Robert Estrin - piano expert

How Long Do Piano Strings Last?

Learn an important aspect of the piano and how to tackle it when needed

In this video, Robert answers a very common question among pianists, and the answer may not be as easy as you'd think.

Released on October 15, 2014

  
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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Welcome to livingpianos.com and virtualsheetmusic.com. I'm Robert Estrin, and today's question is: "How long do piano strings last?" This is a great question without a simple answer. You know, if you play the guitar, you know that the natural oils in your hands, and you have to change those strings to get a lively tone. And piano strings are subject to the elements as well, but there is not a definitive answer. There is a tremendous range. Fox example, right now I have two Steinways in, and one of them is original from the 1930s with the original strings, and they sound glorious. The bass strings have a vibrant tone. There are no broken strings. There's no corrosion. The tone is gorgeous.

I have another Steinway from the 1980s, and that piano, we restrung. The strings were needing to be restrung already. How can this be? How can a piano, you know, decades older have good strings than this newer piano? It has to do with the environment. You see, the strings of your piano don't actually age except for the elements, so a piano that is in a very humid environment, like a beach piano, for example. I have seen pianos that were in beach apartments or homes with the windows open and the piano left open. It was completely rusted out with strings breaking, completely gone in as little as a decade - 10 years. Boom! That piano needs to be restrung.

And yet, here in the beautiful Southern California climate, if you're about 10 miles from the beach and far from the desert, it's almost an ideal environment for pianos. And I've seen pianos with original strings - 80-year-old pianos. So I guess the long and short of it is most pianos - 50 to 75 years, maybe. I've seen some pianos approaching 100 years - that the strings are still quite good, and you can start to lose vibrancy in the tone in the copper-wound bass strings soonest.

The way to check for this is play a descending scale on your piano and look inside where you get to the copper strings, and if at the point at which it goes from the steel strings to the copper strings you hear an abrupt change of tone, then those strings are dead. Sometimes you can bring back the life by twisting the string. Sometimes you can just replace only the bass strings, and you'll be fine. But sometimes, if you see several broken strings on your piano, the handwriting is on the walls that more strings will probably break as well. So you're smart to restring a piano particularly if you have the combination of dead bass strings and broken treble strings. That's a sure sign that restringing can improve the sound and the longevity of your piano.

If you have any specific pianos you're wondering about, send me pictures. I'm happy to advise you on your pianos or any pianos you see out there. Thanks so much for joining me, Robert Estrin, here at livingpianos.com and virtualsheetmusic.com.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Wendy on October 23, 2014 @8:12 am PST
Thanks so much for your helpful comments.
Wendy on October 16, 2014 @8:37 am PST
Hi Robert.

I play for ballet classes (baby to pro), so have to work on pianos with problems. In one studio, there are two strings that have to be frequently replaced--the F below the bass staff, and the D below that. Different technicians, same results. Is there a flaw in the piano's construction that would so consistently lead to these breaks.

Another piano had an action that was very hard, but, over a few years, became easier. Then in the summer three strings had to be replaced with subsequent tuning. Yesterday, my hands hurt after an hour and a half class. I checked with other pianists whose hand felt tired after the first two exercises when usually this happens about two exercises before the last allegros. It was hard to get dynamic changes, and fast tempos were really hard to play. The piano felt almost sluggish. Could these changes be caused by the tuning?

We're worrying about possible damage to our bodies by trying to create good sounds on an unresponsive keyboard.
reply
Robert - host, on October 16, 2014 @10:59 am PST
Pianos can randomly break strings when tuning or playing them. However, if the same strings continue breaking, there is a problem. Most likely, there is some sort of metal burr somewhere where the string terminates. This isn't an easy fix, but something can be done.

As for what you are describing with the hard action, this has nothing to do with tuning. However, a skilled piano technician should be able to use various techniques to get the action moving better unless it's too far gone in which case parts would have to be replaced.
Norman on October 15, 2014 @6:13 am PST
Hi Robert. I have an old upright piano that was given to me. It's a Haddorff piano. Do you know anything about that name?
reply
Robert - host, on October 15, 2014 @11:03 am PST
At the peak of piano production 100 years ago, there were over 1800 companies making pianos in the United States - last year there were only 1200 pianos made in the U.S! I have heard of Haddorff. They made pianos from around 1900 - 1960. So, they were one of the few to survive past WWII.
Cheryl Giles on October 15, 2014 @4:51 am PST
I bought an old grand piano that is very dirty inside. How do I clean the strings?
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