Frequent Piano Tuning Questions

Piano tuning is essential, however what about the keyboard and action?

By having a trusted piano tuner regularly looking after your piano, they will be able to advise you about possible maintenance issues or mi nor repairs that may be required as your piano is ageing.

As a general rule it is more economical to address small issues as they arise, prior to them impacting on performance and potentially creating excessive wear within the action and keyboard.

In respect to complete “Regulation” of the piano action and keyboard to manufacture standards it is suggested that this procedure is reviewed every five years on the average home piano.

Ongoing minor spot adjustments are generally attended to during the tuning process by highly regarded professional tuners. This area must not be attempted by unskilled persons.

I have my Piano tuned regularly, however is there service items that I can do?

The piano is a highly sophisticated instrument and must only be maintained by a suitably qualified Piano Technician, without exception. The piano owner needs to care for the piano in the same way as you would any other quality piece of furniture or article that you would have in your home.

That is:

Keep the outside surface clean and dust free

  • Occasionally clean the key tops with a slightly damp cloth. {Water only}
  • Ensure that no containers of fluid are put on or near the piano at all.
  • Ensure that small items do not fall at the back of uprights or the soundboard of grands.
  • Ensure that small children have clean hands and do not bash on the keyboard.
  • Although not always practical completely close the lid on grand pianos.
  • Keep portable direct fan heaters and the like well away from the piano.

The role of Professional Piano Tuning Associations.

Being a financial and active member of an industry’s Association helps to ensure that the piano Tuner and or Technician has met certain high standards allowing them to advertise themselves with an Industry Endorsement.

Currently in Australia there is Professional Piano Guilds or Associations in each of the major States, In Victoria it is known as the “Piano Tuners and Technicians Guild of Victoria Inc” which is also a member of the “Australasian Piano Tuners and Technicians Association Inc” which acts as our peak industry body making representations to manufacturers, importers, retailers and Government.

The APTTA Inc. also sets an Accreditation Assessment which is very comprehensive and ensures that any members that achieve the accreditation standard is suitably qualified to professional tune and service pianos to a very high standard and also to be Registered within Australasia and to use the letters “ARPT” after our name. {Australasian Registered Piano Technician}

The Victorian Guild has been formed since October 1980.

By being a registered member you are continually monitored, invited to numerous educational presentations and Conventions, ensuring that your skills and methods are kept up to date with the view of always aiming higher for the purpose of offering the most professional service available to each and every client.

Code of Ethics

  • All members of the Piano Tuners & Technicians Guild Victoria Inc. adhere to the following code of ethics.
  • Provide the best possible service under the circumstances, always keeping the best interests of the client in mind.
  • Engage only in fair trade practices in the knowledge that I am reflecting the honesty and integrity for which the Piano Tuners & Technicians Guild stands.
  • Act honourably and in a professional manner.
  • Use the name and trademark of the Piano Tuners & Technicians Guild properly and will encourage others to do the same.
  • Strive to upgrade my professional skills and will encourage and help others to do the same.
  • Promote, in any way that I can, good will towards my profession and towards the music industry.

When is a piano tuning more than a tuning?

As a professional I am often asked by new clients, how much is a piano tuning? The answer is not that simple. It is true that if you are regularly tuning a piano then a particular fee would apply, as you are aware of its characteristics and the approximate time that will be involved in attaining a professional outcome.

However after asking a few pertinent questions over the phone you can determine that because the piano has not been tuned for many years and it has also been relocated, it is not going to respond to a standard style tuning.

Clearly it requires a different tuning approach which will impact both on the time spent performing the tuning and the fee charged.

It is for this reason that I disagree with other tuners that promote a standard price for tuning regardless of condition. To me that says that you are actually purchasing a certain amount of time for the tuning and when that time has elapsed then the tuning is considered to be completed.

