This piano tuning blog is a companion to our How to Tune a Piano Yourself tutorial. In this blog we expand on the tutorial with new information and perspectives on do-it-yourself piano tuning. If it is your first time here, visit the tutorial first.
I came across this story about, Dennis Gibbons, a 40-year veteran piano tuner at the Chicago Tribune. It is a nice story which you can read for yourself. But one thing that struck me is that he's using a tuning app on his smart phone to do his work! As Mr. Gibbons says, "It's still basically the same process, but there are some electronics that are relatively new," he said. "They haven't replaced the tuning fork; they have supplemented the tuning fork."
While I like the dedicated chromatic tuner, a glorified tuning fork, for its simple interface, there certainly is a lot of capability that apps can bring to tuning. I can't get a clear look at the actual app he's using, but indeed it's an app. We have highlighted some tuning apps in our post, Software Tuners for Piano Tuning.
I prefer a physical, hardware tuner for its simplicity. However, there are many software apps for laptops and smart phones, from the simple to fully-featured tuning software for professional tuners. These advanced programs will actually calculate octave stretch (See "Stretching Octaves" in the discussion below), guide a pitch raise, and even tune to an alternate temperament other than equal temperament.
To use our method, any of several simple tuners will work. Cleartune is a basic chromatic tuner we can recommend.
The major developers in the professional piano tuning software and hardware space offer smartphone apps as well as desktop/laptop platforms. All have their own learning curves which we will not go into here. Even if you use CyberTuner, TuneLab or Verituner, the other parts of our piano tuning tutorial still apply.
- Reyburn Cybertuner is the most advanced professional tuner and the most expensive.
- TuneLab Piano Tuner is a professional piano tuner app that is the least expensive.
- Verituner is another advanced ETD.
For more about piano tuning, see our tutorial home page. For more information about software based tuners, check out this guide.
We have introduced a new visual aid to our main page, our piano tuning tutorial. We have summarized the basic steps of piano tuning into a helpful infographic. It is only a summary, an overview, a mere outline...frankly, the infographic is woefully lacking in sufficient detail to actually enable one to tune a piano. To begin tuning with just this graphic is like attempting brain surgery after reading about the procedure in a blog post. For all the very important details, be sure to read the other 5000 words on the tutorial page! See the full-sized graphic below the break or on the tutorial page.
Continue reading | 12/29/12
This a powerful little piece for those who love pianos. It documents the final days of a piano abandoned on a New York City sidewalk. Just watch.
The lever, an electronic tuner, and a few mutes are all you need to begin tuning. However, several additional mutes are available to make the job easier.
Temperament stripin position.
The temperament strip is a mute that most piano tuners find essential. We have not shown it in our tutorial for simplicity sake, but it is easy to use. The temperament strip is a band of felt with which mutes many strings at the same time. A typical placement mutes the outside strings of a section of trebles or duples so that only one string from each note sounds at a time. (Push in with a screw driver.) The tuner can tune one string in every note without having to move mutes between notes. Tune the unisons, sequentially pulling the temperament strip. Many professionals use this mute especially for setting the temperament.
Papp's tweezer-style pictured
The treble mute mutes the middle string of a three-string "treble." One can also mute one or two strings quickly without placing wedges or using a finger.
Voicing, Regulation and Repair
Voicing is servicing the felt on the hammers to modify the brightness or mellowness. Regulation is adjusting the action, or the way the hammers and keys physically move. They are technically not repairs, but rather part of comprehensive tuning and maintenance.
For voicing, regulation or repair, you'll need additional tools, such as this basic regulation tool kit. Repairs and restoration are beyond this website. Check our book recommendations for more information on these advanced procedures.
Do not read this post if you are a piano fan with a weak stomach.
Sadly, a problem for our modern age is how dispose of an old piano. The piano is not the must-have living room item for the middle class that it once was. The size and weight make them incovenient to move, especially if all your potential takers are ambivalent about owning one in the first place. Many people find them in an elderly relative's home after the relative has broken up housekeeping. Or left behind in a rented garage, or discarded from a church basement, or...
