Protecting Your Piano

The piano has a unique role.  It is thought of as a piece of furniture as well as a musical instrument. Protecting its external condition is important not only to retain the piano but also to add beauty to the home.

Various finishes have been used on piano cases throughout history. Early instrument used alcohol-soluble spirit varnishes, such as French polish, and oil varnishes (used after the mid-nineteenth century). Today lacquer and polyester are in use. Unfortunately there is no single cleaning technique or solution suitable for all pianos.

Certain precautions can be taken to protect a piano’s finish and avoid possible damage. Do not keep the piano in direct sunlight, as this will age the finish prematurely and cause its color to fade.

Not only will excessive changes in relative humidity will affect the internal workings of a piano, but the expansion and contraction of the case work panels can cause crazing and in extreme conditions separate the finish material from the wood itself.

If the piano is subjected to too much moisture, the removable panels can expand so much that they jam inside the fixed panels, resulting in strain and perhaps damage when they are removed. We have already mention the acoustical reasons not to place anything on top of a piano but this should also be avoided to protect the finish.

Make sure lamps or other objects have a soft felt pad under them to help prevent scratches, and never put vessels containing liquid near a piano, since spilled water can mark finishes and in extreme cases can lift veneer.

It is only natural to dust a piano to keep it clean and looking beautiful, but be aware that dust is an abrasive and thus will scratch if wiped with a dry cloth. It is advisable to use a feather duster to remove the excess dust and then finish with a slightly damp soft cotton cloth.

If heavier cleaning is required, then you will need to know the type of finish used on the piano. This can be found out by consulting the piano maker’s manual in the case of a new piano, or your technician. Whatever the finish, do not use furniture polishes that contain silicon, as this will work its way into the wood and complicate any future repairs or refinishing.

Cheap polishes can also soften finishes and so should be avoided. Aerosols are just as damaging, since their spray can land on parts of the piano other than its case, harming key coverings and corroding strings and tuning pins. On most finishes a technician trained in finish touch-up can repair a dent, chip, or scratch quite invisibly.

It is important for a pianist of any level to practice on a clean keyboard that is in good condition. Not only can a dirty keyboard feel uncomfortable under the fingertips, but also marks, rather than the orientation of the keyboard, can come to distinguish a particular note.

The natural keys are covered using plastic, celluloid, or ivory and the three are easily distinguishable from one another. Plastic coverings are colored solid white and have no grain pattern. Celluloid sometimes has an artificial line pattern to give the effect of a grain and is often colored off white, while an ivory is a translucent shade with an individual grain.

The sharp keys are covered in either ebony (or another hardwood stained black) or plastic, and these too are easily distinguishable. Whatever the material, the keys can be wiped clean by using a slightly damp white cotton clot hand water.

Use a different cloth for the naturals than for the sharps, to prevent the black polish from staining the white keys.  Never use a colored cloth because the dye might affect the color of the key covering. Do not allow the water to run down the side of the keys, and use a dry cloth to dry off any excess moisture immediately.

After cleaning, leave the fall open to allow air to circulate and dry the keyboard thoroughly. Never use a furniture polish or any other chemical cleaner on the keyboard, because this can soften the covering, as well as leave a slippery residue.

A technician can polish jaded ivory naturals and ebony sharps by using a high-speed buffing wheel with a very fine cutting compound to restore their shine. Water should also be used very sparingly to clean plastic coverings marked with felt-tip pen; for ivory, use a small amount of acetone applied with a clean white cloth.