Friday, April 18, 2008

How Often should I Tune My Piano?

A question I am very commonly asked is, "how often should I tune my piano"?

The answer:
As often as it needs it, and as often as you can afford to!

Concert pianos are tuned before every performance and are often tuned/adjusted during intermission. Recording pianos are also tuned and voiced regularly. I've heard rumor that some of the best recording studios will tune multiple times a day -- that doesn't surprise me because it really comes down to "as often as it needs to be tuned." Especially in a recording, an off-tune (or poorly voiced) piano will be extremely noticeable.

The next question that typically follows is, "so how often do you tune your piano?"

The answer:
As often as it needs it, and as often as I have time for it!

When I got my first piano (the studio upright I currently record on) I had a guy from the piano store come and tune it for me. As I watched him, I realized that I was completely at his mercy and that I would need to constantly call him to come and fix things. This would never do, especially since it costs around $75 per tuning, not counting voicing and regulating. So for a low-end upright piano, it just wasn't worth it. At the same time, I couldn't live with a piano that was constantly out of tune. So I went online and bought myself a basic piano tuning kit. I then went to the BYU library (where I was currently enrolled for school) and searched for books on piano tuning. I found an extremely old and very thick book about piano tuning throughout history and so I sat down in the middle of the isle (fortunately this was a very low-traffic section of the library) and I proceeded to read all about tuning pianos. I learned some very interesting facts about tuning harpsicords and the early pianoforte instruments -- all very useful knowledge ;) Then I opened up my piano and started fiddling with it.

It took me a good year or so to really get the hang of it. At first, it took me 6-7 hours to tune my piano. Now I've got it down to about an hour. However, with all of the recording I've been doing recently, I've been keeping it in tune and so it only takes me about 30 minutes to keep it in tune before each recording session. You'll notice in some of my recordings that I sometimes miss a few keys -- and sometimes it is just the piano. There are a couple of really stubborn strings that go out of tune almost immediately and then there are a few that must be poorly tempered because they just never go perfectly in tune :( If your feeling sorry for me, now is a good time to ask you to make a donation towards my Steinway ;)

So for all of you piano lovers out there, if you are serious about keeping your piano in good shape, here is what I recommend:

  • Have your piano tuned at least every 3 months if you can afford it.

  • If you can't afford it, or if you want it tuned more frequently, invest in a basic tuning kit. You might be frustrated at first, but after a while you'll get the hang of it.

  • If neither of the above are an option, then please get your piano tuned at least once a year. This will help keep the strings happy.

Oh, and tuning is NOT the same as voicing and regulating. I still recommend that you have a professional help you with that. Every piano brand is different and so the needs will differ slightly, especially with voicing. The Steinway is the most amazing piano when it comes to voicing because you can customize the sound in so many different ways; boy, I wish I had one of those -- hint, hint!

I hope this has been helpful to somebody :-)