Continue reading | 08/17/12
It's time the piano I tune in the tutorial gets a little spotlight of its own. It has served me well as an instrument of learning as well as music. My piano is made by Gulbransen. Gulbransen is a long-standing piano and organ manufacturer with over a century in business. In World War II, they were one of two manufacturers to provide pianos
Continue reading | 07/07/12
Hey, it's a piano made of bananas! Actually it's a keyboard made of bananas, attached to a synthesizer of some sort, as you can see in the video. The excitement here isn't the music being made. The key to the excitement is in the bananas themselves. This banana piano uses a Makey Makey, a new device that turns everyday objects into touch inputs for an electronic device
What is so special about a tuning lever? The tuning lever is the central tool of the piano tuning profession. Its primary virtue is that it properly fits the tuning pins. It is the tuning pin that that's the prima donna of this show. Let's have a look at the anatomy of the pin that demands the right tools to turn it.
Continue reading | 06/02/12
The "Fluid Piano" is an interesting new approach to piano design. A limitation of the piano is selecting a temperament, or model from which to tune each note. There is no 'perfect" way to tune a piano. The way different frequencies interact and inharmonicity mean that we can only seek a tuning that is a best fit, that is, averages out to be pretty good overall. In Western tuning, the most common best-fit is "equal temerpament." However, that was not always
Our tuning tutorial presents an effective but very simplified approach to piano tuning; much more remains to be learned. As we say in our introduction, it's hard to find good explanations for the beginner; if you understand what I have presented first, you'll find these other sources easier to follow. Several piano tuning books that are among the most highly-regarded resources in the field include the following:
Continue reading | 05/14/12
A question that comes up from time to time in forums and from readers of this blog is whether the three strings in a unison should be tuned in absolute unison or otherwise. The assertion is that piano tuners do not tune unisons identically because it will give the piano a "dead" sound. My response has been that unisons should be tuned identically. This is the technique I have learned in my personal exploration of tuning. However, I found out recently that this is not always the case.
Piano tuning is a rather odd profession. It seems quaint, like a throwback to the old days before electronic keyboards. The piano tuner is regularly declared obsolete.Yet, the profession won't go away. The acoustic piano still remains loved and revered by many. These old analog instruments still grace our homes and concert halls.
The other assault on the profession is older, existing since the pianoforte was invented. That strategy is to replace the piano tuner with something better. Recently we reported on the self-tuning piano. However, a tuner was still required to set the initial tuning, which the self-tuner would reference.
The latest declaration of impending obsolesce against the piano tuner comes from a scientist who has
The self-tuning piano has been a holy grail item for pianists since the pianoforte was born. Piano owners all know the heartbreak of a piano going out of tune. It's inevitable, even for the lovingly maintained piano. The process of detuning begins the moment the piano tuner lifts his wrench from the pin.
The obvious method would be some sort of motor to turn the pins. But, apparently that's not so easy. How do we know? No one has done it, at least commercially.
Don Gilmore, inventor of a self-tuning piano, has a different idea.
Meet Marc Manceaux, owner of the oldest piano shop in Paris. He sells piano parts, mostly scavenged from disassembled old pianos. He seems to live life on a different channel from most of us. Immersed in his sea of pianos (title of the film, ha!), he dreams of boats. As long as he has "water, a candle, a hardback book and an old piano," he knows he is still "alive." From a piano tuning perspective, I find it interesting that
Recently we took a trip to the Stephen Foster Memorial on the University of Pittsburgh campus. The memorial is a rather impressive stone and stained glass building adjacent to the Cathedral of Learning. (It might be even more impressive if the massive cathedral were not there!) Within is a nice collection of Foster artifacts and memorabilia with well-done displays reviewing his life and career. (Admission is free, donations welcome.)
Among the items is Stephen Foster's piano (or so it is labeled.)
Here's a quick one from the Famous Piano Tuner files. Or, more correctly, notable people who were also piano tuners. The inventor of the View-Master, those little stereo picture viewers with the images on a rotating wheel, was William Gruber. Turns out Mr. Gruber was a piano tuner by trade. However, it was his hobby, stereo photography, that he drew on to invent the View-Master in 1938. The viewers are still popular, with over a billion sold. The View-Master is celebrating 65 years of production this year.
You can't please everybody all the time. But it appears piano tuners please most people most of the time! Angie's List, the online site for rating local services and businesses, has released its lists of the least- and most-complained-about companies. Piano tuners hold the coveted number one on the list receiving the least complaints! Angie's List founder Angie Hicks explains that those on the list "are personalized services in which the providers listen to their customers to determine what they want and then they find the best way to deliver that." Others on the best list include mailbox repairs and hauling services.
On the other end of the spectrum for the most complaints were home warranty companies, internet service providers and banks.
So, a shout-out to the piano tuning industry! Keep up the good work!
Comments (0) 12/10/11
Should I tune my own piano? That is the question. Let's look at the answers.
