Frequently Asked Questions by Owners
1. Where's the best place to put the piano?
There are a number of factors involved here. Ideally, the best location for a piano, climate-wise, is away from any source of sudden or extreme temperature or humidity change. Translated, this means: Position your piano as far as possible from air conditioning and heating vents, wood burning stoves, radiators, fireplaces, uninsulated outside walls, damp cellars or basements, windows with direct sunlight, windows without shades or drapes, doors or entrances to the outside, heating or cooling appliances, or aquariums or other sources of water such as showers or swimming pools. This is the ideal. However, in real life it is nearly impossible to meet all these conditions.
The reason you want to try and minimize the piano's exposure to humidity fluctuations is because it is made of wood. Wood is somewhat like a sponge in its reaction to moisture. When the humidity is high, wood swells or expands. When humidity is low, wood shrinks or contracts. However, also like a sponge, wood has a limited flexibility that also diminishes with age. Hence humidity fluctuations that are severe or rapid can cause wood to crack or split over time. Temperature fluctuations in and of themselves are not generally problematic, but they do tend to cause humidity variations, so that's why it's wise to be aware of both. A house that is allowed to get very hot will generally tend to become dry or have a low relative humidity; a house that is allowed to get very cold usually tends to become damp or have a high relative humidity. (That is, unless it is being cooled by refrigeration or air conditioning, which tends, on the contrary, to dry out the air.)
Many feel that the best place for a piano is against an inside wall, rather than an outside one. (An inside wall is one that has both sides on the inside of the house.) If your house is well insulated, this probably isn't that important. If, however, you have an older home with little insulation in the walls, or if your windows or walls tend to be good transmitters of the temperature fluctuations outside, then trying to situate the piano nearer an inside wall would probably not be a bad idea. If your windows are sources of either condensation, or direct sunlight, it's best to put drapes or some other effective insulator between the windows and the piano, or move the piano to another location.
Often people find they can't avoid placing a piano near a furnace register. If you have this problem, there is a simple solution: simply close or tape off the vent, or block it with something, so that warm air is not blowing on the piano. Usually there are sufficient outlets in a room so that blocking one off will not cause problems.
Acoustically, it's usually preferable to place a grand with the lid opening outward (sound reflecting off the open lid outward) into the room. If you have the piano positioned so that the lid opens toward the nearest wall, but away from the audience, you may experience a bigger sound sitting at the piano, but your audience may hear less. If you want, you can experiment around with different placements to see which gives you the best overall sound, or which position sounds best from various locations in the room. If the piano is mostly for your own enjoyment while playing, pick the location that gives you the best tone while sitting at the piano.
The visual effect will also have something to do with how you situate the piano. Usually grands look better in some positions than others. Most people generally find the curved part of the rim (part that curves inward) more attractive than the flat side. Presenting the curved side of the piano's rim to the audience also coincides (at least on most grands) with having the lid open out into the room, and is usually the preferred position. Some pianists like to turn the piano slightly so the audience can see their fingers on the keys.
One thing you should try to avoid, if at all possible, with grands, is having the piano's keyboard too close to a wall or corner of the room. When a piano technician works on a grand he/she often has to remove the action, which slides out like a drawer. If the grand is positioned with the bench in a corner or right up against a wall, the technician often has a devil of a time getting the action out. If this happens you will most likely be asked either politely, or not-so politely, to move the grand before he/she will agree to work on it. So please be kind to your technician and his/her back.
With uprights and vertical pianos, unfortunately, there is not a lot of choice, at least in one aspect of how you locate them: they're usually designed to be placed with their backs against the wall (as the backposts are not that visually appealing). However, if necessity requires, you can get a cover for the vertical's back, or use potted plants, judiciously, or other types of screens.
The ultimate position for your piano will likely be a compromise between acoustic, visual, and climate concerns.
by Kendall Ross Bean
2. Is sunlight bad for a piano?
Any direct sunlight, and many degrees of indirect sunlight, will adversely affect a piano. Most of the time the damage shows up first on the cabinet finish, where ultraviolet and infrared rays from the sun will cause a number of conditions that run the gamut from fading to actual blistering of the finish. Since finish fading most often occurs gradually, over time, it may not be noticed until one day somebody closes the fallboard, or the lid foldover on a grand, and discovers, to their dismay, that the portion of the finish that was exposed to light is now several shades lighter than the portion that was covered, and that they now have a two-tone piano. While such a piano can be reshaded, it is expensive, and the only thing that will really restore it to its original appearance is complete refinishing, which is even more expensive. So protect your piano's finish. Keep it out of sunlight.
How much indirect sunlight is permissible? Very little. It's really better to keep your piano pretty much in the shade. A very rough rule-of-thumb is this: Feel a part of your piano's surface that's in the light and then feel a part that's in the shadow. If you feel any sort of temperature differential, then portions of the finish are probably getting too much light and will eventually fade.
Do not rely on window tinting alone to protect a piano from sunlight. It is not effective enough to prevent fading, even if you feel you don't get direct sunlight through the window. Reflected sunlight, especially from a swimming pool or from snow, can cause just as much damage as direct sunlight. Your best protection is drapes or blinds. If it isn't possible to cover the window, get a piano cover.
Sunlight has also been known to cause a piano to go out of tune, usually at the time of day when the sun shines through the window directly on the piano's soundboard. Afterwards, the piano will often, magically, go back into tune, once the heat is off. Direct or large amounts of reflected sunlight can also cause piano wood to warp, crack or split over time.
