If you’ve got an acoustic piano, you will definitely have been there. One of your keys starts to stick. It’s one of the most frustrating things about owning a piano, and while it doesn’t generally happen too often, you may find yourself troubled by it if you live in a warm or humid climate. In this article, we’ll find out why piano keys stick, how much it costs to fix it, and how to fix stuck piano keys yourself.
Primarily, piano keys will stick as a result of an increase in humidity. A piano is a complex piece of machinery, and is made up of thousands and thousands of moving parts, made mostly of wood. With humidity changes, wood expands and contracts and this can cause keys to stick or become sluggish. However, there are lots of other reasons why piano keys may stick.
Why Do Piano Keys Stick?
I’ve identified TWO very common reasons why a piano key may stick. Keep reading to find out why you may be having trouble with your instrument.
Humidity causes the keys to swell.
I’ve mentioned this already, but this is by far the most common reason that piano keys stick, and it’s one that I experience almost every summer. While I live in the UK, where we don’t get particularly humid or hot summers, my piano seems to be quite sensitive to the humidity, and there are a few keys mainly at the extreme ends of the keyboard that will swell up and expand. However, if you are in a very humid climate, you will find this to be a problem. As mentioned, wood expands and contracts with humidity, and higher humidity and temperature can cause your piano keys to expand. We’ll go through how to fix this later on in the article.
Objects get stuck underneath/in between the keys.
I know, I know, I get it. You’re so busy practicing that you don’t have time to take a break to eat your lunch, so you eat at the keyboard. We’ve all been there. Or is it just me? In all seriousness, this is just one example; crumbs and other foreign objects can fall in between the keys and get wedged inside. If this happens, you may find that your keys stick, as the key encounters resistance trying to move past the stuck object. If you have children and you keep your piano open and unlocked, you may find that they try to wedge things like coins in between the keys. If one gets down there, it can cause problems. However, this is a real easy fix that I will go through later in the article.
Can You Fix Piano Keys That Stick?
So, the answer here is yes and no.
If you’re experiencing one of the problems I’ve listed above, then yes, you can of course fix them yourself, and I will teach you how. However, there are other problems that can cause a piano key to stick, such as tight bushings (metal pins located inside the piano that pass through the key and hold it in place) or issues with the key catching the keyslip (the piece of wood located below the keys). This is the kind of thing that you will need a technician for. Otherwise you risk damaging your instrument. However, my recommendation is that you try my fixes, listed below, and if they don’t work, then call your tech.
Fix 1: Swollen keys because of humidity
The simple answer here is to wait until your area is less humid. This will cause the wood to contract, and as a result the key should not stick. However, I recognise that if you live in a place that’s humid year-round, this is not exactly a practical solution. The best way to fix this is to identify your offending key. Press it down, along with the key next to it. Use a small, thin-tipped screwdriver to separate the key. This should provide enough space between the keys and prevent it sticking. You might have to do this every so often if you live in a humid area, as unfortunately there’s no stopping the keys expanding by themselves. You must be GENTLE when you do this; if you are careless you risk damaging the keys.
If this becomes a major problem for you, you may consider investing in a system designed to regulate your piano’s humidity, such as the Piano Life Saver system by a company called Dampp-Chaser. Just a caveat; I’ve never used this and I don’t know how effective it is, but if you have persistent issues with humidity it may be worth looking into.
Fix 2: Items stuck below the keys
This is the easiest fix here. However, it requires a bit of bravery as it involves removing the keys from the piano to get underneath them. If you’re not comfortable doing this (which I fully understand) then you need to call your technician. Upright pianos generally come apart quite easily; there is the large rectangular section of wood behind the music desk, and the fallboard which covers the keys. Generally the large rectangular section is held in by catches on either side, and is easily removed.
The fallboard should just lift out as the large rectangular section usually holds this in place. All you need to do now is gently pivot the key and ease it up out of place. You’ll want to remove a few keys to see what’s underneath. Grab a vacuum cleaner or use your hands to remove whatever was placed there. When you’re done, simply reassemble. The keys will usually have numbers on them to tell you where to put them.
If these fixes don’t work, you will need to call a technician, lest you risk damaging your instrument.
How Much Does It Cost to Fix a Piano Key?
If you’ve come this far, you will have tried the previous fixes and unfortunately you still have a stuck key. Now, even though you require a tech, this is still a fairly easy fix for them and they shouldn’t charge you too much to look at it. I’d recommend waiting for your next tuning, if you can tolerate the stuck key for a short while, because I know my technician wouldn’t even charge to fix this if he was already at my house. However, if you’re calling the tech out especially to fix a stuck key, I’d expect you to pay around $50 - $100 for them to fix the key. They’ll be able to tell you how it got stuck, why it got stuck and how to make sure it doesn’t get stuck in future.
When your technician is at your home, it’s worth just asking them to have a look at any other issues with the piano; ask them if the action needs regulating, whether there are any other issues that might exacerbate key-sticking in the future. That way you can avoid these problems.
How Do You Clean Piano Keys?
One of the most important parts of keeping your piano well maintained is keeping it clean. As I mentioned before, if you’re eating your lunch at the piano, and you drop crumbs or food items onto the keys, it makes it more likely that you will experience key-sticking and other issues.
Most piano keys nowadays are made from wood with a plastic casing. This makes them very easy to clean. If you have a very old piano it may have ivory keys; these are a little more difficult to clean, and will suffer from yellowing. However ivory pianos are very rare nowadays. The cleaning process is basically the same; a mildly damp cloth (not wet; water will ruin your piano) and a little bit of dish soap is all you need. Don’t go crazy; a tiny amount will be enough. Clean each key individually and dry them with another cloth.
This kind of preventative maintenance will go a long way to ensuring your piano is in tip-top shape for years to come.
You might be interested in our comprehensive How to Clean Piano Keys article.
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