Frequently Asked Questions

It sounds fine - why spend money to re-tune my piano?!

This is a common comment by piano owners when the annual tuning comes due. No piano can keep its tune over the span of a year, let alone several months. There are many tons of tension on a piano's strings trying to relieve tension. As time passes, the piano will tend to go flat in general pitch.

Regularly-tuned pianos will stay in tune longer. Notes that have several strings (unisons) will sound clearer longer. The piano service person will be able to do a better and faster job re-tuning the piano. Customers enjoy the sweet sound of a properly-tuned piano.

After a year, pianos typically will loose enough pitch to require a tuning session. Waiting more than a year(s) for the next tune will increase the chance that the piano is too flat to be tuned with one pass over the keyboard. There is normally an extra charge for this "double-tune" because of the extra effort it requires. It is termed a"pitch raise."

What else causes my piano's tune to vary?

There are two principle environmental causes for pitch change. Humidity and temperature. A piano's state of tune will vary audibly between summer and winter. Therefore, it is best to have your technician tune the instrument when it has re-stabilized in the current season. Tune it after the house settles into its seasonal temperature and the piano has also caught up to the new environment. Most customers are able to go a full year without observing a deterioration of the piano's tune.

Why can't I just let the piano sit for years if it's not played?

 Do not neglect your piano. Even if it is not played, it should be tuned. Piano strings will become brittle with time if not tuned. Pitch will drop severely. When the piano is finally serviced, there is increased risk of breaking strings, hurting the bridge and soundboard, and presenting an unstable tune (piano wants to go flat again). Maintaining regular tunes is very important.

What is the piano tuning technology?

The piano is comprised of over 200 individual wires or strings, played by 88 keys, typically. The keys are naturals (white) and sharps (black). They are notated at the lowest note A0 (note A octave 0) and then by octaves from C1 to C8 – seven octaves. Each note has a type of map: a note letter and then the octave in which it resides. A#3 would be the third octave A#, etc. This is how piano techs notate where problem keys are.

 

Pianos are tuned to concert pitch, known as “A440.” A440 is the note and pitch orchestras use as the reference to which they tune their instruments. Pitch is termed sharp when the note(s) on the instrument are tuned to a higher frequency or tone than proper for concert pitch. The reverse is true for flat, when the note(s) is of a lower frequency or tone. Pianos naturally tend to go flat, or drop in pitch.

 

The pitch of a piano is assessed based on cents as a measure of accuracy. From note-to-note (1/2 step) is 100 cents (noted as “c”). So if your piano’s notes are within 2c of concert pitch, it is in good tune. 

My piano has not been tuned in quite a while – now what?

 

Your piano is likely very flat and will require a “pitch-up” rather than a normal tune (a process of just tweaking, not radically changing the pitch). Pitching-up process requires at least two tune passes to get the piano to A440. Why? When the tuner/tech raises the tension (pitch) on each string it changes the pitch on the other strings to a greater or lesser extent. A one pass pitch-up will leave the piano below concert pitch and sounding unacceptable.

 

Generally, if the piano’s pitch has dropped a certain amount, a two-pass tuning should be done for best results. This pitch drop can occur over two years and greater without tunings.

 

Understand that seriously flat pianos may require subsequent tuning(s) beyond the initial double-tune because the piano will likely sag a bit afterward.  This is not a failing of the piano tuner/tech, but the piano succumbing to new tune stress. It may take some time before it can hold a tune reliably. The more the piano has sagged in pitch, the greater this effect. I generally recommend at least a month to pass after the initial tuning session so the piano finishes re-stabilizing before bringing the pitch up again. During this time, it will likely become sour sounding. This is typical. Remember, the more the piano has gone out of tune, the more it will tend to drop again after the first tune session – it is a direct proportion.

 

I have found that the normal process of starting at the center octave and working down and up from there does not work with pitch-up tunings to recover very flat pianos.  The piano should be pitched up twice with tune passes are from A0 to C8 (bottom to top). This creates a progressive tensioning of the piano that makes for a smoother tune (and happier customers!). A computer with a pitch-up program must be employed during this session for best results and greatest accuracy. It also helps ensure strings don’t break during this aggressive process.

How do you handle very old/flat pianos?

Many customers have older pianos that have not been tuned and are very flat (1/2 note or more). This raises a new concern: breaking strings. As pianos age many years without service, the wire tends to crystallize and become brittle. Bringing the pitch up on these oldies is risky. Occasionally they can be eased up in stages allowing string elasticity to return. I’ve had a lot of success there. If the piano has dropped a note and more for pianos older than 80 years, then the likelihood of a broken string is very great. Generally in those cases I recommend re-stringing the bass section if the piano is worth the investment. Treble strings are more tolerant and less costly to replace. It’s likely that some of those will fracture also. Occasionally, the multiple-tunes must have some time pass to let the piano stabilize before the next pitch up session. There are times where these age/care factors render the piano beyond one’s ability to get it back to concert pitch without breaking parts.

 Why can't I just go and buy a piano by myself?

Would you buy a used car without a personal technical helper or a mechanic? Same goes with looking for a piano. There are many components that are not observable by the buyer by simply playing the piano and looking at the cabinet. Several times I have found "nice" pianos that were not serviceable. They had serious issues that were not feasible to repair, like loose tuning pins. Have a technician to come and check out your possible purchase! 

Also, a competent technician will be able to help you see which brands are more desirable, which prices are better fits for the instrument, and help you narrow your choices.