Q: How often should my piano be tuned?

A: I believe that Steinway and Sons puts it best:

“We [Steinway & Sons] recommend that your tuner be called at least 3 or 4 times a year. You, however, are the final judge and should have the piano tuned as often as you think necessary.To put the matter of tuning into perspective, remember that a concert piano is tuned before every performance and a piano in a professional recording studio, where it is in constant use, is tuned 3 or 4 times each week as a matter of course.”

I have found that pianos with Dampp-Chaser humidity control systems require less tuning than pianos without the system. They are my little assistants helping to keep my clients’ pianos sounding better between appointments.

Q: How long have you been tuning pianos?

A: I first picked up a tuning lever in 1992. I began tuning professionally in 1994. Since 2004 I have been tuning between five and six hundred pianos a year.

Q: How did you learn to tune pianos?

A: I began researching the topic toward the end of college in the early 90’s. After a few months of self-study, I began an apprenticeship and shortly thereafter joined the Piano Technicians Guild as an Associate Member. The local chapter was incredibly supportive. Through the guild I met other piano technicians and rebuilders and was able to work as a shop assistant for a number of years. In 1994 I passed the Piano Technician Guild exams becoming a Registered Piano Technician. Shortly thereafter I acquired a business license, and began advertising my services.  View my résumé.

Q: Do you tune by ear or use a machine?

A: I started as a strict aural tuner, but around 2014 I evolved into a “hybrid tuner”. Tuning by ear was what initially fascinated me. The idea of using only a few simple tools and careful listening to create a beautiful tuning was very appealing. Since the most successful and skilled technicians can tune by ear, I made a decision early on to pursue that tradition.

After 20 years I finally decided to explore the software. I still do most of the piano by ear, but have found the computer to be a useful tool for raising pitch, and for extending my mid-range tuning into the high treble. I believe a combination of strong aural and electronic skills render the best results.

Q: Do you need to have perfect pitch to tune pianos?

A: The phenomenon of perfect pitch has nothing to do with tuning pianos. In fact the idea of perfect pitch is a myth. While some people are very adept at naming notes upon hearing them, no one has a perfect enough sense of pitch to be useful in piano tuning. Also, there is no one perfect pitch for each note of the piano. A high-quality tuning is a complex compromise and balancing act. Each individual instrument has its own harmonic structure that is different enough from other instruments to require slightly different pitches.

I strongly believe that anyone with healthy hearing and patience can learn to tune a piano by ear. It is mostly a matter of good instruction and many hours of patient practice.

Q: Are machines more accurate than the ear?

A: Yes and no. Machines are very accurate at measuring the frequency (speed of vibration) of a note. The problem is they are less accurate at knowing what the frequency of a particular note should be. They make guesses based on the harmonic characteristics of a few notes sampled on the particular piano. The most competent tuners who use these machines will tell you that they usually use their ear to refine the work they do with the machine. Also, because piano tone is complex and dynamic, the machine often doesn’t give a clear reading. That’s when an experienced ear is essential.

The argument between aural(ear) tuning, and machine tuning has gone on for decades. People are often surprised to find that I tune mostly by ear. When evaluating the different arguments there is one fact to consider. All the tuners at the Steinway factory in New York tune by ear – no machines. That should tell you something about the importance of aural tuning. From the Steinway Service Manual:

“Steinway & Sons stresses the importance of aural tuning. Developing piano tone is a mechanical and musical art. Solid aural tuning exercises and develops the musical ear, giving the technician a greater ability to master the methods used in tone building.”

Q: Do you play the piano?

A: I started taking lessons in 1973 when I was 5 years old. I enjoy playing a variety of pieces: Scott Joplin, Mozart, Bach, Chopin, Beethoven, Debussy, and Gershwin. I enjoy all musical styles from Ragtime to Baroque. My favorite part of an appointment is playing a freshly serviced piano for my clients!

Q: What kind of piano do you own?

A: I own a 1912 Steinway & Sons 5’10” model “O” with beautiful ivory keys and a mahogany case. Even though it is over 100 years old, it is in amazing condition. I love the fact that it was built during the time the Steinway family was still in control of the company.

Q: Do you tune other instruments besides pianos?

A: I have tuned harpsichords, harps, autoharps, Music Maker Zithers, and Schoenhut toy pianos. Bring out your guitar and I’ll tune it at no extra cost!

Schoenhut red toy piano
Yes, toy pianos can be tuned! They are usually not in great tune from the factory.