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Piano FAQ's

Frequently Asked Questions

Some frequently asked questions submitted to Piano World.
We will continue to add to this section from time to time.
  • 1. What is the ideal humidity for a piano?
  • 2. How do I determine what my piano is worth?
  • 3. How many keys does a piano have?
  • 4. How do I figure out what "type" of piano I have?
  • 5. What does a piano weigh?
  • 6. Why are the keys on a piano grouped the way they are?
  • 7. I want to replace some keys, how do I remove the old ones?
  • 8. Will moving a piano make it go out of tune?
  • 9. How often should I have my piano tuned?
  • 10. What is the best way to clean my piano keys?
  • 11. What are the different pedals for?
  • 12. Is the piano a string or percussion instrument?
  • 13. Should I restore my piano?
  • Piano Forums (post questions or search for answers).
  • More interesting facts


  • 1. The ideal humidity for a piano is 40-50%. The Dampp-Chaser company makes complete humidity control systems for pianos.

  • 2. We have set up a page to help you determine the value of your piano. See What's My Piano Worth? .

  • 3. The "average" piano has 88 keys, of these, 36 are black keys commonly known as "sharps".
    There are also some pianos made with 85 keys and one with more than 88! (The Bosendorfer 9'6" concert grand has 97, but not much music is written for these extra keys. The extra keys are mainly there because of the additional resonance produced by the extra strings and large soundboard).
    You would be safe in saying that a piano has 88 keys!

  • 4. If you measure the instrument from the floor to the top, you can get a better idea of what type you have. Spinet pianos are generally 37" and under, consoles run from 38" to 43", studios from about 44" to 52". Another way to tell is to open the top and look down inside. If the "action" (the moving parts) rests on the back end of the keys, it is a console, if it appears to drop down below the end of the keys and then back up again, it is a spinet.

  • 5. The following is from "The Piano Book" by Larry Fine:

    The average spinet or console weighs in at from three hundred to five hundred pounds, full-size uprights at about seven hundred, but sometimes as much as a thousand. Grands vary from about five hundred to a thousand pounds though a concert grand may weigh as much as thirteen hundred.

    According to the "Pierce Piano Atlas", in general the "box" for an upright piano adds between seventy five and one hundred fifty pounds (I presume they mean wooden crates).


  • 6. For information about why piano keys are grouped the way they are, please see Keyboard History

  • 7. The following is from the book "Piano Servicing & Rebuilding" by Arthur Reblitz.

    Old ivory may be removed by heating it for a minute with an iron set on medium, and then slipping a 1" wide putty knife under it. Some old plastic keys may be removed with methylene chloride, a highly volatile solvent which softens the glue. Never apply heat to plastic or celluloid keytops.
    Ivory can be identified by its grain pattern, which with careful examination will be seen to resemble a wood-grain. Plastic and celluloid sometimes have a simulated grain, which will be much more uniform than that of genuine ivory. After removing the keytop, remove the old glue by sanding. To keep from rounding the edges of the key, tape a piece of sandpaper down to a flat surface and rub the key over it until clean and flat.


  • 8. That depends on what you mean by "moving". If you are just moving the piano from one room to another (or another area in the same room) the answer is no. If you are moving it some distance from one house (or store) to another, the answer is ... maybe. If the piano is going to be jostled around in a truck and subjected to changes in temperature and humidity it will likely speed up its going out of tune.

  • 9. The Piano Technician's Guild and most manufacturers recommend having a new piano tuned 4 times the first year and twice a year thereafter. Even if the instrument isn't played very often it is still a good idea to keep it tuned up. Pianos (except possibly the very old "square" ones) are designed to be tuned to A440 (the A above middle C vibrating at 440 cycles per second). This is considered to be "concert pitch".

  • 10. We have finally found a product that actually cleans keys! It is called "Key Clean" It keeps the keys clean of persperation, dirt, dust, and will even remove crayon. "Key Clean" contains no harmful waxes, polishes or abrasives.

  • 11. Usually, with two pedals the left one is the Soft pedal. On a baby grand, the soft pedal actually shifts the entire "action" mechanism (the moving parts that rest on the back end of the keys) slightly to one side causing the hammers (the oval shaped felt pieces that strike the strings) to only strike two of the three strings which makes the sound softer.

    On a vertical (upright) piano, the left pedal moves the action closer to the strings. Because they can't travel as far, they don't hit the strings as hard, again making the sound softer.

    On both types of pianos, the right pedal, called the "sustain pedal" lifts the "dampers" (felt covered blocks that normally mute the string sound when a key is released) which causes the notes to sustain until either the pedal is released or the sound dies out.

    The addition of the middle pedal is a little more complicated. It can perform a number of functions depending on the model of the piano. On many verticals (uprights) and some baby grands it works as a bass sustain. That is, pressing down on the middle pedal only sustains the notes in the bass section. On some verticals, it operated a "rinky tink" or "honky tonk" bar that lowered a series of felt strips with little metal pieces on the ends of them so that they came between the hammers and the strings. This produced a "rinky tink" sound.

    Sometimes the center pedal is a "practice" pedal that lowers a long felt strip between the hammers and strings, muffling the sound so that it doesn't disturb others when the pianist is practicing. I have even seen (cheap) upright pianos where the center pedal was actually attached to the left pedal.

    On most better baby grand pianos, the center pedal is a ""sostenuto" pedal. A sostenuto pedal only sustains the bass note(s) played immediately before pressing the pedal. This would in effect work like a "third" hand by keeping only the chosen notes sustained while playing other notes.


  • 12. In spite of the fact that the average piano has about 230 strings, it is considered a percussion instrument. Symphony orchestra's consider it part of the percussion section.

  • 13. (From a question posted on our Piano Forums)
    From reading other posts I take it that it is not worth the money or time to restore an old upright. My piano is a 1898 Weber. It is in excellent condition. I bought it at the Salvation Army for fifty dollars. Should I spend more and get it restored? Thanks!

    It depends on what you want.
    As it stands the piano is probably worth between $0 and $500 and all components have considerable wear. Assuming that the basic structure such as pinblock, soundboard, and bridges are sound, you could spend perhaps about $2500 to $2800 for partial rebuilding and have the piano restrung, have new hammers, damper felt, and bridle tapes put on the action, and have the keys rebushed. If the other action parts such as hammer butts, shanks, and whippens are in fairly reasonable condition and not becoming brittle with age that's the minimum to get you a musical instrument that will probably sound very good and play decently.

    Because of the wear that's certain to exist in the other action parts it won't be a piano that can be perfectly regulated or will feel and play like a new piano. If you had to sell it with some effort you might be able to get $1500 for it.

    If you went the whole distance and had the action fully rebuilt with all new parts you would probably end up spending about twice the previous estimate. Then if you want add in about $1800 to get the case refinished. By the time you are done you would have a really nice vintage upright piano, but that money would also buy you a really nice new upright. After doing all that if you had to sell the piano you would never get anywhere near what you put into it out of it.

    That might give you some idea why old uprights such as this almost never get rebuilt. One last comment: you say the piano is in excellent condition - how do you know?

    Niles Duncan
    Piano rebuilder, Pasadena, CA
    (Note from Piano World... The above is not to say you should never consider restoring an older piano. It depends on the brand, model and relative condition, or if the instrument has great sentimental value to you and you intend to keep it).
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