How Do Fluctuations In Humidity Make My Piano Go Out of Tune?

Relative humidity may be a bit of a dry topic, but it is a key to understanding how pianos react to their environment and how you can best maintain your piano.

Let’s define Relative Humidity. According to the Piano Technicians Guild, “Relative humidity (RH) is the amount of moisture contained in the air, compared to the maximum amount of moisture that the air is capable of holding.” That “maximum amount” of moisture that the air can hold is determined by the temperature. The warmer the air, the more moisture it can hold. Therefore, if you increase the temperature without adding any extra moisture, the relative humidity decreases. This is because the “carrying capacity” of the air has increased while the actual amount of moisture has remained the same. If you think that’s just a theory that doesn’t hold water, please read on to find out exactly how humidity can throw your piano out of tune!

Many important parts of the piano are made of wood, and wood is particularly sensitive to changes in relative humidity. At higher humidity, wood absorbs moisture from the air, causing it to swell up. This has big effects on the piano’s soundboard, often made of Sitka spruce, and the bridges, which are made of layered (laminated) beech or maple. The piano’s strings stretch over the bridge, which transmits their vibrations to the soundboard. The vibration of the soundboard transduces the strings’ vibrations into air pressure changes. In other words, the soundboard passes energy from the strings to the air so we can hear it.

Piano Bridge Less Crown

Two diagrams show a string stretching over the bridge, which is attached to the soundboard. The first shows a soundboard with less crown. The bridge does not press up into the string with as much force, which can lower the pitch of the string. This is what happens in dry environments at lower humidity levels. Image credit: Dampp-Chaser


Piano Bridge Increased Crown

Two diagrams show a string stretching over the bridge, which is attached to the soundboard. The second image shows a soundboard with an increased amount of crown. The bridge is pressing up into the string with more force, raising the pitch of the string. This is what happens at higher humidity levels. Image credit: Dampp-Chaser

The soundboard has a crowned or slightly arced shape, which pushes the bridge firmly against the strings. So, when humidity goes up, the soundboard swells up as the arc intensifies, and the amount of crown increases. This pushes the bridge more firmly against the strings, increasing the tension on the strings and making them go higher in pitch. In short, we expect the piano to drift sharp during the times of the year when it is more humid, and flat when it’s less humid. This effect is most pronounced in the middle of the piano’s range, where the soundboard’s crown is at its peak.

piano bridge pianos inside out

This image shows the piano’s steel strings crossing over the bridge. On the top of the bridge, the strings make their way through the bridge pins Image credit: Mario Igrec, Pianos Inside Out (In Tune Press, 2013)

At the other end of the strings, we tune the piano by turning the tuning pins, which control the tension of the strings. The strings are coiled around the tuning pins, which are driven into the pinblock, a multilayered wooden plank. Uncontrolled fluctuating humidity can also cause damage to the pinblock, which will have a negative effect on the piano’s tuning stability. This damage can include loosening of the tuning pin holes. The pinblock can crack and its layers can come apart (delaminate).


This image shows a tuning pin held in the pinblock in its proper position, slightly angled away from the string. Image credit: Dampp-Chaser



A damaged pinblock can allow the string to pull the tuning pin out of its proper position, and weaken the tight fit between the pin and the pinblock Image credit: Dampp-Chaser

Here’s what you can do to help fight the effects of fluctuating humidity and improve your piano’s tuning stability. First, get your piano tuned! It is recommended that pianos be tuned at least twice a year. Pianos need to be “trained” to stay in tune, especially when they are new– so having your piano        tuned regularly will help keep it stable. Second, position your piano away from heaters, air conditioners, windows, or any other location where it will be subject to environmental extremes.

Lastly, consider a humidity control system. The Piano Life Saver system from Dampp-Chaser can be installed in grands or uprights. It consists of a Humidistat, a Humidifier, and a Dehumidifier. The Humidistat constantly monitors the humidity level and activates the Humidifier or the Dehumidifier as necessary, in order to keep the relative humidity level inside the piano near the recommended 45%. This will make your piano’s tuning, regulation, and touch as stable as possible, allowing you to focus on making beautiful music.

Right now you can set up an appointment to install a humidity control system in your piano with one of our fine technicians. Book online today.

To find out more about humidity control, check out the piano lifesaver website:

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FPF’s Jerome Ellis @ Lincoln Center Education: Meeting The Unknown With An Improvisor’s Mind


At FPF we welcome piano technicians with a diverse set of skills and experiences. We’re scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs, as well as musicians. This diversity makes our team stronger and better able to help our clients.

