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Archive-name: music/piano/maint-and-buy-faq
Posting-Frequency: monthly
Last-modified: 7 April 1997
Version: 1.3a

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
This is the Piano Purchasing and Maintenance FAQ (Frequently
Asked Questions) list for the newsgroup

This FAQ list is intended to present information regarding
purchasing new or used pianos, and general maintenance issues
which are frequently raised in  It is
posted every month.  Updates, additions, suggestions and
corrections are always welcome: send e-mail to the address at
the end of this FAQ.  However, it has become increasingly
difficult to keep up with the demand, so response, if any,
may be very delayed.

This FAQ is periodically posted to,
rec.answers and news.answers.  This FAQ is available from via anonymous FTP under:


If you do not have access to anonymous FTP, you may retrieve
it by sending e-mail to with the
message (leave the subject line blank):

   SEND usenet/news.answers/music/piano/maint-and-buy-faq

You also have access to rmmp FAQs on WWW:

Changes since version 1.3

    update RMMP FAQ site address

Piano Purchasing and Maintenance FAQ

You may run a search using the pattern [#.#] where "#.#" is
the topic number.


[1] Piano Technicians Guild

[2] On Piano Purchasing
  [2.1] I want to buy a piano.  Where do I start?
  [2.2] I want to buy "The Piano Book".  Where do I find it?
  [2.3] What is new in the "The Piano Book", Third Edition?
  [2.4] Buying digital pianos
  [2.5] Word of advice

[3] Recommended Things To Do After Piano Purchase
  [3.1] I bought it from a dealer
  [3.2] I bought it used from someone

[4] Piano Placement Considerations
  [4.1] Where should I put my piano?
  [4.2] What atmospheric environment does piano like?

[5] What Do I Need to Know or Do About Maintenance?
  [5.1] Can I Tune or Repair the Piano Myself?
  [5.2] Maintenance reference books
      [5.2.1] The Arthur Reblitz books
      [5.2.2] "The Piano Book"

[6] How Often Do I Have to Tune the Piano?

[7] My Piano Goes Out of Tune Often.  Is Something Wrong?
  [7.1] New pianos
  [7.2] All pianos in general

[8] Is There a Special Polish to Polish My Piano?

[9] Tuning Methods
   [9.1] Why use an electronic pitch device instead of the
         traditional A-440 tuning fork?
   [9.2] What is aural tuning?
   [9.3] What is electronically assisted, "electronic" tuning?
   [9.4] What are the pros and cons of aural tuning?
   [9.5] What are the pros and cons of electronic tuning?
   [9.6] Which is better, aural or electronic tuning?

[10] I Need to Relocate!  How Do I Deal With Piano Moving?
   [10.1] Moving using professional movers
        [10.1.1] Pre-move
        [10.1.2] Moving contract
        [10.1.3] Arrival
   [10.2] Moving the piano yourself

[11] Where Can I Get Replacement Parts?
   [11.1] Pianos
   [11.2] Harpsichords


[1] Piano Technicians Guild

For more detailed information regarding any technical aspects
of piano ownership, there is no better place than the Piano
Technicians Guild (PTG).  This FAQ is a very "brief" extract
of what is available from them, and should be treated as
such.  If there are any discrepancies between what is said
here, and what is said by the PTG, PTG is probably correct.
:)  If you can't find the information you're looking for in
here, or want to learn more, they will probably be able to
help you.

The home office of the PTG is located in Kansas City, MO, and
apparently keeps the usual 9-5 business hours.  There are
also local PTG chapters located everywhere.  Check in the
phone book for a PTG chapter nearest you.

Here are some methods to contact the home office.  The PTG's
www home page has many interesting and useful materials.  I
highly recommend that you take a look, if you haven't done so

    3930 Washington
    Kansas City, MO 64111
    tel: (816) 753-7747


[2] On Piano Purchasing

[2.1] I want to buy a piano.  Where do I start?

