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.
Eleven Tips from Owen Jorgensen for Piano Tuning Stability
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 have heavily paraphrased and added a some illumination from other sources. Much of this advice appears in the body of our main piano tuning tutorial, but scattered about. Nothing is really revolutionary here if you have experience or read our tutorial, but sometimes it's nice to see such wisdom laid out in one easy list.
You'll notice a deal of attention to bending in the tuning pins. A fact of tuning life is that the metal of tuning pins can torque (twist radially, like a wringing a washcloth) and flagpole (bend sideways, like a, well, flagpole in the wind.) Good tuners minimize bending with good technique; the pin returns to shape after tension is released. But because at least a small degree of temporary bend is unavoidable, the tuner must compensate.
By the way, individual tuners may vary on several of the recommendations, such as how the tip seats on the pin, whether the tuner stands or sits, and the "steady pull" versus "short jerk." However, when learning anything new, follow the master first.
- Hold the tuning lever handle parallel with the strings. This way, any flagpole bending of the pin while under tension from the lever will be perpendicular to the string. If the bend is in the same direction as the string length, the bend will effectively shorten or lengthen the string temporarily, and will the string slip out of tune when tension is released.
- Choose the shortest possible tuning tip. Excess length multiples mechanical advantage, making it easier to flagpole-bend the pin. A shorter tip improves feel as well. Usually grands require longer tips only because the cabinetry requires it.
- Choose a tip that will seat on the pin close to the bottom (near the wound string). If the tip is high on the pin, you will be more likely to bend or mar the pin. That said, how a tuning tip seats on the pin is a matter of preference, whatever feels right to the tuner. In most cases, a #2 will work, but it does not hurt to have a #1 or #3 in the kit just in case.
- Stand to tune, though sitting is fine with spinets. Sitting with larger pianos means one must stretch the arm further, which reduces control and feel, increases arm fatigue and the chance for longer term repetitive stress injury.
- Turn the pin only while the string is sounding.
- Flatten the string slightly first. This serves as a check to be on the correct pin, without the risk of over-tightening to break a string before one realizes the error. Also, approaching the main tuning movement from the flat side helps set the pin--see the next point.
- Pull very slightly sharp of the desired pitch, then nudge very slightly backward (in the flat direction), all in a single fluid movement, such that it rests at the desired pitch. This is necessary because of the way the metal of the pin torques under the tension of the lever; without that final little movement the string will flat on its own as the pin un-torques after a big pull. The exact amount of over-pull is determined by the tuner's experience and instinct.
- Move the lever with quick, short jerks rather than long, steady movements. (Impact levers automatically help you do this.)
- Hold the lever with a relaxed hand and fingers at far end of the handle to use the mechanical advantage of the handle for good control. (Some lever designs use a ball rather than the more common elongated handle for this reason.)
- Play the key louder than would a performer. This distributes tension equally on the string, and will assure that the tuning holds when played normally.
- Learn to sense the movement of both the pin and string through the handle of the lever.
Despite the very practical, detailed advice given, several items refer to skills and instincts that can only be developed over time. Like piano playing, in piano tuning practice is necessary for excellence, and no list can replace that.
I own an original copy of Owen Jorgensen's book, "Tuning the Historical Temperament by Ear," and wish to sell it. Might you have any suggestions for me as to what the best forum might be to do that?
Scott replies: I suggest you look at the pianoworld forums for a possible buyer.
Been tuning my own with tunelab software....works well checked by local tuner....the idea behind holding the lever parallel or perpandicular can be solved with simple logic and common sense....ignore the math words and think, when i force this pin which way will it bend....bend it in a direction sideways to the string not in line with it....if the lever is at the same angle as the string the pin will go sideways....if the lever is sideways to the strings or perpendicular, it will bend the pin in the direction of string travel resulting in tuning changes.....moral of the story.....dont take someones word as the hardset truth, think a little.
Scott replies: Thanks for your insight. Yes, there is logic in proper tuning technique!
The handle should be parallel with the strings, per the source. I have clarified the grammar.
I think the first sentence in step one might be using the word "parallel" incorrectly. From the description, it sounds like the technique actually requires you to hold the lever perpendicular (at a right angle) to the strings. The additional hint is the preposition. "parallel" is usually paired with "with" and "perpendicular" is usually paired with "to". "parallel to" doesn't sound quite right, but "perpendicular to" does.