Archive for category Tuning

Why be Quiet? After All, the Tuner is Making Quite a Racket!

So, today’s question….”is it really necessary to be completely quiet while the tuner is tuning my piano?”

After all, the tuner is making quite a racket.  With all the pounding of notes and all the noise they’re making, surely it doesn’t matter, right?  I don’t have to be quiet when the A/C guy comes to fix my furnace, or when the plumber comes to fix my sink.  Why do I have to be quiet when the tuner comes to tune the piano.  He makes much more noise than those other guys do!


Tuners play loudly to equalize string tension and stabilize the piano.

Well, actually, it matters a great deal!  If you’ve read my other posts, you might recall me explaining the reason tuners play so loudly when tuning. Rest assured it’s not that they are deaf and can’t hear what they’re doing. The purpose of their loud blows is to equalize the tension along the entire length of the strings. If that is not done, the piano will not stay in tune when you go to play it moments after the tuner leaves.  So, if your tuner doesn’t play somewhat loudly, and if they try to convince you that they can tune very softly so as not to bother you… might want to begin looking for a new tuner.


The tuner is actually listening to beats and relationships between different notes.

With that said, through all the seemingly thoughtless “banging” of the same notes…over and over… is important to realize that the piano tuner is actually listening very intently to the beats, or “wah-wahs” that are produced when two strings are played together.  The tuner is either counting beats between two different notes (intervals) to make them “wah-wah” at the correct speed for that interval, OR, the tuner is listening in order to eliminate any beats, as is the case when tuning one string to another of the same note (unisons).  It may appear as though the tuner is not paying much attention, and sometimes tuners can even carry on basic conversations while tuning or look around the room at pictures, etc, but the fact is that he/she is still listening and making judgements based on those little beats.  Most customers don’t even know the beats exist unless the tuner makes mention of them and/or demonstrates it to them.  Then they become very obvious.


What about tuners that use an Electronic Tuning Device (ETD)?

Good question.  After all, it appears that all they’re doing is stopping the lights, and not really listening, right? Wrong, wrong, wrong!  At least they’re not supposed to just tune by what they see.  ETD’s when used correctly can be a tremendously accurate instrument intended to verify what the tuner is already hearing.  It helps the tuner get very close, very quickly, but where the string finally stays should be determined by what is heard……always!  So, even though your tuner may use an ETD, they should also be listening, and what they hear should “trump” what they see.


Silence is golden!

So, noise that seems like no big deal to the customer is a HUGE deal to the tuner.  He/she must have a certain level of quiet in order to concentrate and hear those beats.  For me, some conversation (even conversation with me) is sometimes acceptable while tuning, so long as it’s at a very low level and not all the time.  An occasional comment, question, etc. is no big deal. I will occasionally speak with clients while tuning, so long as it’s not a lengthy, deep conversation.  One or two people in a room asking a question of the other is also usually not a problem as long as they are being considerate.  However, if it becomes a lengthy conversation, volume level raises, the topic becomes heated or argumentative, if there are several people in the room, or there are kids hollering and playing noisily, then it becomes very distracting.  I don’t do it often, but I’ve had to stop tuning at times and ask for quiet when it started to interfere with my concentration.


Other things that are very disruptive to a tuner’s concentration are:

Running dish water, blenders, washing machines, some dish washers, and things like that.  The occasional coffee grinder, especially if a cup is intended for me, is not as bad as the continual running of water and clanging of cups and plates for 25 min. while washing dishes.   TV’s must be kept at a very low volume, even if in the other room or another floor, and OFF if in the same room as the piano.  TV’s, CD, Radios, etc. are VERY hard to concentrate with if they can be heard at all.


Another thing, almost off topic, that  most don’t think of is ceiling fans. While they don’t make much noise, in and of themselves, they do beat the air like a helicopter and it really messes with the sound waves that are emitted from the piano. It beats those soundwaves all over the place, and creates new beats that mix with the beats of the piano that the tuner is listening for.   So, on a hot day, even though it doesn’t seem to make good sense, don’t be surprised if your tuner asks for the ceiling fans in the room to be turned off.  I’ve learned that I’d rather sweat to death than be frustrated with all those weird beats are produced by the ceiling fan.  If you don’t believe me, try humming into a regular box fan sometime and see what you hear! ; )  Same type of thing!


How can you help your tuner…and get a better tuning?

In short, do your tuner (and yourself) a favor, and give them an hour or two of silence so he/she can do their best job. Sure, your tuner will benefit by not being so stressed, but you will benefit the most since the tuner will be able to do the very best tuning possible for your piano, which you will be enjoying for weeks after monotonous pounding ceases!  We know the tuning process is usually not much fun for you, but last I checked, that’s the only way to tune a piano!


Until next time, make a joyful noise….(but think quiet during the next tuning)!




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Regular Piano Tuning Can Save Big Bucks!

We all know that musically, as well as for the health of the piano, that it is recommended to have your piano tuned regularly.  So, you say…tell me something I don’t know!  OK


I recently received an interesting email from an acquaintance of mine which serves as an important reminder of “other” reasons to have your piano serviced regularly.  It seems that having their piano tuned could would have likely saved this couple thousands of dollars.


I was called to a very fancy house in a very rich subdivision, (Old money rich), to tune a small grand in the formal sitting room. In addition to tuning, which they admitted hadn’t been done for a couple of years, they asked me to fix a few sticking keys in the 3rd octave. When I pulled the action, I found a dead, and mostly decomposed, black bird, between the tenor and bass hammers. These birds are about 10″ long, and how it got in there is anyone’s guess.

But that’s not the funny part of the story. When I showed the dead bird to the customer she let out a big yelp. She told me that for over a year there was a very bad odor coming from that room, and in order to get rid of the smell, they had the ducts completely cleaned, replaced the carpets and the drapes, painted the room, and replaced all of the furniture. By the time they did all that, the smell was mostly goner, but only because the bird had decomposed. Considering the quality of the carpets, etc, and the size of the room, it must have cost them close to $15,000. They only got the piano tuned and repaired because they were planning a big party, and someone was going to play it.

I guess this is another good reason to get the piano tuned once a year, even when no one is playing it.

