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Piano Talk

Ralph Joseph Onesti Piano Restorations
1317 MacDade Boulevard, Woodlyn, PA 19094
Phone or Fax 610.833.1657    email:

A guide for communicating your needs to your piano service technician.

(Pianoeze, if you please.)
Does any of this sound familiar?

“One of the keys isn't striking.” “The pedal doesn't mute the strings.” “There's a ringing in the upper treble.” “The keys are too hard to play.” “The piano has begun to sound ‘tinny’.” “My child dropped a pencil in the action…now there's a clicking sound.” “I was playing the piano and a string broke.” “We just had it tuned last week and its sounds terrible today!” “No one is using the piano, do I still have to tune it?”

If you own a piano, you're probably familiar with at least one or more of the above statements. If a purchase is in your future, you will be. There are many issues that may be hard for you to identify and communicate to your technician. Additionally, if you bought your piano privately or did not receive appropriate care information from the retailer, you may have no knowledge of the ‘language’ used in piano service.

The general terms and service issues listed here will be helpful and serve as a basis for communication with your service technician.
Tuning, Regulation or Voicing - Click on item for details


Tuning appointments for your piano, oil changes for the car, dental and vision examinations for you…ALL necessary and important. Proper maintenance is an on-going process. Since the piano is made of wood, felt, iron, etc., it is constantly in motion due to temperature and humidity changes in the environment. These changes in climate, and the resulting movement, affect the tension of the strings (and all areas of the piano), whether or not the piano is being played. The amount of tension on the strings affects the pitch. The piano may go ‘flat’ in the colder months and ‘sharp’ during warmer months. (Yes, thankfully there is something you can do to limit the severity of these changes…we'll talk about that later.)

If the piano has been regularly maintained, a qualified technician can normally ‘tune the strings’ to proper A440 pitch. In the situation where the piano has not been serviced for some time, or it has been exposed to climatic extremes, it may be necessary to perform one or more additional procedures to achieve A440 pitch.

A minimum of two regularly scheduled tunings per year, or every six months, is required for basic stability. Tuning with the change of seasons, or four times per year, is highly recommended. More frequent tunings may be necessary if the piano is new or if it is played several hours each day. New instruments have ‘new’ strings that will continue to stretch over the first year. While tuning, a qualified technician will be attentive to the needs of the entire instrument and will advise you of what it needs and why.

NOTE: Strings, like other parts of the piano, are subject to deterioration over time and circumstance. The acoustical life of strings is approxmately 25 years. They may break when you are playing or when the technician is performing a tuning. Neither of you may be at fault.

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The movement discussed above not only affects the ‘sound’ produced by the strings, but also the ‘performance’ of the entire action, keyboard and pedal movements on any piano. The age of the instrument and prior maintenance practices will also have a bearing on how it performs.

Each key requires several actions to take place between your touch and the moment the hammer strikes the string. To perform optimally, each key and all the action parts between it and the string must be in ‘regulation’, or working as a team. If one part is ‘sitting down on the job’, the others cannot perform properly. Likewise, if one part is adjusted, it will affect the performance of the others so that they may need adjustment as well.

You may experience ‘sticking keys’, or a ‘sluggish’ action. Hammers may not strike the string, or may ‘double-strike’ when played. Pedals may not produce the proper muting of strings. All of these conditions can be addressed by a qualified, trained technician who will be prepared to discuss the necessary procedure.

Note: A technician can put everything in proper, efficient order, but whether it stays that way and the length of time it remains is still at the mercy of temperature and humidity. We strongly recommend the use of Dampp-Chaser Humidity Control Systems to help stability. So much so, that every rebuilding we produce requires that a system be installed in order for our warranty to be in effect.

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The end result of voicing is to achieve a uniform sound, at some level, as the hammers strike each note throughout the piano. Given the intended use of the piano and the personal style of the pianist, this area is subjective. Consideration must be given to the individual instrument as well as the construction of the action parts.

You may experience a ‘tinny’ sound or a note which sounds louder than the rest as a result of a particularly hard hammer. Similarly, some notes may sound ‘muffled’. The trained technician will have the skills to change the structure of the material on the individual hammer which will bring about a tone in balance with the rest of the piano, condition of the parts notwithstanding.

Where a thorough voicing of the entire instrument is wanted, extending the life of the action and enhancing the playing, the owner can expect the procedure to take an entire day. This should only be attempted by a qualified, skilled technician. An ‘attempt’ by anyone else will likely result in a very costly repair.

Where the age of the instrument and original action is a factor, a thorough voicing may not achieve the results wanted. In this case rebuilding the action may be a consideration if the model and manufacturer warrant such an investment.

Visit our
Maintenance Tips page for more detailed information on piano care.

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