Why Won’t My Piano Hold A Tune? Part 2

Aug 16, 2017

There comes a time in the life of a piano where it gets increasingly more difficult to produce a quality tuning or have the instrument function properly without major repairs. In some cases, the piano doesn’t really warrant the repairs necessary to make it playable.

In part 1 of this blog series, I discussed two (easily fixable) reasons on why a piano might not be able to hold a stable tune, along with some takeaways for piano owners. If you own one of these instruments, that blog is for you! It would benefit you to read it before jumping into this one. That being said, in this post I want to talk about tuning stability and the piano’s pinblock as it relates to the:

  • Age of the piano
  • Quality (or craftsmanship) of the piano
  • Wear and tear on the piano

When a piano is tuned, it’s done so by turning what’s called a tuning pin. The average number of these in a piano is 230, all which are turned during the process of a regular maintenance tuning job. Each of the tuning pins are mounted on what is called a pinblock.

If your piano is in a stable, climate controlled environment (following the piano placement guidelines) but still not sounding great, it could be the pinblock. These three areas below can definitely overlap, but we’re going to try and look at each one individually!


Instrument Age

Pianos are mechanical, and just like a car or computer, the older they get the harder it becomes to keep them in good working condition. As I mentioned before, all pianos are manufactured with tuning pins and a pinblock. When the piano is first built, holes for the tuning pins are drilled slightly smaller than the actual pin. This makes for a very tight fit, helping it to resist the force of the string tension. As a piano ages, the pinblock holes can become enlarged, allowing the pins to become loose and lose their torque.

Wood is absolutely ideal for piano construction but over time it loses moisture content and drys out. Basically, this is what causes the holes in the pinblock to get bigger. I should note that this is not usually seen in pianos younger than 50 years.

If you have a family piano that’s been passed down for generations, this is probably worth looking into, especially if it seems to be getting harder to maintain playability and the instrument sounds terrible no matter what you do.


Quality Craftsmanship

Speaking of cherished family heirlooms, this brings me to my next point: what brand of piano do you own? Not only that, but what kind of sentimental value does it have to you? These questions are especially important in regards to the pinblock not working properly, mainly because this is an expensive repair if it’s evident the pinblock needs to be replaced.

Most of the time, the piano does not warrant the repairs. There are some brands that are worth spending the money to fix, such as Steinway. Unfortunately, most older brands do not have the rebuilt value to justify paying for a replacement.

Sometimes the pinblock can become cracked or the lamination of the pinblock may separate, thus causing tuning instability. David Estey, a registered piano technician, has some great diagrams and information on the piano’s pinblock.

In some cases, a pinblock may be repaired or replaced, but this is dictated by the quality and value of the instrument, sentimental value, and overall condition of the piano.


General Usage

It’s pretty obvious that pianos are, well, meant to be played! In fact, did you know that an “unplayed” piano will probably wear out faster than one that is used in your home on a regular basis? That’s because unused piano aren’t serviced and their parts aren’t kept in check.

Believe it or not, though, the general wear and tear that comes from playing the piano have the least effect on the pinblock compared to other factors like age, craftsmanship, and storage. Let’s look at a few different piano playing environments just for example:

Piano in a Home

The pinblock on these pianos is probably the least of your worries since it is being played at least a moderate amount and is most likely being tuned and serviced regularly.

Piano in a Music Studio

These pianos are being used multiple times a day and probably need a little more attention than your typical home piano.

Piano in a Concert Hall or Recording Studio

These pianos are taking a beating and probably need tunings multiple times a day (as opposed to two or fours times a year). Again, turning those tuning pins mentioned earlier will open the pin holes more and things are going to wear out faster.  

All in all, just playing your piano will not be the thing that ultimately damages your pinblock!

On a side note, the bridge of the piano is the strip of wood that the strings bear down on (making their way from the pinblock) to transfer the sound to the sounding board. The probability of tuning instability due to a damaged bridge is rare unless the bridge is in particularly terrible shape and coming apart. However, cracks in the bridge can cause the bridge pins to become loose. This, in turn, can cause poor termination points on the string, creating something called a false beat. False beats can make a string that’s been tuned well to actually sound out of tune! But that’s another topic for another day!

Your piano’s poor sound quality could be symptoms of improper storage (or location of the piano), age, or overall quality of the craftsmanship. For example, I’ve examined pianos before that were said to be “un-tunable” and it turned out to be strictly related to the placement of the piano in the home.

The bottom line is though, that if the pinblock is damaged, the piano won’t hold a tune regardless of those other factors. If you have concerns about this aspect of your piano, I’d be happy to answer your questions!