Another good reason (and this is totally personal for the piano technician) is that from time to time when a tool is mistakenly left in a piano, it’s always a very nice surprise when you are called back and whala…there’s the tool you’d been missing for the last year or so!  Don’t ask me how I know!     : )  Ok, well it did happen to me once!  I did find a mute that I had dropped in the bottom of a piano a year earlier…thinking I’d remember to retrieve it at the end of the tuning.  For the life of me, I couldn’t remember where I had misplaced that mute …that is until I returned to tun that piano again the following year and there it was.  I’ve also found other technician’s mutes who apparently hadn’t been called back.  Unfortunately, they have been too dry rotted to use.
Anyway, I hadn’t posted in quite a while and thought I’d let you know what was on my mind today….obviously…not much! : )

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How can I tell if my piano needs a pitch-raise (adjustment)?

Pianos are intended to be tuned at A-440, a standard pitch, and if the piano hasn’t been kept in tune regularly, then over time it will gradually slip in pitch.  Once this happens, the strings will need to be tightened back to their proper tension before the piano can be fine tuned.  We call this process a “pitch-raise”, “pitch-adjustment” or “pre-tensioning”.


Whenever I speak with a new customer on the phone, one thing that I always  mention is the possibility of the piano needing a pitch-raise before the piano can be fine tuned.  This is true of many pianos that have not been tuned in several years.  While I won’t go into details about pitch adjustments in this post (since I wrote extensively about it in one of my previous posts: Why does my piano need a pitch-raise/lowering), what I would like to do now is to give you some guidance on some practical ways you can find out for yourself if your piano may need a pitch-raise or not. 


The way you find out if you need a pitch adjustment is simply to compare your piano’s “A” note(s) to a known reference pitch such as an “A” tuning fork, a “A” generated tone, or an electronic tuner of some sort (guitar tuner, etc.)


1) Using a tuning fork will only let you know if you are above or below that pitch, but it will not tell you how much above or below pitch unless you’re very good at counting and calculating beat rates.  Not for the faint at heart…!  Besides, most people don’t have a tuning fork laying around the house.


2) Another way is to compare your piano’s “A” to a tone generated “A”.  You can find one on my website.  If you will visit my FAQs page (my website is and go to the question: Why does my piano need a pitch-raise/lowering…you will find a full explanation of what a pitch-raise is and why it is needed.  While you are there, you will notice an audio file that will play a note (A-440) for you, which is the pitch that pianos are tuned to.  Play the audio file, then play your  “A” note above “middle C” (a diagram is shown to help you find it) and compare the two notes you hear.  If they are about the same, then you likely will not need a pitch raise.  If it sounds much different at all, then your piano is either sharp or flat of standard pitch so you will need to try a different tone to find one that matches your pianos pitch.  As you scroll down the page, off to the right, you will find a few other audio files for several pitches flat of “A-440”.  Again, you can play the “A” on your piano and play these different audio tones to find the one that most closely matches the pitch of your piano.  If you matched the pitches correctly, it will give you an idea of where your piano is in relationship to standard A-440 pitch.

I put this on my website as a help to my potential customers, but I found myself using it while on the phone with the customer!  I have had the customer take the phone to the piano, play the note for me (which I can hear through the phone) and then I play the tones on my website to match the pitch, and it gives us an idea of whether their piano needs a pitch raise or not (and how much) before I ever get to their home.  If  you have any troubles using this feature, I’d be glad to help you with it over the phone.


3) The most accurate way would be to use some sort of tuner, ie: a guitar tuner, strobe tuner, or other type musical tuner (there are some free tuning programs or apps that can be downloaded onto your computer or smartphone from the internet).  You set the tuner to “A4 (4th octave)” or A-440), then play your piano’s “A” above “middle C”. It will then show you how sharp or flat your “A” is.  You can check other notes as well with this method.

** One thing that will be helpful to know is that the distance from one note on your piano to the next is considered 100 cents in tuner’s language.  Same as 100%.  So, if your piano is 100 cents low, that means that it has dropped pitch one full tone (say from C down to B, or from A down to Ab (G#).  So, that being true, then a piano that is 50 cents low is only 1/2 tone low and so on.

A piano that is more than several cents flat will need a pitch-raise in order for the fine tuning to be stable. A piano more than 100 cents flat would likely need several pitch raises before it would hold a stable tuning.


So, that’s about it.  It really works.  In fact, I had a customer once use the audio tones on my website to check his piano, then when he called for a tuning, he announced that his piano was about 40 cents low.  I had forgotten I had those tone generators on my website, so I asked him how he knew that his piano was that low, to which he proceeded to tell me that he had used the tone generators from my site.   I was then curious to see how accurate his guess was based on him listening and comparing his piano to the tones I offered on the site.  So I got out my Accutuner and had him play his “A” on his piano.  I measured the flatness of the pitch and it was almost exactly 40 cents low. It was really nice heading out to his home knowing what I was in for…and it also prepared him for the extra charges and the extra work that was going to be involved before I ever got there.


Oh…..and by the way….you can avoid the complications and added expense of pitch-raises, etc. by simply keeping your piano tuned regularly!  : )  Just thought I’d throw that in for free!


Until next time…..make a joyful noise!




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The short answer is “Yes”, I did…tune my piano!

And the long answer is….

Those that read my last blog entry know that I set a date, last Wed, to tune my own piano…so I felt compelled to follow up and say, “Yes”, I in fact did just that.

To be quite honest, it had been close to 2 yrs. since I had tuned it last.  I do play it weekly, and therefore monitor it often, and it seemed to be holding tune pretty well.  So, I was pleased when I found that it was only a couple cents off here and there.  In fact, it was very close to proper pitch and hadn’t slipped much at all since the last tuning, and a few notes were even slightly sharp.  Still, no excuses…I should have tuned it a year ago…just because!

Anyway, I got to thinking about why it seems to be so hard for those in service oriented professions (like mechanics, piano tuners, etc.) to consistently service their own equipment even though they expect it of their customers.  Again, no excuses here, but I would just imagine it has probably has a little bit to do with money…like the fact that we don’t get a paycheck for doing service work on our own things. Not exactly, anyway.  True, we definitely save money by not having to hire it out to someone else, so in essence it is still money in our pocket, but it still isn’t quite the same as getting paid for it.

