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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 Humidity

FACTORS WHICH CONTRIBUTE TO CLIMATE VARIATIONS IN PIANOS:


The Weather: Sound obvious, doesn’t it! But the external weather will impact your piano more than any other factor. The key factor is change in weather, especially seasonal change. Midsummer it might be forty-two degrees celcius and the air dry as chips; midwinter it might be three degrees.       Fortunately, we (along with your piano!) live inside houses which protect us from these extremes. What’s more, we have ready access to the marvels of heating and air-conditioning. These not only make us more comfortable; they also help to protect the piano. However, some caution needs to be exercised with these temperature-regulating devices. Understanding something about the air they pump out is a start.






Air-conditioning: Most air conditioners work by refrigeration; hence the air flow from them is very dry. Constant exposure to such air-conditioning can cause the wood with the piano to dry out (especially the pinblock and the soundboard). This is particularly the case with grands, which will need at least some parts of the lid open for playing. (On the other hand, evaporative air-conditioners increase the humidity. Hence, they work best in dry climates, causing a switch between dry and humid!)


Heaters: 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 colour finish in the wood.




Direct 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 anything else!



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.

This 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.