Above and beyond performing the basic functions of tuning and servicing pianos, we aim to provide infinite value in each interaction, bringing our personality, kindness and creativity—essentially our best selves—to every interaction.

It’s our way to show our appreciation for the unique value we gain in meeting each new client and their piano.

On that note, we’d like to dedicate this post to highlighting what fascinating endeavors one of our technicians participates in outside of piano work. Jerome Ellis is a musician and performer steeped in the tradition of improvisation and he’s been performing at Lincoln Center recently to broaden the horizons of NYC city high school students.

With out futher ado, let us introduce you to Jerome…

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Who Wants a MusiClock from Perttu Pölönen?

Are you learning musical scales and finding it tough to keep track of them all?

Or are you really getting into understanding scales and modes for composition and love new ways of understanding them?

Maybe you are an improviser and you want a quick way to learn all the scales you need to know in a way that’s fun, not a headache.

When the next lesson rolls around and you haven’t quite mastered the scales your teacher has assigned it’s quite embarrassing. Its discouraging.

Ever get together for a jam session and feeling completely lost in all the chord changes?

When are you ever going to master those scales?!!

Maybe you are a teacher and you don’t have any issues with scales BUT YOUR STUDENTS DO!

5b85b0_f26d8d72965b4dd495c752bcb3343b20-mv2_d_3888_2592_s_4_2My good friend Perttu Pölönen, from Finland has come up with an answer!

He’s won 5 figure grants in Finland and more across the globe in support of his fresh new idea called the MusiClock.

Do you ever notice that when you find a creative new way to look at an old problem learning can actually become effortless?

Watch this video and let Perttu explain exactly how cool his new invention is and what it can do to make your or your students’ learning experience not only manageable but fun!

Email Perttu today at with the subject “FPF sent me” and he might just send you one to try out or share  with your students for free!

You can also go virtual and download the Musiclock app from the app store right now!

“MusiClock makes music theory more fun and approachable for children. It transforms scales and chords into a visual, easy-to-grasp form which is a great starting point for music studies.”

Esa-Pekka Salonen,

Principal Conductor of London’s Philharmonia Orchestra and the Conductor Laureate for the Los Angeles Philharmonic

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How to Thrive as a Veteran Piano Tech in the Digital Age – No Screens Required!

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Though many of us in the piano industry, both young and old, love our off screen time, we can’t help but face it — software and the internet are more and more essential to keeping our industry alive. This isn’t some idea in the future. It’s here now, as in today. And it leaves many veterans in the piano industry wondering, “How, in this new landscape, can I get the most out of the business that I’ve built?”

Even worse there’s “How can I get my business back on it’s feet?”

I’m going to give you 3 simple things to consider implementing. Once you have them up and running, the only reason you’ll look at a screen is to review the increases in your bank balance.

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How to Connect With More Customers by Registering Your Piano Tuning Business with Google Maps (Google Places, Google Business) (Video)

When I moved my piano tuning business from Chicago to New York in 2009 I was extremely surprised to find out that within a couple of months my little website was making it to the top of google searches. A humble new guy in a big city full of great world class technicians that were already established—how did that happen?

I had no idea why but I certainly was grateful. It kept me from starving (to be the benefactor of such a wonderful windfall at a tough, transitional time in my life and career). To be clear, I had to really hustle to be successful, but this was key.

Even though I really needed this advantage to survive I still felt a little guilty when other piano technicians asked me how I did it. They might have been incredulous if I didn’t share exactly how that worked, even though I really was not sure.

I still don’t know everything works but I think that by now I’ve figured out a few things that helped make that happen. This post addresses just one. All on its own (even if I had no site at all) it was doing probably 30% of the customer recruitment work for me. Its something that’s really simple too. In this post I’m sharing this basic thing that takes 5 minutes to get started and can really improve the online exposure of a small business.

As a piano tuner, getting to the top of google searches can seem like a mysterious magical trick. There are lots of daunting ideas that one might come up with. “I need a website” would be the first thought! You’d be surprised to find out you don’t absolutely NEED a website to get to the top of google searches, right? And there’s other really simple things you can do that I don’t have space and time to adress here.

You’ll also hear about other, seemingly necessary ideas involved in making this happen that are daunting to have to either learn about or pay for (ack!). You know, like SEO, key words, reciprocal links, etc.  Interestingly enough, Google (All hail our supreme leader, Google) has made the process of getting found as a service provider (especially in a unique niche like that of piano tuning) much easier than you’d think.

I feel really indebted to all the generous technicians that helped me along my path to understanding the piano better and making a career of from it.

