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.
When Unisons Are Not Tuned in Unison
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.
It is true that American tuners usually tune all the unisons identical, or as identical as they humanly can. However, there are other approaches. What I am about to go into has a lot of nuance which I'm still working through, but here's what understand so far.
A tuning style used by some Japanese tuners is to slightly detune one of the three strings of a triad. The third string is tuned slightly sharp. A tuning style used by some European tuners actually slightly sharpens two of the three strings.
The effect is to change what stage of a played note the tuning resolves for maximum appeal. In the American style, the attack, or initial sound is emphasized for optimum "in-tuneness" tonality. In the Japanese style, the sustain, or the sound of the note after the initial strike fades is where the highest degree of "in-tuneness" resolves. In the European style, influencing the overall color of the note is the goal.
It is a subtle matter, more subtle than even the question of what temperament one is using. However, it is significant enough that mismatch between the expectations of the composer and the tuning of the performing piano can change the effect of the piece for the listener.
The particulars of this are beyond this author for now. Suffice it to say that purposely tuning the members of a unison differently is an established tuning practice. All that aside, for our do-it-yourself tuners, it remains perfectly
American, erm, rather correct
to tune all unison strings identically. For more on these other tuning styles, check this PianoWorld thread.
Thank you for the information on your site, very helpful for beginning tuners such as myself who may need a boost to their courage.
I wish to retune my 4-year-old Yamaha 118 upright to A=432 Hz. That will require a lowering of 8 Hz; I'm wondering there are others who have done this and may have gathered some tips about the process.
Scott replies:Thanks for visiting my website. I suggest you ask at the pianoworld forums about your project.
Very good and clear for myself as a piano tuner.