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DIY Piano Tuning...Does anyone do it?
Old 31st January 2010
  #1
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DIY Piano Tuning...Does anyone do it?

I have a piano in my studio and getting a pro tuner out to my place regularly is a hassle. I am thinking about getting some tools and learning to do it myself for the smaller jobs I do.

Anyone else tune their own piano? Any luck?
Old 31st January 2010
  #2
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I did it myself once and trust me, it's worth the money to have a pro do it. It took me almost 7 hours I kid you not, I thought I was done like 20 times and always found something that was screwed up. I thought it was a load of crap to pay that much to have someone come in and do it, I learned the hard way that I was wrong... I had a new found respect for piano tuners after that day, they should be paid more for their services.

So if you are hard headed like I am, then by all means tune it youself
Old 31st January 2010
  #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by andersmv View Post
I did it myself once and trust me, it's worth the money to have a pro do it. It took me almost 7 hours I kid you not, I thought I was done like 20 times and always found something that was screwed up. I thought it was a load of crap to pay that much to have someone come in and do it, I learned the hard way that I was wrong... I had a new found respect for piano tuners after that day, they should be paid more for their services.

So if you are hard headed like I am, then by all means tune it youself
Yikes!
Old 31st January 2010
  #4
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I tune my own (5'6" Baldwin). The first time took me quite a while, but I can now do a 'fresh tune' in about 2 hours and a 'touch up' in about 20-30 mins.

The best times to tune are spring and fall - tune slightly flat in spring, slightly sharp in fall (we're talking 10-15 cents depending on the piano). The most important 'touch up' is 10 days to two weeks after a major tuning (when the piano 'settles in'). After that, a monthly touch up (or less) will usually do.

Get a good tuning hammer, a good set of felts (wedges and strips) and some neoprene wedges as well (for the low strings) as well as a tuner intended for piano use (these will usually include equal temperaments, meantone, pythagoraen, Kirnberger, etc. as an indication that they are intended specifically for piano) - not that you will need the alternate tunings per se, but these tuners pick up a far greater range than the chromatic tuners you buy at guitar stores and respond better to the top (and bottom) piano octaves.

Go slowly and work from the center octave out. After you tune each succeeding octave, go back and check/retouch the octave you previously tuned. You'll find the first tuning to be arduous, but each successive one gets easier until it becomes relatively easy.
Old 31st January 2010
  #5
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trompetfreak's Avatar
 

Most piano-tuners have studied for 4-8 years to get to where they are: able to tune and maintain a piano.
I would never tune it myself. There are risks of seriously damaging the instrument by not turning/pushing your tune-arm the right way. There is much more to than just tightening a string.

Only in case of emergency (expensive session, no tuner available; concert, will take the tuner over 30 min's to get there) I am willing to tune-up the worst keys.
Old 31st January 2010
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by trompetfreak View Post
Most piano-tuners have studied for 4-8 years to get to where they are: able to tune and maintain a piano.
I would never tune it myself. There are risks of seriously damaging the instrument by not turning/pushing your tune-arm the right way. There is much more to than just tightening a string.
While this might be sage advice, I'm always amazed at people who:
won't work on their own cars
won't take apart their computers
won't repair their own equipment
etc. etc.
for fear they might "do something wrong."
It is only by attempting new challenges that we realize our potential and, perhaps, master a new skill.
Old 31st January 2010
  #7
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitrax View Post
While this might be sage advice, I'm always amazed at people who:
won't work on their own cars
won't take apart their computers
won't repair their own equipment
etc. etc.
for fear they might "do something wrong."
It is only by attempting new challenges that we realize our potential and, perhaps, master a new skill.
there comes a point where it's simply more financially worthwhile to get someone else to do it.

I can do fairly reasonable DIY. I could probably change a bath - only it wouldn't look as good as a pro doing it, and it'll take me a day - when I could be working on music instead, and make more than enough to pay someone else to do it in a few hours. Likewise with changing oil filters on a car, etc etc.

I don't really think piano tuning (which is a skill to be learnt) falls into the same category though. I think it's more akin to a musician buying recording gear because they think recording looks easy, and we all moan about how you can't expect pro results just because you've bought the gear and so on. It's worthwhile for the muso to learn, but it's not going to happen overnight.

