Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions.
Why is frequent piano tuning necessary?
1. Only pianos that are regularly tuned sound pleasant.
2. Regular tunings avoid the extra time and expense of a large pitch raise. If I tuned your piano within the last year, I’ll perform any pitch raise you need now for free.
3. Your piano acts like a living, breathing thing by responding to its environment. Its wood expands and contracts with seasonal changes in temperature and humidity, and the string tension fluctuates accordingly. Occasional tunings once every few years put undue stress on your piano, causing it to be unstable and not hold its tune very long.
4. Regular tunings take much less time. Huge pitch raises can add as much as an hour to a tuning.
5. Modern pianos sound best at A440. They do not sound good at fifty or one hundred cents flat.
6. During tuning, I check many performance functions, some of which I can correct without any additional cost.
7. Children do not learn to enjoy music on a poor-sounding instrument that is difficult to play.
8. Piano manufacturers unanimously recommend between two and four tunings per year. A new piano needs tuning three or four times during the first year. If it's only tuned once or twice that first year, it will take a very long time to hold a good, solid tuning.
9. Regular tunings reduce the risk of the formation of string rust bonds, which can break the strings.
10. The more often a piano is tuned, the more stable the tuning becomes, and the better it sounds.
How much does tuning cost?
Prices vary by the type of service; so please go to the tab-labeled price.
How long does tuning take? Normally, tuning takes about an hour and a half. However, tuning a piano that needs repairs and large pitch raises will take longer. A piano that has not been maintained or tuned in years may take three hours.
How often does my piano need to be tuned?
All pianos need tuning on a regular basis, primarily because the piano’s wooden soundboard responds to seasonal changes in climate by expanding and contracting. Most manufacturers recommend between two and four tunings per year. Concert halls schedule tunings as often as once a week or even 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 the humidity variation in your environment. Even if no one plays the piano, or someone plays it only rarely, it needs maintenance tunings to maintain its value. Bringing long-untuned pianos back to playing form can become very expensive, and neglecting tuning can also void some warrantees. Also, a piano that goes out of tune rapidly may require a climate control system to be installed in the piano to stabilize it. This system can actually save you money over time, because you won’t have to tune your piano as often.
I’ve just had my piano moved. Does it need tuning?
The answer depends on the kind of move. If you’ve moved it within the same building on the same level, then it probably doesn’t. However, pianos are very sensitive to changes in climate and humidity, as well as bumps and vibrations; therefore, moving from building to building or up or down stairs means that your piano will need to be tuned. Scheduling this tuning for a few weeks after a move is a good idea; during these weeks, the piano has time to adjust to the new environment, especially if it’s in a different climate. However all bets are off if the piano has structural problems, such as loose tuning pins. We can discuss the remedies for these types of problems at an initial tuning.
What kind of service does my new piano need?
Your piano may be brand new, but it’s not finished yet. The wood, felt, and glue used in its construction may take years to dry and settle into their final shape. During this crucial time, you’ll need to adjust the strings to the new shapes to keep the piano sounding its best. When your new piano first arrives, you will need to have it tuned within the first three to six weeks. Normally, you’ll need service again in three months (sometimes longer depending on its initial tuning condition), and then again in six months, followed by intervals of six to twelve months depending on its location, climate conditions, and usage. Between one and three years after purchase (depending again on climate conditions and usage), the piano will need some basic maintenance, such as shaping the hammers (filing out the string groves), re-aligning them to the strings, and tightening all the screws, along with some minor regulation.
What kind of service does my older piano need?
A piano that has just been moved or delivered, even an older one, has just endured significant stress. The motion of moving it changes the tension of the strings, as do the vibrations from the moving vehicle and the temperature and humidity differences between the old and new locations. So when you first have your piano delivered or moved, you will need to have it tuned within the first three to six weeks. A well-maintained older piano will need tuning normally every six to twelve months, depending on its location, climate conditions, and usage. If its last tuning was a long time ago, it will probably need a pitch raise. A pitch raise consists of tuning the piano several times at regular intervals. If the piano is very far below pitch (thirty cents or more), it may take several tunings a few weeks apart to become stable (sound good between tunings). If the piano is less than thirty cents off and is in good overall condition, the re-tunings may occur up to three months or more apart, with regular intervals thereafter (every six to twelve months, depending on its location, climate conditions, and usage). Because of usage, age, and climate conditions, older pianos may need far more extensive work to return to their optimum performance. At the initial tuning, we will assess all of your piano’s specific needs and decide on a course of action.
How do you tune a piano?
