We’ve all heard out-of-tune pianos.
If you’ve been around lots of in-tune pianos, the sound can make you cringe (and seriously impact learning).
Some common questions piano owners ask are:
“How long does it take for a piano to go out of tune?”
“What’s the standard piano tuning cost?”
“How often should I get my piano tuned?”
In the article, I’ll cover everything you need to know about getting your piano tuned.
Why Tune a Piano?
There are many reasons to get your piano tuned. The most obvious one is to make it sound good again. A follow-up question might be, “Why do I want it to sound good?”
Everyone who owns a piano knows that this instrument isn’t the cheapest.
Sometimes, you can find a cheap one on Craigslist or from a friend, but those are often unplayable or in poor condition. Most piano owners spent a decent amount of money to get one in their house. That’s exactly why they’re worth getting tuned. If you’ve invested in a nice piano, you’ll probably want it to sound good. Otherwise, it’s just an out-of-tune hunk of wood that probably cost you over $1,000.
Getting your piano tuned also saves your ears, not from the poor sound, but from getting used to detuned notes. When you play the piano, you develop an internal pitch over time. This pitch can be excellent for your musical ear if the piano is in tune. But, if it’s not, you won’t have the same musical potential. Getting used to detuned notes can make in-tune music sound foreign. The pitches you hear from your piano versus on the radio might clash in your mind. Nothing detrimental comes from this clash, but you won’t have very much potential to grow. So, if you want to become a well-rounded musician, having a tuned piano is essential.
How Often Should a Piano Be Tuned?
The answer isn’t the same for everyone. In general, you should tune your piano about once every 6 months. This amount of time is ideal for most people. On the other hand, there are a few exceptions. The changing seasons and humidity levels are the most significant factors in a piano’s tuning. If you go through snowy winters and blistering summers, 6 months is necessary. Many people don’t have vast seasonal differences, though. Those living in southern parts of the U.S. might only need one tuning per year.
What’s Involved in The Piano Tuning Process?
Getting a piano tuner is fairly simple. No matter which one you choose, the person likely uses one of the two techniques: Aural tuning and with-a-tuner tuning. Though these two methods are very different, there isn’t much of a difference in the end. If the piano tuner uses the aural method, they will do it by ear. You might wonder, “How is it possible to do it by ear? Though it’s the more complex of the two methods, it’s very attainable.
Aural tuners utilize knowledge of physics and wavelengths. It’s complicated, but I won’t dive into all the heavy details. Basically, they compare the wavelengths of different notes at the same time and look for specific ratios.
Tuning with a tuner is just as effective and costs about the same. The person will use what looks like a small box, but it’s actually a highly expensive tuner. Some of their tuners are so advanced that they have built-in presets for different piano models.
Regardless of the person’s tuning technique, they use a tool called a tuning hammer. This tool rotates the pins seamlessly.
You may have wondered, “Is it possible to tune a piano by myself?” The short answer is yes. However, just buying a tuning hammer isn’t enough. Professional piano tuners use a method called stretching to create a beautiful and natural piano sound. They always tune the A above middle C to 440. Stretching causes higher notes to be slightly above 440 and the lower notes to be slightly lower. Using a basic tuning app on your smartphone won’t work. It will result in a square, non-dynamic sound.
Cost of Piano Tuning
Though the price varies from person to person, the average cost is $80 to $140. You might find tuners who will do it for as low as $50. However, you probably want to avoid them if you want to have an adequate tuning job. Many processes go into excellent piano tuning, but some lower-priced individuals might skip over them to save time. You might not even notice any differences in the first few weeks.
However, the tuning may start slipping within a few months. For example, there’s a process called setting the pins. Doing this keeps a piano in tune for a much longer time. If you hire a cheap piano tuner, they might skip over this process. You won’t realize it until your piano is already out of tune within 3 months.
For the most part, the less you spend, the less personal service you get. The goal of cheaper piano tuners is to get in and get out. For more expensive $100 services, the person is much more likely to catch small problems. These problems can be anything from broken strings, mechanical errors, etc. If they find something else wrong with your piano, you can choose whether or not you want them to fix it. This cost will be on top of the piano tuning. Extra fixes and repairs can cost anywhere from $30 to $300. Before settling on a specific piano tuner, make sure to get a quote from several professionals.
