How often should a piano be tuned?
Most people have their piano tuned once a year although a twice yearly visit is recommended. I have one customer who wants his piano tuned every three months.
Part of a piano tuning visit will include a check of the action and the piano generally. Small adjustments like two hammers rubbing together are regarded as part of the visit and are included.
My piano hasn't been tuned for a long time
Most pianos are difficult to tune if left a long time. This is because the pitch has dropped and the piano become "comfortable" at a lower pitch. It also means that the player gets used to hearing a lower pitch which affects their aural ability. Despite telling people, they often expect to have a tuning done once and that's it! The result is that the instrument suffers and, more importantly, the potential pianist is put off playing.
Raising the pitch again often takes many visits and may cause strings to snap or more serious damage. Regular tuning also means that the piano can be checked for potential problems like woodworm or moth.
Regular tunings mean that the string has only got to be moved a little way each time.
Why do pianos go out of tune?
Pianos are affected by changes of temperature and humidity. There is also quite a bit of stretch when new strings are used. A common problem in old pianos are splits in the soundboard and more commonly, slipping tuning pins. This can be caused by the hole enlarging or by a faulty wrest plank. (The wood where the pins are inserted). The latter often means the piano is beyond economic repair. A re-stringing is normally indicated if the piano keeps going out of tune. Wooden framed pianos are the worst for staying in tune.
What pitch should a piano be?
Standard concert pitch is A=440 cycles per second, although many people prefer a piano slightly sharper for the very top notes. If a piano is very old it is often advisable to leave the piano low, because of the risk of breaking strings, etc.
Do you tune by ear?
Although I use a pitch finder to start me off and I keep an electronic tuner on, I still tune all pianos using the old fashioned "by ear" method. This is because all pianos are different and some of the rules of tuning have to be broken. You therefore tune a Steinway slightly differently from a Bluthner or a grand from an upright. All pianos have peculiar characteristics and you adapt accordingly. This could be because of the type of room it is in, the age of the piano or if the person wants a slightly harder or softer tone. Electronic tuners do not make allowances for these factors and never can. The differences may be slight, but they are there.
Old Pianos are best and mature with age like a Stradivarius Violin...?
Sorry - but not true. As a general rule, the newer the better. However, the tone of an older piano with a famous name like Steinway, Bechstein, Bluthner, Feurich, Schimmel and Bosendorfer, is invariably far superior to modern pianos. Owners of such instrument say their instruments have a soul - that something special. I would agree with them.
Peter Tryon FMCM., FASC., ARCM., ALCM., AVCM., Cert Ed.
40+ years experience. Regular visits across the county plus parts of Norfolk, Essex, Warwickshire and Scotland (Dumfries area). Tuner for the National Trust, Cambridge University, Forestry Commission outdoor concerts, Suffolk County Council schools, many private schools, piano teachers, etc.
Fully enhanced CRB check and fully insured with £5,000,000 public liability.