Tuning involves precisely adjusting the tension of over two hundred strings. The technician can calibrate these strings using a tuning computer or by ear (I use both).
How should I care for my piano cabinet?
High-Gloss Pianos: Do you have one of those newer, high-gloss pianos? Do you wonder how to clean and care for the finish? Here are a few easy tips using products that you can get locally.
1. To clean your piano, including the keys, use Windex (yes, Windex). Simply dilute it to half strength with water, spray the Windex mixture on your dusting rag, and clean the dust and fingerprints that every piano collects - even grape jelly stains from the little ones!
But you must put the Windex on the rag. NEVER spray it directly onto the piano or use the Windex to clean the inside of your piano. Only a piano tuner should clean the inside of your piano, which contains delicate parts which could bend or break.
2. Don't use normal furniture polish on your piano. To polish your piano, we recommend that you use Maguiar’s Mirror Glaze once every three months or so. It's a car wax, and as your piano has a two-part, epoxy-like finish, Maguiar’s is perfectly suited to polish it. Though Maguiar’s offers many different products, we use Maguiar's Professional Show Car Glaze. The glaze will actually fill those little swirl scratches produced by dusting and make your piano look like brand new. This mirror glaze is available at your local auto parts store or on line at the link below.
Semi-Gloss Pianos: Treat new pianos that are satin or semi-gloss in the same way as above, only DON’T use Maguiar’s Mirror Glaze.
What is a cent?
A cent, which is a term used by tuners, is a measurement or a percentage between notes; there are one hundred cents between each half step, creating the difference in pitch between semitones (i.e.: A to A#). On a piano that is 100 cents flat, playing an A# will actually produce the pitch of an A on a properly tuned instrument.
Do strings break during tuning?
They can. They can and do break even while someone is playing. However, a string is much more likely to break in a piano that is old or has not been tuned in a long time. Strings can break just because the elasticity of the steel is gone. Piano wire is good for about thirty years; after that time, it is on its way downhill. It elongates, loses its liveliness and elasticity, and becomes more prone to breaking. With exposure to high humidity levels over long periods, strings can also rust and corrode. At the junction where rusted strings wrap around pins, rust corrosion forms a hardened bond between the two. Then when your piano technician turns the pins to stretch the strings during a tuning, the inflexible, rusted string snaps at this joint.
Occasionally I encounter very, very old pianos with thin plates and pitches more than a hundred cents (a semi-tone) flat. I run several risks in trying to raise pitch on these pianos: strings breaking, bridges cracking, or even the plate cracking. These damages are very rare events; however, if the pin block is bad, the tuning pin may not allow the pitch change. In some old pianos, the pins unwind themselves immediately after being tuned and will not hold a higher pitch.
How are piano keys numbered?
There are at least three well-known methods of numbering piano keys. The “C system,” which is the method used by most of the piano technicians and tuning equipment manufacturers in the United States, designates the A above middle C as A4. In this system, A0 is the lowest key on the piano, and C8 is the highest note.
The “A system” designates A above middle C as A49. In this system, the lowest key on the piano is A1, while the highest note is C88. The “A system” is popular with European and Oriental piano manufacturers. Audiologists and music teachers use yet another system.
How does an ETD (computer-based tuning) compare with an aural tuning?
First, let me explain some terms. ETD stands for Electronic Tuning Device (a program on a computer or a special-purpose computer), while aural tuning is tuning by ear using a pitch fork or electronic device as a reference pitch. Probably ninety-five percent of piano technicians use electronics to some degree or another. Some will just tune A4 using an electronic device. Others will use an ETD only for pitch raises. Both the Tune Lab program and the SAT III (a special purpose computer) measure a piano’s inharmonicity and then calculate a correct tuning for every note on the piano. Dr. Albert E. Sanderson, who studied the best aural tuner's work to produce his programming, designed the SAT III. Tune Lab is very similar, except that it also produces a spectrum analyzer display, which allows me to see the wave shape of the note being played along with much other information.
The January 1997 Piano Technicians Journal contained an article by Steve Brady titled The Great Chicago Tune-off, which told the story of a Piano Guild convention where two of the nation’s best veteran tuner / technicians competed against each other. Jim Coleman Sr. tuned a Kawai KX-r grand using a SAT III electronic device, while Virgil Smith, using aural techniques, tuned an identical grand. Musicians played a concert on the newly-adjusted instruments, and then the audience (made of piano professionals) judged the tuning of the pianos. The audience did not know which grand had been tuned aurally and which by EDT. In the combined vote, 46% favored the EDT tuning, and 36% preferred the aural tuning, while 18% couldn’t tell a difference.