Services Piano Tuners Offer
If your piano hasn’t gotten much attention in a while, it might need other services, too. Here are some of the most common piano services:
- Pitch raise
- Humidity control
- Cleaning and regulation
- Piano detailing
- Keytop replacement
- Voice(soften/harden hammers to change tone)
Sometimes, pianos need a pitch raise. “What’s a pitch raise?” If the instrument has been sitting around for a long, long time, it’s probably immensely out of tune. Pitch raises are needed when all of the keys are heavily flat. Piano tuners can’t begin to tune the piano without first making the pitches relatively accurate. This process takes 30-45 minutes on top of the regular tuning time. Not all abandoned pianos will need a pitch raise. However, one that has sat in a house with frequent humidity changes might need a raise.
To solve the climate problem, piano technicians can also install a humidity control device. The most common product is called Piano Life Saver. This system is complicated to install, so it’s best left for piano tuners and technicians. Here are some of the components that come along with a humidity control system:
- Watering Tube
- LED Light Panel
A regular humidity system comes with both a humidifier and a dehumidifier. These devices ensure that the humidity level is never too high or low. The watering tube merely lets you add water into the system. If you live in an area with extreme climate changes, a humidity control system might be worth the investment. Most piano tuners and technicians can install it without hassle.
Cleaning and Regulation
Regulating a piano is an extensive process. A technician checks every component of the instrument to make sure it all works together. One of the biggest focuses is the action. Over time, pianos can develop inconsistent action in the keys. This difference makes it harder to play with control and dynamics. If you’ve ever tried to play a key softly, only for no sound to come out, that’s a sign the piano needs regulation.
Playing the piano with lots of expression is difficult enough. It’s a lot easier when you don’t have to guess how hard to press each key. There are many other specific aspects of regulation. Overall, it’s a complete assessment and repair of every mechanical part.
Piano tuners can also clean your piano. You can have them clean off the dust or go even further to polish your piano. Getting rid of dust is essential for piano maintenance. If it builds up for a long time, it can cause long-term issues. Having your piano polished gives it an extra shine to look even sleeker.
Keytop replacement is a fairly simple process. Cracks in the keys are the main reason for them to be replaced. However, it’s perfectly viable to get them replaced from normal wear and tear. A piano tuner will either have German, White, or Simulated Ivory keytops. They’ll also likely use PVC glue, sandpaper, and a flat metal file.
There are lots of reasons a piano might need to be repaired. The two main types of repairs are internal and external. An internal one might have something to do with the strings or mechanics. Dead keys are a common issue that pianos present. When pressing a key, little or no sound comes out.
Playing with a dead key is very distracting for most. It can make it much more challenging to get through a song. Another common repair is with the pedals. When they stop working, it can limit your potential on the instrument. However, for piano tuners, this repair is simple.
External damages can be anything. Maybe you accidentally chipped a key or broke the music stand. How long the damage takes to fix depends on its severity. With a broken key or two, you likely won’t spend over $50. But, if you spilled a drink on the keys, it might be more expensive.
Piano technicians can voice a piano. “What is voicing?” you might wonder. Voicing is a process where a tuner modifies the hammers to alter the piano’s tone. For example, if the tone is too bright for your taste, they can soften it and vice versa. Pianists who play genres like rock, funk, and blues might enjoy a brighter tone than classical pianists. A technician inserts a needle along the felt surfaces of the hammers to change the voicing.
Common Types of Piano Repairs
The only way to know if you have a weak pin block is from a professional inspection. If your piano goes out of tune very quickly, it could be a sign of a weak pin block. Each pin needs to be very strong because it supports 150-200 pounds of pressure from the string. If the piano only needs a few pins fastened, it will cost $10-20.
Cleaning Under The Keys
It’s inevitable for dust to find its way underneath the keys. Technicians have no trouble clearing it out. First, they remove the action of the keyboard. Then, they clean underneath the keys and put it back together. Like the first repair, this costs around $10-20.