Besides, if you’re working on cars or pianos all day long for others, why would you, in your right mind, want to come home to work on your own?  To me, it almost seems like there’s something intrinsically wrong with that.  Nevertheless, we do it, but usually not without a few groans here and there, wishing there was something in it for us….but wait….maybe there is after all!

The payoff!  Yes, there really is a payoff after all.

The first payoff came when I finally realized I was in my own home, tuning my own piano.  There are several fringe benefits to this.  I think I was a little over 3/4 the way through my tuning when I realized that I was still in my own home and could actually get up and raid the refrigerator if I wanted to (I didn’t want to…but I could if I wanted to!).  I also realized that I also already knew where the restroom was without having to ask directions…or permission from anyone, which was nice!  I also realized that I had been in “the zone” and was working at my normal pace, and that I could have relaxed a little if I really have wanted to.  No one was pushing me to finish at a certain time and that is a pleasure I’m not always used to.

I should explain what I meant by “the zone”.  It is interesting how once I begin tuning, I am somehow transported to “the zone” as I call it.  It’s the zone of concentration where all that matters is the job at hand.  It’s the same zone that makes my wife wonder if I’m going to die of starvation by missing a meal as I often can do when I’m in “the zone”.   Sure my mind wanders a little in this zone, but when you strive for a perfect tuning every time, I guess it doesn’t matter who’s home you’re in, even your own.

So, the second payoff came when I had tuned the last note and the piano began singing ever so sweetly, as only it can when it’s been freshly tuned.  I always say that there’s nothing quite like a freshly tuned piano.  I could play for hours after a tuning if my customers would let me!  I believe that that is one of my biggest reward in this profession is getting to play a freshly tuned piano at the end each and every tuning.  What a payoff!

And, the third payoff came when I had packed my bags, stood to sign my own sticker in my own piano, and mumbled to myself with a smile on my face….”self…that will be ‘x’ amount of dollars for a job well done!”, chuckling to myself in satisfaction that I have just saved myself a tuning fee by having been able to do it myself.  In this moment, not used to dialoging with myself, I feel I have a bit of a split personality: half piano technician, and half client…for in that moment, I am both.  So, in the spirit of the moment, I say to myself, “thank-you” and “you’re most certainly welcome!”  If I’ve learned anything over the years it’s the importance of being polite to your clients so they will call on you again….
So, with that said, I had so much fun, I think I’ll do it again next year!


Until next time, make a joyful noise…and remember that pianos are meant to sing sweetly…and not just once every 10 years!

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The pot calling the kettle black…a tuner’s confession!

I’m guilty as charged!  I found myself caught the other day staring down the proverbial double barrel, caught red handed, cornered, whatever you want to call it….anyway, my conscience got the best of me and I couldn’t deny it.  I have to confess I felt pretty hypocritical.


Here’s the situation.  I was sitting in the dentist chair a couple weeks ago for my annual….semi-annual, no…more likely, my bi-decade visit, just wrapping up the visit which proved to be very painful for me.  Not in the teeth either.  It was painful for my conscience, as well as for my wallet.  See, my dentist found that I needed 3 or 4 crowns and a filling since my last visit 4 years or more ago.  Wow.  That will cost me, big time.  As I was leaving, he said something to the effect of, “now don’t be such a stranger”, or “next time, let’s not wait as long”..what he was really saying was…”dude, it’s your own fault for waiting so long.  I could have saved you a bunch of money and a whole lot of pain if you had only kept regular checkups.”

It was at that moment I thought I was listening to myself talking…or at least thinking of what I’ve wanted to say to certain customers at times.  For instance, the customer who told me that they had their piano tuned the week it came home from the store in the early ’80’s, new …then just had it tuned this year…nearly 30 years later.  That was it!  Two tunings in 30 years…and the first one came with the purchase, I guess!  Don’t I feel special, I was the one who was chosen to do the honors after all these years! : )  Yup, we had some catchup work to be done on that piano.

Anyway, back to the dentist chair.  It was at that time that my conscience got the best of me, like a child who stole the cookie from the cookie jar and couldn’t contain his guilt, and I blurted out before I could stop myself…I said to him, and his assistant, “you know, that’s funny you should say that.  I feel so hypocritical.  Here, I’m a piano technician, and I implore my customers to not wait years and years to get their piano serviced, or it will end up costing them  “big time” later…and here I did that very thing with my dental visits.  Wow, do I feel like the pot calling the kettle black”.  He just chuckled…his way of saying that he of course was in total agreement with me!

I say that to say this…that it’s pretty natural for most of us to put off, to forget, or avoid what we know we should do because more important things come up, or we dread the tuner’s/dentist’s visit for whatever reason (see they’re both about the same…you grit your teeth the entire visit!  It’s either the noise of the monotonous pounding of the tuner, or the dreaded noise of the dentist’s drill!)

Many find it interesting that it’s usually the mechanic that drives an old beater and the piano tech who doesn’t have time to tune his own piano…so, I decided I’d better break the stereotype and put my piano on the calendar.  Next Wed. at 11am, I scheduled my own piano to be tuned!  I haven’t gone years or anything like that, but let’s say, I sure understand how my customers feel, as it’s really easy to forget how long it’s actually been.  Time has a way of getting away from ALL of us.

So, I hope this post serves to do both of us some good.  It sure helped me to get that off my chest, and it will surely help me to empathize a little better with my customers…that I truly do understand.  I also hope it helps you to realize that it does sometimes cost more to make repairs than it sometimes does to do preventative maintenance.  Waiting can be costly. Ask me how I know!

It was a lesson that I’m sure everyone can learn from.

Believe me, I’ll be reviewing this little lesson for the next couple months as I have my teeth repairs done!


Until next time, make a joyful noise….and make an appointment with your tuner…and dentist while your at it!








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Why do I need to tune my piano even if I never play it?

Another great question that I mostly addressed in my second post in the section titled:

Shouldn’t a good “master tuning” last for several years?

That article gives a good explanation of what is happening inside the wood when it is subjected to moisture changes.  However, in addition to the information there, I want to focus in this post on some practical evidence of humidity change, as well as give some “real world” examples why the idea of a “forever tuning” doesn’t exist, except in our dreams! 


