How to Fix Sticky Piano Keys Without Damaging Your Piano

Have you ever had a piano key stop working while playing your favorite piece of music? Maybe you press the key down, and it never comes back up. Or it only makes a sound sometimes, but not always. In this article, we will discuss how to fix sticky piano keys, so you can get back to doing what you love—playing your piano!

Learn how to fix sticky piano keys

How to Fix Sticky Piano Keys

So, before we can get to the solution, we first have to determine what is causing the problem. In this case, what really is the culprit of a sticky piano key? Why does the key get stuck in the first place?

Well, the most likely cause of a sticky key is moisture and humidity, which can cause the natural materials inside your piano to swell or corrode. There may also be debris or a damaged component causing the problem. Some of these issues you may be able to fix yourself. Others may require a professional technician. 

Let’s look at some common issues that cause a piano key to stick, how to diagnose them, and how you may be able to fix a sticky piano key yourself.

Problem: Debris Stuck Between or Underneath Keys

Many things can get trapped between or underneath the piano keys. Grand pianos can collect things inside of the piano itself. Coins, paperclips, crumbs, and practically anything small enough to fit between the keys can cause a stuck key.

How To Diagnose It: 

Is it just one key that is stuck, or several? Depress the keys surrounding the dead key at the same time. Do two adjacent keys get stuck in the down position together? This could mean there is debris stuck between them.

How To Fix It:

If there is debris stuck between the piano keys, you may be able to use a butter knife or a small, flat screwdriver to remove it. Use caution not to scratch or damage the keys. You may need to remove the keyslip, fallboard, and retaining board to gain access to the area underneath the keys to remove debris that is stuck or has fallen into the piano.

Problem: Keyslip Is Too Close 

The keyslip runs along the front of the piano, and they are susceptible to swelling and warping due to humidity. Sometimes the keyslip gets pushed in toward the keys just enough to rub and cause friction.

How To Diagnose It:

Observe the keyslip to see if it’s pushing on the front of the keys. You should be able to see a small gap between the keyslip and the keys. You can also try to pull the keyslip toward you slightly and then test the key to see if that fixes the problem.

How To Fix It:

Remove the keyslip from the piano (it’s probably held on by a few screws underneath, although some pianos will require you to remove the end blocks first). You can create a shim from some thin cardboard or thick, folded paper. Affix the shim below the keys wherever it’s causing the most friction. 

Replace the keyslip, making sure the shim is low enough to be hidden. If your keyslip is warped or the felt is damaged, it may need replacing.

Problem: Cracked or Damaged Keysticks

The keysticks themselves can become warped or swollen, causing them to rub against each other. There is also the possibility of a broken or cracked keystick.

How To Diagnose It:

If the keystick goes down in the front when you depress the key but doesn’t raise in the back, this could point to a broken or cracked keystick. You may also be able to remove the fallboard (the part that covers the back of the keys) and visually inspect the keystick for cracks or damage. 

How To Fix It:

Broken or warped keysticks probably need to be replaced. If there is a small crack, it is possible to patch it with glue and a thin piece of wood. But the weighting and balance of a key are very important. You need to use the right kind of glue and apply the patch to both sides of the keystick to ensure it remains balanced.

Problem: Damaged Key Bushings and Rail Pins

The keysticks are held into place by what is known as key bushings, which are holes lined with felt. The holes fit over the rail pins, which hold the key in place and keep it from wobbling. Moisture can affect the felt on the bushings and cause it to swell, or the pins may become corroded. Either of these problems will cause friction and result in sticky keys. 

How To Diagnose It:

Open the top of the piano and observe the action while playing the keys. The hammers should quickly bounce back to their positions when you let go of the keys. If the hammers are slow or sluggish returning to their original positions there may be an issue with the key bushings. This problem will be more noticeable when pressing the sustain pedal while playing the key.