That’s why I made this video. I’d like any other technicians out there who need a way to increase their number of bookings and get more exposure to be able to understand the things that I have learned.

If you are in a remote area where there aren’t many tuners then you are doing your customers a disservice if they can’t find you on Google. And Google places registration alone could help you go from 5 tunings per week to 7 or 10.

Your new piano tuning customers will be happy with you and with Google when you finally show up at the top of every google search for “piano tuning” in your area.

As a whole, we technicians are a super generous bunch and I’m proud to be part of a community like that!  I hope this video is helpful for you as a piano technician.

If you found this information useful and you are interested in more like it I’m happy to share. I can send you a little checklist I put together of other things you can do to boost your business if you want. When you enter your email below I’ll get a notice to remind me to send that along.

Thanks for reading.

Eathan Janney, RPT

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Piano Tuning Theory: Inharmonicity, Partials, Math, Hertz and Cents


This in-depth lecture presentation will help you gain a significant edge as a piano tuner and technician. Do you understand what an inharmonicity curve is? How do inharmonicity curves interact across the range of the piano? What does a 6:3, 4:2, or 2:1 octave “look” like when represented graphically? How do coincident partials look when represented graphically? Can you calculate the fundamental frequencies of adjacent notes? Do you understand how to convert between Hertz and cents in different ranges of the piano? Put all this knowledge in your toolkit and you’ll begin to have a much deeper understanding of piano tuning by ear. Learn these concepts and meditate on them as your next ear tuning unfolds. Whether you’re a beginner piano technician and want to ensure you are understanding the foundational theory behind ear tuning or a more experienced technician who wants to update your understanding, this video will be invaluable.

The instructor: Eathan Janney BM, PhD, RPT has 17 years of experience in the Piano Industry, which includes work as a technician in New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., New Orleans, New Jersey, Peru and Hong Kong. He established the acclaimed Floating Piano Factory Apprenticeship Program in 2011 and has been teaching piano technology and helping the advancement of the field ever since. His PhD is in Biology with a concentration on Neuroscience, where his research focused heavily on the analysis of birdsong from a musical perspective. Thus, he has a deep understanding of signal processing and statistical analysis, a wonderful complement to his skills and experience in piano technology. He also has taught through CUNY (the City University of New York) at the City College of New York and Hunter College on topics ranging from biology to statistics. His undergraduate degree is in Jazz Piano Performance from Mason Gross School of the Arts which is the conservatory of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.

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by | October 14, 2016 · 1:52 am

FPF World Tour, Part 8: Hong Kong 1


For a while, I wasn’t sure if I should go to Hong Kong. There was a lot to figure out. Would the timing work with my stop in New York? Was it worth the expense? What would be the best use of my time there when I arrived?

However, I did want to meet our two new technicians: Macho and Neway. They contacted me over a year ago to get involved with FPF, and we’ve been working to get them set up in Hong Kong ever since. I figured that by going to visit, I could better determine what our approach should be for this area.

On top of that, I’ve been trying to spend more personal time with my co-workers, and to get to know people better in general. Macho’s family was kind enough to offer me a place to stay, so I decided to go for it. I booked a flight from NYC to Hong Kong.

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Pianos Inside Out – Cover to Cover p1-50

fp-eev-secret-surgeryThis is part one of what I hope to be a ten-part series guiding us through the book Pianos Inside Out by Mario Igrec.

Many piano technicians will consult with this book on a regular basis as needed, but sometimes its worthwhile to work through a text searching for gaps in our knowledge, undiscovered pearls of wisdom, and just to gain a more solid foundation in the craft of piano work.

This endeavor is meant to aid other piano techs and spark interaction and camaraderie. Any feedback you, as a reader, have regarding the presentation or format is much appreciated.

Okay! Moving on…

It’s time to start reading! The first section we’ll address is pages 1-50. That’s Chapter 1 on History and half of Chapter 2 about Design and Construction. The goal is to read through this in one week. This section covers the beginnings of what is considered the modern piano and some variations along the way. Then we move on to the composition of the piano, including its supportive structure, strings, bridges, and soundboard. The remaining structure is covered in the next section.

Here is a brief outline of the content of these pages, followed by some study questions. You can use this to prime your brain before your reading or for reviewing after you read. Keep in mind that many of the study questions can only be answered by reading the text of the actual book. So dive in.

The answers are in the book, and it’s more motivating to find them yourself if you don’t have them readily available so they are not posted here. However, you can sign up to keep abreast of this project and I’ll forward a document with the answers so we can compare notes.