I’m pretty sure that everybody that owns a piano secretly wishes for “the tuning” that would last forever.  (For the record, we piano tuners don’t, by the way!)  Ok, let’s turn the tables for a minute….whenever I leave the doctor’s office, I always secretly wish that it would be the last time….though I know it won’t.  I guess we’re all wired that way.


Anyway,  back to pianos….IF pianos went out of tune just due to use, then it would make sense that if the piano were never (or rarely used) that it would maintain it’s tune until it had been played enough to “bang” it out of tune again.  Unfortunately, that is not the case with pianos.  In fact, I don’t think that’s the case with most things in life.  Our world is in a constant state of change.  Consider the weather, the water cycle, the rock cycle, the human body, the seasons, and the list goes on.  With all this change going on all around us, both in things we see, as well as within the microscopic world that we cannot see, it only makes sense that the objects around us are also in a constant state of change.


If you stop and think about all the things in life that change, move, or shift because of aging, vibration, humidity, dryness, sun’s radiation, etc, we could fill several books listing the many things that don’t stay constant in life….yes, most everything!  Some simple examples: A bolt, unless rusted on, will usually loosen over time if subjected to heat, cold, vibration, and such.  Doors once oiled will begin creaking when the oil seeps out of the hinge and/or dries up (even if the door was never used).  A child’s swing-set sitting out in the yard will begin to fade and the metal will rust over time, even if it was never used…ask me how I know?  I have a package of assorted rubber-bands in my desk drawer right now that I’ve had there for many years.  Many of them are still good, but some of them have dried out to the point of breaking with one use.  So, you can see that natural forces are constantly at work on the objects around us, and our pianos are no different.


Practical Effects of Humidity (moisture) on Wood:


The piano, being primarily made of wood, is susceptible to the effects of humidity.  The wood will move, swell or shrink, even before our very eyes if given enough moisture or dried quickly enough. 


Try this: soak a large wooden tongue depressor in water for a few minutes, lay it out on the table for a few minutes and see what happens, then dry it with a blow dryer.  I haven’t done this, but I can only imagine the warping, curling and such that would likely be evident.


What about a piece of cardboard?  We all know what a nice, new piece of cardboard looks and feels like.  We also all know what a wet, warped piece of cardboard looks and feels like.  Furthermore, after that wet cardboard dries out, it will never be the exact shape it originally was before it got wet.  I like to paint sets at our church for church plays, etc.  I’ve learned that if you paint only one side of the cardboard, when it dries it will curl considerably toward the painted side.  My nice straight cardboard walls become bowed looking walls that don’t stand up straight anymore.  All from the effects of humidity.


If you’ve never done this, it’s kind of fun.  First we need to agree that paper is wood, correct….very, very thin, but made from wood no less.


Now, next time you tap your restaurant drinking straw on the table to take the wrapper off, be sure you’ve scrunched the paper up pretty tightly like an accordion before taking it off the straw. Now, lay the scrunched paper down on the table, take only a drop of water and place it on the wrapper.  It will begin growing and stretching out like it is alive.  While this is a fun little experiment that shows the effect of moisture on paper, it may seem a little overly exaggerated as it relates to the actual parts of a piano, but here again, maybe not so much.  The little drop of water had a huge effect on the wood fibers in that little piece of paper, yes. Now what would happen if you had a whole ream of paper and the same drop of water?  On the flat surface of the ream, probably not a huge effect, but on the end of the ream where it could penetrate in a little, I think there would be a noticeable change. This same drop of water, in reality, could have a significant effect on a wooden piano part much the same way.


Again, for a detailed explanation on humidity, refer to post #2.


Just because we don’t see water in the air, doesn’t mean it’s not there.  Case in point.  Our church runs a dehumidifier in the fellowship hall.  On most days when the humidity is above 50% or so, that dehumidifier can pull more than a gallon of water out of the air in a single day.  Note, that that’s just one dehumidifier running, almost non-stop, and still not bringing the humidity down to proper levels sometimes when the room humidity is high.  Therefore, a couple dehumidifiers would probably pull out twice that much or more.  That’s a lot of water in the air.  Remember, now that the wood cells are tubular like a bundle of drinking straws, just waiting to absorb that moisture.  When it does, the wood moves, and when the wood moves, things go out of adjustment…including tunings.


I read about a funny story (true story by the way) about a technician who was called to repair a string on a piano, but according to the customer, he “had to replace the string without turning the tuning pins”.  When the technician asked why, the owner said that the piano kept going out of tune so often that they hired a “master tuner” to do his best “master tuning” on the piano.  Then when he left, they poured superglue around all the tuning pins, thinking that they were “cementing” that tuning in place once and for all.  The customer was wrong on two accounts…1) the super glue will not cement the pin in place permanently, and 2) even if it would, the soundboard and bridge are both made of wood, and they swell and shrink more than the pin block, and are the main reason pianos go out of tune due to humidity changes anyway.  The tuner, I’m told, waited until the customer was gone and proceeded to replace the string as normal (by the way, there is no way to replace a string without moving the tuning pin!)


So, just because you don’t play your piano much doesn’t mean it won’t need a tuning now and then.  As sure as the seasons change, your tuning is changing too.


You ask, what do you do to combat the humidity changes in the piano?  While there is no perfect, low-cost solution, here are a few things that can be done help control humidity.


Dampp-Chaser Humidity Control System (system installed in piano)

– Room humidity controlled (not just by house system, although those can sometimes help)

– A humidity controlled storage unit (like some schools or other performing arts buildings  have back stage)

– Use a cover over the piano when not in use, and an undercover (especially when used with a Dampp-Chaser Humidity Control System.


In summary, there are no “forever tunings”, so might as well make friends with your local piano technician, you’re gonna need him!


Until next time…Make a Joyful Noise!





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How often, and what time a year should my piano be tuned?

Generally, your piano should be tuned about once or twice a year.  That said, the real answer is …it depends.  For example, a once-a-year tuning would never do for a brand new piano, teacher’s piano, practice piano, or concert piano.


How often you decide to tune your piano depends on several things, such as: humidity fluctuation, how particular you are about how your piano sounds, how often it is used, how it is used (for practice, for performance only, teaching, etc), and of course finances play a role too.