Piano tuning is a service, not a product, if you wish to purchase a certain brand and model camera for example, then you would expect the same product and warranty regardless of the price that you were able to purchase it for, not so with piano tuning, unlike “fixed Price Servicing” now being offered on many new cars these days, where the dealer knows exactly what will be required at each service i.e. Oil, Oil Filter and a general check over, the piano tuner is not dealing with the same model instruments, instead servicing a multitude of brands, ages, conditions and locations.

It is essential that your preferred piano tuner arrives with the sole purpose of achieving the ultimate possible tuning outcome for each individual piano, which may involve spending extra time and impacting upon the cost.

Is there a standard fee for piano tuning?

No, you will find that the fee for tuning varies within our industry, so too the physical time that is spent during the tuning.

Generally speaking the very cheap prices quoted are being offered by people offering a less than professional service spending very little time in the home. When selecting a piano tuner for the first time do some research prior to engaging them and weigh up in your mind whether you will feel far more comfortable paying more for a superior service ensuring that your piano is the focus of the Piano Tuner or whether you want to chance your piano to just anyone.

The dangers of using an incompetent Piano Tuner.

For generations the piano has been a highly respected instrument and is proudly positioned within the home, where it may stay for many years or may be handed down to family members of a younger generation.

Unlike electronic items true acoustic pianos if regularly maintained can a will last for a lifetime, maintaining a monetary value also along its journey. Although extremely heavy the piano consists of many delicate and intricate parts moving very precisely many thousands of times as well as the piano strings, tuning pins and the tuning procedure.

Incompetent adjustment of the tuning pins will result in bent pins, damaged tuning planks and poor tuning stability both short and longer term. Vigorous and excessive movement of the tuning pins has the very real possibility of breaking strings, over stretching the strings affecting tone and tuning, as well as placing too much downward and sideways pressure upon the timber bridges and bridge pins, resulting in extremely poor tone, vibrations and poor tuning stability.

This structural damage is permanent.

Without thorough training in the regulation or adjustments of the piano actions and keyboards in grand pianos and uprights, an incompetent tuner will be unable to correct wear issues relating to use. Many thousands of individual parts go into the making of the piano action and keyboard. Do you really think it is wise to have a “Hobbyist” or someone who claims to be able to play the piano look after your valuable asset?

What does “A440 cps; PITCH” mean in respect to Piano Tuning and musicians?

Every sound that we hear regardless of where or what it is generated from has a “Pitch” That is a specific frequency pertaining to that sound, whether it is a recognisable “Piano Note” or a non-specific “Drone” of a Bag Pipe or a chirp or a tweet from a wild bird.

For the purpose of Singers, Bands, Orchestras, Recordings and a fundamental understanding of what a particular note should sound like a universal pitch standard has been established for many many years.

A440 CPS (Cycles per second) relates to the speed that Note A 5 beats to attain the correct pitch.

Modern pianos are designed not only to be tuned to A440 but also to perform at their optimum at this pitch. Perhaps your child plays the flute or clarinet as well as the piano or perhaps plays in a small band, it is clear that in situations like this it is imperative that all instruments are at the same pitch, so that all the instruments can play the same note together and it will sound pure or as one.

A440 cps is also essential not only for the setting up of the piano but also so that the student even from an extremely early age can begin to understand what particular notes sound like and their relationship to each other.

One major conflict with poorly tuned pianos that are also well below A440 cps is the confusion created for the student when they attend their music teacher’s well maintained and finely tuned piano also at the correct pitch, this will guarantee that the student will develop their musicianship skills far more slowly than their potential would allow or in fact they may well give it a way far too early.

Are all Piano Tuners the same?

Certainly NOT!

The piano service industry has numerous people actively seeking piano tuning work that have absolutely no understanding of pianos nor their tuning or ongoing care. It is astounding how many of these people are out and about, unfortunately owing to the so called mysteries of the piano and the lack of understanding of tuning from piano owners these people fall into the industry seeing it as a way of making income, essentially taking full advantage of the unsuspecting client.

As there is no Government or Industry mandated requirement to pass tests or be Registered these people come and go on a very regular basis, doing harm to the profession wherever they go.