Chapter 1: History

The piano was born in 1700 when Bartolomeo Cristofori, of Florence Italy, installed the first piano action into a harpsichord. The purpose was to alter the instrument so that strings could be struck by hammers instead of plucked by plectra. This allowed for variability in volume depending upon how hard keys were pressed.

Around the same time a similar instrument was becoming popular called the pantaloon. It was a dulcimer modifies such that, again, strings could be struck by hammers, this time  instead of by the traditional dulicimer mallets. The instrument was named after a famous dulcimer player called Hebenstreit Pantalon.

Throughout the remainder of the 18th century, pianos grew in popularity, spread to various european locales, and were modified in several ways. The 1700’s saw the introduction of pedals, for example. Vertical pianos evolved from the clavicytherum, a type of upright harpsichord. In the latter half of the 18th century, the industrial revolution began to influence piano design and construction.

As the century turned even more advances in technology and a rising middle class meant that more pianos could be constructed and sold. Pianos began to be built in the United States. Bach, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven all had the chance to interact with the developing instrument and as the 1800s progressed an increasing number of compositions were intended for the piano.

Through the first half of the 19th century the piano gradually became bigger and louder instrument. The range of the keyboard increased from 5 octaves to 6.5. The cast metal plate was introduced. The double escapement action was invented by Sebastien erard. The overall tension held within the instrument increased. Inventions and patents to improve the piano proceeded at a rapid pace. Agraffes, cross-stringing, the capo tasto bar, felt hammers, and technologies to aid in manufacturing things like hammers were all patented, introduced in this time.

In the second half of the 19th century Steinway began in America and then after success there began manufacturing in Europe as well. Also at this time the square piano became popular but quickly lost favor because of many design flaws. As the 20th century approached, pianos became quite a popular instrument, and very profitable to manufacture and sell. Popularity continued to grow in the early 20th century. However, as the phonograph, radio, motion picture, and television industries invaded, and because of the great depression and WWII, the piano lost some favor. Since WWII piano popularity has had swells within various markets independently, such as in Eastern Europe, Japan, Korea and China.

Chapter 2: Construction and Design

According to Mario Igrec “piano design history has been a struggle to more efficiency convert a finger’s force into acoustic energy.” This can be achieved through a number of manners: increased string tension, soundboard tension/compression, and mass of hammers.

In this section we learn about the integral parts of a piano: rim, beams, belly rail, pin block, stretcher, keybed, soundboard, soundboard ribs, long bridge, bass bridge, shelf, plate, strings, beams, nose bolts, Steinway bell, tuning pins, pin block, bridge pins, capo tasto, agraffes, plate flange, pressure bars, etc.

The rim of the piano consists of an outer and inner part. The outer rim is essentially a part of the case of the grand piano. There are two manners of constructing the rim. Composite rims are constructed from small segments and continuous laminated rims consist of a series of laminated boards that are all at once bent around a mold to form the shape of the pianos case. The rim of a grand piano supports its structure just as vertical beams in an upright do the same. A dense and rigid rim or frame maximizes volume and sustain.

Beams of spruce join a rim/frame with the belly rail. The belly rail provides a rail of support to which the soundboard can be glued.

The pin block consists of laminated sheets of wood with grans sequentially angled at 45-90 degree differences to one another. The pinblock must grip tuning pins firmly and transmit the tension of the strings to the plate and rim. A pin block is generally 1.25” to 1.5” thick [31 to 38mm]. In a grand piano a pinblock can be installed in 3 ways. In order of increasing quality you can have a floating, regular fit or full fit pinblock. Each style adds an extra point of structural attachment to the plate, rim, and stretcher respectively.

The strings, bridges, soundboard and plate generate sound. Each of around 230 strings – holds around 160-200 lbs of tension. Strings are typically made of high-carbon steel and sometimes nickel plated. Bass strings have a copper winding, to allow for increased mass (slower oscillation) without unmanageably thick strings.

The bridge lies compressed between the strings and the soundboard and transmits vibrations between the two. A stiff soundboard reflects some energy back the strings, which allows them to sustain longer. The bridge has often has a separate root and cap portion. A separate cap can be shaped and notched easily and replaced if it cracks. Bass strings are longer and extend toward the edge of the soundboard where it is more rigid. In order to increase flexibly in the area where the bass resigntes a shelf sometimes used to allow the longer strings to contact a more central (flexible) part of the soundboard.

Bridge pins are made of steel, often with brass plating to reduce friction. Notches in the bridge allow strings to vibrate freely where they contact the bridge pins. If notching does not create the same termination point at the bridge pin and the bridge notch this can lead to false beats. Sometimes termination points on the bridge are engineered to create unequal speaking lengths. Unequal lengths cause slight interferences among the sound waves from each string. This means the strings resonate with one another less effectively, transfer energy to the soundboard less effectively, and therefore can have a longer sustain.