All these factors really need to be considered and discussed with your piano technician for you to come to the proper conclusion regarding how often to service your piano.


As a starting point, I’d recommend tuning your piano no less than once a year.


If you wait any longer than a year, then the overall pitch and tension of the piano will begin to change, usually going pretty flat.  This is not only hard on the piano, but you’ll pay for it later in pitch raises (also known as pre-tensioning, pre-tuning, or pitch adjustments) trying to get it back to pitch and trying to get it to hold it’s pitch again.  If you have a piano that is being rarely used, the piano is not used for teaching or practicing, and you’re not really particular about how perfectly it sounds, then once a year is usually just fine.


If the piano is being used in a school or church type setting, you are playing your piano regularly practicing for lessons (or maybe you just love to play), then I would recommend twice to four times a year, again, that depends on things such as humidity, how hard you play, and personal preferences.


If the piano is used in say a recording studio, then the piano might likely need to be tuned weekly if not before each recording.  Again, this depends on the piano (how well it holds it’s tune) and how stable the humidity is where the piano is located.


Now, if the piano is used for concerts, then it will usually be tuned for rehearsal, and then fine tuned again just before the concert, and sometimes “touched up” during intermission.


So, you can see that there is really no one answer that I can give you, and even the recommendations above are just that…recommendations.  Each piano and situation varies, and that is something you will have to talk over with your piano technician.


Generally, the more a piano is used and the more public the piano becomes for entertainment, teaching, concerts, recordings and such, the more frequently the piano will need to be serviced.


Don’t forget that like anything, your house, car, etc. that pianos too will require more repairs and regulation also the more they are used.


What months are best to tune my piano?


What we’re really asking is: “what time of the year is the humidity stable enough to tune my piano so that I can keep my good tuning for the longest amount of time possible?”


You will hear it said over and over that HUMIDITY CHANGES are the primary reason pianos go out of tune.

The following excerpt is from my FAQs page on my website:

When choosing a time of year to have your piano tuned, some
believe that fall and spring are the best times, being
right after major seasonal changes. True, that is when the
Relative Humidity is most ideal for a piano, at 43% or so.
However, January and July are the best times if you want the
longest period of time without major fluctuations, even though
the humidity during those times are not always ideal. If your
home or establishment maintains it’s temperature and humidity
rather well, or if your piano has a Dampp Chaser or similar
humidity control system installed and functioning regularly, then
this is not as much of an issue. While there is never a “perfect”
time, it is always better to have it tuned than it is to wait and risk
forgetting. Pitch adjustments are costly and hard on the piano! I
would suggest that whatever time(s) you decide, that you stick
with it.


So, in the Spring and Fall (April and October) about 2 weeks after the heat or A/C is turned on, are typically recommended times if you decide to tune twice a year.  The humidity at these times of year are closest to 43% on average, which is what the piano needs.  Generally, these are good times of the year to have your piano tuned.


However, another good time is January and July.  While the humidity may be a little higher or lower than desired at these times, humidity levels hold pretty steady for a longer period of time during and immediately following those months.  So, with a January/July tuning, in some places, your piano should stay in tune a little longer than with an April and October, Spring/Fall tuning.


IMPORTANT: Keep in mind that I live in Missouri, and other parts of the country may have different recommendations.  Please always consult your local Piano Technician for his/her local recommendations.


While there may seem to be no absolute perfect time to get your piano tuned, (and if there were, everybody would be calling us all at once and we piano technicians would be swamped with hundreds or thousands of pianos in one week or month, and have no tunings the rest of the year), it helps us to at least aim for the “better” times of the year when we can maximize our tuning stability.


My final recommendation, though….whatever you decide, pick a time and stick with it.  Get your piano tuned, and then keep it tuned.  It will be the best for your instrument, the best for your ears, and the best for your neighbor’s ears too!


Until next time…make a joyful noise!

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Does my piano tuner have to play so loudly when tuning?

“Does my piano tuner have to play so loudly when tuning?  Is he deaf?  Can he not hear what he’s playing, for crying out loud?  Is he going to hurt my piano by playing so hard? Maybe I ought to call someone else who can hear better and tune more softly.”


These are great questions that I’ve never actually been asked before, but I have see the quizzical looks on the customer’s faces at times and have gone ahead and answered those questions for them to put them at ease.


The answers are…

“Yes” the piano keys needs to be played really firmly while tuning.

“No” your tuner is likely not deaf.  He can hear what he’s doing, but there is a real purpose to why he is playing so firmly.

And “no” it doesn’t hurt your piano.


Each string of a piano passes over, under, and around several friction points as it makes its way from one end of the piano to the other, from the tuning pin to the hitch pin.  This creates a situation where you now have the “speaking length” of the string, and the “non-speaking lengths” of the string (see pictures below).

Speaking Length of string (green line)

The “speaking length” is the longer vibrating part of the string that makes the sound when you play.  If you tightly stretched a rubber band between two fingers, then plucked it…the entire rubber band would be vibrating and sounding (except the parts touching your fingers). The vibrating, sounding part of the rubber band is the “speaking length”.  The part touching your fingers does not vibrate and sound and therefore is “non-speaking”. Notice the green line in the picture shows the “speaking length” of that string.


The “non-speaking lengths” are at each end of the string and are the little sections between friction points that are not usually part of the sound when played. In the picture above, it is all the parts of the string to the left and right of the green line. The part of the strings that go from the tuning pin to the pressure bar/capo or “v” bar/ or agraffes, as well as at the end (or bottom of the piano) between the stagger pins on the bridge, and from the bridge pin to the hitch pin.  All these sections are considered “non-speaking lengths” of the string since they aren’t the part of the string responsible for making the music.

stagger pins

The picture you see here is a close up of the hitch pins (far right) and the bridge pins (or stagger pins at left).  The section of string to the left of the bridge is the “speaking length” and is the main part of the string.  So, again, all of the string from the time it enters the stagger pins at the left, and goes around the hitch pin at the right and comes back through the stagger pins is all considered the “non-speaking” length of the string.


So, what happens when a note is played loudly during tuning?