Most of the questions asked in this newsgroup about piano
purchase and maintenance, if they can be answered at all, are
answered in the book, "The Piano Book: Buying & Owning A New
Or Used Piano" (Third edition, 1994, Brookside Press).
People who are new to the field are strongly recommended to
get hold of this book and read it.

The author of the book, Larry Fine, with the input of at
least a hundred other technicians nationwide, has spent the
last ten years and three editions of the book refining the
advice so the book is really the best place to start for this
kind of information.  After reading the book, then one is
ready to hear and evaluate what others have to say on the
subject.  If there are any questions or if you need
additional information beyond what is covered in the book,
everybody is welcome to post to RMMP.  There are many
newsgroup members who are Registered Piano Technicians (RPT),
who are most qualified to give this advice and who, in this
newsgroup, have given the best advice.

For those with web access, you can also look at the
Electronic Piano Buying Guide at URL for more information.

[2.2] I want to buy "The Piano Book".  Where do I find it?

(1)  If the book is not available through your local
     bookstore or library, you may order it directly from the

     Brookside Press
     P.O. Box 178, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130 USA.
     Phone (800) 545-2022 or (617) 522-7182.

(2)  Also see the following Web site for information
     on the book.

(3)  Some music stores and piano dealers or technicians also
     have copies to sell.

[2.3] What is new in the "The Piano Book", third edition?

The third edition has all new brand reviews (at least to the
extent they need to be revised after four years) based on a
new survey of technicians and the pianos they service.
Baldwin is again included in the book.  (They had been left
out of the second edition, because of potential legal

The section on shopping for a piano has been revised to
include information and advice on the all too prevalent piano
mega-sales, as well as more ideas on how to negotiate the
best price.

Prices (in the form of price ranges) have been included in
this edition as well as "ratings."  The first edition had a
very detailed numerical rating system.  Although the general
public loved it because it made buying a piano seem like a
science, it wasn't realistically a good idea and was much
abused by dealers.  In reaction, ratings were left out of the
second edition entirely.  In the third edition, a much looser
rating system is used that puts piano brands into broad

The list of older Steinway models has been revised and
refined quite extensively based on the ongoing historical
research by the list's creator, Roy Kehl.

Additionally, many small changes to technical descriptions of
piano parts, a couple of new illustrations (Fandrich piano
back and action), a little more information on electronic
player pianos, and some new miscellanies are included.  Oh
yes -- and a green cover.

[2.4] Buying digital pianos

Please read "Digital Pianos FAQ" and "Digital Pianos Hardware
List" available from anonymous ftp at under:


...or whatever similar method you used to get hold of this
"RMMP General Topics FAQ".

[2.5] Word of advice

Whatever you do, take your time when you are shopping for a
piano.  Don't let the words "on sale" or "great deal" push
you into a blind purchasing panic.  There are many excellent
pianos at bargain prices out there, and at the same time
there are many lemons sold at some outrageous prices.  The
only way you will be able to distinguish between the two is
through careful research, shopping around, and understanding
the key points mentioned in "The Piano Book".

Don't rush!


[3] Recommended Things To Do Immediately After Piano Purchase

First of all, congratulations! on becoming a piano owner!
Here are few things you might want to consider when you first
get your piano.

[3.1] I bought it from a dealer

Some dealers will regulate and tune the piano before
delivery, but not all do.  The best would be to talk the
dealer into having the piano regulated and tuned before
delivery (at the dealer's place) and then have it checked and
tuned once it is delivered to your place.  If you can get
this service packaged with your delivery contract, that would
be the best thing to do.

Check for any visible damages on your piano.  If you see any
scratches or bruises, make a note of it on the delivery
receipt and notify the dealer immediately.

[3.2] I bought it used from someone

Before delivery, if possible, make a thorough inspection of
the piano and make note of any damages prior to delivery
(take pictures, if you can).  Once the piano is delivered,
check for any visible signs of damage.  If you see any, make
a note of it on the delivery receipt if you had it
professionally delivered.  If you moved it yourself, well...

