Why do pianos need to be tuned after moving?

Posted by Sarah Czarnecki on

Moving your piano across the room for spring cleaning probably isn't going to require another tuning. Maybe a touch-up, if you're shifting things around quite a bit. 

But if you're carting your piano across town or moving house, expect a visit from your piano tuner in the near future.

A stack of moving boxes, one of which is clearly labeled "FRAGILE"

Why do pianos need to be tuned after moving?

Pianos may seem sturdy, but inside, they're quite fragile. These instruments are easily impacted by:

  • Temperature and humidity changes. Pianos are mostly made of wood and metal -- both of which can be affected by even small shifts in temps and humidity. Wood expands when exposed to moisture and shrinks when it dries out.
  • Jostling. Pianos have thousands of teeny tiny parts, and a couple solid bumps can knock them out of alignment. Even if your piano movers are careful, things can shift around inside the instrument.

What can climate changes do to a piano?

Wood makes up 85% of your piano. This material comes from plants, remember, and all of those plant cells absorb and release moisture in a very cool process called hygroscopy. This is what keeps the piano in perfect equilibrium with its surroundings.

When this equilibrium is disrupted by weather or moving, the very structure of your piano changes. Multiply this by the thousands of pieces and you can see why this matters quite a lot. 

What kind of things can happen to a piano when you move it?

Sadly, a good hard bump may be enough to damage some of your piano's more fragile parts. Even if your piano has been moved by an expert, you can expect some normal wear and tear during a move.

  • Strings stretch. Piano strings are under an incredible amount of tension, but of course, they may not be able to maintain this tension through a move. Older strings become flexible while brand new piano strings can be too tight. Expect more tunings for very old or very old pianos.
  • Tuning pins can slip. Your piano's pinblock -- the part that keeps all the strings taut --  is made of wood. As we've established, wood is sensitive to environmental changes, so the tuning pins can become loosened. 
  • Lost items can move around. You'd be amazed how much stuff falls inside pianos. We've seen mail, paperclips, critters, jewelry, keys, and toys just to name a few. These misplaced objects may not have been causing trouble before, but when the piano is tilted or bumped, they can end up in the action.
  • It may be reassembled incorrectly. This happens far too often. We hate to sound like a broken record, but seriously, pianos are fragile. Are you confident that the legs are on straight? Are you absolutely sure those screws came from that exact part? We once encountered a DIY reassembly that resulted in a very expensive repair -- we hope this never happens to you.

How do you safely move a piano?

Properly moving your piano is quite the production. First, the legs will need to be removed or wrapped, then the body of the instrument is tipped onto a moving dolly. Grands are typically carted around sideways and uprights are usually tilted at an angle. There are a lot of preparatory steps to take, and things get even more complicated if stairs are involved. 

If possible, always hire a piano mover, not a general moving company. As skilled as house movers may be, they likely aren't knowledgeable about how to transport these delicate instruments. We've seen too many terrible (and expensive) things happen to beautiful instruments when movers aren't careful. 

What if your piano gets moved a lot? 

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If your piano is located in, say, a school or church where it frequently gets carted around the building, keep your piano tuner on speed dial. Although the climate is unlikely to change within the same building, there's a good chance the piano could get bumped or shaken up as it moves. 

How soon after moving should you tune your piano?

All your piano parts need time to adjust to the new home. Moisture, air currents, temperature, and even angles all play a role. Wait a week or two to allow your piano to get comfortable.

Don't schedule a tuning for the same day as the move -- the wood and interior workings will not have settled into their new environment quite yet and you'll just have to tune it again in a few weeks.

Can you tune your own piano after moving?

Sure, but remember, it's not just about how it sounds -- there could also be damage or improper reassembly to deal with.

We recommend calling a pro to make sure everything is in order. Hopefully, your piano technician doesn't find anything broken or damaged, but it's a good idea to double check. If you're moving to a new geographical location, call around to find a good call piano tuner ahead of time.

How bad will the piano sound after a move?

Probably not too much. If your piano has fallen way out of tune from just a move, you likely have bigger problems than environmental fluctuations. In this case, call your tuner tout de suite to make sure there is no major damage.

What if you don't tune your piano after moving? 

If you are absolutely certain there is no damage and you decide take a shortcut and not tune your piano after moving, it's not the end of the world. Pianos don't become damaged by infrequent tunings, but they will need more tunings to compensate for more extreme shifts. 

How do you move a piano with a climate control system installed?

If you have a climate control system like Dampp-Chaser, awesome! This is a fantastic way to take care of your piano and extend its lifespan.

Moving with it can pose a challenge, though. Empty out the water tank to avoid spilling and secure all cords before attempting a move. Be sure to call your local certified Dampp-Chaser technician to prepare your piano for a move -- doing it yourself can void your warranty. 

Piano Maintenance 101. Closeup image of piano strings and pins.

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