Loose Tuning Pins
Along with weak tuning pins, loose ones are a common problem, too. Tiny changes in the wood’s shape can make tuning pins too weak and loose. To fix this problem, technicians replace it with a larger pin that has more friction. Replacing pins is slightly more expensive than tightening them.
Sticking keys is one of the most common problems pianists face. Most of the time, it’s an easy and inexpensive fix. It only becomes expensive if a broken mechanism is causing it. Fixing sluggish keys can cost anywhere from $15 to $50.
Buzzing or Rattling Sounds
There are hundreds of screws inside pianos, and sometimes they become loose. This problem can be slightly challenging if the loose screw isn’t in plain sight. However, sometimes, finding the culprit isn’t as hard as it seems. If you hear buzzing or rattling in a grand piano, always check the strings. Lots of times, there’s just a pencil or paper resting on them. But, if there’s nothing there, a piano tuner diagnose and fix it for $10 or less.
Notes That Don’t Sound Right
It’s easy to recognize when notes don’t sound right. Most of the time, it’s a hammer or string issue. Since other issues could also be causing it, it’s important to get a piano technician’s opinion. If a note or group of notes don’t sound right, here are a few possible problems:
- Misaligned or broken hammers
- Broken strings
- Bad tuning
Depending on your piano, each note has 2 to 3 strings. The hammer is supposed to strike all of those strings. If a note sounds too thin, the hammer might not be hitting every string. Technicians will realign or replace the hammer depending on its condition.
Broken strings don’t vibrate correctly. When the hammer strikes them, the sound is tinny or dampened. String replacements generally cost around $50-$60 per string.
Notes Sustaining For Too Long
A sustained piano can be a beautiful thing. It’s not quite as beautiful if you aren’t holding down the sustain pedal, however. Surprisingly, this fix can take a little time. An excellent piano technician should be able to solve the problem. Many times, the issue lies with broken damper springs. Damaged springs can cause the dampers to get stuck.
Muffled Piano Sound
If some notes don’t play or are significantly louder or quieter than others, your piano might need to be voiced. It’s much more enjoyable to play on pianos that have consistent voicing. The lower notes should be slightly heavier to push than the higher ones.
A muffled or disproportionate sound can be a result of hammer displacement. If a note is too loud compared with the others, it likely needs a lighter hammer head.
Sustain Pedal Not Working
Sometimes, the sustain pedal will stop working. This issue is more urgent than many others because of how essential the pedal is. Without it, you can’t put as much emotion into the music. This problem can also arise in the sostenuto or soft pedal. Luckily, the issue is minor and easy to fix. The lever likely fell off of its alignment, and the technician can quickly realign it. This fix probably won’t cost more than $10.
How Much Does Piano Tuning Cost? by The Piano Technician Academy
Can I Tune a Piano Myself?
Nothing is stopping you from trying to tune your piano. However, pianos are immensely challenging to tune if you’re not a professional. If you want to become a piano tuner, however, that’s different. With hard work, studying, and practice, you can become an excellent tuner. You might wonder, “How hard is it?” Smartphone apps aren’t powerful enough to do a good job.
Tuning a piano requires a strobe tuning machine, which is usually around $1,000-$1,500. If you have the time and money, you could do some studying and buy this device. Getting your piano tuned twice a year for $100 each time, you could pay it off in 5-8 years.
However, if you don’t plan on becoming a tuner, it’s probably best to hire a professional. The average grand piano has over 12,000 individual parts. Upright pianos aren’t too far behind with 10,000. Piano tuners spend their lives perfecting their skills, and they provide first-class tuning. If you play the piano often, issues beyond tuning might also arise. You can try to fix the problem yourself, but it’s always a little risky. Without a lot of knowledge, you might even mess up the piano even more.
You might only need to get a piano tuned once a year. If that’s the case, hiring a piano tuner is much more beneficial than trying to do it alone. Like I said earlier, piano tuners generally cost from $50 to $140.
Getting a piano tuned can ensure that it continues to produce beautiful music. Even if you’re playing a great song, it won’t sound right from an out-of-tune piano. If and when other problems arise, I recommend finding a piano technician. They’ve likely seen the exact problem hundreds of times and can easily fix it. Playing the piano is a highly enjoyable experience, especially when it’s in tune.