GUIDELINES FOR EFFECTIVE
INSTITUTIONAL PIANO MAINTENANCE
Originally published by the College and University Technician's Committee of the Piano Technicians Guild in 1990. It has been reproduced with the permission of the Piano Tuners Guild, for the use of institutional administrators, to assist them in determining a suitable management regime for their piano inventories.
Ron E. Overs, November 1998.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Staffing and Workload
College and University Technicians' Committee
Board of Directors, Piano Technicians Guild
There are some 1400 schools of music or music departments in institutions of higher education in North America. Virtually all of them have inventories of pianos, ranging from a few to 500 instruments, as crucial components of their academic activities. These institutional piano inventories are maintained by professional piano technicians who, more often than not, work in relative isolation from one another.
The Piano Technicians Guild (the professional association for piano technicians), through its College and University Technicians' Committee, endeavours to ameliorate this condition of isolation. The Committee has established a communication network comprising of some four hundred piano technicians in higher education with hopes that their collective expertise may be brought to bear on problems common to their institutional situations.
The Committee held an open forum involving 50 college and university technicians at the PTG's July 1987 Convention in Toronto. There, and at a similar meeting of 88 professionals at the July 1988 Convention in St. Louis, the single most pressing issue to emerge was the need for a guiding statement on standards for institutional piano maintenance. The present document is the result of the Committee's formally accepting the challenge of providing such a statement.
Lou Tasciotti, the project's principal developer, presented successive drafts of these "Guidelines" to no fewer than 120 colleagues during the course of their evolution. Their critical input gives this monograph much broader significance than it would have had otherwise. It is the Committee's hope that piano technicians as well as administrators of departments and schools of music will find these "Guidelines" useful in efficiently directing their resources for the advancement of musical art.
Fredonia, New York
May 30, 1990
The purpose of this document is to serve as guideline for effective piano maintenance in schools of music and music departments at the college and university level. The inventories of such institutions often represent a large investment in high-quality instruments. The challenge of piano service in the institutional setting is in maintaining the excellence of these inventories in order to meet the artistic demands of faculty and students.
The College and University Technician's Committee of the Piano Technicians Guild wishes to address this challenge. Factors to consider concerning institutional piano maintenance include the following:
1. Most piano maintenance programs are understaffed and under budgeted. This allows for premature deterioration of piano inventories.
2. Artistic needs demand high-quality instruments. Pianos in disrepair interfere with instruction, performance, and the learning process.
3. Pianos receive extended hours of use, typically eight to twelve hours daily. This is the primary cause of deterioration.
4. Pianos are shared. Lack of individual ownership often leads to neglect and abuse.
5. Pianos are usually kept in unsuitable environments. Extreme changes in temperature and humidity contribute to the deterioration of pianos in institutional buildings.
One of the primary goals of this document is to set forth a standard by which institutions may arrive at a suitable number of piano technicians for their needs. For performance oriented conservatories and music schools we recommend a ratio of one full-time technician for every forty to sixty pianos. For typical non-performance institutions, a ratio of one full-time technician for every sixty to eighty pianos is recommended.
These recommendations are based on empirical information gathered by the College and University Technicians' Committee from piano manufacturers, piano technicians, and music institutions. Because they are general recommendations and because no two institutions are identical in their piano maintenance needs, we have developed a Workload Formula to help administrators and technicians determine the relationship between the staffing needs and the piano inventory of their individual institutions. (See Appendix, page 10)
The College and University Technicians' Committee of the Piano Technicians Guild does not presume to prescribe the structure of administrative responsibility at music institutions and conservatories. However, it must be noted that the responsibility for adequate staffing and budgeting ultimately rests with the administrators who act in a supervisory capacity. Technical staff should be included in administrative decision-making that is relevant to piano maintenance. The ramifications of administrative neglect include rapid deterioration of piano inventory, poor public performances, and impaired musical instruction.
