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#2104196 - 06/18/13 03:11 AM prepping a piano for storage/hibernation?
berninicaco3 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/14/13
Posts: 103
Loc: iowa city, ia
I was musing on what would be necessary if storing an instrument for the long haul, if you knew for a fact that it would not be played for the next 10, 20, 30 years.

It seems that stable (and not too much) humidity is the big one, but what I was curious about was this...

when I played cello, I was told to loosen the strings before storing for a long time.
Likewise for guitar, likewise for a celtic harp I made.

Later I took an class in college that talked about materials stresses, and "creep"-- that while high school newtonian physics might say that either something breaks, or it doesn't; moves, or it doesn't-- very slow plastic deformation can happen over the long haul under constant, unrelenting stress. More importantly, under stresses far, far lower than would normally predict failure. Something might snap under 1000 lbs, but will bend over the course of years under only 50 lbs.

This is why book shelves don't sag after a minute or a year, but might sag after 20yrs of load,
and why guitar bridges will slowly pull forward,
and the edges of a harp's soundboard will peel up (epoxy glue is apparently more resistant to creeping, and for that reason is favored for gluing down a modern harp soundboard).

So if you are NOT going to play a piano for a very long time, should you carefully and evenly de-tension all the strings and leave it relaxed for the next 30 years, so that it's not under constant stress all that time, slowly crushing bridges and flattening soundboards? That way parts won't be as worn out, plastically deformed from "creep" over all the years you weren't using the piano.
And of course, when you re-stress it to bring it out of hibernation, you would do so slowly and evenly as well, ramping up tensions so the wood won't give way suddenly.

Err, just to double check: the cast iron plate handles almost all the stress in the horizontal plane, but, there's a very fractional vertical stress bearing down on the soundboard through the bridges, correct? Or else the soundboard would never ring/ never carry the string vibration.

I forget how any of the equations went, but my sense is that cast iron is not one of the materials susceptible to creep-- that the plate isn't going to slowly bow over the decades, won't give a thousandth of an inch. But, wood is notorious for creep.
So the longer the soundboard has the strings bearing down on it, the more it will flatten, and that's what you'll see in an old piano, a flat soundboard...?

It seems to make sense.

Yet in contrast to other stringed instruments, I've read in at least one place that no in fact, you want to keep it at least in some semblance of being in tune, to keep it up to tension the entire time even if you are not playing it, and never just to relax all the strings like you would do with a violin.

Violins, and guitars both, over time, can and do develop necks that bow forward. In that case the guitar has a metal rod to reverse the force built into the neck, and the violin, well, you get a new neck after a while.
Pianos you get a new soundboard I guess. There's no additional length of neck.

But wouldn't that be avoidable by de-tensioning it?

What negative effect is there: what happens when you take all the strings off a piano, store it for 50+ years, and restring it 50+ yrs later? Have you seen this done, and what happened with that piano? Anything bad-- or maybe it was actually in remarkably good shape as a result?

I'm genuinely curious!

Edited by berninicaco3 (06/18/13 03:13 AM)

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#2104230 - 06/18/13 06:34 AM Re: prepping a piano for storage/hibernation? [Re: berninicaco3]
Ed Foote Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/03/03
Posts: 1660
Loc: Tennessee
If I was going to store a piano for 30 years, I would take most of the tension off. Maybe drop it a fifth or more. When it was time to bring it back up, I wouldn't waste time doing it in small increments, I would bring it straight to A-440, with no more than 10 cent pitch correction at a time. It would take at least three tunings over the first month to make it useable.
I would also prop the hammer shanks off the whippens, too.

Edited by Ed Foote (06/18/13 06:35 AM)

#2104264 - 06/18/13 09:02 AM Re: prepping a piano for storage/hibernation? [Re: berninicaco3]
Zeno Wood Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/20/07
Posts: 504
Loc: Brooklyn, NY
Did you rob a bank and you want the piano to be there for you when you come out of hiding after the statute of limitations expires? Seriously, if I knew the piano wouldn't be used for 30 years I would sell it and put the money aside to buy another piano 30 years down the road.
Zeno Wood, Piano Technician
Brooklyn College

#2104307 - 06/18/13 10:47 AM Re: prepping a piano for storage/hibernation? [Re: berninicaco3]
berninicaco3 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/14/13
Posts: 103
Loc: iowa city, ia
I was considering the fate of my grandmother's piano, which had maybe been intended to have been played, or maybe it's a family heirloom that she could never let go of
(although strictly financially, I wholly agree with you-- sell it, and in 30 yrs, buy an equivalent, having done something with the money in the meantime to grow it more than a depreciating, aging piano ever would).

The last couple moves I did, I took a similar approach to the woodshop I was maintaining. I sold all my equipment in one area, and when I later decided that I wanted to do woodworking, simply repurchased the same equipment in the new city, and came out well ahead once I factored depreciation and transportation costs of tablesaws and planers and such. I completely understand you.

And I won't tell her what to do with it, but it simply raised in my mind, what *should* have been done with it back when it was last touched (should she have been keeping it tuned all these years, or the opposite)?

Similarly, actually, my father has a decent piano that he only plays a very little, and if he's going to retire it completely for a large period of time, are there any measures he should take to preserve its lifespan? He is also unlikely to want to sell it.
Maybe if it's even just 5 yrs, not 30 like my grandmother's

The trouble of course is you might tell yourself, you'll pick up piano again next month... and next month... and never be honest with yourself that this instrument won't be played for the next 5, or even 35, years; until after that time has passed. People will be people.
So this really was more of a thought experiment than a real situation.

Edited by berninicaco3 (06/18/13 10:50 AM)

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#2104320 - 06/18/13 11:19 AM Re: prepping a piano for storage/hibernation? [Re: Ed Foote]
kpembrook Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/10
Posts: 1616
Loc: Michigan
Originally Posted By: Ed Foote
If I was going to store a piano for 30 years, I would take most of the tension off. Maybe drop it a fifth or more. When it was time to bring it back up, I wouldn't waste time doing it in small increments, I would bring it straight to A-440, with no more than 10 cent pitch correction at a time. It would take at least three tunings over the first month to make it useable.
I would also prop the hammer shanks off the whippens, too.

The piano is designed to bear a certain tension on its structure. Lowering the pitch would do nothing to make the piano last longer. It is not uncommon to find pianos that haven't been tuned in 30 years. They may be 100-200 cents flat -- but never have I seen or heard of a situation where the thought was that the piano would have been in better condition if the pitch had been dramatically lowered.

There is some merit to the idea that lifting the hammers might prevent compression on the knuckles (and on downward on the wippen profile felt that contacts the capstan). However . . .

In no circumstances will a piano stored for 30 years be identical in condition to the day it went into storage. Wood, felt and leather do "age" whether or not they are being played. I would expect even a well-preserved Rip Van Winkle piano to need a certain amount of TLC to bring it back to good serviceability after it emerged back into the world of active use.
Keith Akins, RPT
Piano Technologist
USA Distributor for Isaac Cadenza hammers and Profundo Bass Strings
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