I remember the first time I played my Nana’s piano. It was a player piano from the 1940’s. One afternoon, I snuck into the living room, silently exposed the keys, and began to push each one as gently as I could. One by one, those piano keys told on me and Nana came rushing in the room. Fortunately, she decided that now was the time to cultivate my love and respect for this most noble of musical instruments. She said, "A piano is a living thing and it’s notes will only sound pleasant if you treat it like a member of the family."
Years later, when I moved into a place of my own and it was time to buy my own piano, I abruptly realized that used pianos were the only option for my meager budget. When I found the piano I wanted, I could tell it hadn’t been tuned in quite a while. The strings emitted those eerily haunting hollow notes that make even happy songs sound somehow melancholy. My used piano was delivered to my apartment and we began to cultivate our friendship.
Of course, I immediately called a piano tuner and had the piano tuned. Here was his advice:
- Raise the pitch – many used pianos have been neglected so long their pitch sinks lower and lower. Raising the pitch required a series of visits over the next several months so the piano could return to it’s original tuning of A=440 vps. You could liken raising the pitch to tuning a guitar – but since piano strings are much stronger than guitar strings, the process is more intricate and takes longer to complete.
- Regular tunings – he recommended a tuning every six months – at least until the piano was able to hold correct pitch in between visits.
Once my used piano was holding the correct pitch, she could get along with a tuning every year to two, but bi-annually was optimal to maintain her overall quality sound.
- Always make sure you have a very experienced and caring piano tuner when working with used pianos because forcing a piano to tune too fast can damage the piano beyond reasonable repair. Talk about tragic!
Looking back, I am grateful that I found the right piano tuners the first time. My piano and I played a multitude of wonderful music together and now she is, indeed, a beloved part of our family.