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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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. We address the piano tuning lever in another post. Now, let's talk about that electronic tuner.
The criticism is this: It doesn't even mention TuneLab which I believe to be the most practical tuning software for DIYers.
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.