I combine the use of aural tests and visual, computer-based devices to do my tuning. Using all the senses God has given creates the strongest method which produces the best tuning. I always watch the spectrum analyzer display so that I know that the note I’m adjusting is very close to correct, but then I also listen to octaves and fifths to fine-tune what the electronics tells me.
What is voicing?
While tuning involves the strings, voicing primarily involves the hammers. For achieving the proper sound, voicing is as important as tuning, because it refines the sound to a higher degree than tuning alone. When the hammers which strike the strings become overly hard or worn, they can produce discordant sounds. Reshaping, needling, or aligning the hammers can improve a piano’s clarity of tone. I often include minor voicing when I tune, and I find that this detail significantly improves the overall sound. Voicing can also completely change the character of a piano, making it sound brighter or darker with harder or softer hammers.
What is regulation?
Regulation is the act of adjusting and refining the touch of the keyboard mechanism, or the action. An action that moves 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 that you try to play very softly, but no sound comes out at all. Often one or two simple adjustments will drastically improve the action. More extensive regulation may include cleaning, polishing, lubricating, aligning, tightening, or adjusting the various parts of each of the eighty-eight keys. A grand piano action may have up to four thousand parts!
What is inharmonicity?
All pianos have inharmonicity. Grand pianos have less, while spinets have more. That quality is one reason why we technicians study tuning for years and use equipment such as the SAT III instead of twenty-dollar guitar tuners. Guitar tuning equipment uses only theoretical frequencies, because it cannot calculate the partials at which piano strings actually do vibrate. A piano tuned with a guitar tuning instrument would sound dull, flat, and lifeless.
This short article from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inharmonicity, 7/6/11) explains the difference between whole frequency multiples and partials.
In music, inharmonicity is the degree to which the frequencies of overtones (known as partials, partial tones, or harmonics) depart from whole multiples of the fundamental frequency. Acoustically, a note perceived to have a single distinct pitch in fact contains a variety of additional overtones. Many percussion instruments, such as cymbals, tam-tams, and chimes, create complex and inharmonic sounds. In stringed instruments such as the piano, the less elastic the strings are (that is, the shorter, thicker, and stiffer they are), the more inharmonicity they exhibit.
When a string gets thick enough, compared to the length of the string, it stops behaving as a string and starts acting more like a cylinder (a tube of mass), which have different harmonics than strings. On wind instruments, the harmonic overtones are even multiples of the main frequency. However, on stringed instruments the overtones are inharmonic, which is caused by a "fastening fault in the string endings"; the string endings are fastened at each end, which means that they cannot "vibrate all the way to its ends." As such, the "effective length of a string is shorter than its geometrical length," especially for shorter, stiffer strings.
In 1943, Schuck and Young were the first scientists to measure the spectral inharmonicity in piano tones. They found that the spectral partials in piano tones are progressively stretched. In 1962, Harvey Fletcher's research indicated that the spectral inharmonicity is important for tones to sound piano-like. They proposed that inharmonicity is responsible for the "warmth" property common to real piano tones. . "Inharmonicity is not necessarily unpleasant. Fletcher, Blackham, and Stratton  pointed out that a slightly inharmonic spectrum added certain “warmth” into the sound. They found that synthesized piano tones sounded more natural when the partials below middle C were inharmonic."
Pianos are tuned by ear by technicians called piano tuners who listen for the sound of "beating" when two notes are played together. Piano tuners must deal with the inharmonicity of piano strings, which is present in different amounts in all of the ranges of the instrument, but especially in the bass and high treble registers. Piano strings are under enormous tension compared with the strings on a violin or guitar, and as a result, piano strings are much harder and stiffer. Another factor that can cause problems is the presence of rust on the strings or dirt in the windings. These elements can result in inharmonicity, which has the effect of slightly raising in frequency of the higher modes, which means that they cease to be exact integer multiples of the fundamental.
The harmonic series of strings does not fall exactly into whole-number multiples of a fundamental frequency, but rather each harmonic is slightly sharper than a whole-number ratio, and this sharpness increases as higher tones in the harmonic series are reached. This means that an aurally tuned octave will be a "stretched octave" which is slightly wider than the just 2:1 ratio. The amount of stretching depends on the style of piano and is determined mainly by the length of the strings. On a piano, the notes in the higher register will end up being tuned slightly sharper than those in the lower octave. This is less apparent on longer pianos which have proportionally thinner strings, because string inharmonicity is directly related to the ratio of string thickness to length (for more information, see Piano acoustics).