Pianos represent the foundation of the musical learning process; they are viewed as the "basic" musical instrument, and most areas of musical instruction require their use, whether for conducting, vocal coaching, ear training, or actual piano performance. As a result of this universal need, effective institutional piano maintenance benefits faculty and students in all musical disciplines.
New pianos are continually needed in most institutions. While the purchase of new pianos may appear to be a more tangible expenditure, we hope to foster a better understanding of the value of effective maintenance as part of an institution's piano investment.
While this publication is conceived to address the more complicated needs of large institutions, its recommendations are general ones that are equally applicable to smaller music departments. The individual needs of an institution are best determined by its staff piano technicians.
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Staffing and Workload
As stated in the introduction, the College and University Technicians' Committee of the Piano Technicians Guild recommends a ratio of one full-time technician for every forty to sixty pianos in performance oriented institutions. For typical non-performance institutions, a ratio of one full-time technician for every sixty to eighty pianos is recommended. To facilitate an understanding of why these recommended ratios are desirable, we have provided the following outline and description of some general standards for piano maintenance required in institutional settings:
I. Concert Tuning and Preparation
Concert pianos should be tuned the day of each concert. In addition, extra time must be available for concert preparation, including regular voicing and regulation.
II. General Tuning
All pianos should be tuned a minimum of four times a year. (This requirement addresses seasonal changes in temperature and humidity which cause pianos to go out of tune. Pianos in stable or controlled environments may require fewer annual tunings.) In addition, an effective program must be able to accommodate additional tunings for specific events other than concerts, including master classes, auditions, and for special-use pianos, such as those assigned to piano faculty.
III. Miscellaneous Repairs
Time must be included to perform routine and emergency repairs on a daily basis. These repairs may include broken strings or keys, action malfunctions, removing foreign objects which have fallen into pianos, and the host of other minor complaints associated with heavy use.
IV. Reconditioning (General Maintenance for Wear and Tear)
This category includes hammer filing, action regulation and voicing. Reconditioning is recommended on an annual basis for pianos in high-use situations in order to counter the effects of wear and seasonal changes. Less frequently, operations such as key rebushing, which do not fall under the heading of rebuilding, may be required. Pianos must be in good overall condition for this type on maintenance to be effective.
In order to extend the useful lifetime of pianos, a regular program of partial and/or complete rebuilding is necessary. For institutions with high-quality pianos, this represents a fiscally responsible alternative to the continual purchase of new instruments. While it is impossible to give a recommendation on rebuilding, it can be noted that institutional pianos usually receive five to ten times as much use as non-institutional pianos and may require some form of rebuilding in as little as five years. The ability to do some form of rebuilding should be within the scope of a piano maintenance program, although complete rebuilding may require contracting to the manufacturer or a specialty shop with a proven track record that meets or exceeds the manufacturer's specifications. Minimally, a piano maintenance department should have the capability to do complete action rebuilding.
A. Complete Rebuilding
Complete rebuilding is a process by which a piano can, for all intents and purposes, be restored to its original condition. This includes the replacement of all major components of the instrument such as the soundboard, pin block, strings, tuning pins, bridges, hammers and action parts, as well as case refinishing.
B. Partial Rebuilding
Partial rebuilding usually addresses areas which fall short of replacing the soundboard and bridges. It may include restringing with oversize tuning pins, new action parts, new key coverings, recapping bridges, soundboard crack repair, or any other operation which does not replace or alter any structural components of the piano.
In considering the scope of an effective piano maintenance program, it is necessary to mention the following areas of responsibility:
A. Staff Supervision
The job of a head technician entails developing roles for a staff with varying degrees of expertise, coordinating projects, defining procedures, and monitoring quality control. In addition, some training of assistants may be required, especially in situations where work-study students are employed for less skilled tasks.
This includes inventory management, parts ordering, correspondence, reports, research, work procedures, scheduling, and faculty communications.
