Monthly Archives: August 2010

“Ask James” – Humidity Control for Your Piano

James,

I have a Steinway grand piano and my technician told me to add a humidifier to it or the soundboard would crack.  He offered to install one for $600.  Is this a good idea?  Do I need it?  I know he’s selling something, but he’s got me scared that my Steinway is going to be ruined if I don’t put the humidifier on it right away!  Help!

-Linda (Student of PIE Teacher, Carole Browning)

I have spent all of my professional life in one river town or the other and I am very familiar with this scenario.  …but before I answer Linda’s question directly, allow me to take a second to explain her technician’s concern.

hygrometer

Use a simple hygrometer to measure humidity in your room.

Most decent pianos are built from a combination of metals and organic materials.  Wood makes up around 85% of the organic materials and, thus, pianos tend to be susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity.  When a piano gets overly humid, wood expands – causing the piano to push itself out of tune.  When a piano dries out, its wood components contract.  This relaxes string tension and causes the piano to fall out of tune.  Because of its porous nature, unprotected wood can expand up to 6 inches during a warm/wet season or crack from extreme cold or dryness.  As the thinnest and most sensitive wooden part of a piano’s construction, the soundboard is especially vulnerable to damage from these changes.  It’s also a very costly part to fix or replace.

With that in mind, I can see why Linda’s tech might be worried.  However, while most major piano companies recognize the benefits of humidity control systems in cases of extreme fluctuations in temperature and humidity, none advocate the inclusion of a humidity control system on every piano they make (That is why they don’t build them into their pianos at the factory.).  Continue reading

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