The soundboard is sometimes mischaracterized as an amplifier, when in fact it is only a transducer of vibrations from the strings into the air. A good soundboard will effectively impede the vibrations of the strings, allowing for a short attack sound and a long sustain. A well designed soundboard’s resonances will be carefully tweaked so that the tone quality from the various strings in the piano is consistent. Spruce soundboard material is rigid along its gran but less so across the grain, therefore soundboard ribs are installed across the grain to create an isotropic diaphragm, in which rigidity is relatively equal in all directions.

The next post continues to work through chapter 2 on design and construction.

Study Questions:

(Many can only be answered by reading the text of the actual book. So dive in.)

pages 1-10:

1. What year marks the invention of the piano?
2. Who is credited with inventing it?
3. In which century were JS Bach, Haydn, and Mozart prominent? Which of them had the opportunity to use the invention of the piano?
4. There was an instrument called the Pantalon. Where does the name come from?
5. In what country was the piano invented?


pages 11-20:

6. Around what time did pianos start to be made in America?
7. What major development in piano construction allowed for louder pianos?
8. Around what year was it developed?
9. Who invented the agraffe in 1808? What other major invention is he responsible for?
10. Piano design history has been a struggle to do what?

pages 20-30:

11. According to Mario Igrec, what are the two most valued characteristics in pianos today?
12. The quality of these two characteristics is proportional to what?
13. True or False. The outer rim can be added after pin block, soundboard, bridges and strings.
14. What type of wood might you find in the dense rim of an expensive pianos?
15. What re the two main types of rims? How are they constructed

pages 30-40:

16. How thick is the typical pin block?
17. When bridges transmit vibrations from the strings to the soundboard, but also reflect much of that energy back to the strings, what tonal outcome does this create?
18. What is described by the following statements? Easier to shape and notch than a vertically laminated root. Can be replaced if it cracks. Can be used to modulate the stiffness of the bridge.
19. Which piano maker patented the continuous curved bridge?
20. What is described by the following statement? There are three types: regular floating, fit, full fit. Which is best?

pages 40-50:

21. What is the purpose of a bass bridge shelf or apron?
22. What is the purpose of having unequal speaking lengths in unisons?
23. How will a lower cutoff frequency in its soundboard improve a piano’s sound?
24. Which is a more appropriate term for the soundboard? Transducer or amplifier? Why?
25. What is a typical number of degrees for downbearing?

If you don’t have the book, GET IT! But if you’d like to preview further then here are PDF excerpts from various chapters of this book, as posted on the book’s web page:

For answers to these study questions and more from the Pianos Inside Out, Cover to Cover project click below.

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Pianos Inside Out – Cover to Cover

facebook1There is a great book for piano technicians and piano lovers called Pianos Inside Out, which was recently published in 2013. The author is a Croatian technician and pianist named Mario Igrec, who is a sharp and multi talented fellow. The book is overwhelming in its thoroughness, extremely useful and utterly impressive. It is  basically the next generation in piano manuals to have arrived since the release of a book called Piano Servicing, Tuning and Rebuilding  by Arthur Reblitz (first published in 1976 and updated in 1997).

It’s a bit expensive but most piano technicians I know have bought it and treat it like a bit of a treasure. Since it is pretty dense material, reading it from cover to cover is a bit daunting, but it sounds like a fun and worthy goal to most of us. It can simply be used as a reference book so this type of treatment is not necessary, but could be useful for discovering little facts and techniques one wouldn’t even know to look for.

So this is the goal—to read the book from cover to cover.  If you are up for it come join us. We’ll post summaries of various sections as we proceed. Hopefully this will help guide you on your journey through the book. Or perhaps some tidbits from one section or the other will give you something to think about or whet your appetite to delve in deeper. We’ll tackle 50 pages a week.

pages 1-50: History, Design, Construction


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FPF World Tour, Part 7: Kicking Brain Crack in Philly


There’s this phenomenon called brain crack. Have you ever heard of it? I remember the term was introduced years ago, by a vlogger named Ze Frank.

Basically: when you have an amazing idea in your mind, it’s easy to just keep thinking about it. Over and over. Planning all the wonderful details, crafting the perfect plan, dreaming up how great it’s going to be.

But you never actually do it.

You just get addicted to the idea. And there’s no way, if you actually did it, that it could ever live up to the idyllic concept you’ve created. So there you are, caught in a feedback loop, addicted to brain crack.

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