Tuning a piano

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Is it possible for a "layman" to tune a piano? What tools does one need? I found a website that has guidelines on how to do it. My husband has perfect pitch, so this will help. Is this too much to attempt...hate to fork out $75 when I could do it myself, but I don't want to ruin the piano. (it's an upright)

-- Christina (introibo2000@yahoo.com), June 23, 2001


Don't see why you couldn't, I found a book some years ago telling not only how to tune but also to rebuild/repair a piano.

Could you post the URL you found?

-- Sojourner (sojournr@missouri.org), June 23, 2001.

Hi Christina!

Alot depends on the piano strings. My piano during high school was a huge old upright with ivory keys and a warm mellow tone. But... the mellowness was due to fairly old strings. It was impossible to tune to perfect pitch, so was tuned to itself. The old strings would have snapped if tuned to pitch and new strings would not have the same mellow sound.

A small wrench is made that fits over the tuning keys and allows for very minute adjustments. I imagine the wrench would be available at a good music store. Using a wrench from the toolbox wouldn't have the same feel to it and could become frustrating.

Be careful about the strings and the tension! My tuner told several grizzly tales of snapped strings, that while possibly hyperbole, are worth considering. The strings will be like fencing wire under stress and have the potential of causing extremely serious cuts if snapped.

If the tuning fee is only $75, I'd say You've a bargain! I paid $100 back in the early 80's while living in a village near a major university where tuners were plentiful. Just a thought.

Good Luck!!


-- Randle Gay (rangay@hotmail.com), June 23, 2001.

Sojourner, the address I found is www.stevespianoservice.com.

-- Christina (introibo2000@yahoo.com), June 23, 2001.

Do not attempt to tune your own piano. I am a piano teacher and know what can happen. Some of the keys have 3 strings, some 2 and some 1 and they have to be carefully tuned or the piano will sound awfull. Also, it is too easy to damage the piano. If the tension is not correct, the sounding board can crack and then you will not have a piano anymore. A piano is a very expensive instrument that needs care from a qualified person. Do-it-yourself efforts can ruin your investment and ruin the ear of the person who uses the instrument to practice. It needs to be kept in tune for it to be of use.

-- Cheryl (bramblecottage@hotmail.com), June 23, 2001.

No offense, Cheryl, but there is no reason why someone couldn't tune their own piano. Not just off the cuff, but get a couple of good references and anybody should, with a modicum of care and probably a whole heck of a lot of time, be able to tune their own piano. I went to the website Christina is talking about and checked out the reference. Its a good solid resource. He doesn't make outrageous claims and he stresses the importance of being careful AND USING THE PROPER TOOLS. He tells you up front your not going to get professional results, but you should be able to get close enough. From what I saw, if I had a piano, it'd be worth spending the $18 for the CD to get the whole text of his repair/care manual, even if I never touched a maintenance chore myself, just to know what the tuner is (or should be) doing.

I'm a musician. I play (or have played) piano (admittedly poorly, partly because my hands are way too small), flute, harp, saxaphone, violin, and a host of other instruments that I can get a tune out of but wouldn't play in public.

There is nothing unknowable about caring for ANY musical instrument. The piano is just another instrument, and with the proper resources to back one up and a heaping dose of common sense (and the right tools, something else this guy stresses) there is no reason why folks can't tune their own pianos. My gosh, how do you think tuners learn? They don't spring fully formed from the womb with toolkit in hand. LOL!

Never say "can't" or "musn't". Heck according to most folks, I "can't" build my own house, I "can't" do my own plumbing, I "can't" do my own wiring, I "can't" keep my own livestock, I "can't" live comfortably on less than $10k per year ... Well I can, though I've made some mistakes, had to redo some things, and its taking a looooong time to build this house and homestead by myself.

And Christine CAN, with patience and care, learn to tune her own piano. It may TAKE a long while to get good at it - years, even - but it CAN be done. It's not rocket science.

Just my opionion. YMMV.

-- Sojourner (sojournr@missouri.org), June 23, 2001.

Thanks Sojourner, I have been trying to think of how to say the same thing! There is only one "can't" in my vocab, 'cept maybe 'can't say "can't"'

-- john hill (john@cnd.co.nz), June 23, 2001.

I looked into tuning my own. The tool you need to tune the panio will cost you almost as paying to have it tuned

-- grant (organicgrange@yahoo.com), June 24, 2001.

You only plan on tuning your piano ONCE?


-- Sojourner (sojournr@missouri.org), June 24, 2001.

The answer is "yes" and "no". 25 years ago my eccentric, hippie, know it all, (wonderful) husband - Daniel - who thinks he can do anything walked into a local piano repair shop and asked to borrow a tuning hammer to tune his own piano. The old man working there - Ernie - said "are You NUTS?!" but offered to show him how. Daniel started to show up at the shop on a regular basis and Ernie began to show him what to do. Dan became Ernie's unofficial apprentice. Daniel was shocked to see how much more there was to the job than he thought. He loved it though. Ernie is long dead but what he did for Daniel was priceless. 25 years later Daniel makes a decent living as a Piano Technician. It is a jpb he truly loves. He is very talented, intellegent, and mechanically inclined. We began dating a few years into his apprenticship and I spent a lot of time at the shop. It is a fascinating - frustrating profession. Daniel would tell you that he had to tune hundreds of pianos before he did a proper job. If you tune only your own piano only 6 months it would take a lifetime to get that much experience. Luckily Ernie had a shop full of old pianos to practice on. After 25 years Daniel is still polishing his skills and learning new things. He has a great reputation in the Pittsburgh, PA area.

Yes - a piano can be damaged during tuning. Breaking a string, while dangerous (the high tension makes the string really fly - it can cause cuts, eye injuries, or damage to the finish of a piano) does not usually do permanent damage to the piano BUT then you have to replace the string which can be very tricky and, in smaller upright pianos or players, can involve disassembling the piano and, of course putting itback together correctly. There are many more parts in a piano than in most major appliances so if you wouldn't take apart your refirigerator to fix it I wouldn't recommend taking apart your paino (relevant typo!)

There are 88 notes on the piano most of which have three string. If these are not tuned just right the paino will sound atrocious. If you know what you are doing you only need a tuning hammer, some piano mutes and a tuning fork that matches the proper key that your piano was manufactured for. (Some older pianos are made to be tuned at alower pitch) You will have to know how to tune octaves, thirds fifths and others. You may be able to find an old strobe tuner to help you until your ear develops. that is old technology. A digital tuner will anywhere from $800 to a couple of thousand dollars. Local music stores will NOT! carry these tools you will have to get them fom a tuner or a tuner supply catalog.

If you are still determined to do this I would recommend finding your local chapter of the Piano Technicians Guild. It is a rich educational opportunity. They are very generous with information. Those who are serious about learning are welcomed. they have a wesite for more info

-- Lisa Sittig (pennpiano@home.com), July 30, 2001.

I'm wondering if going to the local PTG folks would be difficult since it's a conflict of interest, unless u plan to work at some nominal wage as an apprentice.

Secondly, with the advent of computer and shareware, how close can someone with common sense and some intelligence achieve? Of course, it's not science, but at least one can hope to demystify the process.

That's my 2-cents anyway. JS

-- joe s (ba991@hotmail.com), November 22, 2001.

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