Can Moving a Piano Affect its Sound?

Posted by Gordon Bolton

Pianos are beautiful, unique, and complex instruments. The average full-sized piano has more than 200 strings, and even the smallest change in the tension of one of them can affect its tone. Tuning a piano requires an incredible amount of specialized skill, too, so it should come as no surprise that pianists go out of their way to keep their admittedly temperamental instruments in tune.

What happens when a pianist wants to move the piano, though? This article will offer some insight into how moving pianos can affect their sound, including their tuning, even when musicians hire professional Piano Movers.

Short Moves

Most musicians find that moving their pianos short distances doesn’t affect their sound in any noticeable capacity. It’s fine to push a piano across a room. Unless its new location has a substantially different temperature or humidity range, the piano shouldn’t need to be tuned immediately.

Changes in Climate

Pianos are sensitive to changes in climate, which is why moving them from one home to another can be problematic. Considerable humidity changes can actually change the shape of the instruments’ soundboards, which are made partially out of wood and are thus susceptible to temperature and humidity-induced expansion and contraction. Changes in pianos’ soundboards cause changes in the tension on their strings, which is what leads them to become out of tune.

How Pianos Work

Gaining an understanding of why pianos sometimes go out of tune when they are moved requires a basic understanding of how they work. Pianos use soundboards, wood bridges, felted hammers, and steel and copper strings to produce specific tones. When a pianist hits a key, it causes a hammer to hit one of the copper or steel wrapped strings, which vibrates in response.

The hardwood bridge carries the vibration to the piano’s soundboard, which features a curved crown with carefully positioned ribs on its underside. The ribs ensure even distribution of the tone across the soundboard and give strength to the crown, while the soundboard converts vibration into air movement, which is what produces unique tones. If it expands or contracts, that changes the vibration of the strings, causing subsequent changes in pitch.

How Dryness Affects Pianos

When soundboards dry out, they contract. The contraction of a piano’s soundboard can cause tuning issues in and of itself, making the pitch of the notes flatter, but if it gives off a substantial amount of moisture, the damage will become more permanent as the soundboard will crack. Extreme dryness can also cause the glue joints that hold the instrument’s wooden components together to weaken, causing even more damage.

How Moisture Affects Pianos

Wood contracts when it becomes dry and expands when it is exposed to increased moisture. The soundboard will also flatten when exposed to moisture, tightening the strings across the bridge and causing the piano’s pitch to rise. That’s not all that excess moisture does to pianos, though.

When exposed to excess humidity, the piano’s strings will rust and its felt parts will become damaged. Since all the parts are carefully calibrated to work with minimal friction, the expansion of wooden components will also cause resistance, which most pianists will notice in the form of sticking or slow keys, slower action response, and less defined tone.

Increased relative humidity will also affect a piano’s hammer. The tones produced by the wool fibers in the hammer will change when the wool absorbs moisture, further altering how the piano sounds.

Minimizing the Effects of Moisture Changes

As the weather changes with the seasons or a long-distance move, so does the relative humidity. Homes become dryer in the winter and take on more humidity in the summer, but these issues are easy to remedy. Use a furnace humidifier to combat winter dryness and air conditioning to combat summer humidity to minimize these changes.

Adequate preparation prior to a move can also prevent permanent damage from moisture changes. Professional movers know just what to do to avoid cracked soundboards and slipped or damaged strings. They will use moving blankets and secure the piano properly to the truck to avoid unnecessary damage and will bring along enough people to load and unload the heavy instrument without incident.

Reasons for Tuning Issues

There are three reasons that pianos might be out of tune after they have been moved. Their soundboards may have moved or changed in shape, their strings may be stretched out, or their tuning pins may have slipped.

Soundboard Moves

As noted above, changes in moisture are the soundboard’s worst enemy. As the soundboard changes in shape or position, it can cause strings to move along their bridge pins or tuning pins to slip out of place. These issues cause the sound to change.

String Stretch

As a piano’s strings age, they stretch out. This isn’t a bad thing, as it makes their tone more consistent, but it can cause tuning issues after a move. If the strings have stretched out because of changes in the soundboard, the piano will need to be re-tuned when it arrives.

Tuning Pin Slips

Tuning pins are what holds proper string tension, so if they slip out of place, the affected strings will go flat almost immediately after tuning. If this is the case, the piano will need more than just professional tuning. It will need minor repairs.

Servicing a Piano

Pianos should be serviced after a move. A specialized piano tuner will adjust the tuning pins so that each string has the proper tension and produces the right pitch, restoring the instrument to its original sound. Most experts also recommend tuning pianos at least four times during the first year of ownership and twice per year thereafter, as leaving a piano unserviced for too long can cause unnecessary complications when it is finally tuned.

The Bottom Line The primary culprits behind changes in pitch following a move are temperature and subsequent humidity changes. While it’s possible to avoid some of these issues by hiring a professional mover who has experience with pianos, if they plan to move to homes with different climates, musicians should expect to have their pianos tuned soon after.

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