The difference is the self-recording muso can learn things slowly, hire pros when they need to and providing they're walking before they're running, will churn out some useable results along the way. A badly tuned piano is fairly useless to all concerned, especially for the person who wants to record it.
Old 31st January 2010
  #8
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Yeah, but I feel too many people have the attitude that money trumps achievement (or personal growth). We're not put on this planet to chase a bunch of green paper around. If we were, we wouldn't have recording studios when we could have put the same money into real estate, gold, mutual funds or something more reliably profitable.
Plus, I find that very few "professional" tuners care as much about your piano as you do; (despite their skill and years of experience, I've done a better job).

If you don't have the time (or inclination) to tune your own piano, that's fine.
But, if you're posting "DIY Piano Tuning...", you're probably not under the gun to get it done by 6:00pm tonight.
Old 31st January 2010
  #9
There's probably also an "aptitude factor" that you wouldn't realize you had or didn't have until you tried. Supposedly, the ability to "witch water"-- walk around with a willow branch, and when there's a vein of water underground the branch tugs toward the ground-- is an either/or thing. It's either for me, I mean it's pretty surprising, the harder you grasp the stick, the more it grinds into your palms-- how it works or why or whatever, who knows?

In the same way, the piano tuners I watch seem to work alot on instinct-- some kind of closed loop between what they're hearing, how stiffly they twist the tuner, and how loopy the "tuning graphics" on their laptop computers behave.

For some people, this could be impossible, a nightmare-- for others, they'd have the knack.
Old 31st January 2010
  #10
Gear Maniac
 

From experience, a great tuner will usually tune the basis using expensive tuning equipment and do the rest by ear. A tuner told me once that its not the tuning equipment that makes a piano sound in tune properly.

He told me that those 3 strings per note may look right on the machine but it does not necessarily sound right by ear and that's where a great tuner's experience and talent come into place.

I have to agree, I have come across musicians who know their instrument well and I am amazed at how they get their gear into tune.
Old 31st January 2010
  #11
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitrax View Post
If you don't have the time (or inclination) to tune your own piano, that's fine.
But, if you're posting "DIY Piano Tuning...", you're probably not under the gun to get it done by 6:00pm tonight.
no probably not.

but at the end of the tuning session, you probably want something that's useably in tune - guaranteed with a good piano tuner, nothing like that if you're a first time DIYer.

I'm not disagreeing with your principle, just that there's some things that it makes sense to pay for a good job.
Old 31st January 2010
  #12
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kafka's Avatar
I recommend not trying to tune a piano yourself. It's very different from tuning a guitar. I've done it a couple of times, and it requires vastly more technique than you'd imagine. You can also damage your piano by doing it incorrectly.

A piano tuning pin, being metal, has a significant amount of twist in it. When you turn the pin, you're not turning the whole thing; you're just twisting the part where the head is. It takes some time for the rest of the pin to catch up along the entire length. When it does, the pitch will change. Also, as the massive tension on the frame changes, it will cause anything you've done to go out of tune. An experience piano tuner takes all this into account and gets it right the first time. I won't even get into what it takes to get the "stretch" right.

Now, at first, "getting it right the first time" may seem like a mere convenience. However, with a piano, it's actually critical. Failure to do it can make the piano permanently untunable. A tuning pin can only be turned so much before the block becomes worn and will no longer grip the pin well. After that, your piano will need tunings more and more often - to the point that it may not be tunable at all. The only remedy to this is either to replace the block or the pins. This would be considered to be major service. A good piano tuner knows how to get the piano in tune with the minimum amount of turning. Given what I described above, you can see how easy it is to get it wrong.

If you're picky about tuning, at most consider learning how to touch up a note or two here and there. Read everything you can on the subject. If you can, take a class on it, or at least get a real piano tuner to show you how to do it right. Go slowly, do it extremely carefully. It's better to be slow than to wear the block out.



That all said, beware of incompetent piano tuners. And by incompetent, I mean about 75% of all the tuners out there. If your tuner doesn't also know how to voice and regulate the piano, then they're not really a piano tuner; they're just a fool with a wrench who is willing to destroy your piano for a hundred bucks or so. Do not try to save money by hiring someone for cheap. Get the best tuner you can find, and give them lots of referrals so they can stay in business. The only way to find a good tuner is by word of mouth. There is no good directory of ratings of them, and incompetent people work on good pianos all the time.
Old 31st January 2010
  #13
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PlugHead's Avatar
 

I've been doing it (semi-prof) for a few years: it is not for the faint of heart, and you need good tools and a very good understanding of what to do.