What happens during tuning is that the string is being stretched and pulled through all of the friction points.  Because of friction, it may pull all the way through some of the friction points, and not so much on others, leaving the tension at different amounts along the length of the string.  A practical example of that would be when you tie your shoes.  If your laces are really loose to begin with, as you pull on the laces, it will sometimes tighten some sections tighter than others. You have to get in there with your hands, usually, to kind of pull each section to about the same tightness before going ahead and tying them.  The tuner has to do that also in the piano.  He does that by playing a firm blow.  All the energy from that firm blow rushes up and down the string, through the friction points, and allows all the sections of the string to equalize their tension, thus making the tuning more stable.


If your tuner didn’t do this, the tuning would be very unstable.  It might sound good for a little while, especially if played very softly, however, soon after the tuner leaves and you began playing a loud piece of music, the strings would equalize their tension, causing everything to go wildly out of tune.  So, we are equalizing the tension along the full length of the string when we play loudly during tuning.


Does it hurt the piano when the tuner plays loudly?

While it may make you feel uncomfortable during the tuning process, under normal circumstances, the tuner’s loud playing will definitely not hurt your piano.  The piano is built to withstand quite a firm blow for pieces of music marked ffff.  However, it is not beyond the scope of possible for something to break, especially if the piano is extremely old and the parts are pretty dry and glue joints are brittle.  Even at that, it is extremely rare for the tuning process to ever damage the piano by playing firm tuning blow.


So, next time you call your tuner, get your earplugs if you need, but be rest assured that your tuner is doing what is necessary to ensure you have a piano that stays in tune as long as possible.


Until next time…..make a joyful noise!



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What’s the difference between Tuning, Repairs, and Regulation?

Today’s topic will attempt to answer what may seem to most like a silly question, as the answer seems so obvious. However, I get asked this question from time to time, so let’s try to sort it out.  Keep in mind that we could write books about each of the three processes, so today we’re going to keep to the basics.


A few months ago, just after I had finished tuning for a client, I was loading my things in my truck when their neighbor greeted me and kindly inquired about what exactly “regulation” meant.  He had seen these three words on the side of my truck, Tuning, Repairs, and Regulation, but wasn’t sure what the real differences were.

It was a very good question which gave me “cause for pause”.  Not because I didn’t understand what the differences were, of course, but because of the fact that here I was advertising something that people may have to guess what the services were that I was advertising.  I could have just as easily printed “adjustments” or something of that nature on the side of my truck.  (Well, maybe not! I think I’ll stick with “regulation”).

Anyway, I’ve run across this on several occasions where especially Tuning and Regulation were confused.  Really, not too surprising when I think of the times the A/C guy has come to repair my furnace…all I really cared about is that he knew what he was doing, and that it was working properly when he left.  So, it makes sense that my piano customers pretty much feel the same way. We come in, greet them, do our thing, and wallah…it sounds good again.

So, the gentleman’s question led me to believe that “Tuning” in many people’s minds is associated with everything involved in the service call, rather than realizing that Tuning refers to one type of process, and that Regulation refers to an altogether different type of process.  Let me explain.

Tuning refers to the adjusting of the strings to proper musical pitch, Repairs refer to either fixing what’s broken or replacing parts, and Regulation (or regulating) is moving, bending, turning, shimming, etc. all the parts in the piano to make them work together properly.



Tuning (according to me !) is the act of turning the metal tuning pins in order to either tighten or loosen tension on the strings in order to place them at a correct musical pitch.  There are over 200 tuning pins, each attached to a string, on a typical piano, so this is why your technician can take nearly 1.5 – 2 hrs. tuning your piano.

So when you schedule a “tuning”, that is all you are purchasing…so to speak.  Granted, I always try to do little things here and there for no extra charge (tighten bench, adjust (regulate) pedals, fix a sticky key…those seemingly small things are things that I, and most tuners, like to do as part of their general tuning service call.  A 3-5 min. repair or adjustment doesn’t take a lot of time, they add a great benefit, and it is great for customer relations.  However, that is not what the tuning fee is generally for.  Specifically, a tuning is primarily for just bringing the piano to pitch (given that it’s close to pitch already….and doesn’t need a significant pitch adjustment…sometimes called a pitch raise or lowering).  We’ll save that topic for another time.


Just for fun, consider the fact that if you removed all the keys, action (including hammers, dampers, etc.), pedals, and leave nothing but the strings strung across the plate, that the “harp” could still be tuned…although you couldn’t do descent sounding or stable tuning by just plucking the strings. But TECHNICALLY it could be “tuned” with the action out of the piano, just as you see in the photo below (however, no one ever would…I hope!)

So, you can see that tuning is really just the adjustment of the string’s tension by turning the tuning pins only.  Yes we use the keys to make the hammers strike the strings during tuning, but the adjustment has nothing to do with the keys or internal parts other than the tuning pins.

Tuning is a very different process than regulation which is the adjusting of all the other parts of the piano that make up what we call the action and pedal works.  Let’s first talk about repairs and then we’ll get to regulation in a bit.

Piano Without its Action


Repairs are generally fixing or replacing what’s broken or damaged.  A repair, (according to someone who’s just broke something!) usually means several things…1) it’s going to usually cost something, usually unexpected, 2) it usually is necessary to fix in order for the instrument to function without further damage, 3) it always begs the question…”what caused the damage?”  There are lots of reasons parts need repair…neglect, misuse, accident, or just normal wear with age, and 4) smiles from happy customers when the repair is done correctly.

Broken Key

We all know all-to-well that things just don’t last forever, parts break and need repaired or replaced.  The good news is that most pianos are built to last a good long time if treated properly.  So, again, referring to yesterday’s post, regular visits by your piano tuner can catch things that may need repair before the problem gets worse. A broken hammer, like you see above, may not only fail to work properly, but if not repaired, it’s flopping around in the piano can damage other parts as well.

Examples of common repairs in a piano might be a broken hammer shank that either needs to be mended or replaced, loose glue joints are common on older pianos (or those who have been exposed to extremely low humidity over time), squeaky pedals that need felt replaced or lubricated, broken keys, and the list could go on.  We’ll save some of that discussion for another post on repairs someday.


