Piano Tuning FAQ

What is the difference between a piano tuner and a piano technician?

A tuner is concerned with the sound of the piano. He usually just tunes. Some may be able to repair, but that is not always the case. Many piano tuners refer their clients to a technician for repair and maintenance. A piano technician tunes and is capable of repairing and maintaining all aspects of the piano. He is concerned with the sound and the mechanics. We are professionally trained, full-time piano technicians.

How do I find a good piano tuner/technician?

The first question a prospective client will ask is “How much does a tuning cost?” That’s important, but the more important question is “What do I get for my money?” Stated differently, “How do I know if you are good at what you do?” If I were to hire a piano tuner for my piano, I would ask: how many years have you been a tuner?; how/where were you trained? (in a school or self-taught); are you full-time or part-time?; how many clients do you service?; and who may I contact for a recommendation? It is also a plus if the piano tuner/technician is affiliated with a professional organization. We are active associate members of the Piano Technicians Guild through which we take advantage of the many continuing education seminars and workshops.

What is tuning by ear? And can you tune by ear?

Tuning aurally (by ear) means using a tuning fork to get the pitch of one note and then tuning all the other notes in relative relationship to that note. And, yes, I can tune by ear. Good piano technicians know how to tune by ear but may also use a tuning machine for several reasons: (a) the human ear cannot register frequencies at higher/lower pitches; (b) the tuning information for an individual piano can be stored and retrieved for subsequent tunings, and (c) the machine reduces the effect of ambient noise on the tuning. Finally, older pianos sometimes develop wild strings, false beats, and other “piano noises” which complicate aural tuning precision. The machine is an excellent tool under those circumstances.

That said, the machine is not tuning the piano, the technician is. Anyone can purchase a tuning machine. However, unless the individual is a trained technician the final result will not be the same in terms of quality, pitch, or the stability of the tuning .

As technology has advanced the speed and accuracy of tuning, it makes sense to take advantage of the tools. But in the end, the technician must have "a trained ear" to assure the final result is accurate and pleasant.

It is also important to hire a technician, who can repair and maintain your piano. There are a number of hobby tuners, who call me when a repair is needed. Why inconvenience yourself or pay for two service calls? Always ask a potential piano tuner if he/she does repairs. If not, look for one who does.

Why does my piano go out of tune?

Your piano goes out of tune primarily because of seasonal changes in humidity. This is true no matter where you live. Other contributing factors are: temperature fluctuations, moving the piano, cracks in the pin block, loud and frequent playing, and new strings.

How often should my piano be tuned?

Every piano is different and every pianist uses the piano differently. Piano manufacturers all recommend the piano be tuned twice a year. Every piano should be tuned at least once a year. The more often the piano is tuned, the better it will stay in tune.

What if I have not had my piano tuned in several years? Can it still be tuned?

Yes. But your piano will very likely require a pitch correction.

What is pitch correction?

It is the process of bringing the piano close to its proper pitch by applying tension to the strings. The piano tuner may have to do one or more pitch corrections depending on how far out of pitch the piano is. When your piano is not tuned routinely, the strings lose tension. The sound becomes dull and muddled. Modern pianos are designed to be tuned at A4 (A above middle C), to vibrate at 440 cycles per second. The piano sounds best at this pitch. It also permits the pianist to accompany other instruments.

Will pitch correction cost more?

Yes. The cost depends on the number of pitch corrections required to bring your piano close to pitch.

Is the pitch correction absolutely necessary?

Yes. If your piano is substantially out of pitch, it is impossible to do a fine and accurate piano tuning. Without a pitch correction, you will be unhappy with the tuning because it will not last long. We always do a pitch correction when needed because we value your satisfaction and our reputation for quality piano tuning.

I don’t play the piano very often. So it doesn’t go out of tune. Or does it?

In fact, the piano begins to go out of tune almost immediately after a tuning. Our ears are just not able to discern it until it becomes well out of tune. So whether you play the piano or not, it will ultimately reach the point that you will hear that it is clearly out of tune.

How long will a tuning last?

It depends on a number of factors: humidity, use, location of the piano, condition of the piano, and the skill of the piano tuner. Piano tunings last much longer on pianos with humidity control systems.