Many piano technicians in music institutions teach courses in piano technology which may include the history of the piano, performance applications, practical information on selection and maintenance, or even introductory technical classes.
D. Maintenance of Other Keyboard Instruments
Some piano technicians possess special skills required for maintenance of harpsichords, organs, fortepianos, clavichords, or electronic keyboard labs. Many schools rely upon their expertise for lack of additional special staff.
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Institutional pianos cannot be effectively maintained without an adequate budget. Budgeting is an administrative responsibility. An adequate piano maintenance budget should be between five and ten percent of the replacement cost of the piano inventory. This allocation includes staff and the purchase of new pianos.
Pianos are the most important educational tools needed at a music school or department. Their purchase can form a large part of the institutional budget and should receive a commitment to adequate maintenance as well. In addition to staffing, consideration must be given to the following budgetary items.
I. Parts Inventory
A properly equipped piano maintenance shop should have an inventory of replacement and repair parts appropriate to the size of the piano inventory. In anticipation of the almost daily mechanical failures expected in institutions, an adequate parts inventory will expedite needed repairs.
Additionally, a stockpile of replacement parts facilitates the unimpeded progress of rebuilding and is the only assured method of avoiding delays due to suppliers or purchasing agencies. A basic maintenance guideline is to stock one complete set of parts needed to repair each model of piano in the inventory.
High quality pianos can often be rebuilt at a fraction of their replacement cost. This can represent a viable way to salvage worthy instruments and keep new purchases to a minimum. Some partial rebuilding should be within the scope of an institutional piano maintenance shop, although complete rebuilding which addresses major structural components may require contracting to the manufacturer or specialty shop. High-quality pianos can be rebuilt several times, thus extending their usefulness to many decades.
Not all pianos are worth the investment of rebuilding. Replacement of low-quality pianos is usually more cost effective than rebuilding. Replacement of pianos in large inventories that have seriously deteriorated should be done in two ways. First, an adequate number of instruments should be replaced at the outset to remedy the most pressing needs. Secondly, a systematic schedule of annual piano replacement should be implemented.
IV. Shop Equipment and Supplies
A properly equipped shop is essential to an effective piano maintenance program. The outfitting and upkeep of such a shop should be budgeted with the rest of the program. The following is a partial list of some of the basic tools needed for a piano maintenance shop:
A. Large Tools
band saw drill press table saw woodworking benches
buffer belt sander air compressor storage cabinets/shelves
grinder gantry or hoist regulating benches
B. Hand Tools
files wood chisels hand drills sharpening stones
saws scrapers clamps restringing tools
planes wrenches regulating tools
solvents sandpaper drill bits buffing wheels
glue compounds saw blades lacquer and varnish
V. Administrative Equipment
One of the most valuable administrative tools for managing an effective piano maintenance program is a computer with adequate software. Keeping track of a piano inventory with frequently changing room assignments, tuning requirements, work history, condition reports, and prioritised work assignments are just a few of the administrative needs of a maintenance program.
VI. Research and Development
Part of piano work involves tools that must be fabricated or adapted. The time and money that go into these projects usually pay for themselves many times over because of increased efficiency and accuracy. In addition, money for research tools such as hygrometers, durometers, balances etc., often produces the same positive results. An effective piano maintenance program should contain budget allocations for such items.
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The following are recommendations regarding purchasing policies for pianos, parts, and related services.
1. All piano purchases for music institutions should be reviewed and approved by the head piano technician.
2. Music institutions should seek to purchase the highest quality pianos available. Pianos of lesser quality require more maintenance, have a shorter lifespan, do not warrant major rebuilding, and usually do not meet the musical needs of the institutions. Because of the heavy use that institutional pianos receive, instruments of lesser quality are not a judicious investment.
3. The institutional practice of contract bidding can be counterproductive to the purchase and maintenance of high-quality pianos. Pianos, parts, and related services should not be solely determined by awarding purchases to the lowest bidder. Piano technicians must be able to purchase the highest quality parts, services, and pianos available to produce work acceptable to the needs of their institutions. "Equivalent substitutes" are not acceptable for the purchase and maintenance of high-quality pianos.
