Do earthquakes harm pianos?

The magnitude 7.0 quake jolted Anchorage and surrounding communities so hard that mounted TVs fell off walls, books flew off of shelves, bottles broke, and some homes sagged down into the ground. The earth opened up under several sections of road, stopping traffic. I’m sure you’ve heard about the major earthquake in Anchorage that struck on November 30, and even better have seen the photos of the damage online.

The quake was so strong that I actually felt a little shake at my house in Fairbanks a couple minutes later. I was in bed and thought that my obese cat had jumped off a piece of furniture, so I rolled over and went back to snoozing. LOL

Anchorage is actually sitting on top of a subduction zone on the east end of the Aleutian trench, where the Pacific plate is subducting beneath the North American plate. So, in plain English it means that this particular region has a lot of earthquakes and aftershocks.

I had a few tuning appointments in Anchorage just three days later, and of course my clients asked me if it was possible that the major earthquake did any damage to the piano. After inspecting and tuning several pianos, the answer was no.

Unless something falls on your piano that shouldn’t (e.g., a fish tank or running water) or a leg breaks off, your piano should be fine. It has a very sturdy cast iron plate that basically holds everything together. The plate is one solid piece, weighs hundreds of pounds, and has the ability to hold several tons of tension from the piano strings. The plate has many large bolts to fasten it to the rest of the piano, and the tuning pins are drilled into a block of wood that won’t move if the piano is in good condition.

There was no evidence that the earthquake made the pianos go out of tune more than they normally do. The strings do have elastic properties, however there was no evidence that the earthquake significantly changed the tension of the strings, or the position of the bridges (these things would cause a piano to go off pitch).

The action parts are actually quite delicate but they are protected by the rest of the piano. The hammers, keys, and wippens did not shift or break. Everything stayed put.

The residents of Anchorage, Eagle River, and Wasilla got a good shake, but I am grateful that there were no fatalities and everyone is OK.

Have a healthy and happy New Year everyone!

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