An old tradition holds that if you keep the keycover (or fallboard) open to the sunlight, the keys won't yellow. There may have been some element of truth to this when piano keys were ivory, for sunlight does tend to bleach ivory keytops. Unfortunately, the material from which most piano keys have been made for at least the past 40 years, plastic, yellows when exposed to ultraviolet rays. And even if you do have ivory keys, exposing them to the sun will fade or deteriorate the piano's finish around them.
by Kendall Ross Bean
3. How can I tell whether the climate in my home is right for the piano?
To check to see whether your piano is encountering the right conditions, you can purchase an inexpensive hygrometer (gauge for measuring moisture in the air) and position it near or on the piano. Observe the gauge over several days, (or ideally, weeks or months) to see how the humidity changes over time and with the seasons. There are many different companies who make humidity gauges: my preference is the kind that is electronic (digital) and has a memory. This type remembers how low and how high the humidity has gone, without your having to watch it all the time. Radio Shack carries a nice pocket sized one for around $25.
Dampp-Chaser"!, a company that makes humidity control devices for pianos, recommends, and designs their products to maintain, a relative humidity of around 42% for pianos. This figure is a compromise, representing an atmospheric moisture content that is not so dry that it will cause the piano's wood and glue joints to shrink and split, but also not so humid that it will promote rusting or oxidation of strings or other metal parts.
The key word here is "change". Aside from an extremely damp or an extremely dry environment, it is not so much any specific humidity level itself that is detrimental to the piano, but how quickly or severely it changes. If the humidity stays relatively constant at 60%, that's o.k. If it stays relatively constant at 30%, that's o.k. too. But if it swings from 30% one day to 60% the next, that's not good. Generally if you keep the piano in a temperature controlled environment that is comfortable for humans, the piano should be o.k. as well. Human beings can usually sense if a room is excessively damp or dry, or hot or cold, and they most often respond by making adjustments to the environment. It's different, however, if a piano is being stored out in an unheated garage or a damp basement where temperature and humidity fluctuations go by unnoticed. And moths, rodents and wood boring beetles seem to thrive in damp environments.
Pianos do not do very well in the tropics. Because of excessive moisture in these regions (often from 70 to 100% relative humidity, especially during the rainy seasons) and also because of relatively severe humidity swings in uninsulated or lightly insulated homes, pianos in island, jungle or rain forest-type environments usually develop rusty strings, sluggish actions and failed glue joints far before their time. Any piano housed in a tropical environment should really be equipped with climate control. In years past, manufacturers tried to build pianos especially intended for tropical climates. These pianos would have additional moisture protective features such as plated strings that resisted rust, soundboards that were not only glued but also screwed to the ribs, and tuning pins that worked without a conventional wood pinblock. However, it was ultimately discovered that climate control was the best preventative measure. Any humidity over about 70%, whether constant or not, is really not good for a piano.
A relatively dry climate, on the other hand, that stays relatively constant, seems to be beneficial to piano longevity. Piano technicians never cease to be amazed at the well-preserved condition of 50 to100-year-old or older pianos that have spent their lives in arid desert or mountain states such as Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Idaho, or Utah, where humidity often stays at or below 30%. Soundboards and strings on these pianos often still look like new, without cracks or corrosion.
The West Coast of the United States (California, Oregon and Washington) also seems to be a good environment for pianos, even though the relative humidity is higher (generally around 40 to 60%.) Because of the temperature moderating effect of the ocean, humidity levels within 50 to 100 miles of the coast seem to stay relatively constant, except for the occasional rainstorm and seasonal changes. Pianos that have spent their lives in California often have few or no cracks in the soundboards, although there may be some light oxidation on the strings. But California also has hundreds of varying local "micro-climates." For example, there can be problems within 2 to 3 miles of the ocean or on a peninsula like San Francisco, or along the Southern California beachfront communities. Salt in the air and fog from the sea tends to accelerate the rusting of strings and other metal parts, even though the wood parts seem to do all right. For this reason, try not to store your fine Steinway in a beach house or seaside cottage, or in an unheated mountain cabin. Salt water tends to be the most corrosive, but there are also problems near freshwater lakes, rivers and other large bodies of water.
The Eastern seaboard states seem to present a difficult environment for pianos. The combination of hot humid summers, alternating with the freezing winter temperatures that require central heating to be in use almost constantly during the winter months, drying out the air indoors, are undoubtedly the reason we see so many pianos from that region with large numbers of cracks in the soundboards, and loose tuning pins. In addition, the continued use of coal for heating in some eastern states also causes pianos to be coated, inside and out, with a fine black powder or soot that is difficult or impossible to remove without rebuilding the instrument and/or replacing complete sets of parts and felts.
My rule of thumb is that any climate that never goes above 65%, varies no more than 20 percentage points between extremes (i.e. between 40 and 60%) and does so gradually over several weeks or months, is probably all right for a piano. Any situation other than that can undoubtedly benefit from climate control, either for the room or building, or for the piano itself (as with using a Dampp-Chaser"! or other local climate control device.)
One of the most important things to keep in mind, when considering climate control issues, is that indoor and outdoor climate can be two completely different things. For example, the outdoor climate in a certain locale in winter may be 60% humidity or over, but the climate indoors may be 30% or less because, say, the family leaves the heater set to 75 degrees or over. Since the piano is, in most cases, housed indoors and not outdoors, the indoor climate is the one of greatest concern.
by Kendall Ross Bean
4. It it true that it's best to keep the lid on my grand closed?
One of a piano's worst enemies is dust. Dust that settles in the piano through an open lid can cause additional wear on moving parts, lodge in the copper windings of bass strings and cause them to go tubby, or coat the soundboard and muffle the sound. Keeping the lid of a grand closed when not in use can greatly cut down on the amount of dust particles settling on the piano, although some will still get in around and through the cracks. Accumulated layers of dust are not only visually unappealing, but dust that clings to the strings can promote oxidation or rusting.
