10 top tips to keep your piano in shape
Handle with care
10 top tips for keeping your piano in the best condition
1. Have your piano regularly tuned and serviced by a qualified tuner/technician.
It’s hard to believe, but some piano owners baulk at getting in a tuner more than once a year. Consider this: the pleasure you get from the piano comes in part from it being in top working order. Let’s face it, an out-of-tune piano is irritating, and if you neglect your piano and temperature, humidity and levels of use will all take their toll, even leading to an expensive-to-repair soundboard crack. Hammers, strings and other parts degrade over time and, if not replaced and serviced, will cause problems. If you’ve just spent a lot on a new piano, be prepared to spend a little more on tunings: a new piano may need four tuner visits a year rather than the typically recommended two.
2. Position your piano so temperature and humidity levels are constant.
Pianos don’t like temperature and humidity fluctuations. Keep your piano away from radiators, heating vents and windows that receive direct sunlight. Nigel Donovan of the Pianoforte Tuners’ Association (PTA) adds another caveat: ‘Beware of radiators on the other side of the wall from the piano, especially in modern houses with stud walls. Heat can get through and cause serious damage.’
3. Control climate factors as much as possible.
Should you not be able to provide your piano with constant temperature and humidity (and this is impossible in many homes), aim to control these things with a humidifier or dehumidifier. Your tuner can advise you about the possibilities, including dedicated systems such as Dampp-Chaser that can be installed inside your piano to keep the humidity stable.
4. Don’t place anything on top of your piano that can be spilled.
A vase with flowers looks stunning on top of a piano, but a vase, along with potted plants, drinks, goldfish bowls and anything else containing liquid, is subject to being spilled. Tuners tell harrowing tales of the damage done by spills – and not just liquid spills, either. Donovan had a client who kept a pet hamster in a cage perched on top of the piano. ‘I was called back several times to relieve sticking keys which were caused by the hamster throwing his food out of the cage. Certain seeds were just the right size to wedge between keys.’
5. Regularly dust the piano exterior.
Fine granules of dust can damage your finish, causing tiny scratches and dents that will detract from the shiny lustre. Dust regularly with a feather duster or very gently with a soft cloth. Dusting inside the case, however, is a job best left to the experts. ‘The inside of a piano has no consumer-serviceable parts,’ says Donovan. ‘That includes cleaning. I have witnessed more than one customer rushing up to the piano when I’ve removed the case parts, armed with a duster, which gets dragged sideways across the hammer-heads.’
6. Polish the piano exterior only if you have been advised to do so.
Many modern piano finishes do not require polishing because they are made of a plastic coating (polyurethane, for example) over the wood. Older pianos, and some new models, still have traditional lacquer finishes. However, many household-polishing products can damage or leave a film on your finish. Your piano manufacturer or your tuner will be able to tell you if your piano needs polishing and which polishing products are the safest to use.
7. Keep keys clean with a slightly damp cloth.
It’s tempting to use soap to clean grime off keys, but Donovan advises caution. ‘It takes a skilled eye to differentiate between grained celluloid (made to look like ivory) and the real thing. The other materials used on keys are plastic and erinoid (galalith or milkstone). The glues used to stick the coverings could be either animal glue or synthetic contact glue. Ivory is porous so will absorb anything put on its surface. If too much water is used it could dissolve the glue.’ Needless to say, it also helps to wash your hands before touching the keys.
8. Close the lid when the piano is not in use.
Closing the lid or covering the keys with fabric may seem overly fastidious, but it’s a simple way to keep away dust and maybe those sticky fingers as well.
9. Make sure your piano is insured by your household contents/homeowner’s insurance.
Very often your piano is insured by your household contents or homeowner’s insurance, but it is worth confirming. Pianos aren’t often stolen (though it does happen), but they can fall victim to water or fire damage. You’ll also want to check that your piano is insured when you move it to a new home, the time when pianos are most subject to being damaged. Allianz in the UK and Clarion in the US are two leading firms that handle musical insurance.
10. Play the piano regularly.
A piano is designed to be played and appreciated. More practically, regular playing will make you aware of when your piano is in need of service – a piano that is rarely played may be difficult for a tuner to return to top condition.