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HOW CLIMATE AFFECTS YOUR PIANO
The two previous pages were a brief discussion on two of the most important wooden components of a piano: the Soundboard and the Pinblock. These two components are particularly sensitive to changes in climate; especially humidity. There are two main aspects of climate relating to pianos: Changes in Temperature and HumidityFACTORS WHICH CONTRIBUTE TO CLIMATE VARIATIONS IN PIANOS:
Heaters of any sort, like evaporative air-con,
pump out dry air – hot dry air. The same is true of any sort of wood burner.
Direct Sunlight: I’m sure you’ve had the experience of leaving your
car in the direct sunlight in the middle of summer. You come back five minutes
later, and it’s like an oven! This gives you some idea of just how powerful
that ball of fire in the sky is! Even in mid-winter, the interior of a car can
heat up a lot in direct sunlight. Translate that to your piano. Of course, your
living room is much larger than a car, so will not heat up as quickly. But
direct sunlight, especially in summer, will dry out the wood very quickly. It
can also cause fading of some of the
finish in the wood.
water exposure: I am assuming no one
reading this would be silly enough to keep their piano outside exposed to the elements!
But people are sometime less careful about such things as vases of flowers or
drinks near the piano. A spillage (especially from a vase) will result in water
leaking down into the pinblock and into the strings. Result: a pinblock in
which the veneers of the plywood separate (= loose pinblock), and a whole set
of rusty strings! (= string breakage. Spillages don’t really relate to climate or
environment, but I’ve included it here for the sake of completeness). Direct
exposure to water or liquid will probably kill a piano more quickly than
Climate in Australia
In Australia, we have a great variation in climatic factors. We have extreme heat, cold (although not extreme), dryness, humidity (especially in the tropics), and everything in between. This presents a challenge for keeping the interior home climate stable.Climate variations will affect the piano. So the important thing is to keep these factors reasonably stable. This is easier to do these days, with the availability of insulation, heating, and air-conditioning (although be aware that refrigerated air-conditioning pumps out very dry air).
Well, so much for the factors which affect your piano’s environment. Now for a discussion on HOW it affects the piano, and which parts are most vulnerable to change.
Right: a pinblock which has been ruined by long-term humidity and temperature changes.
pinblock doesn’t appear to have many plies in the wood. Even in its prime, it
probably wasn’t very strong! Compare it to the picture back on the Pinblock page! (see menu above)
The Soundboard :
A drop in humidity can cause shrinkage in the soundboard wood, thereby reducing the curve of the crown. This can deaden and reduce the tone. On the other hand, an increase in humidity will expand the soundboard wood, increasing the crown and increasing the tension on the strings (hence sending it out of tune) Changes in humidity can also affect the overall structure of the soundboard , causing cracks. High humidity can also weaken the glue bonding between the strips of wood in the soundboard. Fixing soundboard cracks is a major repair, as it involves the removal of the strings
Below Left: A good-quality grand piano soundboard, ready to be installed. Below Right: A section of a cracked soundboard.