Qu: The piano doesn’t get much use - so I guess it doesn’t need regular tuning?
Ans: A piano still goes out of tune, even if it’s not played, just like a violin or guitar that is left in its case. This is because the main structure of the piano is made of metal and wood, which expands and contracts due to the day to day changes in temperature and humidity. Over a period of time, the overall pitch will drop and if left too long, it may take a double (or even a triple) tuning to get it right again, resulting in extra cost.
For a more comprehensive (but in layman's terms) explanation of what goes on, click here
Qu: I saw a piano tuner who was using ear plugs. Were these hearing aids? I don’t want a deaf piano tuner!
Ans: They were in all probability hearing protection plugs. Just like operating noisy machinery, the noise of piano tuning over a period of several years can cause tinnitus and other hearing disorders. There are now various hearing protection plugs used by musicians that will reduce the volume without reducing the clarity.
Actually, there is no reason why a tuner shouldn’t use hearing aids. In the same way many people wear glasses or use a magnifying glass in order to bring their eye-sight up to standard to perform a particular task, as long as the tuner has the hearing ability to do the job, it matters not if it is aided or unaided. Modern day digital hearing aids are a far cry from the older ‘over-the-ear’ type, and do an excellent job of bringing a tuner’s hearing back to how it used to be.
Qu: I have a good ear and I’d like to tune my own piano to save money. Can I do this?
Ans: Definitely not! First of all, it takes three years training to reach even the minimum standard of competency to tune and maintain a piano. By trying to do it yourself, even with the aid of an instruction book, you are more than likely going to do serious damage to it or at least make it more out of tune than before you started. Even with the use of the various electronic tuning devices, part of the training is to develop the technique and motor skills necessary. The use of a tuning lever requires considerably more finesse than using a socket set!
Secondly, specialist tools are required, which are only available from the piano parts suppliers who only supply bona fide members of the trade. Even if you could get them, being specialist tools, they are expensive and the cost of them would outweigh any saving.
Qu: Why is it so expensive to get my piano fixed?
Ans: It reminds me of a story:
Many years ago, the engine of a large ship shut down. The Captain of the ship invited one ship engineer after the other, but none of them could fix the engine. Then someone recommended an old man who had been fixing ships for a long time. He came in with his bag of tools and inspected the engine thoroughly. The owners of the ship were watching him. The old man opened his bag and brought out a small hammer. He gently tapped something and the engine revved back to life. He replaced his hammer and walked away with the ship owners watching with gratitude.
A week later, the owners received a bill from the old man for $10,000.
“This is a rip off.” the owners exclaimed. “What did he do that should cost so much?” They immediately ask the old man for a breakdown of the his bill.
Here’s what he wrote:
Tapping with a hammer……………………………..$2
Knowing where to tap…………………………..$9998
Never underestimate the value of experience! It takes many years of training and experience to become a competant tuner and/or technician, and any skilled labour is expensive, in addition to the cost of time and motoring expenses travelling to a client's house.
Qu: Is it better to get an electric piano? They don't need tuning!
Ans: Certainly it is true that the majority of electric pianos don't need tuning, but this is by no means the only consideration when choosing a piano. Whilst electric pianos have their uses, I (and almost all piano teachers that I have met) would strongly advise against having an electric piano as one's main instrument. First of all, although they have improved considerably in recent years, both touch (the response of the keyboard) and the tone are not the same as a real piano. Learning to play on such an instrument can hinder one's technique. This is particularly true of electronic keyboards with the 'sprung' keyboard design like an organ, rather than a weighted piano action, but even these will not have the same response as a genuine piano.
Also, they do not last anything like as long. I know of people who have quite literally worn an electric piano out within just a few years, whereas a good quality traditional piano will last well in excess of 100 years if looked after. This far outweighs the saving of not needing to tune it.
Qu: I’ve heard of people putting bowls of water inside the piano. Why is this?
Ans: This is to combat the effects of central heating. It’s the drying effect of central heating that does the damage so anything that boosts the humidity level in the room will help. It’s not necessary to put it inside the piano; in fact as this is ‘out of sight, out of mind’, it’s easy to forget to refill it, so better to have it elsewhere. Any moisture source, be it aquariums, plants or whatever will also help. If, however, the climate in the room fluctuates considerably, it may be worth having a climate control device fitted, which measures the temperature and humidity in the room and will turn on or off a built-in piano heater or humidifier. And as central heating is the biggest piano killer, it is advisable to keep the piano as far away from it as possible.
Qu: My piano still sounds fine after six months, does that mean it doesn’t need tuning?
Ans: Maybe, but not necessarily. What often happens is that a piano will drop out of tune uniformly; i.e. it still sounds perfectly in tune with itself but the overall pitch has dropped. A piano is designed to sound at its best at ‘concert’ pitch, with the correct amount of tension on the strings.
I have also had on many occasions clients saying they hadn’t realised how far out of tune their piano had gone. This is because one doesn’t notice tiny changes in the tuning on a day-to-day basis, but the combined effect over 6 months can be tremendous.
Qu: But I don’t play in concerts! Why should my piano be tuned to concert pitch?
Ans; The term ‘concert pitch’ is very misleading. It doesn’t mean that it’s reserved for the concert platform; it just means that it’s the standard pitch that pianos (and in fact ALL musical instruments) are designed to be tuned to. This is so when instruments play together, whether it is a full symphony orchestra or just a piano and a recorder playing together in your front room, the instruments are in tune with each other. Whilst stringed instruments have the flexibility of tuning down to meet a piano that is not at concert pitch, wind instruments have a very limited tuning range.
Qu: My guitar tuner tells me the piano is out of tune. How accurate is it?
Ans: They will all vary depending on the quality but not accurate enough to measure a piano. First of all, the range of the piano is considerably larger than a guitar, and the device won’t be designed to measure the pitch of the strings outside the guitar’s range. Secondly, the harmonics of the piano are extremely complex. This is why it has taken so many years for the electronic music industry to get even close to a realistic piano sound on an electronic keyboard, whilst the harmonic structure of a guitar note is much simpler and even very basic keyboards can have a realistic guitar sound. There are electronic tuning aids for piano tuners, but the programming is extremely sophisticated and they cost several hundred pounds. A guitar tuner from the local music shop for a few pounds simply isn’t up to the task.
Qu: I’ve seen a tuner using an electronic device. What is this?
Ans: These are the piano tuners equivalent of a guitar tuner, but as mentioned above, are in a completely different league. They are designed to measure all the notes across the pianos’ huge range, and the programming contains complex algorithms to ensure each and every type of piano is tuned correctly and accurately.
Qu: The tone of my piano has changed since I had it. Can anything be done about that?
Ans: Yes! Hammers harden up as they hit the strings in the same place each time. Softening the hammers is a process known as voicing or toning, and this can be carried out by a piano technician on site at the same time as tuning for an additional fee. See Services Available - Toning However, over a period of many years, the hammers will become too worn for this, and they may need refacing or replacing. This is a reconditioning job for the workshop.
Qu: My piano tuner broke a string whilst tuning. Should he/she pay for the replacement?
Ans: Piano strings do weaken as a result of age, rust, metal fatigue and so on. Whilst it’s not unknown for an inexperienced tuner to break a string by mistake, it is rare. In almost all cases, the string(s) will already be very weak and the act of tuning them was simply what finished them off; the proverbial ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’. In such cases, the tuner would not be at fault and therefore would not be liable for the cost of replacement.
I hope this has been useful in answering the many questions about pianos; if you have any further questions, please