First, here's why a piano should be tuned regularly:
- Regularly-tuned pianos sound better. Obvious, but procrastination is powerful.
- Regularly-tuned pianos stay in tune better between tunings.
- Regularly-tuned pianos last longer. A regularly-tuned piano will last generations. A piano neglected can require expensive service, or become practically un-tunable.
Second, here's why you should tune your own piano:
I used the Korg OT-120 Wide 8 Octave Chromatic Orchestral Tuner to tune my piano for the first time today. Until now I had been using the Korg CA-40 Large Display Auto Chromatic Tuner. I used the method described in our Piano Tuning Tutorial here, of course. Simply put, I used the Korg OT-120 to set the temperament, then used the temperament as the reference for the outlying octaves (see the tutorial for why we don't use an electronic chromatic tuner for the whole piano), with an occasional assist from the OT-120 as described below.
I found the Korg OT-120 to have three distinct advantages:
A common issue in old pianos is a broken string. Splicing strings rather than replacing strings may be preferable because the new string will unavoidably have a different timbre from the remaining, older strings. Simply put, new steel does not respond to a strike the same way an older used string. In single strings above the bass this difference is not as noticeable and may not present a significant problem as long as the new string diameter or gauge matches the old. But the problem is significant and compounded in bass strings. Bass strings are double-wound; you can see the difference: they look like coiled springs. It is very difficult to match the timbre due to the difference in the age of the metal and the uniqueness of how double strings are wound. Universal bass strings are available, and are satisfactory for non-performance pianos. However, for performance or high-value instruments, universal strings may not work. They will need to be replaced with custom-wound strings at considerable expense.
All this can be avoided by splicing a string. This will only work if the break is in the non-speaking part of the string, that is, the area between the bridge and the pin. Splices in the speaking area can be done, but it will significantly affect the quality of the sound.
I had a broken string. It was the very highest note on the piano, and thus prime for experimentation. The break close enough to the non-speaking area that I felt I could unwind enough extra from the tuning pin to put the splice outside of the speaking section. If my splice failed, replacement would be a viable alternative.
Here's what I learned.
Continue reading | 10/15/11
Information for this entry is from a post at PianoWorld on tuning stability. It is based on the tuning tips from Owen Jorgensen. I presume it is from his The equal-beating temperaments: A handbook for tuning harpsichords and fortepianos, with tuning techniques and tables of fifteen historical temperaments, but the author of the post did not give the title. The books are hard to find, so I do not have a copy yet; I'm relying on this secondary source. If you know more leave a comment below or contact me.
I am not aware of very many, if any, paintings or other art of piano tuners. Despite their importance, these artisans remain behind the scenes while the piano players and composers get all the glory. Yet, here we have not just a painting of a piano tuner, but a painting of a piano tuner painted ON the piano! More photos after the break.
From the "Curious Piano Tuning Stories" file: A piano tuner is called to tune (what he is told) George Gershwin's piano, many years after Gerswin's death. Inside, he finds a wadded paper. He inadvertently kept the paper, but did not know it. Years later, he finds the paper, but did not immediately recall its origin. He discovers that the wadded paper has a few notes of a melody written on it. He writes a tune based on those notes, and adds lyrics. Only later does it dawn on him where that paper came from. The question is, who does the tune "belong" to--Gershwin, or the tuner? Now that's not an easy question! He can't prove the tune is Gershwin's. He no longer has the paper, and the Gershwin family trust turned everything Gershwin over to the Library of Congress. His offers to turn over the copyright have gone unacknowledged! What would you do?
A great mystery of the piano tuning world for me has been why the tuning lever or wrench is so commonly referred to as a tuning hammer. The answer seems to be simply that the tool looks like a hammer, with its long handle and heavy end. It certainly is never used as a hammer to strike the pin. Pins do get hammered, though.
Piano tuning depends on its tools. The tuning lever or hammer in particular is the most important tool of the piano tuner. As in any industry or art that depends on its tools, the search for the best tool never ends. Among piano tuning levers, impact tuning levers are the most advanced. Impact tuning levers have a counterweight in the handle at the far end from the head. The lever is turned in tiny increments with a flick of the wrist.
Piano tuning, repair and restoration has many unique tools associated with it. One rather curious tool is the T-handle piano tuning lever. It is a standard tuning tip on a straight t-handle. Its primary purpose is for the initial stringing of the pins in a new piano. A regular piano tuning lever with its long handle and angled head is very awkward for the many 360' turns required to wind the string onto the head of the tuning pin. The t-handle makes this much easier. From time to time the T-handle is useful to the tuner in the field as well.
