Controlling Humidity In Pianos

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If you live in an extremely dry climate where your neighbors are mostly lizards and your nostrils build sand castles when you inhale, you've gotta know your piano feels the dryness too, despite pianos, in most cases, not having nostrils. Conversely, if you live in a swamp (or the Midwest -- but I'm being redundant) your piano feels the humidity also. Extreme moisture or dryness, which you or I would just suck up as @%&*$ sinus allergies, can cause a whole array of problems for your piano -- things like sticking keys or cabinet parts, hardening of wool bushings, sluggish actions, cracking finishes and hurtful arguments with its bench over who gets custody of the sheet music. Even in moderate climates humidity, or lack thereof, can make for trouble.

piano dehumidifier barBut you really don't have to put up with this behavior from your piano, despite what you've heard from the AntiPiano people - (oh yeah, they're out there, don't ever doubt it). You can foil them all if you just call your friendly local piano tuner. He or she can vanish all of these inconveniences, or at least mitigate them, by installing a moisture control system tailored to your instrument's particular need. These range from installation of a simple and inexpensive dehumidifier bar (shown on right) for controlling excessive moisture,humistat system to a full hydrostatic system (shown on left) that will add or subtract moisture from inside your piano as conditions require (the latter are more costly as you would expect, but well worth their cost, particularly on pianos with persistent sticking keys or high dollar grands). Your piano, like you, is generally most comfortable with about 45% humidity which these devices deliver. On verticals, either solution can be installed out of sight behind the "kickboard" as shown. (Go here for instructions for removing vertical kickboards).

Similar systems can be installed on grand pianos underneath the instrument where they are also virtually invisible (unless you sleep under the piano, in which case please seek professional help). In fact, where maximum climate control is required, the technician can install multiple dehumidifier bars to address particular issues in the action or keyboard. Another advantage is the gentle heat the bar radiates inside the piano helps stabilize the tuning, a consideration in calculating costs as this can reduce the need for more frequent tunings.

Also, as you might have guessed there is some maintenance associated with the more elaborate systems which will require attention to the system's water supply and the ocassional replacement of filters (available from your tuner). And though the dehumifiter bars require no maintanence, they, as well as a full humistat system, require a plugin and electricity, but the addition to your electric bill is pennies a month in most cases. The bar itself consumes about the same amount of juice as a 30 watt light bulb and most owners just leave them on all the time in humid seasons.

There are at least two different manufacturers of these climate control systems, one by Damp-Chaser, another by Moisture Master. Your piano technician can explain any of the differences in usage and price/availability of these brands, but I suspect either work well.

One final word -- those of you who inherited an old Victorian upright from Grandma may find, if the kickboard is removed, an old dry Mason jar at the bottom near the pedals. This was a way to add humidity to pianos back in the Little House On The Prairie days. You too can do this if you are concerned about excessive dryness out there in lizardland. Basically you take a Mason jar, fill it with water, punch some holes in the lid, set it in the corner away from the pedals and pretend you'll remember to occasionally check the water. Ha Ha. Actually this may work to some degree, but I can't vouch for it. Some folks in the past even tried to remove moisture in a vertical piano by placing a small lamp with a bare light bulb inside the corner. DO NOT do this unless you have a really generous fire insurance policy and an exceptionally dumb insurance agent.

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