Piano Regulating


Regulation is one of those words that can mean a number of different things.  In law, a regulation is a rule or something to abide by.  A regulation sized basketball means the “official” size…the size that an “official” game must use according to the rulebooks.  So it is in pianos, well sort of.  Regulation basically refers to all the many, many adjustments that can be made throughout the piano to make all the parts function and interact properly. If parts are “in regulation”, or “well regulated” we mean that they are adjusted to function well.  If the parts are “out of regulation” or “poorly regulated” we mean that the parts are out of adjustment and may not function at all, or marginal at best.  Technicians can change the regulation of your piano to affect how your piano plays and feels to you (heavy touch vs. light touch, loud vs. softer, clickety-clackety sounding parts (bad) vs. quiet and smoothly functioning parts (good)).  Many things can be regulated in your piano, and over time, they will need to be.

Note: Broken parts cannot be adjusted or regulated to other parts because they must first be repaired.  That being said, many adjustments cannot be made, at least not well, until the piano is at least in good repair.

So, why do we use the word Regulation when referring to the adjustments in the piano. I think it’s because it sounds more sophisticated!  Well, maybe not.  I believe it is really referring to the fact that a piano is designed to function a certain way, and for that to happen, all the parts must be at certain distances from each other, so that when they are moved, they will engage the other part at the correct spot.  When a piano is built at the factory, it is built to a designed plan with certain specifications.  Specifications are numbers, distances, tolerances, or whatever you want to call them, that they have decided work best for a particular piano. They are saying that for this piano to work properly, all these adjustments need to be made “just so…”  (the rules, for that piano and how it works best).  Now, over time, felt wears, hammers get filed down to shape them better, wood swells and shrinks, thus moving the screw adjustments that were once tight in the wood.  NOW, the adjustments are not according to regulation (the rules for that piano regarding where those parts need to be to function correctly). So, it is the technician’s job to “Regulate” the piano, or in other words, systematically place all those parts back in regulation (or proper adjustment). There are some regulation process that can be done in a couple hours that will help to improve your piano’s playability, but to properly regulate a piano, it can take between 10-15 hours. It can very tedious work, but the musical payoff is well worth it.


Just for the record, since my fellow technicians are biting their tongue right now wanting to say this,…the factory specifications are just a guideline for the technician, and what actually works best for a particular piano may be slightly different from the “rule”, so to speak.  Your technician is trained to make it function properly.


Here’s a little example that might help with understanding the need for repairs and regulation, and in that order.  Suppose you played baseball.  Picture yourself selecting a bat, stepping up to bat, you stand slightly outside of the batters box, you hold the bat incorrectly (grain going the wrong way), you hold your hands the wrong way on the bat, here comes the pitch.  As you swing, you have to reach in to connect with the ball, your momentum is interrupted because of your awkward stance, and the ball doesn’t hit the sweet spot of the bat, and since the grain was the wrong direction, the bat breaks.


Now, let’s look at the situation.  We know the bat will HAVE to be replaced (repair won’t do in this case) before going on, but why did it break in the first place?  You weren’t standing according to “regulation”, what we know works.  So, by “adjusting” your stance, and adjusting the hold on the bat so the ball would hit the sweet spot, all of that could have been avoided.  With a new bat and the proper stance, you are ready to hit that home run.

At some point all analogies fall apart, but I think you get the picture, that repairs must be done before regulation will do any good, and at the same time, proper regulation of your piano can prevent many unnecessary problems in the piano that can lead to costly repairs.


So, in summary: Tuning is the adjusting of the strings to proper musical pitch, Repairs are fixing what’s broken or replacing parts, and Regulation (or regulating) is moving, bending, turning, shimming, etc. all the parts in the piano to make them work together properly.


If you enjoy what’s here or want my take on a particular topic, please let me know.  You can subscribe to my blog at the top right of your screen.


Until next time…make a joyful noise!

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So, you haven’t tuned your piano in years…so what’s so bad about that?

What’s the point of regular tunings?

So…I was thinking today what my first choice of topics should be for this Blog, and decided that we’d start with trying to answer a basic question that I “hear” all too often, either directly or indirectly from customers, and that is basically “so what’s the big deal if I haven’t tuned my piano in years”.  I’ve never been asked that directly, of course, but you could read it all over the customer’s faces when I told them that, in so many words…they were in for some real expenses to get their piano back in shape.  The reality is, that any piano (spinet or grand piano, Wurlitzer or Steinway) needs regular tuning and servicing in order for it to function as a musical instrument.  While many pianos come in a variety of cabinet styles and finishes, which make them very attractive and desirable as pieces of furniture, that is not their main purpose.

Your piano is much more than JUST a piece of furniture!

Contrary to some popular beliefs…a piano is much more than JUST another piece of furniture in the house.  I truly believe that some people believe that their piano is like any other piece of furniture in the room, like their couch or desk…except this one’s really cool…it makes noise when you bang on it!  You smile at the silliness of that, but in reality, I believe many people truly believe that once you buy it, it just sits there and nothing ever needs to be done with it.  After all, they don’t have to do anything to their couch, desk, table, chairs, etc. except use them until they no longer function (or until their tastes change and they exchange it for something else).  If you want just a piece of furniture, then do nothing to your piano and in time that’s exactly what you will get!  Why is this, you ask.  Well, glad you asked.  We’ll try to explain a little about that today.

Shouldn’t a good “master tuning” last for several years?

I have customers call months after a tune, shocked that their piano didn’t hold a tune, and sometimes it sounds like they’re implying that I must not have tuned it well if it sounded so badly now.  My immediate thought is that apparently they’ve never seen a guitar, violin, trumpet, clarinet, tuba, saxophone, or any other number of musical instrument players tune their instruments each and every time they pull it out of its case.  I’m honestly surprised that many very bright, intelligent people often don’t make the connection that a piano is really, in many ways, no different than any other musical instrument that you pack away in a case and tote around to band class.