Once you have put your piano in a semi-permanent position,
have the piano tuned.


[4] Piano Placement Considerations

[4.1] Where should I put my piano?

Pianos are very much like babies.  Keep them out of drafts,
keep them out of direct sunlight.  Basically, avoid any
extreme conditions (stay away from near the fire place,
etc.).  It is also a good idea to keep sharp objects and wet
things (cups, potted plants) away as it can damage the
finish.  Also keep them a couple of inches out from a wall to
prevent condensation behind it.

[4.2] What atmospheric environment does piano like?

Pianos can degrade rapidly if the environment is too humid or
too dry.  The ideal humidity of the room where the piano is
kept is about 40-45%.


[5] What Do I Need to Know or Do About Maintenance?

[5.1] Can I Tune or Repair the Piano Myself?

The general consensus is, "If you don't know what you are
doing, leave it to the professionals."  Piano is a very
delicate instrument.  You do not want to mess with it unless
you know what you are dealing with.  If you carelessly fiddle
around too much, you may do more damage and end up with
costly repairs, and the last thing you want on your hands is
your piano irreparably damaged.

But for those who understand the risks involved and still
choose to pursue tuning and repairs themselves, there are
several books available on the subject.

[5.2] Maintenance reference books

[5.2.1] The Arthur Reblitz books

If you want to know all the technical details of how piano
works, there are two books published by Arthur A. Reblitz.

Reblitz, Arthur A. "Piano Servicing, Tuning & Rebuilding",
Second Edition, Vestal Press, Vestal, N.Y. 1994.  $29.95.

Reblitz, Arthur A. "Player Piano Servicing and Rebuilding"

     Reblitz Restorations Inc.
     PO Box 7392
     Colorado Springs, CO  80933
     (719) 598-2538
     (719) 598-9581 (fax)

Reblitz writes that: "there's no reason why anyone willing to
take some time to study its [the piano's] mechanisms can't
learn to repair and tune it well," and states that hobbyists
have even done fine piano rebuilding jobs.  You just need
"persistence, common sense, and a bit of mechanical
aptitude", the proper tools, and a book like this one.  The
books cover: the history of piano styles and construction;
the internal workings; evaluating an old piano for purchase
or repairing; how to clean a piano and perform minor repairs;
adjusting the action and pedals (regulating); and tuning
theory and procedure; and provides a 70 page discussion of
rebuilding.  (Regarding rebuilding, the author does not
minimize the difficulties or skill requirements of this

[5.2.2] "The Piano Book"

"The Piano Book" by Larry Fine, referred to above (see "[2]
On Piano Purchasing") regarding purchasing a piano, is also a
good source of information on maintenance.  With the
information from this book a piano owner will be able to
conduct an informed discussion with a piano technician.  The
book gives an overview of how the piano works, describes what
maintenance is required, and what to do in case you move or
have your piano stored.

While providing much that a piano owner needs to know about
maintenance, the author does not even raise the question of
whether to make repairs or do a tuning yourself, but rather
assumes that the technician will do it all -- and this suits
for most people.


[6] How Often Do I Have to Tune the Piano?

For a brand new piano, the general recommendation is to tune
it about four times during its first year and twice a year
thereafter.  This is also a good rule-of-thumb for older
pianos which were moved into a different climate condition.
Most other pianos generally need to be tuned about twice a
year.  However, some pianos may require more frequent tuning,
and some less.  The frequency will vary depending on the age,
model and the environment of the piano.


[7] My Piano Goes Out of Tune Often.  Is Something Wrong?

[7.1] New pianos

As the wood and strings settle in a new piano during its
"break-in" period, it requires a bit more maintenance during
its first year.  Wood may shrink or swell a bit, changing the
tension on the strings; strings stretching; compacting of
cloth and felt throughout the action, etc.  It is common to
have to call for maintenance more frequently than an older
piano.  You can expect to have the new piano tuned about 4
times a year during its first year, and need regulating and
perhaps voicing more quickly than later on in the piano's
life.  This is also true for older pianos which were moved
into a different climate condition.