In addition, major structural repairs or rebuilding cannot be entrusted to the lowest bidder. This type of work is highly specialised and few contractors are capable of preserving the tonal integrity of a fine piano. Piano technicians must be able to refer this type of work to the original manufacturer or to a reputable contractor.
Staff piano technicians should receive support for their professional development. Funding should be made available for them to participate in the Piano Technicians Guild Convention and Technical institute, as well as state and regional seminars and conferences. In addition to these events, funding should be available for further professional development, such as participation in factory-sponsored seminars, training programs in ancillary keyboard maintenance, museum exhibitions of keyboard collections, and sabbatical leave for academic advancement.
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Music institutions should provide a proper work environment for their piano technicians. A proper work environment is one that respects health requirements and safety codes as outlined below:
1. A piano maintenance shop should be of adequate size for the maintenance program. An overcrowded shop is not a safe place to work. The shop needs for any music institution can best be determined by its staff piano technicians.
2. A good ventilation system is imperative to remove dust and solvent fumes from the environment and to insure an adequate influx of fresh air.
3. An adequate dust collection system should be installed wherever woodworking machines are used.
4. Proper lighting is essential to piano work and shop safety. Natural lighting (daylight) is considered the best form of lighting and should be sought when locating a piano maintenance shop.
5. Health and safety equipment, such as eye protection, first aid kits, particle and vapour masks, gloves, and hearing protection, should be available.
6. A separate office space, outside or separated from the shop environment should be provided for piano technicians to perform their office work.
7. Institutional piano maintenance shops should conform to OSHA guidelines.
Seasonal changes in humidity and temperature play a major role in piano maintenance needs. The more extreme these changes are, the more tuning and general maintenance will be required. Furthermore, extreme changes in humidity levels usually cause serious structural damage to pianos, including cracking of sound boards, pin blocks, and bridges. In some localities seasonal changes are minimal. However, where changes in humidity and temperature are extreme, effective climate control will greatly improve the cost-effectiveness of all piano related expenditures.
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Many piano inventories have grown out of proportion to the resources and needs of their institutions. An excess number of pianos that cannot be adequately maintained offers no advantages to an institution and such pianos should be retired or traded in. An administration should work with its technical staff to determine what is the optimal size of a maintainable piano inventory for their institution.
Piano maintenance is sometimes a neglected priority of music and academic institutions. Despite large inventories of high-quality pianos and the employment of highly-skilled technicians, many music institutions have inadequate piano maintenance programs to meet their musical needs. Pianos that have been allowed to deteriorate do not properly represent the educational goals of a music institution or music department, the workmanship of skilled piano technicians, or the high-quality manufacturing of the piano maker.
The College and University Technicians' Committee of the Piano Technicians Guild respectfully submits these "Guidelines for Effective Institutional Piano Maintenance" to encourage music institutions to provide the necessary resources to save their valuable investments in pianos and to provide their students, faculty and guest artists with pianos that are musically satisfactory.
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Action - The internal mechanism of a piano, consisting of several thousand moving parts made of a wide variety of materials.
Action Regulation - The adjustment of action parts to their proper specifications.
Bridge - A wooden structure (between the strings and the soundboard) that transmits string vibrations to the soundboard.
Centre Pins - Small pins that form the precision pivot points of moving action parts. There are over 600 centre pins in a piano action.
Damper - A felt cushion attached to a lever assembly that stops the vibration of the strings.
Hammer - The mallet that strikes the piano strings, made of very dense felt wrapped around a wooden core.
Hammershanks - The thin wooden levers on which the hammers are mounted.
Hammer Filing - The process of reshaping the hammers and removing worn layers of felt.
Key Bushings - Felt or leather bushings glued into mortices in the keys that enable them to move quietly.
