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I have a 30 year old upright piano withan iron frame. It had been neglected for probably 10 years. 6 months ago it has been repaired and tuned. The action had to be cleaned and pieces of felt and bridles had to be replaced after some mice had made a nest in it (did I mention that is was neglected?). A few months after it was repaired we moved the piano to another room in the house and after a resting period there it became audibly untuned and 'noisy'. 6 weeks ago it was retuned to concert pitch. Now I have the feeling it is already getting slightly off and 'noisy' again.

With 'noisy' I mean the notes have an unpure tone, a lot less full then they were. ALso harmonies tend to sound strange. Also, when I use a guitar tuner to measure pitch, all pitches of all keys have shifted, as a general tendance, a little flat.

As I don't have perfect pitch, I wouldn't think I would be able to hear this general lowering of all pitches, which keeps the relative intervals between the pitches intact. I was triggered to measure the pitches of my piano because I had the feeling tone wasn't what it used to be when it was just tuned and it had a noisy feeling. So now my theory is that this effect is generated by only some of the strings of the groups of three per key, getting out of key. Could this be possible?

Is it normal for a piano to get out of tune this fast? Is it a warning sign that my piano behaves this way?

  • Did the same person tune it both times - and when it was initially repaired and tuned did the tuner give it "a clean bill of health" or suggest there could be problems? – Mr. Boy Jan 26 '15 at 15:40
  • No reason for alarm in my opinion. After a long break it might take some tunings, until the stability is as expected. The piano technician also might have chosen a little lower tuning to smooth the ramp-up-process, which explains your guitar tuner results. – guidot Jan 26 '15 at 16:40
  • A little more info, please. What repairs were done? What does 'noisy' mean? Has it a wooden or iron frame (not the case!).Was it pulled up to concert pitch? – Tim Jan 26 '15 at 18:20
  • Temperature, humidity, and how much they change over the course of a year in your location are big factors. Do you live in a climate with wide annual changes in humidity and temperature, even indoors? If so, then you'll need to take this into account. Do you monitor and adjust the humidity in the room where the piano is located? – user1044 Oct 18 '15 at 12:19
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A single key getting out of tune with itself, where that keys' strings stop being perfectly in tune, is precisely what makes a piano sound bad (to my ear at least) and is certainly common since it would be weirder if all 3 strings on each key did go out of tune at exactly the same rate. You can easily tell by playing single keys, if any sound out of tune when you're only playing one note this must be the issue.

It might need a second tuning depending on the condition the piano was in before... if you have been playing it and having it tuned and this time is the first time this happened, that's different to finding an old piano in a barn and moving it to your house, when I understand a 2nd tuning is not uncommon.

  • Yep -- the OP should supply a 'history' of his piano -- not to mention the bona fides of whoever did the tuning! – Carl Witthoft Jan 26 '15 at 12:54
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    I have added a brief history of the piano to the question. – Tim H Jan 26 '15 at 15:23
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    If you have a good tuner, you can actually check how much the single strings are out of tune. The best is to use a guitar pick for this, and simply pick each of the string triple separately. – yo' Jan 27 '15 at 1:40
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Fluctuations in the relative humidity and other environmental conditions in the room where the piano is located can result in movement of the wood components which can affect the tuning of the entire piano - not just one key (although some are affected more than others). Some movement of the wood is unavoidable and all pianos will go out of tune to one extent or another over time.

During winter months, these fluctuations can be more radical with cold temperatures outdoors and heating of the interior air. In most parts of the world, indoor humidity is lower (air dryer) during the winter heating season. That is why you get more static electricity in the winter. When the air is too dry, the soundboard and other wood components will shrink. When the soundboard looses moisture and contracts, the pressure of the bridge on the strings is reduced, resulting in the piano going flat (all keys will go flat but not evenly).

Too much humidity can affect the piano as well - even causing condensation on the strings and other metal parts, which can damage them. If you live in a tropical climate with no air conditioner, you could get high indoor humidity levels in the summer. Too high humidity can also result from running a humidifier too much.

Controlling the humidity level in the room with a humidifier in the winter will mitigate this drying of the wood. I have no experience with them - but humidity control systems that are designed to be placed inside the piano are available, which are designed to maintain a consistent humidity level inside the piano and help reduce the tendency of the wood to expand and contract. The soundboard inside the piano is most susceptible.

I keep a digital hygrometer in my home to monitor the humidity level. I find that I must be proactive in the winter to keep the humidity near the 45% relative humidity range. Without intervention, running my heat can bring the relative humidity down to as low as 20% - which is way too dry!

Fluctuations in temperature can also affect the expansion and contraction of the components of the piano. It is best to locate a piano on an interior wall of the home if possible, as exterior walls will more readily radiate the outside temperature changes to the piano. Also be sure the piano is not located near a heat vent that blows directly on it - or in direct sunlight (which can warm the air around the piano when the sun is shining on it).

Sometimes pianos must be re-strung or have some tuning pegs replaced. But if you take all possible measures to minimize temperature and humidity fluctuations affecting the piano, before you have it tuned again, you may find that it stays in tune longer.

  • instead of special humidity control, what works unless the piano is in extreme conditions: couple glasses of water placed in the piano (better on something to prevent moisture rings). Usually it's enough to refill the glasses once in couple weeks. – yo' Jan 27 '15 at 1:38
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If pianos get out of tune as fast as that, leaving aside that you had moved the piano within the same house, I would venture to query two other things

1) Whether the pins are a bit loose. Rather unlikely on a 30 year old instrument, but quite likely on one quite a bit older

2) Whether your tuner had the right technique. I have watched some tuners who have two faults. One that they don't hit the notes hard enough to ensure that the string in the unsounding areas at both ends has been equalised with the main length, and the other that they don't set the pin properly at the end of the turning they do. That's going to soon result in loosening as the instrument gets played and the note will drop slightly out of tune. There are plenty tuners on youtube including those who charge who are still not good at setting their pins!

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