ivories

Maintaining Your Piano’s Finish All-Year Round

by ivories

A piano is definitely an expensive investment and with the cost attached to a purchase, you will not love the thought of parts breaking here and there just because you have neglected your role as the owner of this musical instrument. One of the things that you have to pay particular attention to is the piano’s finish. This is the first thing people look at when they get a glimpse of your keyboard. How do you actually go about this process? Here’s how:

Learn the basics of piano care

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Pianos of today are made from different materials. Whatever your piano’s finish is, the first thing that you should do is to make sure that the finish is protected. Basic care dictates that your responsibility as the owner all starts with assuring that no amount of dirt or spill will affect the facade. It is good to note that many pianos of today have finishes that resist spills and dirt. Just keep the instrument clean at all times and avoid exposure to abrasion, humidity and extreme temperature.

Place the piano at the right spot inside your home

Humidity and temperature are factors that may affect your piano’s finish. Therefore, if you put it on a spot where humidity and temperature will definitely be a problem, there is a reason to believe that the finish is compromised. It will be wise to go for a spot where it will not be exposed directly to sunlight or else the finish will age prematurely.

Learn how to dust your piano correctly

Dust is yet another factor that can have an impact on your piano’s finish. How you wish you can just reach out for any old cloth and use it to wipe the surface of your musical instrument. But of course, you have to bear in mind that dusting requires care and if you want to avoid scratching the finish, your best partner in this regard is no less than a feather duster. Make sure you do it very lightly, just enough to put off dust from the surface. You can also use a soft damp cloth. Just make sure you wipe off the surface with a dry, non-abrasive cloth afterwards. Wipe using long straight strokes instead of a swirling motion to avoid marks on the surface.

Make sure the finish itself is clean

Fingerprints and all sorts of smudges may have also been left on the surface of the piano. When you have this on the instrument, the secret is to use the damp to dry cloth method as mentioned previously. There are times when the surface may require more rigorous cleaning. When this is the case, you will need a water-mild soap solution. There are certain soaps that will be good for cleaning the surface. You may have one inside your cabinets or in a grocery store nearby.

Think twice before polishing your piano

Many of us think that polishing the surface of the piano is the ultimate way to make sure that the finish will shine all-year round. Remember, however, that polishing is not at all times the number one thing to consider in order to bring the lustre back. There are instances when polishing will not be beneficial. Much more so, it can compromise the finish especially because there are times when it can attract contaminants not just over the surface but on all other parts of the keyboard. When you get the wrong product, potential for damage will be increased.

In cases where your piano’s finish is affected, you may require professional help in restoring it. For piano repair in Toronto, do not hesitate to call us.

How To Assess The Condition Of Your Piano

by ivories

I bet you wish that based on the way your piano looks good on the outside will be enough for you to say that it is functioning properly. Well, as with any other things, you have to remember that there is much to know if you want to determine the true condition of your piano. You have to look way beyond what you see on the outside. You definitely have to dig deeper and look at its internal parts before saying it is perfectly alright. Perhaps you are no expert on this matter, and it is true that it will require a conscious effort to be able to check on your piano’s condition. However, the following tips will give you a head-start:

Examine the hinges on the piano’s belly

Before you even look closely to what is wrong in the inside, you have to make sure that the hinges on the belly are there. The pin should be on the hinge. Otherwise, you might end up injuring yourself just in case the lid falls right on your feet. You cannot just say the lids are in place just because you know nothing was wrong the last time you played the instrument.

Remove the music desk

This is the one where you usually put the musical pieces on. You have to remove this to make things easier for you once you are inspecting all the other parts of the piano. As a piano owner, you will definitely want to be familiar with all these basics just to make sure that you are at the same foot as that of the technician you will hire later on. You will lose nothing being able to do this on your own.

You are ready to examine the tuning pins

Examining the tuning pins can be quite a trick especially that you are not an expert on this matter. Together with the tuning pins, there are strings to look at as well. These pins play an integral role in making sure the piano is playing music at its best. A tuning pin can be loose if an attached string has been removed. This can be the reason why you seem not to be playing the right melodies in your music lately. Sometimes, rusting pins and strings can also be causing the problem. These ones need to be cleaned and repaired the soonest possible time.