Key Covering - The visible surface of the key usually made of ivory, ebony, or plastic.
Pinblock - The wooden structure that holds the tuning pins in place.
Rebuilding - The process of replacing major parts of the piano or sets of parts. This may also include case refinishing.
Reconditioning - Restoring the condition of existing piano parts and their functions.
Regulation - See Action Regulation
Repetition - A small assembly of wooden levers, springs, felt and buckskin cushions that is part of a grand piano action. There are 88 repetitions in an action.
Restringing - Replacing a set of piano strings.
Shanks - See Hammershanks
Soundboard - A large, thin, wooden diaphragm that amplifies the vibrations of piano strings.
Strings - The steel and copper wires that produce the musical tone in a piano. There are three strings per note throughout most of the piano range.
Tuning - Adjusting the tension of the strings to produce desired pitches.
Tuning Pin - The threaded steel shaft that keeps the strings at the proper tension. There are nearly 250 tuning pins in a piano.
Voicing - Adjusting the shape, density and resilience of the individual hammers for desired tonal quality and uniformity.
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Because music institutions differ both in size and mission, and because piano inventories vary greatly in quality and condition, the following Workload Formula has been developed to more specifically assess the piano needs of an individual institution.
Please note: The Workload Formula does not presume to conclude how many piano technicians should be employed be an institution. It represents the relationship of the staffing requirements to the condition of the piano inventory. Any significant improvement of the condition of the inventory will dramatically alter the ratio of pianos to technicians.
NUMBER OF PIANOS + RECOMMENDED WORKLOAD = NUMBER OF TECHNICIANS
Recommended Workload = 60 x C x Q x CL x A x U x AS
Given: 60 = Base Workload
Variables: C = Condition
Q = Quality
CL = Climate Control
A = Age
U = Usage
AS = Acceptable Standards
The Workload Formula functions in the following manner:
Recommended Workload is the maximum number of pianos, in their current condition, that can effectively be maintained by each full time technician. If the inventory in question has 150 pianos, and the Recommended Workload is calculated to be 50 pianos per each full-time technician, then you can conclude that you will need three full time technicians to effectively maintain such an inventory in its present condition. If the condition of the pianos in the inventory is significantly improved, through replacement, rebuilding, climate control, or inventory control, the Recommended Workload number will increase and the number of technicians required to effectively maintain the inventory will decrease.
The Base Workload is a given constant whose value in 60. This number represents the maximum number of pianos, in excellent condition, that one full-time technician can maintain in excellent condition under optimal conditions. More than 60 pianos per technician will typically result in a piano inventory deteriorating more rapidly than it can be maintained.
The six variables in the formula, Condition, Quality, Climate Control, Age, Usage, and Acceptable Standards, all use the number 1.00 as their optimal value. If all the variables are optimal for an inventory calculation, the number 60 (Base Workload) is multiplied six times by the value 1.00, and the result remains an unchanged Recommended Workload of 60 pianos per each full-time technician. Deviations in any of the variables from the optimal number will obviously result in decreasing or increasing the Recommended Workload.
To use the Workload Formula:
1. Assign each piano in the inventory a numerical rating for each of the six variables as described below; Condition, Quality, Climate Control, Age, Usage, and Acceptable Standards.
2. Calculate the average rating of the inventory for each of the six categories.
3. Find the Recommended Workload according to the formula, by multiplying 60 (Base Workload) times the six averages.
4. NUMBER OF PIANOS + RECOMMENDED WORKLOAD = NUMBER OF TECHNICIANS
Description of Variables for Workload Formula
(1.00) Excellent: Piano only needs routine maintenance - regulation, tuning and voicing.
(0.75) Good: Piano needs reconditioning - hammer filing, regulation, tuning, voicing, and possibly some new parts (key bushings, center pins), or minor repairs.
(0.50) Fair: Piano needs partial rebuilding - new hammers and other action parts, regulation, tuning and voicing.