Loosening of tuning pins is rarely a symptom of "settling".
It would instead be a symptom of a defective piano that needs
warranty repair.  Tuning pins should not loosen appreciably
for many years.

[7.2] All pianos in general

The best way to find out if something is wrong with the piano
mechanically, is to have a piano technician evaluate the
problem.  If mechanically nothing seems wrong, you may have
the "environment control" problem.

Pianos go out of tune primarily because of seasonal changes
in humidity that cause the soundboard to swell and shrink,
thus raising and lowering the tension on the strings.  A
constant humidity level will reduce the amount of movement
that the sounding board will experience. This will then help
to keep the piano in tune.

If the piano is placed near a window or source of heat, it is
likely that humidity and temperature changes will have the
piano go out of tune. If the piano is placed against a non-
insulated exterior wall, that too could have a negative
effect on the tuning.


[8] Is There a Special Polish to Polish My Piano?

There are specific polishes for different finishes and pianos
are using many different finishes these days. The PTG WWW
page has a brochure on it you could read and download. See
section [1] for URL.


[9] Tuning Methods

Brief answers are given here for a general understanding of
this topic.  If you wish to learn more, contact a local Piano
Technicians Guild chapter, or check out their www homepage
(URL and other conventional contact addresses given in
section [1]), or post your questions on the newsgroup and
have our friendly RPT's answer your questions!

[9.1] Why use an electronic pitch device instead of the
      traditional A-440 tuning fork?

Electronic tuning forks are quite accurate and some piano
tuners use them to replace the old-style metal forks, which
are highly subject to temperature changes which make them
"drift" from the standard.

[9.2] What is aural tuning?

"Aural" tuning is how piano tuners have traditionally tuned
instruments -- tuning strictly "by ear."  Usually after a
reference note is established, tuners adjust the pitches of
all the other notes based on the reference note without
relying on anything else other than their ears.

Sometimes, instead of setting pitch "A" to a reference,
tuners will simply set that "A" to whatever pitch it's at
(which may be too high or too low because of seasonal or
other factors) and then tune the rest of the piano relative
to that pitch.  This avoids having to drag all the notes very
far up or down in pitch with each change of season, with
consequent tuning instability or, in the extreme (where the
pitch is very low), possible string breakage.

[9.3] What is electronically assisted, "electronic" tuning?

There are a few electronic tuning aid (ETA) devices on the
market which will assist a piano tuner in doing his or her
job. Typically, an ETA device will produce a series of
pitches to establish the "ideal" tuning of a given piano.  A
piano tuner will then match the piano to the device.  It is
inevitable to use some aural techniques as well to refine the
tuning. It does not replace the ear, but is an aid to it.

The level of the "idealness" produced by an ETA device is
highly dependent on what kind of device is used.  The best
one, the Sanderson Accu-Tuner II (costs you a few thousand
dollars), allows a tuner to measure several parts of the
instrument and it will calculate a reasonable tuning for that
particular instrument.  This machine also stores tunings so
they can be used at any time, which is particularly good for
recording studios and concerts as the tunings are consistent
and can be completed quickly.

[9.4] What are the pros and cons of aural tuning?

One of the supposed disadvantages of aural tuning is really
one of the advantages -- that no tuners do the job alike, and
that the tuning may vary from time to time.  One could as
easily insist that an advantage to player piano is that they
mechanically reproduce a given performance over and over.
Further, the ear remains the best judge of intonation.

A tuner who tunes without the aid of an electronic tuning
device occasionally will be decidedly disadvantaged due to
sinus congestion resulting from allergies and/or viruses.

Pianists generally like a good tuner's "touch of personality"
in a tuning.  Aural tunings, because they require individual
judgments, vary from one tuner to the next.  Any given tuner
may, at one time or another, be preferred over another
because of their particular "flavor" of tuning.  Because
pianists have different tastes, it is sometimes necessary to
shop around before settling on a tuner whose tuning pleases
the pianist.  The level of skill among technicians varies, as
well, and this, too, contributes to whether their particular
method or "flavor" of tuning is desirable.

