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Piano Key Tops
solutions for missing, loose, or damaged key tops

Piano Keys and Key Tops

At their most basic level, each of the 88 piano keys are Class 1 levers (e.g. see-saw), which contain a key stick and a key top.

The
key stick, or main structure of a key, is typically made of sugar pine, spruce, or basswood. The 88 key sticks extend behind the fallboard (key cover), remaining predominantly out of sight.

The
key top is the exposed piece of thin material which the pianist’s fingers contact. Key tops are adhered to the top of each key stick. Beginning in the early 1800s, natural (white) key tops were made of ivory, while sharp (black) key tops were made of ebony. Around WWII, piano manufacturers began experimenting with early plastics, and by the mid-1980s most ivory production ceased. Ebony key tops are still made today, but are typically only found on higher-end instruments. Instead, most modern pianos have plastic key tops on both black and white keys. While plastics have advanced considerably in the last few decades, modern key tops are not immune from issues.

Key Top Problems and Solutions

As adhesive begins to fail with age, it is not uncommon to find older pianos with loose and/or missing ivory key tops. Also, certain eras of Yamaha and Kawai pianos have been known to have premature glue failure. If two or more key tops have already come loose, chances are, others are probably not far behind. Chips, cracks, or other damage to key tops may also occur. It is important to consider your piano’s age and overall condition before moving forward with repairs.

The process for properly reaffixing loose or missing key tops to piano keys is a bit more involved than it may appear, and should only be performed by an experienced technician:

1. Affected key sticks must be removed from the piano to permit access for proper repair.

2. In order to achieve a smooth surface suitable for key top application, the technician will remove residual glue and perform any necessary repairs to the underlying wood.

3. Once an appropriate adhesive has been applied, the key top will be precisely positioned onto the key stick.

4. The key stick and key top(s) must be clamped in a specialized piano key clamp to prevent the key top from sliding or warping during the drying process. Dry time varies depending on adhesive and key top material.

5. When keys are reinstalled in the piano, their heights will be carefully adjusted to be level with neighboring keys.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Which areas do you service?
    I service the area denoted in green on the map below. This includes, but is not limited to: the San Gabriel Valley, Pasadena, San Marino, Altadena, Arcadia, La Cañada Flintridge, Eagle Rock, Sierra Madre, Alhambra, Burbank, Glendale, and parts of the San Fernando Valley.
  • How often do I need to have my piano tuned? Why does it go out of tune?
    Generally, pianos should be tuned every 6 months or every year, even if they are not being played regularly. Pianos on the concert stage, in recording studios, or in schools may require more frequent tuning and attention. The piano's main structure and soundboard are both made of wood, which expand and contract with climate change and humidity variation. Fluctuations in the wood net an out of tune piano. It is especially important to tune new pianos several times during their first few years to ensure that the string tension and piano structure reach a stable equilibrium.
  • What is a "pitch raise?"
    All modern pianos are designed to be tuned and sound their best at "standard pitch," where A4=440 Hz (A above middle C vibrates at 440 cycles per second). If a piano has not been tuned for an extended period of time (over ~12 months), has been through extreme climate fluctuations, or has been moved, the overall pitch of the piano may be significantly higher or lower than standard pitch. In this situation, the piano will require a pitch adjustment or "pitch raise" to bring the piano’s combined string tension back into a normal range before a standard fine tuning can be performed. A pitch raise and fine tuning are typically performed in the same service appointment, but in very extreme cases, where multiple pitch raises are necessary, a second appointment may be necessary. The need for a pitch raise cannot be determined without assessing the piano in person. Read more about pitch raises here.
  • I'm moving. How can I move my piano safely and when should I have it tuned?
    Moving your piano shouldn't be stressful and you most definitely should not attempt to move it yourself. Hire an insured piano mover, not just any mover! The piano is a fragile instrument and permanent damage can easily be done by an inexperienced mover. I would be glad to refer you to someone in your city. Generally, I recommend waiting about one month after your move to tune the piano, allowing the piano to acclimate to the new location. This will net a more stable tuning than had it been tuned immediately.
  • Do you repair digital pianos and keyboards?
    I do not service and repair digital pianos/keyboards. I recommend contacting the manufacturer to obtain a referral to a certified service center for your instrument: Casio Kawai Korg Roland Yamaha
  • Can you tell me how much my piano is worth? Do you offer appraisals?
    The short answer: Yes The long answer: There are two options below. Condition Report: As an add-on to a technical inspection, I offer a "condition report." The purpose of the condition report is to assist a buyer in the potential purchase of a piano, by providing a detailed perspective on the condition of the piano being considered, warn of any red flags, and suggest any treatment or repairs the piano might benefit from. The condition report does not state a monetary value of the piano. Please see more information about this service at this link. Appraisal: If you need your piano appraised, I work together with a Qualified Appraiser to present you with the official appraisal documents you need. Please see more information about this service at this link.
  • What is regulation?
    Despite frequent tuning, you may find that your piano does not respond and feel the way it did years ago. The piano "action" is composed of levers, felt, cloth, pivot points, and wood. As the instrument settles, is effected by climate change, and is played, these parts need adjustment so that the piano performs the way it was designed to perform. A well-regulated piano responds consistently from key-to-key, allowing for ideal playability and dynamic control by the pianist.
  • What is a RPT (Registered Piano Technician)?
    The Piano Technicians Guild is a nonprofit organization that regulates the trade of piano technology. A RPT is a piano technician who has undergone and passed tuning, technical, and written exams according the the Piano Technicians Guild standards. The Registered Piano Technician certification is the only official guild certification for piano technicians in the United States. To find out more about Registered Piano Technicians, click here.
  • What type of payments do you accept?
    I accept paper check, cash, Zelle, Venmo, Apple Pay, and all major credit and debit cards.
  • My piano is very dirty and dusty. Do you clean pianos?
    I offer a piano cleaning package where I clean the entire piano inside and out. Despite string covers, piano covers, and a clean house, pianos are dust collectors and it is best to have them cleaned for the sake of your health and for the piano. I recommend that the piano is cleaned before a tuning, as to not disturb the strings once they have been tuned. I can clean and tune your piano in the same service call.
  • I am considering donating or gifting my old piano. What should I know?
    I am contacted quite frequently by people who are moving or want to get rid of their poor, neglected piano that hasn't been kept up with. Generally speaking (exceptions do occur), these pianos often require extensive service, far exceeding the piano's current value, not to mention the cost of moving the piano. I recommend having the piano assessed before considering donation. More often than not, the owner assumes they are doing someone a favor by donating their old piano, but upon hiring a technician to tune and revive the instrument to playability, the new owner soon realizes it wasn't quite as good as they thought! If you are considering donating your piano, please give me a ring. I'd love to help.
  • What is "new piano prep?"
    Because pianos are made primarily of natural materials, they are uniquely sensitive to changes in climate. Most new pianos have taken a lengthy, sometimes overseas, journey to their new home, a disruption that can affect the instrument significantly. For this reason, most manufacturers require that a technician perform a process called "new piano prep" upon local delivery, prior to the piano being placed in a store's showroom for purchase. ​ New piano prep requires that a technician make adjustments to ensure that the piano’s components are performing according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Despite manufacturers' checklists, protocols, and suggestions, some piano dealers skimp on how much new piano prep is done. It is important to consult with your piano technician and have them inspect the piano before purchase, so you are aware of whether the piano has been prepped properly (or at all), and if it might benefit from any further adjustments prior to your purchase. Click here for more info about new pianos and new piano prep.
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