There are, however, a number of people who prefer the looks of the grand with the lid up. Personally, I think it looks more imposing and stylish that way, and it also prevents people from stacking music, photographs, potted plants and throw rugs on top. For those who like to keep the lid up, a piano string felt cover is available. Basically all this is is a sheet of felt in the color of your choice, cut to fit inside the piano and over the strings and tuning pins. In many cases this has proven even more effective than closing the lid; many piano technicians have testified that it actually keeps the strings bright and shiny, like-new. You don't have even have to remove it to play the piano. It will cut down on the amount of sound slightly, but many actually find this desirable, especially if the volume of sound was a little too imposing to begin with.
By the way, one good reason to keep piano bass strings covered is to keep little, and also larger, fingers off of them. Bass strings, being bare copper, should not be touched. It won't be immediately apparent, but no matter how clean you think they are, your fingers still leave oils on the copper windings, and, over time, dark spots will appear where the strings were touched.
Also, keep your eye on young children around the piano, or keep the keycover down and locked. It takes only a moment for them to drive a metal toy car down highway 88, leaving permanent scratches on your keytops. By the way, a new set of keytops is $300 to $500. How do I know? Well, one day some customers brought their small children into our piano showroom and turned their backs for a moment...
If your children are old enough to understand, tell them: "Nothing but fingers on the keys."
In the same vein it may not be wise to leave the lid up on a grand if you have small, inquisitive children who like to go exploring. Grand lids are fairly heavy, and it often doesn't take much to knock over the lid prop. Also, it's not a good idea to allow children to play under a grand: often the leg locks can be knocked loose, or haven't been properly locked in place by the movers.
by Kendall Ross Bean
5. What do I dust my piano with?
The thing we have found works best is a yellow treated dusting cloth. These are generally made of flannel or some other soft fabric, and contain an antistatic chemical that attracts dust to the cloth rather than leaving clumps and dribbles of it on the piano, as happens with other types of dusters. These dust cloths can generally be found at hardware and janitorial stores, variety and drugstores, and even at supermarkets. After dusting your piano the cloth can be shaken out, vacuumed off, or even washed and re-treated. As long as you don't pick up sharp or abrasive particles on it, it won't scratch the piano. Try not to let too much dust pile up, over time, either on the piano or on the dust cloth. Dust itself is abrasive; excessive amounts of dust can leave minute scratches on the finish.
A lamb's wool duster is probably the next best thing to a cloth, because it is also soft. But unlike the dust cloth, it tends to leave dust residue, and may also leave fine scratches if you're not careful, or if you inadvertantly pick up a piece of grit in it.
Feather dusters are, in my opinion, a distant third choice. Depending on the type of feathers they are made of, and how old they are, they may scratch the finish, and I have found they really tend to scatter dust more than pick it up. The best feather dusters are made of ostrich feathers, and are available at janitorial supply houses. The cheap kind they sell at variety stores and supermarkets are made of inferior feathers and inevitably leave scratches and spread dust.
In a pinch, if you don't have a treated cloth, there's always a damp cloth. For stubborn fingerprints, squirt a little soft soap or Windex on the rag. Cloth diapers, or an old white cotton T-shirt, make good dusting cloths. Whatever you use, it needs to be soft enough not to scratch the finish.
by Kendall Ross Bean
6. What do I clean my piano keys with?
For both ivory and the newer plastic keytops, I generally use a water-dampened terry towel. Terry towels are very absorbent and and the loops tend to pick up and hold dirt well. White or undyed terry towels are best. These are often sold as "shop" or "all purpose" towels at hardware or janitorial supply stores. For stubborn dirt you can use a little Ivory"! or other brand soft soap on the towel. Dampen part of the towel and leave the rest dry (or, if you desire, use two towels, a damp one, and then a dry one.) Scrub the keys first with the dampened portion of the towel and then buff with the dry. Don't forget to clean the tops and sides of the black keys as well. The best thing is to clean regularly: don't let dirt build up to the point you have to do a lot of scrubbing to get it off. If you've done a good job the keys should feel wonderfully smooth when you get through.
by Kendall Ross Bean
7. What do I clean my piano's cabinet with?
Often this question is asked by the person who owns an ebony satin finish piano and can't figure out how to get the fingerprints off. A satin finish piano has minute burnishing scratches on the finish's surface that give it that matte or rubbed look. Both ebony (black) and clear (wood grain) finishes come in satin but the ebony satin ones seem to show the fingerprints the most. Grease and oils from fingers get trapped down in those miniscule furrows and are difficult to get out. Manufacturers of satin finish pianos, like Steinway, recommend you don't wax or polish their piano, but simply wipe it with a dampened cloth. Using wax or polish will ultimately remove the satinization and make the piano glossy.
The problem is, simply using a damp cloth, even if you rub hard, doesn't always get the fingerprints out, because water alone won't dissolve grease. You really need some kind of solvent. Different piano technicians and refinishers will usually have some secret formula or preferred cleaner they like to recommend, but usually something like a few drops of Ivory"! soap or Windex"! sprayed on the dampened cloth should be sufficient to get the fingerprints off. Put the soap or solvent on the dampened cloth, not on the piano, and rub in the direction of the burnishing. (Spraying Windex or soap solution directly on the piano may leave spots or damage the finish. Diluted with the water in the cloth, however, it shouldn't cause problems. Make sure you wipe the piano dry afterwards and don't leave streaks or moisture.) Usually this method works well for newer pianos or finishes that haven't been waxed. For older pianos that have a buildup of wax or polish on them, see below. (The glass cleaner, which contains ammonia, will tend to remove wax.) For stubborn streaks or fingerprints you can try a product like JASCO® furniture cleaner and wax stripper, available at certain hardware and paint stores. Apply with a soft cloth, according to the directions on the bottle; or in difficult cases, use a little superfine steel wool (see below.)
