Frequently Asked Questions
How often should my piano be tuned?
Simple answer: Every six months if you have a "good ear" and need it to be "right," once a year if you just want to maintain it at a reasonable level, is acceptable to the average listener.
Better answer: Depends on many factors. It is not unusual in a professional situation, (such as recording or performance) to tune the piano once or even twice PER DAY. Many hotels and restaurants tune their pianos once a month. Manufacturers recommend that new pianos be tuned a minimum of every 3 or 4 months until the strings stabilize. Older pianos that are stable and have had regular tuning and are not often used can sometimes do fine with tuning every 2 or 3 years. We will assess your situation and give an honest recommendation, based on your piano and your needs.
What exactly is tuning?
The short answer is this: There are approximately 230 strings in a piano, each one under about 200 lbs. of tension and wrapped around a pin that can be turned to tighten or loosen the string; the tighter the string, the higher the note. There is an ideal relationship between every possible combination of strings, and a trained listener can put all these notes at their best possible frequency. For complicated reasons these frequencies will not be exactly the same on any two pianos, so tuning a piano is like solving a puzzle, and no two pianos have exactly the same solution.
Also, tuning refers to the physical process of manipulating the pins so that the strings will be as stable as possible.
What is a pitch raise? What is A440?
Basic answer: If a piano is too far out of tune, it will not stay in tune after one “pass.” It will require a preliminary “rough” tuning first, known as a pitch raise. A440 is the internationally established correct frequency for the note “A” above the middle “C,” and is the starting pitch from which the rest of the piano is tuned.
More details: Tuning defines the relationship of one note to another, whereas “pitch“ describes the specific frequency at which a string vibrates. The note we call "A" above middle "C" has been set by International Committee to be at a frequency of 440 vibrations per second. This is known as the "standard" or "concert" pitch. When we tune a piano, we start by making sure that this "A" is exactly at that frequency, and then the rest of the piano can be tuned by establishing the correct relationships that result from that starting pitch.
Theoretically, a piano can be in perfect tune with itself even if "A" is far from the "correct" frequency. However, to be "in tune" means not only being in tune with itself but at the correct pitch. Tuning a piano is like shooting at a target. The farther you are, the harder it is to hit the bull's eye, let alone the CENTER of the bull's eye.
As time and other factors act on a piano the tension on the strings tends to drop until the pitch is very low. If a tuner brings the strings to the correct frequency in one pass, he or she will find that no matter how carefully they try to do it, the increasing tension created by the tuning process will change the strings they first tuned, often significantly.
Therefore it is impossible to get a piano that is too far from the correct pitch to stay in tune in one "pass." We have found that one or two quick tunings to get everything "close" followed by careful tuning can yield excellent results. This process of performing one or two "rough" tunings before the "real" tuning is called a pitch raise. It obviously takes more time, and most tuners charge extra for this.
Pianos that have not been tuned in two years or more usually require this extra work, but new instruments where the strings are still stretching can require this process as well.
Does my piano need tuning even if no one is using it?
It's hard to justify spending money to maintain something that is not being used! However, used or not, the piano will still gradually go out of tune, because the pressure on the strings is constantly shifting due to normal changes in temperature and humidity.
If no one is using the piano we recommend that it be tuned every other year, just to keep it "close." A piano is a valuable item, and when unused it can become a safe haven for mice, and other pests. Periodic inspection will make sure that the instrument is not deteriorating too rapidly so that if you ever need to sell it, or if someone finally decides to start using it again, it will not be too difficult to get it back into shape.
How much time does it take to tune a piano?
No less than one hour, and usually no more than two. Most tuners will spend about an hour and a half, on average. A pitch-raise followed by a tuning can take two hours, and sometimes longer.
Can the interior of my piano be cleaned?
Yes. Without water, of course. By itself, a little dust is not going to cause any immediate problems. Over time, however, dust attracts oils and other materials in the air that can cause damage and discoloration if left for too long. Usually a combination of vacuuming, brushing, blowing, and cloth dusting with some specially designed tools can do a satisfactory job removing most of the dust.
Normally there is a charge for this service, as it usually takes about half an hour to do a proper job. Rusty strings can be polished, and bass strings can also be cleaned under some circumstances, and this level of cleaning can take about an hour to several hours.
One note of caution: Do not ever attempt to use any polish or copper cleaner on the bass strings!
Something got spilled in or on my piano!
Don't panic, but call us as soon as possible. Often the liquid can be cleaned without serious damage to the instrument. If the strings or felts have been damaged they can usually be fixed without compromising the overall integrity of the instrument. We see water, coffee, wine, soft drinks, and even candle wax on a fairly regular basis. Though obviously not a good thing, it is usually not the end of the world. Let us have a look.
Where should I place my piano?
Most importantly, keep your piano away from direct sunlight. Try to keep it as far from windows, exterior doors, and heating/air conditioning vents as possible. Of course, this is not always easy. In these cases let us help you determine the best way to protect the instrument where it has to be, whether with window treatments, instrument covers, or humidity control systems. Protecting your piano from extreme changes in temperature and humidity is the most important thing you can do to ensure that it has a long and healthy life!
The old idea about not placing your piano against an “outside” wall is not necessarily true, especially in our area.
How old is my piano?
Call us and we'll look it up for you. You will need to know the name of the company that made the piano, usually found on the key cover (fallboard) or on the gold frame (plate.) You will also need to locate the serial number. On an upright piano, it is usually stamped or written inside at the top; if you lift the lid you will likely see it. On a grand, it is usually located under the music desk, (which generally either lifts up or slides forward easily), on the plate near the tuning pins, or on the soundboard under the strings in the center of the piano.