Have a closer look at the strings as well

Strings are very important to get the piano playing well. Any issues like the ones mentioned awhile back can be causing the problem and will require repair. Apart from lose strings or rusting ones, there can be other issues you need to pay attention to when it comes to this part. Often, some old strings simply need replacement to make the instrument play in tune again.

You may also need to check that the strings are complete. If your piano’s very old then chances are, there may be some strings that went loose and disappeared without you even noticing they are gone. These ones have to be replaced immediately.

Check for cracks

Inside the piano, you might be able to spot some cracks on the surface here and there. This can be affecting the sound that your musical instrument is playing. There are times when you can simply seal in cracks but there are also instances when you need to replace the soundboard completely. If this is not a job you can do then it will be nice to call a technician to help you.

After looking closely at these components, if you realize that your piano needs a thorough check from piano experts, it will not hurt to give us a call. We offer services such as piano tuning in Toronto, and can help you to assess the condition of your piano with absolute precision!

How To Restore Your Piano To Its Former Glory

by ivories

Pianos are treasured pieces of art. Means of acquiring them are varied as some are inherited while others are bought at garage sales. It does not matter where you got it from, a total restoration is possible, but there are certain major things that need to be looked at during the repair for it to make any sense. It can either be rebuilt or reconditioned.

Consult with an expert

Piano restoration in Toronto is now easier than it was years ago. It is advisable to get a professional to come and assess your piano’s worth, and the amount of work needed on the piano. Some pianos may not be worth repairing and you’d end up losing money on an unworthy piano. The general consensus among professionals is that if it’s less than 30 years old, its chances of repair are higher. The professional will advise on what needs to be repaired, and the cost.

Disassembly

The piano is pulled apart piece by piece. Everything is photographed before and after .The parts are then catalogued to ensure that during assembly, every piece goes back as it was. It is then dried out to get rid of any lingering moisture. Drying prevents the wood from warping or shrinking during the restorative process.

Pinblock restoration

A pinblock is one of the most vital parts of a piano. It holds the tuning pins tightly to prevent the piano from going out of tune .In Piano restoration, the fitting of the pinblock properly is critical to the future tuning of the rebuilt piano.

Soundboard

A piano soundboard is the surface the strings vibrate on. The soundboard of a piano is like that of a violin, it gets better with age .If it is not damaged, the best one is the original one. It could be water damaged, fire damaged, or worse. If so, that makes it irreparable and there is need for a new one.

Action parts are all the moveable or mechanical parts pushed up by the key. These are parts that are susceptible to wear and tear and can be easily replaced. The quality of these parts you replace is according to what you are able to afford. There are cheaper and less durable ones and vice versa. But that does not always mean the original ones can’t be repaired

Cabinet restoration

The cabinet can be restored if it’s not too badly damaged. Some pianos may be antiques and might have been stored in less than desirable conditions. After years of use and exposure  to elements, the wood warps, cracks and the varnish peels off .By restoring it, the wood is stripped down and restored to its original look .It is buffed and shined to the luster of its yesteryear. It is much cheaper to restore an old piano than it is to buy a new one. A new one will set you back double the restoration price! Antiques pose a great challenge, from parts being unavailable, to them having being neglected to a point of no repair, so it’s always wise to get an expert opinion first.

Pianos are masterpieces of musical art. They add a magnificent and majestic look to a home. They bring warmth and closeness to a family that plays together. If it is a family heirloom, there are sentimental values attached to it, and it’s natural to want to restore it.

The professional who inspects it is able to advise whether it is possible to either recondition or renew the piano, and how much it will cost from start to finish. Pianos that are thirty years or younger are usually far much easier to recondition or rebuild as parts are available. All in all, nothing is impossible, it may turn out to be an expensive venture, but for that family heirloom, it’s well worth every penny!

How To Protect Your Piano During The Winter Season

by ivories

Wood is a versatile material, and wonderfully suited to build a piano. However, it is greatly affected by humidity, as are other materials that also make up the piano. Wood is affected by the changes in humidity, especially during winter. There are several things that you need to do to protect your piano from the changes in humidity.

