It involves such things as: leveling the keys at rest and how far they go down; the adjustment of the dampers and pedals; how far the hammers are from the strings; when escapement and checking occur; tightening screws in the action. All these steps involve the proper movement and adjustment of the mechanism called the ‘action.’ When the ‘action’ is properly ‘regulated,’ it is performing in the best possible way for any pianist to get the most from the instrument.
Voicing involves the sound or tone of the piano. The hardness or softness of the felt that makes up the hammers and the proper seating of the strings all affect what the piano sounds like. From a brighter crisp tone to a darker more mellow tone, this is what a competent piano technician can do to adjust the tone of the piano. It can be the whole instrument; parts of the scale or even a note or two! It is the art of hearing piano tone and building into the instrument just what a musician is desirous of.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT SIZES OF VERTICAL PIANOS?
Vertical pianos have been made through the years for the most part in 4 sizes.
The SPINET PIANO is the smallest of vertical pianos being approximately 36” in height. It is the only vertical piano to have an INDIRECT BLOW ACTION. (The action sits lower than the piano keys.) Next, would come the CONSOLE PIANO. It is from 42” to 44” and has a DIRECT BLOW ACTION, as do all the other vertical pianos. The keys will be longer for better touch. The STUDIO PIANO is larger yet and ranges from 45” to 52” or more. The UPRIGHT is the biggest of vertical pianos. They are usually the older ones from the late 1800’s to early 1900’s and these can be up to 56” or so. Sometimes one will hear these called Upright Grands.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT SIZES OF GRAND PIANOS?
In the same way as vertical pianos, grand pianos come in different sizes. The smallest is the BABY GRAND. This can be one of two things: The smallest of a companies line of grand pianos whether it is 4’ 8” or 5’ 3” or specifically a piano 5’ or under. The next size would normally be referred to as a LIVING ROOM or PARLOR GRAND. These are the grand pianos that are 5’ 4” up to 6’ 7” and would be most likely grand pianos that people would have in their homes. The RECITAL GRAND or SEMI-CONCERT GRAND would be a piano from 6’8” up through the 7’ range. This would be the grand piano you might see in a college recital hall or some recording studio. The CONCERT GRAND is the largest of grand pianos and is for the most part around the 9’ length. This is the piano you see on the concert stage.
WHY ARE THERE DIFFERENT SIZES OF PIANOS?
The better sounding pianos will be taller (vertical) or longer (grand) pianos. This is because the more sounding board square inches you have and the longer the strings can be the better the tone potential. The piano has 3 issues concerning the strings that all have a bearing; 1) the length; 2) the tension and 3) the diameter of the string. Now the tension is the constant. Piano Builders try to keep the tension even throughout the instrument so it doesn’t have unequal forces working against each other. So the two variables are the length and diameter. Longer strings need less of a diameter for the same pitch whereas shorter strings need greater diameter. Longer strings with less of a diameter will usually have a better fundamental tone with a lovely grouping of partials (or overtones) Short, fat strings will have less of the fundamental tone and stronger partials. Now you can give Hermann von Helmholtz a run for the money.
HOW MUCH IS MY PIANO WORTH?
Pianos hold their value really well. The best way to find out is to call a reputable dealer like Piano World and we can help you find out what you have and it’s value. Contact us and we’ll be happy to help you. (Contact link)
WHAT ABOUT SUNLIGHT AND THE PIANO FINISH?
Sunlight can fade the finish of many pianos. Often you’ll see a grand piano with a faded finish at the tail. When the lid was open what was covered up was protected from the sun. Now when the lid is closed you see a dark hue with the faded hue. So, if you can avoid direct sunlight it will be safer, especially if your piano is a lacquer finish. The newer polyester resin finishes are much better when it comes to the issue of fading and won’t have nearly the same effect.
HOW DO I DUST UNDER THE STRINGS OF MY GRAND PIANO?
Our recommendation is to call your piano technician and have them do it in the course of a tuning. What you need are some special cleaning swabs that can lift the dust while you vacuum above the strings. You can use a vacuum hose with a clean bristle brush to vacuum off the plate and the strings, etc. Be very careful of the dampers! When vacuuming the dampers always move the brush parallel with the damper heads so they are not knocked or bent out of alignment.
WHAT ABOUT THE ‘CLIMATE SYSTEMS’ FOR PIANOS?
The issue here is humidity. The fact of the matter is that the piano is mostly wood. Wood needs moderate, consistent humidity to last. The piano should be at approximately 40 to 45% relative humidity year around to sound and perform at it’s best and be protected from being too damp or too dry. If the room that the piano is in can be done that is good. The climate systems, such as Dampp-Chaser ä, work very well because no matter what the humidity is inside or outside, the immediate area of the piano, especially the sounding board is always what it should be. Theses systems have been made for years and most all piano manufacturers recommend them.
WHAT SHOULD I CLEAN THE PIANO FINISH WITH?
Our first recommended step is to feather dust. That way you’re not ‘polishing into’ the finish some dust that is already on the piano. (This is especially true for the ‘high polish’ finishes!) Then use the finish appropriate (Gloss or Satin) polish to clean off the smudges, finger marks, etc.
WHAT DOES IT COST TO MOVE A PIANO?
Anyone that’s ever tried to move a piano is probably now working in the piccolo business! Pianos are heavy and difficult to move and most guys that have done it will say ‘the more it hurts… the more it costs!’ However, with the right equipment and know how (and enough strong bodies!) the task can be done fairly easily. That’s really the key; knowing how to do it with as little outright lifting as possible. But, because of the difficultly and equipment needed, most folks are quite happy to pay for and let others take charge.
The best course would be to get an estimate. Knowing the kind of piano; the distance and difficulty (steps, right angles, etc.), we can get a good picture at what it’s going to take.
IS IT SAFE TO BUY A PIANO FROM A PRIVATE PARTY?
It can be… and it can be fraught with hidden problems. Pianos have a lot of parts that are hidden from the average eye and older pianos can have issues. The safest course is buying from a reputable dealer that you can go back to or to have a piano thoroughly gone over by a qualified piano technician.
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