If your hand-rubbed or satin finish has superficial scratches or wear marks in places, or stubborn fingerprints or packing marks, you can rub it out again, or resatinize it, using a suitable abrasive pad to restore the burnishing or sheen. The usual thing dealers and refinishers use for this are Scotchbrite"! pads (the gray or red type you get at hardware, paint or auto body stores, not the green ones you use for pots and pans) or #0000 superfine steel wool. Rub in the direction of the original burnishing marks. When you think you're done, wipe it off with a chamois, or a terry towel, to see the final result. If, when you get through, the spot you worked on is less shiny than the rest of the piano, buff with the towel until the sheens match. When resatinizing, try to make your burnishing lines as straight and uniform as possible, to match the original hand rubbing. To make the effect more uniform and consistent, when doing larger areas, back up the steel wool or Scotchbrite pad with a felt or wood block, instead of using just your hand. As with polishing, each time you rub out a piano you remove a little of the finish. But as long as you don't go overboard, you should be able to touch up a piano this way many times. Watch those edges, though. It's easy to go through the paint.
Our recommendation is that on newer pianos with finishes that still look good you don't put wax or polish on them but simply clean them. When the piano starts to get older and the finish begins to deteriorate, then you can cover it up with wax or polish, which acts as a supplementary top coat.
The other type of piano finish you encounter, the high gloss finish, is usually made of a very tough type of polyester or polyurethane that is similar to plexiglass. Windex"!, or another suitable glass cleaner, believe it or not, is what piano dealers themselves often use to clean high gloss polyester finish pianos. When you buy a new high gloss finish piano, they usually provide you one of two things: either 1) a polishing mitt (which is similar to the treated dusting cloth mentioned above, only it's in the shape of a mitten you can put over your hand) or 2) a bottle of piano polish. (Certain Asian piano makers provide a bottle of silicone polish with the piano that you can use take care of fingerprints or smudges, and make it nice and shiny. The only trouble is, silicone has been associated recently with a number of piano- and finish- related ills and problems. Read on.) We recommend, again, that you use the mitt and forget the polish. At least for now.
by Kendall Ross Bean
8. What do I polish my piano with?
This can get tricky, so read carefully.
There are many different philosophies about polishing fine furniture such as pianos. One theory, endorsed by Steinway and other piano manufacturers, is that the finish itself provides adequate protection for the piano, and is really designed to last for many years (without polish or wax) before needing to be redone. These manufacturers subscribe to the "damp cloth" school of polishing, i.e., don't put anything on the finish. One reason for this is that waxing or polishing will ultimately destroy the satin sheen of the piano and make it glossy. Another reason is because there are many waxes and polishes on the market that are incompatible with the nitrocellulose lacquer used as a finish on satin pianos, and will actually react with it in detrimental or destructive ways, or cause problems down the line when refinishing the piano. A third reason is because people often switch polishes, or forget what kind of polish they originally used, and different types of polish are often not compatible with each other.
A second theory holds that, just as the piano's finish protects the piano's wood, the finish also needs to be protected. So, the theory goes, you need to apply an additional coating on top of your finish to protect it from sunlight and ultraviolet rays, keep it from drying out, cracking or fading, feed it, nourish it, etc., etc. Slogans such as "our product feeds and preserves your finish" are representative of this school of thought. Polishes promoted by those who subscribe to this mentality are usually advertised as being "specially formulated" to be compatible with your finish. Whether they really are or not is a subject of much controversy among finishers and chemists. Much is simply advertising hype. Some of the rationale for this theory comes from the same logic used to promote sealants and protectants for automotive dashboards. This line of reasoning argues that there are plasticizers and other chemicals in your dash (or finish) that are constantly drying out or evaporating due to exposure to sunlight and other antagonists in the atmosphere. The use of a protectant, it is explained, is necessary 1) as a barrier against ultraviolet rays and corrosive contaminants in the air, and 2) to replenish the plasticizers that have already evaporated. Again, there is much controversy over the true mechanism at work here, and whether it really works the way they say it does.
A third theory is that a polish or wax is needed to restore your piano's finish. After so many years, this thinking goes, your piano's finish, and appearance, is starting to deteriorate, and a substance is needed to rejuvenate your finish and restore it to it's original luster or sheen. It is true that a wax or polish will often provide a new "topcoat" so to speak, for a finish that has lost it's shine or uniformity. Whether or not it actually "restores" what's underneath, or has any salutary effect at all on your finish, is again, dubious. Polishes that fall in this category include ones that may have various colors of pigment or dye in them, to fill or cover scratches, or to make a faded finish appear darker and richer. Such products are usually identified by the words "scratch cover" or "furniture restorer" on the container. Some examples of this type of polish are "Old English"! and Howards"!.
A possible fourth theory is sort of a redefinition of the word polish to mean "clean." Some newer formulations on the market, designed specifically for satin finish pianos, do not actually leave a coating or residue but work by simply removing dirt, fingerprints and smudges. The solvents in these polishes, like those in glass cleaner, simply evaporate or flash off as you rub, leaving the dirt and oils in the cloth and little or nothing on the piano surface. Such polishes have an advantage in that they will not tend to eradicate the sheen of a satin or "rubbed" finish piano. They are similar to rubbing with a damp cloth or with Windex"!.
