The following article expresses my opinion about how long a customer should wait after moving a piano to a new location before having the piano tuned. Perhaps, it can also provide insight into how rapidly humidity affects pianos.
The general sentiment is to wait before tuning after moving your piano to a new location. The logic behind this waiting is to provide the piano time to condition itself to the new environment. Let us think about this for a moment by asking a question; “How long do you think it would take for a drop of water to soak into a piece of wood?” Answer: Not long, minutes, right? However, this comparison is not fair because pianos have protective lacquers and sealants; nevertheless by asking this question I wanted to jolt your mind towards dispelling the myths about waiting for weeks or even months before tuning your piano after moving ~ which is ridiculous, in my opinion.
Scientifically, no piano, no matter what size, brand, or model, will remain in perfect tune ~ exactly where the tuner set the strings ~ for 24 hours unless the piano is in a laboratory with precise climate control. Without precise climate control, this slippage in tuning within the first 24 hours, is proof that shifting humidity affects the wood within a short time. Pianos serviced in warehouse storage areas, for piano dealers, where doors are opening and closing, need re-tuning within minutes because of the shifting environment. Understanding this rapid acceleration of humidity change within the piano makes accepting myths about waiting several weeks before tuning a piano in its new environment challenging to believe.
Another concept of piano settling concerns the level of the floor where the piano is sitting. In other words, the instrument might not be sitting level; therefore, the construction of the piano shifts and needs more time to settle before tuning. So then if a piano needs to settle after a move before it is tuned, then why is it, piano tuners, regularly, walk into a customer’s home and discover the piano moved to a new location and yet the piano is no more out of tune than usual? The fact is, settling within the framework of a piano barely affects tuning. Even trained piano technicians would have a hard time noticing the difference. When pianos do go out of tune after moving from one wall to another within the same room, it has been my experience, from checking the hygrometer sitting on top of the piano, the piano has gone through a humidity swing. It is the unstable humidity in the new area that caused the piano to go out of tune, not the floor or the piano settling.
Years ago I talked to a technician at a piano convention, and he told an enlightening story that relates to this subject about settling. He had tuned a nine-foot concert Steinway grand piano before moving the piano to the concert hall. It was winter and extremely cold outside, so protecting the piano from the extreme cold was critical. The piano movers wrapped the piano in several layers of blankets and made sure the moving van was also warm. After insulating the piano in blankets, they moved the piano as quickly as possible from the dealer’s showroom to the truck and from the truck to the concert hall. When they unwrapped the piano, the air under the blankets was still warm and when the piano technician checked the piano it was in decent tune ~ proving once again, it is not moving the piano, but the change in humidity and environment that causes a piano to lose its’ tune.
Another point about settling has to do with new piano strings stretching. New pianos go out of tune quickly because the new strings stretch, to compensate for this stretching, piano manufacturers recommend new pianos be tuned at least three or four times the first year. However, many piano dealers recommend waiting before having your new piano tuned after moving the piano into your home. Why? Until the strings become fully stretched (by having them tuned) a new piano is not going to hold tune for long anyway ~ the sooner your new piano experiences three or four tunings, the sooner you get to enjoy a stable piano. I would assume most, if not all experienced piano tuners have serviced pianos that have never been tuned since the date of purchase and neglected for 10, 15 or 20 years. Such pianos after settling for so many years still behave like new unstable pianos. The strings have not been pulled up to pitch the required number of times for them to become fully stretched. In other words, it is not the length of time the piano settles, but the number of tunings required to stabilize a new piano. No matter if the piano is new, or old, it still requires three or four initial tunings before the piano will stabilize and hold tune for the normal time limit. The only exception is when a new piano has been sitting on the showroom floor for several months and has gone through several in-house, or showroom tunings before purchased.
There have been other myths disproved in the piano tuning business; such as pianos unusually low in pitch needing more than one appointment to bring them up to standard. Thirty or forty years ago most tuners promoted the idea to raise the pitch of a very out of tune piano to standard pitch required two, three or perhaps even four appointments. Today, reputable tuners know that is not true. For today's piano technician, raising the piano to standard pitch in one appointment is standard procedure — however, this myth about pianos needing to settle for weeks before tuning is still hanging around. Dealers, teachers and even other piano tuners promote this fantasy, yet, it is not valid. Do not be fooled by piano dealers who advise waiting; hoping you will forget so they will never have to pay for the free tunings they promised. Although I cannot entirely blame dealers for keeping this myth alive, after all, they are at the mercy of the technicians who advise them and many piano tuners also buy-into this myth that pianos require extra time to settle after a move.
I believe there is nothing to be gained by waiting more than 72 hours after a piano move to have your piano serviced, and certainly waiting a week is plenty of time. When your piano arrives at your home, call your piano tuner immediately. The chances are your piano tuner will not be able to work you into his schedule for one, two or three weeks anyway, so call him while it is on your mind and schedule an appointment.