Humidity control system

 

The first step is controlling the humidity in your house. Wood shrinks or swells, depending on the amount of moisture in the air, or lack thereof. The amount of moisture depends mostly on the weather. Relative humidity is the amount of humidity in the air as compared to what the air can hold. Therefore during winter, the air is dry, thus low relative humidity.

To prevent the piano from shrinking during winter, you need to try to keep the humidity levels around the piano constant, or close. You can have a humidity control system installed in your piano. This system is a three in one. It has a humidifier that adds moisture when it’s dry and a dehumidifier that sucks excess moisture. It also has a humidistat which is a sensor that detects either extreme and activates the relevant system.

Humidity gauge

Too little humidity will dry out the wood components in your beloved piano. This throws the piano off pitch, and may cause cracks in the wood. You should then purchase a humidity gauge, which is able to show you the exact level of humidity in the air. Knowing where the humidity levels are at makes it easier to decide what measures to take. They are easily available and very affordable in the local hardware stores.

The next step after buying a humidity gauge would be to buy a humidifier. You will be spoilt for choice as they come in many shapes and sizes. A humidifier will keep your piano pitch in good condition by increasing the amount of humidity in a dry room.

Location of piano

Your piano should be located in a place that is not too warm, nor too cold. Move it away from open windows, or from the path of doors that are constantly being opened and cold air blowing in. If possible, the piano should be located in a room that is evenly heated and has no dramatic changes in temperature. This means away from heaters and radiators.

Tuning

Winter can be nasty and frosty. Extremes in weather take a toll on a piano’s components. The soundboard shrinks during winter. This lowers the string tension and the pitch drops.  A piano that is played regularly needs to be tuned at least once a year, twice if possible. The wisest thing to do would be to time the tuning just when the season is turning. This enables the tuner to adjust the settings in line with the impending season change. Have your piano tuned in fall. The tuner will tune it sharper than usual to accommodate the flat pitch that comes with winter’s dry air. This is advice you can get from any piano tuner in Toronto, and your piano will be better off for following it.

A piano is a sensitive item that needs a lot of care. The fluctuations in the weather and temperatures greatly affect the piano’s performance. The shrink and swell of the wood may easily cause cracks in the wood, ultimately affecting the piano’s pitch. Investing in a piano means you have to invest in ways to keep it functioning for longer. No expense should be too great in its maintenance. It is a work of art that – if taken good care of – can bring musical pleasure for generations to come.

A quick primer on “inharmonicity”.

by ivories

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On the surface piano tuning may seem like a fairly straight forward, yet tedious and time consuming process – start at the A following middle C, tune it to a pitch of 440 Hz, and go from there in either direction at perfect 2:1 octave intervals (equal-temperament tuning) until you’re done. With an electronic tuner, this shouldn’t be that hard, right?

The truth is that it’s not at all that simple. While one may think that a string tuned to a specific note at the proper frequency/pitch is perfectly in tune, other factors are at play, not the least of which is the human ear and perception, which can throw things off balance. What we generally consider to be a distinct pitch actually contains a series of subtle nuances called overtones. These overtones can cause an otherwise technically perfectly tuned piano to be perceived as being sharp in pitch, due to the inconsistencies in tone produced along the length of a piano’s string. The phenomenon is known as inharmonicity, and is generally more prevalent in the bass and high treble registers. Other factors, such as a string’s composition and thickness, as well as the presence of dirt and rust can also result in slight rises in frequency.

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This is where a piano tuner’s experience and training truly come into play. To account for and eliminate inharmonicity, a tuner will “stretch” tune a piano in increments slightly further apart than the standard 2:1 ratio so that the piano will audibly be perceived as in-tune by the listener. This is a skill and practice that takes years to hone and perfect. So remember, while that discount piano tuner you found online might seem like a good deal at first, chances are he or she are not ready (or qualified) to put in the work truly necessary to do the job right. Be sure to always hire a qualified and experienced piano tuner and technician. Your ears (and in the long run – your wallet) will thank you for it.

