About 90% of your piano is made up of two things: metal and wood. They seem like sturdy enough materials, right? Well, they are, but one of the properties of wood causes a problem. Wood swells and shrinks with changes in humidity, and presses against the metal parts. And thus, we have the age-old battle between an unstoppable force and an immovable object.
In the summertime, when it’s hot and muggy, the wood inside your piano is going to take on moisture. That is the unstoppable force. Even the best climate controlled homes are not perfect, and the wood in your piano will absorb any increase in humidity. The same applies in the winter when the dry, arid air draws any remnants of moisture embedded in the wood, and subsequently shrinks it. This seasonal game of tug of war between the wooden and metal parts ultimately can be very damaging to the instrument.
The process of the wood seasonally swelling and shrinking, pressing firmly against the metal components, is what will eventually hinder your piano’s ability to hold its tune. Believe it or not, there are over 20,000 lbs of pressure exerted on your piano by its strings, all pulling at components called the tuning pins. These pins are drilled and inserted into a large wooden block, called the pin block. Eventually, if that block swells and shrinks enough with changes in humidity, the wood directly in contact with the pins loses its structural integrity, and can no longer firmly hold the pins in place. Then, the pressure of those strings pulls the pins out of their intended alignment, the pins lean, and the piano goes out of tune. It’s that simple.
Why am I telling you this? Because there is something you can do about it. You may not be able to control the absorptive properties of wood, but you can do something about the humidity inside your piano. Oftentimes, people think controlling the climate in the house is enough. But as I mentioned before, no house is a perfect vacuum. There are places – like near doorways, windows, and air ducts – that fluctuate in humidity, no matter how powerful a house-wide climate control system is. In fact, areas near AC ventilation tend to dry out the wood inside your piano, even if it is during the hottest, most humid part of the year.
Humidity Control System: A Solution for Your Piano
So, what is the solution? A humidity control system designed specifically for the piano. These systems will regulate any changes in humidity with a built in humidifier and dehumidifier, keeping the humidity level constant. Thus, there is virtually no swelling or shrinking of the wood, no pressing and receding against metal tuning pins, and no bending and cracking of the soundboard. They also greatly increase the longevity of tunings, meaning you will not have to deal with painfully sharp/flat notes in between regular tunings. And they greatly reduce issues with the action – like stuck keys, which are a result of the wooden parts swelling with humidity.
Humidity systems also have many other benefits. They help protect the piano’s finish. They greatly decrease the chance of glue failure throughout the piano. When something like a hammer, or pieces of felt around the keys, or dampers come loose, they are very time-consuming to fix, and can run up steep repair costs. The system also keeps the strings and other metallic parts from developing rust – rusted strings being much more likely to break, and rusted tuning pins more difficult to turn during tunings. Regulating the humidity within the piano keeps the hammers from becoming too firm (in low humidity periods), which generates a harsh and overly bright tone. And keeping humidity levels constant keeps the hammers from softening too much as well (in high humidity periods), which will make the piano sound muffled.
For a small upfront cost, a humidity control system can actually save you a lot of money in the long run, and make your playing experience much more enjoyable. Please talk to us today about having one of these systems installed on either your upright or grand acoustic piano! It may just save your piano’s life (and help your pocket book too!).