Tuning FAQ – Alex's Piano Service

Tuning FAQ

Why do pianos go out of tune?

Pianos go out of tune as humidity changes. Here in Maine (and New England in general), indoor humidity is highly unpredictable: Constant small fluctuations in humidity mean your piano can go out of tune even more quickly than in other parts of the country which experience only major seasonal changes.

These fluctuations can happen much faster if the piano is near a window, an air conditioner, a heat source, a humidifier or dehumidifier, an outside wall, or is in a drafty space. A piano placed in front of a baseboard heater can go out of tune in the matter of weeks, rather than months.

Major seasonal changes are not the primary reason a piano in our locale goes out of tune. Daily changes in humidity are the main factor. Fortunately, by controlling humidity, tuning stability can be improved.

How often should I get my piano tuned?

I recommend tuning your piano a minimum of once every six months. If the piano is used for performances, is in a high-traffic and high-use environment like a church or a restaurant, or is very new, I recommend a minimum of once every three months.

If nobody plays the piano and you’re simply storing it, an annual tuning can be adequate if the piano is in a sufficiently stable space and doesn’t appear to be experiencing excessive humidity swings.

Why does my piano go out of tune so quickly?

The primary reason for a piano to go out of tune quickly is the environment and humidity changes in the environment the piano is kept. See “Where should the piano be positioned?”

Sometimes, loose pins can cause a piano to quickly sound dreadful, like two keys are being played at once. This usually happens in dry weather. However, some pianos with soundboard or bridge cracks can go out of tune very quickly. These will require more serious repair than can generally be performed in a home, and I can direct you to an experienced rebuilder.

If your piano is already in an ideal space and is still going out of tune quickly, or if you’re unable to move your piano to a better space, you might consider a Dampp-Chaser Piano Life Saver System™. These control the humidity inside the piano itself, and can considerably improve tuning stability in challenging environments, in addition to protecting the piano from dangerous humidity extremes.

How long does a piano tuning take?

A newer piano that has been tuned within six months will usually take between 50 and 75 minutes. Older or dramatically out of tune pianos can take up to two hours.

Should I wait to tune the piano after I move it?

If you’re just moving a piano a short distance within your house, the majority of pianos will not require any time to settle. The physical action of moving doesn’t generally alter tuning. However, changing the environment of a piano—moving it between houses or even towns—will almost certainly cause settling and adjustment. In these circumstances, I recommend waiting a minimum of two weeks before tuning.

Will it cost more if it’s been a long time?

It depends. When a piano is dramatically out of tune, I’ll need to perform a “pitch adjustment.” A pitch adjustment is a very quick tuning designed to get the piano close to concert pitch before the actual tuning. This pre-tuning is necessary, as otherwise the piano will go out of tune as I tune it.

Pitch adjustments considerably change the tension within the piano. A piano that’s a half-step below concert pitch will undergo an overall internal change of almost one ton of tension during a tuning. This means the tuning does not last as long because the instrument will settle, and it also means the process of tuning it will take longer. You will want to consider getting it tuned a second time after about a month.

I do not charge extra if I can still tune it in my expected time frame of two hours, and I almost always can. However, the tuning itself will not last as long, and a follow-up will likely be necessary.

Do you tune by ear?

I tune using a Sanderson AccuTuner. After tuning, I will aurally evaluate the piano and will retune individual keys or perhaps a small section by ear if I think, for some reason, the machine’s “perfect” doesn’t match a human ear’s “perfect.” I do not, at this time, know of anyone in Maine who tunes primarily by ear, and if you know of one or are one please contact me!

My last tuner said the pins were too loose. Is this a problem?

A lot of tuners are not technicians—that is, they tune pianos but do not perform repairs. Tuning pins can often be sized up, or even just set deeper into the pinblock. However, if MANY tuning pins are loose or the pinblock itself is damaged (which is often difficult to judge in uprights), then the piano might be in need of a rebuild, which is extensive work done in a shop.

If the piano has dreadfully loose tuning pins, and another technician has already given up on it, there does exist one reamining (and interesting) solution: An extremely viscous cyanoacrylate (sold by the brand name Hot Stuff) can be dripped around the tuning pins. It will wick into the pinblock and crystallize, swelling the wood. This chemical wizardly can rescue pianos that otherwise seem quite far gone, although it’s not guaranteed if the pinblock is badly damaged.

In short, a piano with some loose pins is generally worth a second look by a technician, and about two thirds of the time I find I can correct the problem in-home.

What’s the difference between a fish and a piano?

You can tune a piano, but you can’t tuna fish.