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Troubleshooting problems

Here we will think about common problems you might encounter with both upright and grand pianos

Most problems can be avoided with regular tuning as often trouble can be spotted before it becomes a major issue

Perhaps the most common problem is sticking keys. This can be caused by a variety of reasons - the weather, something breaking, objects like pencils falling into the piano.

When the weather is damp, moisture makes the keys swell slightly. This causes the felt to rub harder on the two guide pins causing the key to stick. Often this will sort itself once it dries out, if not it’s a simple fix with a special tool.

Sometimes the pivot (called a centre) where two parts move seizes, this is a bit more of a problem meaning that the parts have to removed from the action and a new pin inserted. It takes a bit of time to do and sometimes when one starts sticking it’s a sign that they all will in due course.

On rare occasions a spring will break. Often on an upright piano the damper spring breaks making the note ‘ring on’. It takes about 20 minutes to replace a damper spring. The only spring in a grand action is the repetition spring. It’s very rare for these to break but again about 20 minutes to replace.

Grand pianos are notorious for swallowing pencils etc! They fall in off the music desk and slip between the fall and the headrail at the front. Small, short pencils are the worst for getting right inside the action and can be tricky to remove sometimes. My record is removing 14 pencils, 2 pens and 3 rubbers from a grand in a university. Over the years I’ve removed all sorts of objects from watches, glasses, nail files and even false teeth!

Another area for trouble are the pedals. Squeaks are the most common usually where the felt or leather bearings have become hard. A little Vaseline normally stops most squeaks. Sometimes the whole pedal system has to be stripped down to find the cause and occasionally the only solution is to replace all the felt and leather.

Strings can break on any piano, but thankfully not very often. Older pianos are more prone especially if they have not been tuned for a long time or if there is a lot of dampness and the strings are a little rusty. The treble ones can be easily replaced but the bigger bass ones must be made to measure. These are copper covered (wound strings) so the broken one has to be sent to the string maker so he can make another with the correct size copper. The price is dependant on the weight of the string and the price of copper.


Sometimes a hammer shank will break, again older pianos are more susceptible as the wood dries out. When the shank breaks along it’s grain it can be glued quite successfully, but if the break is close to an end it must be replaced.

In very old pianos, if a different part breaks beyond repair there is no choice but to ‘transplant’ a part from the very top note down to replace the broken one simply because spares are no longer available for that model. As it’s very rare to play the last few notes it’s the only way to keep the main playing area working.

It’s a sign to start saving for a new piano!

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