Please be vigilant when you are selecting a person to care for your valuable musical instrument.

Remember too that you are inviting these people into your home.

Why can’t my piano be tuned?

It is imperative that the piano tuner has a sound and practical understanding of the pianos’ structure, so they can thoroughly assess whether the piano will respond to tuning and or pitch raising or not and whether the instrument when tuned will be suitable for or harmful to the student’s long term skill level and perception of pitch combined with the mechanical pitfalls of an piano action that is worn out.

This criteria applies to all pianos however it becomes more of a major issue with pianos that are ageing considerably, perhaps have been poorly designed and built since new or perhaps it is a reasonably modern instrument that has severe construction errors and design concerns preventing the piano from responding to an acceptable level.

The cast iron frame which supports the instrument can develop a crack or cracks within its structure, this definitely means that the piano cannot be tuned and should be replaced ASAP.

As a rule the tuning pins which are used to adjust the tension of the strings travel through the iron frame they actually are held extremely firmly in a very dense hardwood tuning plank.

Over the years this timber plank can split or shrink which causes the metal tuning pins to slip therefore allowing the note to drop out of tune prematurely or instantly depending on the degree of damage.

The timber sound board is a critical component and is always under stress, over time the soundboard can collapse under the pressure or split in numerous places which again causes the piano to be unsuitable for tuning.

Multiple broken or rusting piano strings also can dictate that the piano cannot be tuned, without major repairs.

How often does my piano require tuning?

The industry standard for ongoing tuning is to have your piano tuned at least once per year, regardless whether it has had regular playing or the bare minimum of playing.

The piano is under considerable tension at rest with both the piano strings and the soundboard being sensitive to changes in the weather seasons, humidity or dry heat, these changes are continually changing even without the piano being played.

The actual playing of the piano also causes the piano to move out of tune, as the hard felt hammers strike each note, time after time. Many pianos require tuning more frequently than the minimum, for example Music Teachers’ pianos require tuning at least six monthly and schools once a school term to ensure that the instruments are kept in tune and well maintained.

Similarly venues such as Churches, Reception Venues, Theatres and Public Halls where the instruments are subjected to the extremes of temperature and humidity due to both airconditioning and “Body Heat” derived from the audiences and patrons, therefore the Piano Tuner must advise the venue of the most efficient approach and frequency for the ongoing maintenance and piano tunings.

Why does my piano move out of tune?

Both grand and upright pianos are fundamentally manufactured from high grade timbers, cast iron, carbon steel piano wire, copper wound piano wire, high grade felts and leathers. There is also many other materials that are used within the piano also.

It is a fact that modern pianos that are tuned correctly and at a440 cps pitch have an overall resting tension of approximately 20 tonnes, which is supported by the heavy iron frame (also known as the Plate) and the large timber support posts that can been clearly seen on the underside of grand pianos and at the back of upright pianos.

The modern piano features 88 notes and covers a musical range of seven and a quarter octaves, however interestingly these 88 notes actually require approximately 220 graduated piano strings which all need to be finely and individually tuned.

It becomes more clear that with so many components that are either under extreme stress and also sensitive to weather and climatic condition changes that the piano will move out of tune.

In simplistic terms when the piano is subjected to very cold weather the pitch of the strings shall go considerably sharp as the strings contract and conversely very warm weather will lower the pitch considerably as the strings stretch. The finely manufactured Spruce timber soundboard also changes in extremely wet weather the soundboard shall expand causing the piano strings again to go sharp and when the weather is particularly dry the soundboard shall shrink slightly causing the pitch to drop.

Within the home environment it is extremely important to carefully position your piano within your home, paying particular attention to heaters, heater outlets, open fires and air conditioners, as well as keeping the piano away from walls that will be affected by the outside elements, particularly dampness from either walls or windows, all these areas should be avoided to ensure the musical longevity of your piano. The piano also needs to be placed on a secure stable and level floor ensuring that the instrument does not rock back and forth while it is being played.