In recent years there has been much controversy over the use of silicone in furniture polishes. About 30 years ago, furniture polish companies discovered that silicone, or silicone oil, was a wonderful, slippery, space-age substance that seemed an excellent agent in which to suspend wax particles in furniture polish. Using silicone solved a number of problems then plaguing the furniture polish industy, problems such as: Wax build-up (silicone could dissolve or displace previous layers of wax, which eliminated having to deal with multiple previously applied layers of hardened wax); the difficulty of getting wax through the tip of a spray can (silicone greased the passage and kept the wax particles in suspension); difficulty in application (with old paste wax products you would apply it, wait 15 minutes, then buff, buff, buff. It was hard work. With silicone, you could just spray and wipe. That was it.) Silicone had all these advantages, and didn't seem to have any liabilities, at least, none that they could see at the time. Silicone, a polymer, (or chain type molecule) formulated from various combinations of silicon and oxygen atoms, was subsequently used rather indiscriminately in a wide variety of furniture preparations, most notably aerosol polishes and dusting formulations.
Over the years, however, serious problems with silicone became apparent, most notably when refinishing, tuning, or servicing pianos. Piano refinishers discovered, to their dismay, that silicone would penetrate the finish on most pianos and be absorbed directly into the wood, where it would become nearly impossible to remove. Attempting to refinish over silicone contamination, as it has come to be called among refinishers, has proven to be very difficult, if not impossible, and, despite preventative measures and precautions, often results in a number of finish defects and abnormalities the known to the industry as fish-eye, hazing, cloudiness, or adhesion problems. Silicone contamination is often not possible to detect until after the new finish is applied; and even if the refinisher restrips the piano and does it over again, there is no guarantee that the finish will not have future problems. Suffice to say, refinishers hate doing pianos that have been polished with products containing silicone.
In addition, one of silicone's strengths is also it's downfall. Being a super slippery substance, it also tends creep or migrate; in other words, it doesn't stay put. A careless overspray from an aerosol can while dusting, or setting the cloth down for a moment in the wrong place, can cause the polish to wander into your tuning pins and pinblock, where the slippery silicone can wreak havoc with the tuning pins' ability to stay put. (While we're on slippery space age substances, have you ever asked yourself, if teflon is so slippery, how does it stick to the pan that's coated with it? Another mystery to be solved.) Action parts and felts that absorb silicone may be difficult to repair or replace at a later date, because silicone, being slippery, resists gluing.
It is true that some of the polishes supplied with, and recommended for, new high gloss polyester finish pianos, contain silicone. A polyester finish, being thicker and harder than a traditional nitrocellolose lacquer finish, may be more impervious to silicone contamination than other types of finishes. However, the fact is that anything used on the outside of the piano sooner or later usually finds its way inside, and even polyester finishes have cracks and seams through which the silicone can migrate into the wood underneath. That alone is sufficient reason for us to recommend you try and find an alternative that does not contain silicone. As an alternate for polishing/cleaning high gloss pianos, Meguiar's Mirror Glaze line of polishes (or equivalent products by 3M or other manufacturers), available at auto body supply or hardware stores, is something we have found excellent over the years. We use either Meguiar's #7 Show Car Glaze, or #5 New Car Glaze, neither of which contain silicone. Meguiar's also has a product called Hand Polish and another called Swirl Free Polish, which should work as well. To remove light scratches try their #9 Swirl Remover. There are also other products they offer to remove deeper scratches or defects. Meguiars also offers a line of waxes, but their spokesperson informed me that the waxes contain silicone. The above mentioned polishes, however, do not. Look for labelling on the product which states "contains no silicone" or "paintable", to find polishes without silicone.
Finally, it is important to remember that if you do choose to polish or wax your piano, that you try and stick with one product. Oil-based polishes will not mix with wax and vice versa. If possible, try and find out if the polish you're considering using has any incompatibilities with nitrocellulose lacquer or polyester, the types of finishes used mainly on pianos today. Do a compatibility test: Apply the polish to a small inconspicuous area of the piano, much as you would if trying a new cleaning solution on a garment or upholstery, leave it for a few days to a week, and see if anything undesirable happens. Check to see also if it buffs up easily, or if it forms splotches and smudges.
If the piano has been previously waxed, but you don't know what kind of wax or polish was used, try to find out, if at all possible, and continue to use the same formula. If, however, it remains a mystery, do the compatibility test (above). If the polish you are currently using is compatible with what's already on there, it should look o.k. If the polishes are not compatible, the polish you are applying will tend to pick up what is already on the piano and move it around in smudges and splotches. When you try to buff it with a dry towel, there will be sticky stuff remaining that will not buff to a shine. If this is the case you have two alternatives: 1) try to continue polishing and moving the smudges around until you ultimately move them off the piano, or 2) remove the existing coats of wax or polish and start afresh. Both alternatives are equally tedious, but if the existing coats or buildup are really thick, your best bet is to try and remove them before applying the new coat.
In order to remove an old coat or coats of polish or wax, you need something strong enough to dissolve the wax but not damage the finish underneath. There are a number of products available for doing this. One of them is called JASCO® furniture cleaner and wax stripper, and is available at certain hardware and paint stores. The Jasco cleaner is fairly mild and is designed (i.e. intended) not to affect the finish underneath. However, if the buildup is thick, or hard, or if you have additional problems like nicotine contamination from people smoking around the piano, you may have to use a more aggressive ammonia-based cleaner, that can dissolve wax, but which hopefully won't also soften the finish underneath (good luck!).
