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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

A bit more on piano maintenace

by ivories

The life of a professional piano tuner in our harsh Canadian climate is not always an easy one during our chilly winter months, and not only because getting to a customer’s home or place of business can be a lengthy, slushy ordeal – especially on Toronto’s congested roads. No, the main source of hardship is when we must inform a customer who wants nothing more than to have a playable piano at day’s end that their cherished, but more-often-than-not long neglected instrument is no longer tunable in its current state, and will require at least some minor repair work to get it back into playable form, most often thanks to loose tuning pins that will no longer hold properly hold a tuning. That’s not to say we couldn’t pull the piano into reasonable tune at a lower pitch (after some tedious and lengthy prodding), but such a piano tuning would most certainly not hold for more than a couple weeks, if not days, and the customer would be out 100 of their hard earned dollars for minimum net benefit.

The cause of such issues lies mostly with the maintenance and care of the piano (or more specifically, the lack thereof). While regular wear and tear, as well as age no-doubt play large roles in the condition of a piano’s important structural and mechanical components, our wildly fluctuating northern weather conditions and extremes make it all the harder to keep a piano in optimum shape. Overly dry conditions (as well as exceedingly humid ones) can cause swelling and contracting of the instrument’s soundboard, inevitably leading to cracks not only in the soundboard, but also the pinblock, which in turn puts greater pressure and strain on the instrument as a whole. While there are a host of relatively quick and minor repairs that can be done repair these problems (which we’ll address in the future), the best possible thing one can do is to avoid them before they ever happen. The key here is to control the temperature and humidity levels in the vicinity of the piano in question. They should never be placed near fireplaces or other heat sources, and an inexpensive humidity gauge will let an owner know if their instrument is in need of further assistance by way of a built-in humidity system or nearby humidifier to keep the surrounding area at an ideal 45% humidity (anything below 40% or above 50% is asking for trouble). Looking after this key condition will go a long way towards ensuring that both the customer and the piano tuner have a more enjoyable, and music filled Canadian winter season.

Piano humidity control

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Originally posted on 24/05/2013 12:00

In our last post we briefly looked at the dangers of overly dry or humid conditions around one’s piano. Dry conditions are considerably more common, and can lead to problems such as loose tuning pins,rattling keys, and cracks in the pinblock and soundboard. Overly moist conditions cause wood to swell, crushing sensitive parts under undue pressure, and will cause the thousands of moving parts in the piano’s action to lose proper regulation, leading to sluggish response times/performance. Excess moisture also causes convex bulging in the bridge, putting excess tension on the strings and causing the pitch to go sharp. In dry conditions, the bridge goes flat, and creates the opposite problem.

The solution is quite simple. Keep your instrument away from heat and a/c sources, and maintain proper humidity levels, which can be checked with the qauges mentioned in our last post. There are several ways to go about this. Any standard humidifier/dehumidifier placed under or near the instrument will do the job, but there is a downside to this: cost. While it may seem like the simpler, more affordable fix when compared to buying a dedicated piano humidifying system, the annual cost of operation can be nearly ten times that of the on-board piano system. These dedicated systems, such as the Piano Life Saver from Dampp-Chaser, consist of a humidistat, humidifier, dehumidifier, a water-fill tube and an indicator panel to tell you when to top up the water supply. Not only are they cheaper to operate, they require less work, requiring attention only a couple times a month, as opposed to nearly every single day.

If you’d like to have such a system installed in your upright or grand piano, give IVORIES.CA a call today at 416-871-2550!

Keeping humidity in check

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Originally posted on 15/05/2013 01:20

With the warm summer weather rapidly approaching, it’s not a bad time to revisit the topic of keeping your piano’s humidity at proper levels to avoid cracks in the soundboard, along with a variety of other performance and mechanical issues. As we’ve mentioned in prior posts, your piano should ideally be at a humidity level of 45% to help avoid problems caused by excessive drying of the wooden components of your instrument (which make up the majority of it!).

When out piano tuning, we’ll often see pianos that are placed in less than ideal spaces, often near fireplaces or other heat sources which contribute significantly to drying out essential structural components. Keeping a piano away from such places will greatly contribute to increasing its playing life.

It’s not only the larger structural parts of your piano that are affected by humidity. Overly humid conditions can cause your piano’s keys to stick, making playing difficult, not to mention annoying. The humidity levels also cause your piano’s pitch to change. High humidity will result in a sharper pitch, while low humidity will cause your piano to go flat.

A Humidity gauge is an inexpensive but important tool to have around to make sure your piano isn’t being exposed to extreme humidity or dryness. In our next post, we’ll take a close look at the options available to treat and protect your instrument from the dangers of humidity we touched on here.

Keeping a Canadian Icon in tune

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Originally posted on 11/19/2012 12:30

Ivories’ technicians regularly tune at some of Toronto’s biggest and best known concert halls. This means we’re often tuning for some of the biggest names in classical and popular music. While this for the most part finds us tuning high-end instruments by brands like Steinway & Sons and Yamaha, we also occasionally get to tune pianos that are special for entirely other reasons. Case and point is the Chickering Grand piano found in the foyer of the CBC’s Front Street Studio. This structurally and cosmetically aged Chickering would first appear to be nothing more than a prop or discarded used instrument, but it is in fact the childhood piano of one of Canada’s most well known and respected pianists of the past 100 years, Mr. Glenn Gould. Gould rose to fame in the mid to late 1900’s with his technically masterful, yet at times unconventional interpretations of pieces by masters such as Bach, Brahms and Haydn. The often eccentric musician was nearly as well known for his television and radio productions as for his recordings. While a composer himself, he often left works unfinished and preferred to record the music of the masters, his renditions of which lead to four Grammy awards in his lifetime.

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One of Gould’s most peculiar traits was insisting on playing in very warm climate controlled environments and at exactly 14 inches from the ground. It is unknown whether his insistence on playing in extremely warm temperatures contributed to the current condition of his cherished piano, but surprisingly, the weathered instrument is still used for recordings to this day. This is partially possible due to the care provided to it by our head technician Wolfgang, who regularly performs tuning and maintenance work on this prized instrument to not only preserve its history, but ensure that it can help nurture new Canadian greats for decades to come.

Avoiding Costly Structural Piano Repairs

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Originally posted on 04/03/2012 13:39

Avoid costly structural repairs by keeping your piano in a properly humidified environment and well away from fireplaces or radiators. Humidity should ideally be at 45% and most definitely not fall below 40% or rise above 50%. Failure to do so can result in loose and straight tuning pins, swelling and shrinking of the pinblock and cracks in the soundboard. Humidity gauges are relatively inexpensive (around $25) and can help you ensure your instrument is in a favourable environment. They can easily be found online, in most good music shops, or even at your local wine store. If you find the humidity in your music room lacking, it is definitely in your best interest to invest in a humidifier, or if your budget allows, an in-piano humidifying system such as those offered by Dampp-Chaser. This will ensure your piano keeps a wonderful tone, remains tunable & in tune longer, and keeps you entertained for years to come.