[9.5] What are the pros and cons of electronic tuning?

For technicians who spend the majority of their time tuning
every day, ETA devices can give the tuner's ears a brief
respite from the negative effects of sharp, often loud sounds
emitted by the piano during the tuning process.  It also
saves somewhat on the mental process of deciding aurally when
a note is in tune -- less mental fatigue.  An electronic
tuning device can be extremely beneficial in institutional
settings where multiple tunings must be performed in rapid
succession.  Since the pitches can be stored in some ETAs, it
is possible to have a given piano tuned identically over and
over.  In other words, electronically assisted tuning is at
its best if it succeeds in reproducing some previous tuning.

The greatest pitfalls in electronically assisted tuning are
inexperience and in-attentiveness.  Historically, "semi-
professional" tuners (a.k.a. "weekend warriors") are
notorious for purchasing electronic tuning devices and
attacking friends', neighbors', and relatives' pianos to
practice their hobby.  Because these individuals do not have
a complete grasp of exactly what it is they are doing, they
are completely reliant on an electronic device that cannot
distinguish between pianos and therefore cannot make the
judgments of a skilled technician.  Although the risk of a
non-professional ruining a piano is only slight, the
potential of the damage which may result can be costly to
repair (e.g.. twisted tuning pins that eventually shear off
at the plate, broken strings, mutilated dampers, etc.).

[9.6] Which is better, aural or electronic tuning?

There is a great misconception among the public that anyone
who uses a "machine" isn't a real tuner.  By the same token,
someone who just buys a machine and a few tools don't
necessarily qualify as a "piano tuner."  They are both valid
methods.  Electronic tuning aid is just that -- an aid to
tuning.  It doesn't replace an aural tuning, but is an
assistant -- a tool used by piano technicians to provide the
best service to customers.

Many technicians today use both methods to produce the best
possible tunings.  To be a good tuner, aside from being able
to pitch a note, one must understand the overall effect of
the tunings.  Technicians who perform electronically assisted
tunings usually do an aural check of the tuning to make
certain that the tuning is the best it can possibly be on
each instrument.


[10]  I Need to Relocate!  How Do I Deal With Piano Moving?

[10.1] Moving using professional movers

The most important thing, whether it is a cross-country move
or a local city-to-city move, is to find a mover who is
experienced in piano moving.  Unlike furniture, a piano needs
special attention during a move, because of its delicate
moving parts, wood frame, environment sensitivity, etc.  You
can pretty much kiss the possibility of receiving the piano
"in tune" good-bye, but you don't have to take more trauma
than necessary.  The following guideline was written to give
you an idea of how to go about dealing with the move as
trouble-free as possible.

[10.1.1] Pre-move

Research the moving companies.  For many local moves, there
are professional piano movers who specialize in piano moving.
Ask what kind of experience they have with piano moving, and
the methods they use to move the piano.  Also see if they can
give you any references from other customers.

Take very detailed photos of the piano.  You will need these
in case any damage was done to the piano during the move, you
have proof that it was okay before the move.

[10.1.2] Moving contract

For cross-country move, try having the following conditions
added to your moving contract.

(1)  The piano will not be transferred at shipping
     terminals across the country, and will not be
     unloaded off the 18-wheeler trailer once it has been
     initially loaded on

(2)  The piano will be blanket wrapped, and strapped to
     the side of the trailer

(3)  The trailer will be one of the "computer air-ride"
     trailers that maintain a constant/controlled air
     environment.  (There exists such trailers which are
     designed to handle computer and other instruments)

(4)  Insure the piano for its full replacement value

[10.1.3] Arrival

(1)  Take the photo of the piano in the trailer as it
     is being unloaded.

(2)  Check the piano thoroughly for any visible damages.
     If you see any, make sure you note it on the delivery
     receipt before you sign it.