Windex"! and other brands of glass cleaners often contain a mild solution of ammonia. To tell whether your piano has a wax buildup, remove the surface dust, then spray a little Windex on a cloth and rub the finish. If there is wax or polish on the piano it will come off on the rag. Usually wax is yellow or brown in color, but may also be green or gray. Nicotine contamination is dark yellow to dark brown, tends to appear on the rag as a host of little dark specks, and usually smells of smoke or tobacco. For serious wax or nicotine buildup on a piano, it's probably best to have it cleaned by a furniture professional.
by Kendall Ross Bean
9. How do I clean the inside of my piano?
A thorough cleaning of the inside of your piano, including the areas under the strings and plate, is really best left to a qualified tuner or technician. There are still a number of things you can do yourself, however, to keep the dust from piling up so thick.
On a grand, you can use the brush attachment on a hose-type vacuum cleaner to remove dust from the area under the lid: the tuning pins, strings, plate (the big gold harp), and the portions of the soundboard that are not covered by strings. Remove the music desk in order to get to the tuning pin area. A soft bristled paintbrush (with fairly long bristles) can be used in conjunction with the vacuum to get down between the tuning pins, and to clean the bridges between the bridgepins. Be careful cleaning around the dampers (the felt and wood assemblies that rest on top of the strings). You can vacuum the damper heads (the wood part), or wipe them off with a dusting cloth, if you are careful not to twist or dislodge them from their normal resting position on the strings. You can also vacuum the bass strings, but try not to touch them with your fingers.
On a vertical or upright piano, you can remove the lower panel and, with a hose and brush or crevice tool, vacuum up the dust that has fallen in the bottom of the piano and around the pedal levers and rods. You can also vacuum the plate, soundboard and bridges in the lower part of the piano. Unfortunately you cannot easily do this with the upper half of the piano because the keys and action parts are in the way. If you know how to remove the lid and upper panel/music shelf on your piano, you can vacuum down inside around the keys behind the fallboard. Anything else requires further disassembly of the instrument.
If you have a tool called a soundboard steel, and know how to use it, you can attempt to clean under the strings, but unless you know what you're doing, it's easy to put scratches in the soundboard, or knock strings out of tune. Best to leave it, as well as the cleaning of delicate action parts, for the tuner.
by Kendall Ross Bean
10. How do I move my piano (within the room or the house)?
Most moving of larger grands or taller old uprights is best left to professional piano movers, who have the expertise and the equipment to do the job without hurting themselves or the piano.
Grand moves from one room to another are tricky, because unless you have a set of double doors or a passageway wide enough to get the piano through on its legs, the piano will have to be put on its side and the legs and pedal lyre removed. This is a job best left to the pros.
Generally, if you are careful, you can move a piano away from a wall, for cleaning, or to another part of the room, if you are rearranging furniture, or sometimes from one room to another.
One of the things most likely to sustain damage in such a move, besides you, and the piano, is the floor. Take measures to protect it. One point to bear in mind is that those little wheels (called casters) that come with pianos are not really designed to roll, and in 9 cases out of 10 will not, either because they are frozen, poorly designed, or too small. Larger rubber casters, particularly the ones with double wheels, that you find on many studio-type, institutional, or stage pianos, usually roll o.k. across wood floors, or across carpet that is not too thick, if you are careful. The worst that usually happens with rubber casters is one will refuse to turn and leave a skid mark, which can usually be wiped off. If you value your hardwood floors, linoleum, or carpet, however, do not attempt to roll a piano with metal casters across the floor. Brass, steel or cast iron casters will do serious damage to hardwood floors, tile, and linoleum, and will often bunch up or tear carpet.
For smooth floors, if you have floor protectors or caster cups under the wheels of the piano, you may be able to just slide the piano on the caster cups. But sometimes the caster cups tend to get dislodged, if you are not careful how much you lift the piano when you move it. (All you really have to lift is enough to relieve some of the weight, not so much that you lift the wheel out of the cup.) Sometimes you can secure the caster cup to the piano with tape or some other means so it doesn't come off. If someone has had the foresight to install felt or leather on the bottom of the caster cups, they will usually slide fairly easily across hardwood or smooth floors. Otherwise, watch out for any sign of scratches, and if it looks like the caster cups are going to leave marks on the floor, put cardboard under them, or remove them and insert thick cardboard between the piano's wheels and the floor. Some caster cups are made of rubber and don't slide very well, others are too small and don't stay in place. It's best to remove these and use something between piano and floor that slides, like cardboard, or a thick piece of carpet or fabric, or a piece of plywood with some felt on the bottom. Also see What Are Caster Cups, below.
The key to moving a piano is to get two or three people, position one person at each corner of the piano, and lift the piano as you move it so that a minimum of weight is on the casters.
Always lower the lid on a grand before attempting to move it: it can come off the stick suddenly and fall with a great deal of force on fingers, hands or anything else that happens to be in the way. Always check the leg locks, to make sure that the legs on a grand are securely locked in place, before attempting to move it.
When you move a grand, or a vertical piano that has unreinforced front legs, be especially careful that the legs do not catch on things like floor vents or registers, or door thresholds (if you're trying to go from one room to another): the legs can actually break off. If your piano has metal casters that can damage carpet or hardwood floors, you can use thick cardboard under the casters. Professional movers will nearly always put the piano on a dolly with large rubber wheels, even if they're only moving it across a room or from one room to another.
Moving a piano down a hall and into another room is often problematic, because often you can't get the piano around a corner, or the hall isn't wide enough to turn the piano. Most pianos are designed to fit through standard doorways, but that doesn't mean you may not have to take the door off its hinges to get the piano through. Often piano movers have to put pianos on their ends to get them through certain doorways and around corners. But it is almost never necessary to disassemble a piano to get it through a door. If you can't get a piano around a corner, it's time to call a professional mover.