Continue reading | 04/09/11
I've seen a lot of attention paid to tuning lever quality in my research on piano tuning. The tuning lever I bought when I decided to tune my own piano the first time was, shall we say, economical. It was not the cheapest, but nor was it priced like a professional tool. I have heard some negative comments about that lever from pro tuners viewing my site. Naturally, I feel a little defensive. I was proud to have spent what seemed like a nice chunk of change at the time on a dedicated tool. How bad is my piano tuning lever? I have decided to do some first-hand comparisons with a "better" lever.
Continue reading | 01/31/11
Piano Technician's Guild has a very instructive video demonstrating tuning unisons. Tuning unisons is the process of making all the two or three strings in a single note match. It sounds easy, but getting these strings to match perfectly with no beats is the skill that a piano tuner works his entire career perfecting. In addition to hearing what a beatless unison should sound like, two other aspects of tuning technique can be observed.
The iPhone, iPod touch, iPad and Android have apps useful for tuning a piano or other musical instruments. Many of these devices have internal mics, some do not. However, even in models with a built-in mic, an external mic is a great advantage for electronic tuners of any kind, including these apps. External mics are also useful for movies or serious sound recording with iPod. In either case, the closer one can get the mic to the source of the sound, the better. Ideal mic placement can be poor placement for seeing the display on these devices. An external mic solves this problem. But getting an external mic to work with iPhone is not as straightforward as it first appears. We recommend the following solution.
We rely on an electronic chromatic tuner to set the temperament in our Tune a Piano Yourself Tuning Tutorial. Chromatic tuners are a topic to themselves. They include everything from small hand-held models to dedicated piano tuning consoles and simple tuning apps to full software packages. The display styles vary as well, from needles to strobes to specialized displays for piano technicians.
If you came here from wikipedia, you may have noticed a rather peculiar page on this website, a text-only version of our main How to Tune Your Piano tutorial, with a "Welcome Wikipedia" message at the top. The reason why it is here is an interesting commentary on both Wikipedia and Piano Tuning.
Continue reading | 01/02/11
A recent thread at PianoWorld.com forums refers to our Piano Tuning Tutorial. In it, one of the professional tuners mentions two things he does not like about our tutorial: the lever we use and the electronic tuner we use. Let's talk about piano tuning lever quality; more about the tuner in another blog post.
The book, Piano Tuning - A Simple and Accurate Method for Amateurs is available in paper or Kindle from Amazon as well as many places free online. Many people first exploring tuning stumble across it and are attracted by the price. Having been written a hundred years ago, it can be difficult to follow. And, like most tuning explanations, the amateur easily finds himself lost in detail. This post outlines his basic approach to setting the temperament, the fundamental first stage of piano tuning. See Fischer's book for the full explanation of his method--but also see our own Piano Tuning Tutorial for a simple explanation of the other mechanics of the process.
Currently there's an active, long thread at Piano World about DIY tuning: Piano World that was started by someone (not me) linking to our piano tuning tutorial. It's a pretty level-headed discussion of the pros and cons by people in both camps.
From time to time, this site gets referenced at the Piano World forums or other places. Reviews, as always, are mixed. Some people there like this site, others express concern.
Piano World is simply the best piano-focused forum out there, especially for technicians and tuners. As a rule, though, I avoid posting at Piano World, even in my defense. I am not a professional tuner. I do not want to appear self-promoting. I browse the forums to learn, not to lead. I save responses for my own website. Even so, I welcome the visitors who may arrive here from any external link. Feel free to comment; I am always looking for ways to improve this site. Short of deleting it, of course.
On the other hand, I respectfully ask that visitors please read the whole piano tuning tutorial. Don't just look a picture or read a paragraph. This site has been up for quite a while, and chances are that somewhere I have addressed many concerns that are commonly raised even by professionals. If I have missed something, then let me know.
Welcome to the DIY Piano Tuning Blog!
Since 2003 this website has been providing information for those interested in tuning their own pianos. You can read all about that on the main site, beginning with the home page How to Tune Your Piano.
I have been expanding and clarifying the main site for seven years now. I have reached a point, though, where it's getting a bit unwieldy. Piano tuning is simple on the face, but the closer you look the more complicated it gets. It is getting more difficult to cover the details while still meeting the original goal to provide a simple starting place.
Continue reading | 12/30/10