(0.25) Poor: Piano needs complete rebuilding - repair of replace structurally damaged parts (pin block, soundboard), new strings, tuning pins, action parts, regulation, tuning and voicing.
(1.00) Excellent: Piano worth complete rebuilding
(0.90) Good: Piano worth partial rebuilding
(0.80) Fair: Piano worth reconditioning
(0.70) Poor: Piano should be replaced
(1.00) Excellent: 10 percent maximum variance in relative humidity.
(0.90) Good: 20 percent maximum variance in relative humidity.
(0.80) Fair: 30 percent maximum variance in relative humidity.
(0.70) Poor: 40 percent maximum variance in relative humidity.
(1.00) Excellent: 0 to 15 years old.
(0.90) Good: 60 to 30 years old.
(0.80) Fair: 31 to 45 years old
(0.70) Poor: 46 or more years old.
(1.00) Light: 0 to 4 hours per day.
(0.90) Medium: 4 to 8 hours per day.
(0.80) Heavy: 8 or more hours per day.
(1.00) Excellent: Piano needs to be kept at performance level - well tuned, voiced, and regulated.
(1.50) Good: Piano needs to be kept at an acceptable musical level - adequately tuned, voiced and regulated.
(2.00) Fair: Piano need not be kept at an acceptable musical level - not adequately tuned, voiced, or regulated.
(2.50) Poor: Piano need not be kept completely functional - not tunable, keys, strings, or parts broken.
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"Guidelines for Effective Institutional Piano Maintenance" was originally conceived as a document for the State University of New York by the Piano Technicians of SUNY. Special thanks to our SUNY colleagues, Lou Tasciotti, formerly SUNY Potsdam; Joseph Vitti, SUNY Stony Brook; Gary Shipe, SUNY Buffalo; and Tom McNeil, SUNY Fredonia, for their contribution to this project.
The College and University Technicians' Committee of the Piano Technicians Guild would like to acknowledge the author of this publication, Lou Tasciotti, University of North Texas, for its inspiration and realisation, and for the special help of its co-author, Robert Grijalva, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
The publication of this document by the College and University Technicians' Committee would not have been possible without the efforts of Tom McNeil, Committee Chairman, who provided us with the leadership we needed in our formative years as an organisational body.
College and University Technicians' Committee
Piano Technicians Guild
Tom McNeil, Chairman, School of Music, State University of New York, College at Fredonia.
Charles Ball, Department of Music, University of Texas at Austin.
Russell Brown, Department of Music, University of California, Santa Cruz.
Harry Cardwell, Emory University, Kensaw College, at al, Georgia.
George Emerson, School of Music, Ball State University.
Robert Grijalva, School of Music, University of Michigan.
Yat-Lam Hong, Department of Music, Western Michigan University.
Michael Reiter, University of Puget Sound, et al, Washington.
Dean Shank, Shepherd School of Music, Rice University.
David Skolnik, Manhattan School of Music.
Ken Sloane, Conservatory of Music, Oberlin College.
Bob Stephenson, Bernidji State University, Minnesota.
Lou Tasciotti, College of Music, University of North Texas.
Rolf von Walthausen, College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati.
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Board of Directors
Piano Technicians Guild
Ronald L. Berry, President
Nolan P. Zeringue, Vice President
Robert Smit, Secretary-Treasurer
Norman Heischober, Northeast Regional Vice President
Donal S. Valley, Southeast Regional Vice President
Danny L. Boone, South Central Regional Vice President
Bruce Dornfeld, Central East Regional Vice President
Michael A. Drost, Central West Regional Vice President
Fern L. Henry, Western Regional Vice President
Stephen H. Brady, Pacific Northwest Regional Vice President
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Link to: The Piano Technicians Guild Website
Copyright © 1990,
Piano Technicians Guild.
Reproduced for this web page by R. E. Overs,
November 1998, with the authorisation of the
PTG Executive Director, David Hanzlick.