Do not attempt to move a piano up and down stairs yourself. Call the movers.
Do not attempt to move a piano yourself across a tile floor or entryway. Call the movers, who will lay down plywood across the tile and use a dolly that will distribute the piano's weight properly, so that the tile is not damaged.
Do not try to move a piano outdoors on dirt, grass, gravel, brick, or any slope or unlevel surface. It's too easy for the piano to get away from you. Call the movers.
Larger old uprights and grands can often weigh 800 to 1000 lbs, or more. With any piano, but especially with these larger ones, it's important to make sure the casters and/or legs are in good condition and securely attached before attempting to move the piano, even a short distance or away from a wall. Lower the lid on a grand before moving it, and close the keycover or fallboard on both grands and uprights. Make sure you are not wearing belt buckles, rivets, or other metal objects on on your clothes that could scratch the piano. Grand legs should be solidly attached to the case, without cracks, failed glue joints, or broken lock plates; grand leg locks should be checked to make sure they are securely in position.
Both uprights and grands should be checked to make sure that one corner does not have a block of wood or other supporting object under it, because of a missing or broken caster. When such a piano is moved and inadvertently comes off the block, it may lean or fall forward or backward unexpectedly, with possibly disastrous results. Older uprights, especially the taller ones, tend to be top-heavy. Be aware of this and be prepared. If you have any doubts that you can move the piano safely, call in a pro.
by Kendall Ross Bean
11. What are caster cups and how and when do you use them?
In the interest of protecting hardwood floors, carpet, and other types of floor coverings from the impressions inevitably left by the wheels (casters) of 1/4 to 1/2 ton pianos, caster cups were invented. These are little round disks about 3 1/2" to 5 1/2" in diameter and available in a number of different materials, sizes and colors to match either your piano, your carpet, or some other part of your decor, and designed to be placed between your piano's wheels and the floor or carpet. The plastic 5 1/2" ones you often see in piano stores under Asian-made pianos are usually available in brown, black, or white, and I understand one distributor now has Lucite ones in brown, black or clear. More elegant genuine hardwood (maple) caster cups are also available in small (3 1/2"), medium (4 1/2") or large (5 1/2"), in a variety of different colors . These caster cups designed for pianos and other heavy furniture are seldom available from local hardware stores. They are a specialty item and usually have to be obtained from a piano tuner, piano store, or music store, or you can order them through us here at Pianofinders. They generally cost from $25. to $60. a set, depending on how fancy you want to get.
Caster cups also help keep a piano from rolling away if the pianos caster's tend to roll easily (usually a rare occurrence!). Some people also feel caster cups look stylish or classy. (Others prefer the look of the brass wheels alone.)
I would always use caster cups under a piano on a hardwood floor or similar smooth surface I wanted to protect. With carpet, however, the reasons for using them aren't quite the same or quite as clear to many people. One of the reasons they are often used on carpet, though, is because pianos tend to sink into the pile to the point where where it interferes with the pedals, or to where some people have a hard time getting their knees under the keyboard. In such situations, caster cups are useful in raising the piano out of the depths. Another reason is because certain types of metal piano wheels (casters) often tend to rust or tarnish (even brass wheels will turn green) and that ultimately will discolor your floor covering.
The use of large caster cups on carpet is somewhat controversial. The main difficulty arises when the piano is moved elsewhere, but the impressions left by the caster cups remain, which may have been sitting there, underneath a 500+ lb. piano, for quite some time. Some feel it is better to have only the small impression left by the caster itself, rather than a large 5" impression left by a caster cup, especially if for whatever reason the impression does not readily go away, i.e. if the pad under the carpet is not real high quality or resilient enough to spring back.
In my own experience, I have never come across a carpet that does not eventually recover, after some brushing or vacuuming; and we have had numerous grands in our living rooms over the years, of all sizes, and used the 5" plastic caster cups underneath the wheels. In addition, the 5" plastic caster cups are not completely solid on their underside: most of the ones I've seen have recesses and spaces so the carpet is not pressed completely flat. I don't have a lot of experience with the wood caster cups however, and they are usually solid and flat on the bottom. However this may simply distribute the total weight more evenly. I only mention this because our movers told me they were concerned after seeing the impressions, in many homes, left by large caster cups on carpet, so I thought I would pass it on, for what it is worth. A lot may depend on the length of time the piano is there, the quality of the pad, the thickness of the carpet, etc.
Both wood and plastic caster cups may slide with the the piano (more or less) on hardwood or other smooth floors if you need to move the piano locally. But either may still scratch the floor, so if you are contemplating being able to slide the piano on a smooth floor or surface in the future, you should glue a circle of felt or leather to the bottom of the cups before installing them under the piano, to facilitate their sliding and to further protect the floor. Many people with hardwood floors do this, and also glue felt or leather to the ends of the legs of the piano bench, so they won't leave marks. Some types of caster cups come already pre-felted on the bottom. If you are careful to just take the piano's weight off the legs, the caster cups will usually move along with them. If you lift the leg too high, the caster cups will be left behind. Again, this requires a certain degree of skill and coordination, and some caster cups are just obstinate, so some people find it easier just to remove the caster cups and put some good sized sheets of thick cardboard under the casters for sliding the piano.
Only wooden caster cups that are smooth and flat on the underside (without recesses) will slide across carpet, (and not in all cases; --sometimes they just refuse to budge.) The plastic ones usually have recesses on the underside that grip the carpet the same way those carpet protector mats with the hundreds of little spikes on the bottom do. You might want to consider that when choosing between the two types. (Am I going to want to or need to slide the piano across carpet?) On carpet, though, with either type of cup, it may be easiest to simply remove the caster cups, move the piano, and them replace them.