How long does a piano tuning take?

If your piano has been tuned within a year, it usually takes about 1 to 1 ½ hours. If a tuner takes less than 45 minutes, you may want to look for another tuner. Without getting too technical, most of the 45 minute tuners are not giving a full tuning. If a pitch correction is needed, expect 2 and even 3 hours.

How should I prepare for the piano tuner’s visit?

Take everything off the piano, any valuables which are near the piano and anything under a grand piano. If at all possible, keep the noise level to a minimum. Tuning requires concentration and quiet for the technician. If there is a problem with the piano (sticking keys for instance), make a note which keys they are.

I’d love to provide peace and quiet, but my dog may not cooperate.

I’m accustomed to having dogs sing along. Rupert, a charming miniature schnauzer, was operatic throughout much of the tuning. Usually, dogs will quiet down. I’m comfortable with pets of all kind, so my calm will often translate to their calm. And I don’t mind stopping for a pat.

Where is the best place in my home to put my piano?

Keep it away from big drafts, open windows and direct sunlight. It should be where the temperature and humidity are most constant.

I’ve heard about piano humidifiers. Should I have one installed?

Climate control systems can result in longer life and possibly reduce the frequency of tunings. We recommend the humidity control system made by Dampp Chaser (the Piano Life Saver System). We are certified installers. All major piano manufacturers endorse this system.

The touch of my piano seems heavy? Can it be adjusted?

The short answer is “yes” but within certain parameters. Various mechanical issues can contribute to a heavy touch. After analysis, the technician will be able to tell you the required adjustments and the likely outcome and cost. It is important that you rely on a qualified technician to make such adjustments.

How do I clean my piano?

Avoid commercial cleaners for the outside. Ask your technician for special cleaners for pianos. Using those cleaners will protect the surface of your piano. Always use a lint free cloth and wipe with the grain. Use a different cloth for the black and white keys. Leave the inside cleaning to your technician so that you do not damage delicate parts. Combined with a tuning, a cleaning is very affordable. We carry a full line of cleaning supplies which were specifically developed for pianos.

I have a broken string. Is this a big deal?

Replacing a string is not that difficult for a trained technician; and piano technicians usually carry strings with them. However, expect that a new string may require several tunings. Your tuner may have to come back several times before the string will hold a tune. Sometimes, bass strings will have to be custom ordered, which will require more time.

What is voicing, and when is it necessary?

Voicing means to alter the voice/sound of the piano. This can only be done within certain margins. Every piano has its own voice. Some pianos have a warm, mellow sound, while others sound brighter or sometimes even harsh. The sound of the piano will change when you place it in another room, or if you redecorate the room (carpet versus hardwood floors, curtains versus blinds etc.). Also, over time the sound of your piano will change because of the aging of the various parts. The hammers may become harder at the spot where they strike the strings, producing a harsher or brighter sound. When you prefer a different sound, or if the piano sounded different in the showroom when you selected it, or if the sound varies much from key to key, you may consider having your piano technician voice your piano. Voicing requires that you sit with the piano tuner because you will have to indicate the sound you like. Note: a quality voicing can only be done if the piano is regulated well and after it has been tuned. Also the hammers and other parts should be in good condition.

What is regulation and how often is it necessary?

Regulation is short hand for saying “regulating the action”. The action is the heart of the piano which includes keys, hammers, dampers, and many other delicate moving parts with narrow tolerances. Over time these parts deteriorate and depart from their proper position. This can result in broken parts, keys not playing, heavy touch, lack of playability, lack of tonal control, and the acceleration of wear and tear. During a regulation, the piano technician replaces or restores the condition of the parts and aligns them to their proper relationships. A regulated piano produces maximum power, speed, control and evenness of touch.

A piano can be compared to a car which also has lots of moving parts. Just as a car needs proper maintenance to achieve efficiency and performance, so does a piano. To perform at its best, piano parts should be in good condition, shaped and aligned properly, tightened in their proper positions, and move in the proper planes and angles. Parts should be lubricated. This all reduces wear and tear of the many intricate interwoven parts and optimizes their working which translates into a piano that plays evenly and give the pianist control and dynamic range.
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