Those of you that play other instruments know exactly what I mean.  I played trumpet in my High School marching band, and on those cold November football game nights, I just hated marching.  Yes my fingers were freezing, my mouthpiece nearly stuck to my lips because of the frozen moisture in my breath, but the band always sounded wildly out of tune.  You know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever been there.  Temperature affects brass instruments, especially, causing them to actually change size…which in turn changes pitch.  Cold air is heavier than warm air and behaves differently than hot air.  The moment you bring the instrument back into the warm band room, it warms up, and immediately, the pitch begins to change.  If that is so for many instruments, why then are we surprised that our piano goes out of tune days, weeks, or months after a good tuning?  For one, we don’t take our pianos out in the cold and bring them back inside very often.  If you did, I guarantee you would notice pitch differences similar to other instruments.

So, since you don’t haul your piano in and out of the cold, why does a pianos pitch seem to change when it’s inside all the time?

Basically, the piano is made of wood, felt, plastic, and metal, and even though you keep your piano indoors and your A/C on to keep you comfortable in the summer and winter, there is more going on in the air around you that affects the wood the makes up the majority of your piano.

Let’s take a closer look at how the wood inside your piano reacts to the air around it.

Below you see two pictures.  The picture on the left shows a piece of wood, and we see some sides are smooth, but the end of the board is rough.  Have you ever tried painting the end of a 2×4?  It literally sucks up the paint and it takes many coats to paint it.  The reason is because, if you remember what you learned in your 5th grade science class, that 2×4’s are cut from trees, trees were living organisms made of cells, and they have tube like structures that allow the sap to flow up and down the tree giving it nourishment.  The straws you see sitting on the board are an example of those tube like structures inside the wood.  Now, look to the picture on the right.  This clearly shows those tubes magnified.

2x4 end grain (inner structure of wood is hollow and tubular like soda straws)

Wood End Grain - Under microscope

Ok, with that thought in mind, now think what would happen if all those little tubes filled with water…naturally the block of wood would swell.  When the wood dried out again, and the tubes empty, the wood in turn would shrink.

BINGO, that is why pianos go out of tune so often.  Humidity!

As temperature changes, the air can hold more or less water (humidity).  In the summer, there is lots of moisture in the air, more humidity, the piano wood absorbs some of that, the wood swells, and……we’ll talk about what happens in just a minute….!

Similarly, in the winter, there is little moisture in the air, less humidity, and the wood in the piano dries out, the wood shrinks, and…..again, we’ll talk about what happens in just a minute…!

Humidity changes cause pianos to go out of tune.

Changes in the Soundboard:

In a nutshell, the back of a piano (in an upright) and the bottom of a piano (in a grand) are called the soundboard.  This board is very thin and has a crown built in so that even though it “looks” flat, it really is bowing in (in uprights) and up (in grands.  The strings are strung across a bridge and there is pressure pushing down on the bridge and on the soundboard, and the crown of the soundboard is curved toward and putting pressure back on the bridge.   If humidity stays constant, these two pressures stay in good relationship and the piano will hold a tune.  If the wood swells because of high humidity, the soundboard will swell, causing more crown, placing more pressure on the bridge and strings, causing the pitch of the strings to go sharp.  If the wood shrinks because of low humidity, the soundboard will also shrink, causing less crown, placing less pressure back on the bridge and strings, causing the pitch of the strings to go flat.

Soundboard/Bridge/Strings - High Humidity - Pitch goes sharp

Soundboard/Bridge/Strings - Low Humidity - Pitch goes flat

This doesn’t take years to happen, it can take hours, days, weeks depending on the  moisture in the air.

That’s why, if you tune your piano during times of stable humidity, your tuning will last much longer than if you have it tuned right before you turn the heat on for the winter….humidity will change quickly causing the piano to change pitch quickly.  Seriously, because of that simple fact, I am amazed that a piano can stay in tuned as long as it does following a tuning.

In fact, it is a well known fact that Concert Pianos will be tuned before every concert.  Recording studios will have their piano tuned before each recording, or at least as often as weekly.  So, while your preferences and frequency of piano use will determine how often you prefer to have your piano tuned, the fact is that your piano is in a constant state of change, and therefore, can benefit greatly from regular tunings.

The Pin block:

To a little lesser extent, but still highly affected, is the pin block.  Because of it’s thickness, the pin block may take a little longer to take on or give up humidity than the thinner soundboard.  Swelling and shrinking of wood in this area will either swell and exert more pressure on the tuning pins, causing them to be tighter in the pin block, or shrink and exert less pressure on the tuning pins, causing them to loosen their grip.  When they loose their grip, the pitch falls.

So…why do pianos need REGULAR tunings….?

Years of no tunings will usually result in the piano loosing tension and pitch.

So, over time the changes in humidity can cause the tuning pins to slip which will cause the overall pitch of the piano to continue lowering.  This happens anyway to a small extent between tunings, which is normal, however, the change is so small, that the next tuning brings it back to “normal” tension.  BUT, what happens if you go years without regular tunings?  Those small amounts of tension and pitch lowering now add up to result in a large net loss in tension and pitch. (If the pin block really dries out, cracking can occur and then you are looking at replacement, which is quite costly).

Pin block High Moisture (pin kept tight)

Pin block Low Moisture (pin loose in pin block)

Dry Cracked Pin block

This is reason that regular tunings are so important.  Regular tunings are vital to the health of your piano, and the tuning fees you “saved” through the years will not really have been saved since you will likely need much more work done to bring your piano back to pitch and to keep it at pitch in the future.

More reasons to avoid delays in having your piano tuned:

1) Besides the expense, large tension changes are very hard on the structure of the piano.  The piano is designed to be at a certain tension, and anything other than that is harmful to the integrity of the structure.

2) Regular tunings mean the technician is seeing your piano more often, and therefore will be able to find minor repair and regulation problems before they become more serious and costly issues.

3) It’s musically more fun, more inspirational, and practice becomes a joy when the piano is kept in tune.  Even if mom and dad don’t have an ear for music, little Suzie usually knows that her piano doesn’t sound like teachers.

Well, I hope this information has been beneficial to you.  As you can see, it really is in your best interest to keep your piano tuned.  In the short run, you keep your piano in great musical condition, and in the long run, you will likely save money and protect your investment.

Most of my Blogs likely will not be this long….we’ll see…but for next time, we’ll talk about the differences between Tuning, Repairs, and Regulation.  Seems simple enough, but often confused.  We’ll clarify it then.

Until next time…make a joyful noise!

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