How To Fix It:

To fix friction from where the bushings meet the pins, you need to compress the felt. Piano technicians use specialized tools to do this. You can try to press the felt down by simply moving the key gently back and forth while the key is raised, at rest, and depressed. It is also possible to insert a makeshift tool into the holes to push the felt back into shape, but this is risky as damage to the felt is possible.

If the problem is with the rail pins themselves, you can use metal polish to clean them. There is also a possibility that they could be bent or twisted. You could try using pliers to twist them back into position, but you may need to call a professional to repair or replace the pins.

Problem: Problems With The Action

If you have eliminated the problems listed above, it’s most likely that there is a worn-out or broken part somewhere in the action of the piano. This could include hammers, hammer butts, or whippens. There are flanges, springs, and pins on these parts, and if any of these fail or stick, then the keys will stick as well. 

How To Diagnose It:

The best way to determine if the action is causing sticky keys is by process of elimination. If you have checked the issues listed above, the problem most likely lies somewhere in the action. You can observe how the parts of the action on a sticky key look and function compared to a key that doesn’t stick. Do you notice any broken parts? Do they move or function differently?

How To Fix It:

Call a professional! There are so many delicate parts included in the action that repairing them may be difficult and risky for someone who is not trained to do so. If you are determined to try fixing the problem yourself, there are helpful videos on YouTube that will walk you through diagnosing and repairing the action. Check out this video by Howard Piano Industries.

Quick Fixes to Sticky Problems

Using a blow dryer to dry out the felt bushings or wooden parts of your piano may help with issues related to humidity. Move the hairdryer side to side across the keys and keyslip for a few minutes, but be careful not to get too close.

You can use a can of compressed air to clean around and underneath the keys. This will help remove any dirt or debris you may not be able to see. 

Tips To Follow

Don’t use chemicals or solvents to unstick keys! The problem is most likely not related to residue build-up, and using chemical sprays will only aggravate the problem and may even damage your piano.

Keep your piano against an inside facing wall if possible. The exterior walls of a building are susceptible to temperature changes that could lead to problems.

Keep the area around your piano clean. Don’t allow food or beverages anywhere near it. If you store small things like paperclips or pencils nearby, keep them in a jar to avoid dropping them inside the piano.

When to Call a Professional

There are 88 keys on a piano and hundreds of points of connection inside that work together to make the piano play correctly. You can attempt to repair some of these delicate parts yourself, but it may make more sense to call a professional.

The cost to have a professional tune a piano is usually around $200. The cost to repair a damaged part or fix a sticky key may be just as much. Repairing the key bushings on an entire piano can cost up to $500 per rail. You can see why having regular tuning and maintenance performed on your piano is well worth the cost. 

If you damage any of the parts inside your piano while trying to fix a sticky key, it will cost more than you would have paid by calling a professional in the first place. So, when in doubt, call a professional. Better yet, regular tunings on your piano will prevent many of these issues in the first place.

Conclusion

Our beloved pianos require love, care, and attention to keep them in working order. Neglecting regular maintenance on your piano will eventually lead to problems. It’s also important to make sure your piano is not exposed to moisture or humidity. Now that you know a little bit about how to fix sticky piano keys, you can try to diagnose and fix the problem yourself. Or call a professional and let them do the hard work for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Keys that get stuck on a digital piano can be caused by dirt and grime affecting the motion of the keys. It can also be a damaged component inside the piano itself. You can read up on how digital pianos work and attempt to diagnose the issue yourself, but you may need the help of a professional.

Fixing a black key that is sticking is done the same way as fixing a white key. The mechanisms that make the key work are the same. But you need to take extra care when working with black keys because they tend to be more fragile and break easily.

The term dead and stuck when related to piano keys can mean the same thing. Some of the causes of a stuck piano key will result in the key not making a sound when you press the key or only playing occasionally. But there also may be an issue related to the strings inside the piano being damaged or broken that can stop a key from making a sound when you press it.

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