Firstly,it depends on how much variation in temperature and humidity the piano has been exposed to, and secondly how sturdily the piano has been built. Generally, the larger the piano, the less often it will need tuning. In the Northern Rivers region, a yearly tuning should suffice for most ears. Playing the piano, even virtuosic pieces, does not cause it to go out of tune, unless either the tuning pins are loose (often repairable) or the previous tuner hasn’t set the pins properly. After a piano has been moved it will drift out of tune quite noticeably after 2-3 weeks, as it gets used to the new variations in temperature and humidity. Generally, it’s a great idea to position it away from air conditioners, heaters and through draughts. The sun must never fall on any part of the case at any time of day (this changes with the season).
All ‘concert pitch’ means is that the notes on your piano will sound the same as the notes on a fixed pitch instrument, such as a xylophone or a saxophone, or even a digital piano. It is especially important for singers, otherwise they may well learn to sing in the wrong key! If your piano is not tuned for a number of years, the pitch will drop each year by about a 1/10th of a semitone.
This depends on how long it is since it was last tuned, whether the last tuner tuned it to concert pitch (A=440Hz), and how far away from my home base you happen to live! Travel costs are shared, so if a few people from the same area get together and have their pianos tuned on the same day, it will be cheaper. If your piano is below concert pitch, then it may be necessary to bring it up to pitch one or two times (called a ‘pitch raise’) before a final fine tune can be attempted.
1) The felts in the two slots in the keys (called the ‘key bushings’) have swollen up and are gripping the pins on which the key rides with too much friction (and/or the pins themselves are corroded).
2) One or more of the 3 to 7 hinge pins in each note of the piano action itself are binding, due to a build-up of dirt and moisture forming a sludge between the metal hinge pin and the cloth bushing in which it turns.
The main enemies of your piano are rag moth (sometimes known as ‘case moth’), cockroaches and mice (rats even, in extreme bush settings!). I recommend getting two 30cm squares of an old cotton sheet, placing Naphthalene flakes or camphor balls in the centre, bunch it up, tie it off, and hang it from a drawing pin on each side of the piano away from the action. If you replace this every four or five months, it is unlikely anything will get in and eat your felts.
Some notes get more use than others, because players practice the same piece over and over again. The felt hammers get grooves in them where they have been hitting the strings. The felt becomes compressed, and eventually hardens, so it sounds brighter, and often louder. When this happens, it is very difficult to play softly and control tone. This is fixed by ‘voicing’, the process of needling the hammers to produce the desired tone and volume. This should only be done by a skilled professional.
Members of the guild have passed a rigorous aural tuning test and had their workshop skills examined and certified. As a guild member I attend regular conventions where overseas lecturers update our skills with the latest in tools and technology.
The keys can be cleaned with a slightly damp microfibre cloth. Modern gloss finishes should be just wiped over with a damp chamois. Older style wood grain finishes should be polished with a beeswax or oil product, but never use anything with silicone in it (that includes most spray products). The nameboard, pedals and hinges can be polished with Brasso & they will look like new if you have the patience!
Regulation is the adjustment in height, angle and tolerance of all the moving parts of the piano action. Each key in an upright action has up to 10 adjustments, including key height, key dip, damper lift, set off, hammer blow, catch distance, hammer spacing and traveling, capstan lost motion and catch. Each key in a grand action has 31 different adjustments. Every tuning should include a check of any regulation issues that may lead to future action problems or excessive wear.
I know of not a single would-be piano player who, having only ever played an electronic keyboard, became an excellent pianist. When kids start to learn, they need to feel the vibration in the air when they hit a note. There is something very organic about the sound of felt hitting the steel string, amplified by the close grained spruce resonance of the soundboard. Not all pianos are created equal. My job is to find the special ones and lovingly restore them, until you are ready to have them join your family!