Regardless of whether you are sliding the piano across smooth floors, or carpet, or whether you have caster cups or not, always try to get some help and lift at least some of the weight off the casters and/or cups as you move. You may be able to devise some clever way to tape or secure the caster cups to the wheels or legs, when sliding a piano, so they don't come off. See also How do I move my piano, above.
As always, make sure the lid on a grand is closed (lowered), and the legs are securely locked in place before attempting this. Simply lifting the leg or corner of a grand can cause a raised lid to come off the lid prop, or cause an unlocked leg to come loose.
To install caster cups under a piano, first get the piano into the position where you want it. Then, with two people, have one person lift each corner (leg) of a grand in turn, or each end of the vertical, just high enough off the floor for the other person to slip the caster cup underneath. With larger grands or uprights you may need a couple of people to lift. Watch your fingers, and try to stay out from under the piano.
by Kendall Ross Bean
12. What can you tell me about piano climate control systems?
There are basically two approaches to piano climate control: 1) You control the climate in the room or building the piano is in, or 2) You control the climate in the immediate vicinity of the piano. Since controlling the climate in the building or room is generally more difficult or expensive for home owners, requiring an investment, usually, in larger and more expensive equipment, most opt for local control in the immediate area of the piano itself.
In moderate climates, you may not need climate control. The first thing to do is to get some type of hygrometer or humidity gauge and put it on or near the piano. If the humidity stays fairly steady, and is not too damp or too dry (see above, under How can I tell if the climate in my home is right for my piano?) you may not need it.
There are some caveats to using climate control devices. Usually they are supplied with both a humidifier and a dehumidifier, and a humidistat which turns either one or the other on, or both off when the humidity in the piano's vicinity reaches the objective of around 42%. Sometimes, depending on the particular area of the country and the local humidity conditions, a technician will install only the humidifier or the dehumidifier. The humidistat, however, should always be installed along with one or the other.
In order for the dehumidifier or the humidifier to work, they have to be plugged in continuously to a source of AC power (wall outlet). If you have a dehumidifier, it also has to be refilled regularly with water. If you don't feel you can meet these requirements consistently, it would probably be better not to have the climate control.
The most popular climate control system made for pianos today (and also probably the most complete) is the Dampp-Chaser"! System. Included in their climate control systems are features such as warning lights to let you know when the water is low, and special refill tools to make it convenient for you to fill the humidifier with the right amount of water, as the device is usually located inside a vertical piano or up under a grand where it is sometimes difficult to refill the tank by ordinary means. The climate control device can be purchased from, and installed by your piano technician, or Dampp-Chaser"! has available a list of installers in your area, at their website.
The general consensus is that pianos with a humidity control system stay in tune longer and hold up better, if the device is properly installed and maintained. If you have a moderately or more expensive instrument that you want to preserve for a long time, a climate control system would certainly be worth your consideration, even if you do live in a moderate climate. If you live in the tropics, or in areas of either extreme dampness or dryness, or severe humidity swings, climate control is strongly recommended. For more specific information, contact Dampp-Chaser"! at the links above, or contact us here at Piano Finders.
by Kendall Ross Bean
13. Should I let my children play underneath the grand?
No. Although it seems like fun, this is a bad idea. The leg locks on a grand can get knocked loose, and sometimes movers inadvertently neglect to tighten them properly after setting up the piano. The results of a leg coming loose when someone is underneath the piano could be tragic. I can't tell you the number of times I have checked the leg locks on a grand, before working under it, and found them loose. Remember, the only things between that 500+ lbs of grand piano suspended in the air, and the floor, are those three legs.
While we're on the subject of grand safety, it's also not a good idea to leave the lid up on a grand if you have small (or not-so-small) inquisitive children. It's too easy for a lid prop to get knocked out of place. Some piano manufacturers now even make "soft-fall" fallboards (key covers) that come down slowly if knocked over. (Even a fallboard can be heavy enough to hurt small, or not so small, fingers if it falls on them.)
If you have one of those European or Asian "modern" style verticals that has no front legs, check to make sure how stable it is. Sometimes they have a tendency to fall over frontways. (Also, any vertical piano where the front legs have come off or been removed can be unstable.) There have been numerous reports recently of children climbing on or pulling on top-heavy objects such as bookshelves, dressers or other top-heavy objects that weren't anchored securely to the wall, and having them fall over on them. Today more and more people with small children are securing top heavy or unstable furniture to the wall. You can buy kits to do this at the hardware store.
by Kendall Ross Bean
14. Where can I view a table or other information that tells me which note on the staff or keyboard those letters refer to? I'm a professional musician, well-versed with the notes of the scale and theory in general, but am mystified when it comes to identifying, for instance, the range of a piece of vocal music - "low" D to "high A" just isn't very precise, or trying to explain to a technician on the phone which E-flat I'm having trouble with.
The situation is that this is a problem that has plagued musicians for centuries. I did some research and found that even today, although several labelling systems are in common use, there is not really one that has been officially accepted or standardized by the music community at large.I have posted some info that may be helpful to you (and I hope others) about the results of my research (and I did a lot! This is an extremely interesting subject!) I also included some diagrams of which keys D1 or C3 might refer to. I think the system that you are probably talking about is the one I describe in Figure 1. Hopefully this is the system that others of your acquaintance will be using as well. However, if you read the entire article, you will see why this is such a confusing subject, as there has been not one but many systems in use, and it's important to make sure which system a person might be referring to. Also included is a system that piano tuners and technicians use nowadays.
My article is at: What to Call the Keys
by Kendall Ross Bean