Before We Tune Your Piano…

by ivories

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While we’re sure most of our customers would like for us to be in and out of their homes, auditoriums or studios ASAP (let’s face it, the piano tuning procedure is not the most pleasant thing on the ears), there are a number of steps any good, experienced piano technician will take before ever putting a tuning hammer to a pin.

A thorough inspection of a piano and its key areas is always necessary to not only ensure that the piano can be tuned properly, but also that any damaged and/or potentially vulnerable parts are not helped along in their degradation. Some key areas to assess are:

  • Condition of the mechanical (action) components. Excessive or extreme wear and tear of the piano’s action parts will make any tuning, no matter how exceptional, entirely pointless, as the piano will not respond or resonate as intended.

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  • Structural damage. Pinblocks not firmly secured to the frame, cracked soundboards, cracks in the piano’s harp/plate and other problems with the piano’s structural framework can mean the piano will not be able to properly retain the immense tension placed on it by the strings. Bulging in the bridge do to improper humidity levels will cause a piano to go sharp or flat, depending on overly humid or dry conditions respectively.

    Cracked Soundboard

  • Loose tuning pins. Over time tuning pins become loose due to cracking or contraction of the wood surrounding the pins. This often means that in addition to it being very difficult to tune in the first place (if it can be tuned at all), a piano will not hold the tuning for very long, which is never a good value for the customer. As such, Ivories.ca will not tune your piano if we discover this problem on-site. Charging a customer for a tuning of little to no use is simply reprehensible.

A truly unique Canadian talent

by ivories

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We first became aware of composer Lubomyr Melnyk last year after a friend from Latvia mentioned that a Canadian piano virtuoso was performing several sold-out shows at the popular Zemlika Music Festival in Durbe, a small town on the western edge of the country near the Baltic Sea. Not having previously heard of him, and curious as to how a Canadian came to be invited to play at an indie music festival in such a little known town far off the beaten path, we delved a little bit deeper into this performer, who, as it turns out, invented a musical style all his own, and is finally gaining some long overdue recognition, including from some of Europe’s best known publications.

Born in Germany to Ukrainian parents, Melnyk moved to Canada as a two year old, where he spent most of his early years in Winnipeg, graduating from St. Paul’s College and continuing his studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. It was however while living abroad in Paris in the early 70’s that he developed his particular style of playing while serving as the accompanist for modern dancer Carolyn Carlson. Mr. Melnyk, thought by many to be one of the fastest pianists in the world,  has the unique ability to play the piano at 19.5 notes per second, and can sustain a speed averaging 14 notes per second for over an hour at a time. This has lead him to develop a style he’s christened “continuous music”, which features each hand playing incongruent patterns for extended periods of time and liberal use of the instrument’s sustain pedal to meld the different parts into a musical journey.

Upon returning to Canada in 1975, Lubomyr made the rounds introducing Canadians to his nontraditional compositions at art galleries and alternative music venues throughout the country, while being largely shunned by the classical music establishment, despite having more in common with traditional greats like Chopin and Beethoven than ‘avant-garde’ modern composers. While he has recorded 17 live and studio albums to date, the vast majority of them have flown under the radar, especially back here in Canada, where he spent his formative years. It is only in recent years, after signing with London based indie label Erased Tapes Records, that his two most recent recordings have gained a wider, more appreciative audience and critical acclaim, which has earned him an audience among the music loving hipsters of the indie and electronic music worlds. That new-found fame is what has lead him from relative obscurity to touring small halls and churches all over Europe, including performances in Denmark, Germany, the United Kingdom, and yes – Durbe, Latvia.

Lubomyr Melnyk’s most recent album “Rivers and Streams” was released on November 27th.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

by ivories

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Well, after the lovely spring-like start to Toronto’s winter, the cold weather has finally set in, which means there’s no doubt a significant number of you who’ve now proceeded to build camp fires in the middle of your living rooms for additional warmth (or, we suppose, you may have just cranked the thermostat by twenty degrees or dusted the cob webs off the fireplace for reasons other than a visit from a jolly old man in  a red suit). Whatever your solution to the frigid air that has set in, we’re sure there will be dozens (alright, hundreds) of people who fail to take our may years of warnings seriously and overheat their piano rooms to the point where some of those costly repercussions we’ve mentioned in our previous posts come into play. Today we’ll take a quick look at one of those: Piano pin block and tuning pin problems.