[10.2] Moving the piano yourself

Pianos are HEAVY.  A small upright can easily weigh as much
as 400 lbs.  Also, many of the older uprights are extremely
top-heavy (All the weight of the plate, action, and pinblock
are at the top of the piano, making it unstable when it is
moved on its casters).  If you do need to maneuver more than
few steps of stairs, it is highly recommended that you use a
professional piano mover.  However, if you still choose to
move the piano yourself, you will need a few people to help
you move the piano.  It may not be such a bad idea to get a
back brace to protect yourself from over-straining.

Following are some tips to aid you, directed for upright,
console, spinet piano moving (you probably don't want to move
a grand piano yourself):

(1)  You will need thick wrapping blankets to protect your
     piano from being scratched.  Don't use the thin blankets
     usually supplied by U-Haul and other rental agents.  Use
     a lot of those plastic packaging tapes to secure the
     blanket around the piano (don't tape the blanket onto
     the piano... That may damage the finish.  Just wrap the
     blanket, and "mummify" it with the tape)

(2)  If you chose not to carry the piano, you will need a big
     cart (a heavy-weight flatbed with big casters on the
     bottom) since the casters on the pianos are not made to
     move it across the floor or on irregular ground, but
     only to position it after it was moved close to its
     final resting location.

(3)  Get hold of a large, (preferably covered, but not a
     necessity to move it just across town) truck or trailer.

(4)  Once you get the piano in the truck, place some 2x4 or
     4x4 wood planks under the piano, from back
     to the front (parallel to the sides, perpendicular to
     the front and back surfaces), lifting it off its
     casters.  Place a few to distribute the weight.  This
     will help stabilize the piano on the floor, and also
     alleviate any strain to the casters caused by the
     irregular floor of trucks.  It also will help reducing
     the "rolling-off" accidents.

(5)  After you check that the piano is stable on the
     wooden planks, secure it against the wall with
     *moving straps*, not ropes.  Moving straps
     are usually thick, 1-2 inch wide nylon/acrylic tape,
     and is much stronger than a rope, and doesn't stretch
     out of place as much when the truck gets bumped around
     over the potholes.

Above all, BE CAREFUL.  You can easily hurt yourself if you
strain too much, and it's better to be over-kill in
protecting and securing the piano (the alternative can lead
to disasters... like a flying piano off or through the truck
cargo...) and having extra pairs of hands available.


[11] Where Can I Get Replacement Parts?

[11.1] Pianos

The piano supply outlet which deals with hobbyists is,

   Player Piano Co.
   704 East Douglas
   Wichita, Kansas, 67202
   Tel. (316) 263-3241

Just call and they will send you a free catalog.  They also
sell the Arthur Reblitz books mentioned in section [5.2.1].

[11.2] Harpsichords

  Gerald L. Self, Inc.
  Early Keyboard Instruments
  5119 St. Nicholas
  San Antonio, TX  78228
  (210) 434-2040

end RMMP General Topics FAQ

I would like to extend my thanks to many in the RMMP
newsgroup for bits and pieces of information contained in
this FAQ.  Special recognition goes to Tim MacEachern, Guy
Klose, Larry Fine, Tom Sheehan, and John Musselwhite, for
directly contributing to this FAQ.  Special thanks goes to
Phil Tompkins, for his countless suggestions, proof-reading,
contributions, etc.  If I missed anyone, please let me know!
This is really a collective effort of the entire newsgroup.

This document is copyright (c) 1995-1997 by Isako Hoshino.
It may be freely distributed in its entirety provided that
this copyright notice is not removed.  It may not be sold for
profit nor incorporated in commercial documents without the
author's permission.

This article is provided "as is" without express or implied
warranties.  While every effort has been taken to ensure the
accuracy of the information contained in this article, the
maintainer assumes no responsibility for errors or omissions,
or for damages resulting from the use of the information
contained herein.

Isako Hoshino

User Contributions:

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