Common questions about piano maintainence

How often should my piano be tuned?

All pianos need tuning on a regular basis, primarily because the piano’s soundboard is made of wood and is subject to seasonal expansion and contraction. Most manufacturers recommend 2-4 tunings per year. In a concert hall setting, a piano may be tuned much more, such as once a week or more. In the home, some people are satisfied with once a year. I can help you determine an appropriate schedule for tuning your piano, based on your particular type of piano, type of usage, and humidity variation in your environment. If your piano goes out of tune rapidly, it may benefit from a climate control system installed in the piano, or better humidity control in your home.

Is it better to tune by ear or with an electronic tuning aid?

With proper skills, either method can get the same results. Many great tuners tune by ear with only a tuning fork, and many great tuners use an electronic tuning aid. (Please note that a cheap guitar tuner will not tell you if your piano is in tune; these will listen to the wrong partial and do not allow for a piano's inharmonicity.) There are a lot of mediocre piano tuners, both tuning by ear or machine. All of the really terrible piano tuners I have known of tune by ear; it seems as though the machine will at least get it in the ball park, regardless of skill level. A good tuner uses skill and listening, whether assisted by a computer or not. I prefer to tune using both my ears and my computer program.

How do I know if a tuner is qualified to tune pianos?

The only sure way is see if they have passed the standardized test to become a Registered Piano Technician. Check out www.ptg.org. If they are not on this list, they may not be qualified. If a tuner advertises "certified" it only means they gone to some trade school or correspondence course, which may have various standards.

What exactly does a piano tuning entail?

Tuning involves using a wrench to precisely adjust the tension, and therefore the pitch, of well over 200 strings. It does not include adjusting the other mechanical parts (the action). Other maintenance beside tuning are discussed below.

What should I do to prepare for a piano tuning?

It is helpful if you can clear off the top of the piano before I get started. A piano does not need to be moved away from the wall, as long as there is room to open the lid. I do not need any extra lighting, just normal room light is fine. My main requirement to do a good job is quiet. Normal conversation is fine, but please do not schedule a tuning when the vacuum, the leaf blower or the stereo are going to be used.

What if I have to cancel my appointment?

I generally require 24 hours notice for all non emergency cancellations, but the more notice you can give me the better. If I can't fill the lost time or I turned away other work for that time slot, I may bill a travel or failed appointment fee. If you are not sure whether you are going to be called in to work or made to stay late, it is better that we do not commit to an appointment time.

How long does it take to tune a piano?

I can finish a tuning in just over an hour, even if there is a pitch correction. Except in rare cases, I tune to A=440 concert pitch. I have methods that allow me to do a basic tuning very quickly so my basic rate is a little less than some of my colleagues. I often recommend additional work such as voicing and regulation, see below. I do not have an extra charge for a pitch raise.

What is a pitch raise?

When a piano has not been tuned for many years, it will definitely need to be tuned twice to stabilize it. This is because the first tuning will go out immediately. I can normally do two tunings, or passes, in a single one hour appointment. Here in Michigan, most tunings require two passes, even if the piano is tuned regularly. This is due to the seasonal humidity changes. Even if it is only slightly off pitch, two passes will make the tuning more accurate and stable. A second tuning appointment is recommended sooner that normal after an extreme pitch raise, to compensate for years of neglect.

Does a piano need tuning after it’s moved?

It depends. Unless the piano has structural problems such as loose tuning pins, the move itself will have little or no effect. However, pianos are very sensitive to changes in climate and humidity. It’s a good idea to get a tuning a few weeks after a move, giving the piano time to adjust to the new environment, especially when moving to a different climate.
One other way a move can affect tuning is when the floor is not level. This does not apply to grand pianos because they stand on three legs (a 3 legged table will never wobble). When a vertical piano is moved and the four wheels are not on the same plane, the uneven forces may shift the tuning a small amount. It will go right back in tune if you push the piano back to where it was.

Does a piano really need to be on an inside wall?

No, this is basically a myth. I would avoid heat ducts, excessive sunlight, and damp basements, however.

Is there more than one way to tune a piano?

The way pianos are usually tuned today is slightly different from how they were often tuned in the 18th or 19th centuries. Twelve mathematically equal semitones, known as "equal temperament", has only been universally used for about a hundred years. (Contrary to many books, Bach popularized not "equal" temperament, but "well" temperament.) I offer the option of tuning in the Equal Beating Victorian Temperament, invented by Bill Bremmer in the late 20th Century. This tuning is suitable for all modern as well as classical music, and creates a purer sound in many keys than equal temperament. Of course I can tune equal temperament if you prefer.
A piano can also be tuned with various amounts of "stretch", where the bass is tuned lower and the treble sharper, to accommodate the inharmonicity of piano strings. This will not be done correctly if one tries to tune using an inexpensive electronic tuning device.

What is Voicing?

While tuning involves the strings, voicing involves primarily the hammers. Voicing is as important as tuning to achieve the proper sound. It refines the sound to a higher degree than tuning alone. An example of a piano needing voicing is when discordant sounds are produced because the hammers which strike the strings become overly hard or worn; reshaping, needling or aligning the hammers can improve clarity of tone. I often find that even minor voicing can make a huge improvement to the overall sound. Voicing can also be used to completely change the character of a piano, such as making your piano sound brighter or darker by hardening or softening the hammers.

What is Regulation?

Adjusting and refining the touch of the keyboard mechanism (“action”) is known as regulating. An action that plays evenly and responsively is a joy to play. An unresponsive action that “plays like a truck” may frustrate even a beginner. A good sign that your piano needs regulation is when you try to play very softly and no sound comes out at all. Often one or two simple adjustment will drastically improve the touch. More extensive regulation may include cleaning, polishing, lubricating, aligning, tightening or adjusting the various parts of each of the 88 keys.

Do you offer piano moving, keyboards, other instruments, or lessons?

No, strictly pianos and piano service. For piano moving I use Jack Carter, who can be reached at 598-5449 (area code 313).

What is the best thing I can do for my piano?

Regular service is of course important for your piano. So is keeping the environment stable. Seasonal humidity fluctuations cause pianos to go out of tune more rapidly, especially here in Michigan. Installation of a climate control system inside the piano will prolong its life, help keep it in tune longer, and prevent many other future problems. I recommend using a Piano Life Saver system by Dampp-Chaser, which has a humidifier and dehumidifier. I can install this invisibly in any piano. Another good solution is the moisture absorbing and releasing products from Music Sorb.

What areas do you service?

I do tunings for the entire Detroit metro area. I do charge a little extra for travel if you are very far away from Grosse Pointe, and we may need to book your appointment well in advance. If you are in northern Oakland County, northern Macomb county or downriver, I may only get to your neighborhood once a month or so. If you are in a hurry and close to an hour away from Grosse Pointe, you might do better to go to www.ptg.org to find a qualified technician in your area.