An overly dry climate will eventually lead to cracking of the piano’s pinblock, but before that occurs,  simply loosened tuning pins due to expanding pin holes that can no longer hold their tuning pins snug. Depending on the severity of the damage there are four solutions to the problem, all at varying price points and levels of success.

The quick-fix for less serious cases is simply to knock the existing tuning pins in further to create a better grip. This of course can only be done to a certain point before the coils become too recessed and other options have to be considered.

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This leads us to our second more economical quickie fix: Piano pin tightening fluid. With this option, a specially formulated liquid is injected into the area surrounding your loose tuning pins by the piano technician. This liquid will cause the surrounding wood of the pinblock to swell, leading to a renewed tightened grip on your piano’s tuning pins. This option has varying levels of success, and the results may only last for a season or two as opposed to more thorough, permanent solutions, which are as follows:

Re-pinning with over-sized tuning pins. This relatively popular option consists of replacing the piano’s existing tuning pins with larger (thicker) pins of a greater diameter, that will provide a tighter fit and make the piano easier to tune and help in retain its tuning longer. This procedure can at times be done several times over the years with progressively larger pins before the final (and most expensive option) becomes necessary:

Installing a new pinblock. If all the other options have been exhausted (or the cracking/loosening of the pinblock is too severe to make them viable options), the final option before buying an entirely new piano is to have a brand new custom pinblock fabricated and installed to the original specifications of your instrument. This will ensure your piano can once again be fitted with size one tuning pins like when it was new, and enable you to start the above procedures all over again as you casually forget to keep it away from the roaring flames of chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

Our semi-annual piano humidity warning!

by ivories

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Those of you who’ve followed our piano blog for a few years will no doubt be saying “not this again”, but keeping your piano in a proper environment is key to keeping it in shape and extending its lifespan, while avoiding unnecessary and at times very costly repairs. The main factor at play here is humidity, and while our record warm Toronto winter to date may not have the fireplaces lit up quite as often, make no mistake: Winter is coming, and keeping your piano away from excessive heat sources is paramount to keeping the humidity level around the instrument at or around the ideal 45% and avoiding these issues.

Considering the majority of your piano is made of wood, there are a lot of parts that can dry out and begin to under-perform if the humidity level is not kept in check, from relatively minor (but no less annoying) things like throwing off the pitch and loosening the tuning pins, to more severe problems like cracks in the sound board, pinblock and finish. Luckily, keeping things in shape humidity-wise is relatively simple and economical. The first key piece of equipment you should invest in is a humidity gauge. These come in a wide variety of models and sizes with varying features, and can be purchased for as little as $3 at your local hardware store (although we’d recommend going with a decent digital version, which average between $10-$25). Once you’re able to assess the humidity level surrounding your instrument, you may then be pressed to invest into some additional equipment if the levels are too far off.

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More often than not, this will mean purchasing a humidifier. There again the choices are numerous, and the prices will vary from below $50 up to $300+ depending on the model you choose (if you want to be particularly trendy, perhaps these Star Wars versions are for you). If you’d like to keep your piano in shape while not necessarily altering your over-all environment, there are piano specific on-board options you may want to purchase and install instead, such as the Piano Life Saver system from Dampp-Chaser. These units can be installed by your piano technician and will keep your piano humidified at the proper level automatically (provided of course you remember to refill the water supply – but don’t worry, there are handy blinking lights to tell you when it’s thirsty for more). These humidity systems are available for both upright and grand pianos. If this is something you’d like to add to your instrument, don’t hesitate to give us a call at 416 871 2550.

Photo credit: www.pianolifesaver.com

On a less serious note…

by ivories

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Do you know how many competitors we have in Toronto? If so, you may be qualified to be the next project manager at Google. A recent article on Business Insider took a look at the topic “Weirdest interview questions from top companies”. Among the results was “Choose a city and estimate how many piano tuners operate a business there”. We’ll leave it to you to discern why this would be a good thing for a project manager to know, we’re just happy that we haven’t been forgotten by some of the most influential people in the world.