If you can master the technique of setting the pins, owning a great tuner (specifically for piano - Sanderson/Peterson/Yamaha) can make it go all that much quicker. Although I do not own a tuner, I can tune a piano in usually under 2 hrs now - before was like the other poster - 5-6-7 hrs = YIKES!

It is no easy task - if you do not have GREAT ears, and a basic understanding of intervals and their subsequent BPS (beats per second) for each interval, I'd suggest leaving it to the pros...

Last edited by PlugHead; 1st February 2010 at 03:59 AM.. Reason: clarity
Old 31st January 2010
  #14
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trompetfreak's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by kafka View Post
I recommend not trying to tune a piano yourself. It's very different from tuning a guitar. I've done it a couple of times, and it requires vastly more technique than you'd imagine. You can also damage your piano by doing it incorrectly.

A piano tuning pin, being metal, has a significant amount of twist in it. When you turn the pin, you're not turning the whole thing; you're just twisting the part where the head is. It takes some time for the rest of the pin to catch up along the entire length. When it does, the pitch will change. Also, as the massive tension on the frame changes, it will cause anything you've done to go out of tune. An experience piano tuner takes all this into account and gets it right the first time. I won't even get into what it takes to get the "stretch" right.

Now, at first, "getting it right the first time" may seem like a mere convenience. However, with a piano, it's actually critical. Failure to do it can make the piano permanently untunable. A tuning pin can only be turned so much before the block becomes worn and will no longer grip the pin well. After that, your piano will need tunings more and more often - to the point that it may not be tunable at all. The only remedy to this is either to replace the block or the pins. This would be considered to be major service. A good piano tuner knows how to get the piano in tune with the minimum amount of turning. Given what I described above, you can see how easy it is to get it wrong.

If you're picky about tuning, at most consider learning how to touch up a note or two here and there. Read everything you can on the subject. If you can, take a class on it, or at least get a real piano tuner to show you how to do it right. Go slowly, do it extremely carefully. It's better to be slow than to wear the block out.



That all said, beware of incompetent piano tuners. And by incompetent, I mean about 75% of all the tuners out there. If your tuner doesn't also know how to voice and regulate the piano, then they're not really a piano tuner; they're just a fool with a wrench who is willing to destroy your piano for a hundred bucks or so. Do not try to save money by hiring someone for cheap. Get the best tuner you can find, and give them lots of referrals so they can stay in business. The only way to find a good tuner is by word of mouth. There is no good directory of ratings of them, and incompetent people work on good pianos all the time.

That's what I meant indeed.
Old 1st February 2010
  #15
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fhames's Avatar
 

I will on occasion tune a unison or an octave but would never consider trying the whole piano. The person who tunes my Yamaha, (C3), sets one string with a tuning fork or his iphone then does the rest by ear. I can usually record on it for three or four weeks depending on the weather. There is nothing like the sound of a freshly tuned piano.





Bryant - Hames Music
Old 1st February 2010
  #16
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Ron Vogel's Avatar
 

Yeah, it's hard, I've done it. I actually reccomend you try it yourself at least once. Then you'll remember to tip the tuner guy well next time he comes out!

I even made my own tools to do it. I used a guitar tuner to get the middle section of the piano in tune, then did the rest by ear...and the first reply was right, probably took 6-8 hours to do the whole thing.
Old 1st February 2010
  #17
Gear Addict
Quote:
Originally Posted by los marbles View Post
I have a piano in my studio and getting a pro tuner out to my place regularly is a hassle. I am thinking about getting some tools and learning to do it myself for the smaller jobs I do.

Anyone else tune their own piano? Any luck?
The first time I tuned my piano, it took me 28 hours. Not an exaggeration. But it was a very good sounding tuning. However, it was not stable.

Years later, I now make the majority of my living as a piano technician and rebuilder (the rest is gigging/recording). My tuning time is now perhaps 90 minutes. Most professional piano tuners I know will say that it takes about 1000 tunings to really get the hang of setting the pins and listening to the right things enough to do an beautiful, stable tuning. I am long past the 1000 tuning mark, and I tend to agree that it takes at least several hundred tunings to really get the hang of it.

If you really want to tune your piano, you should ask yourself if you have the kind of detail-oriented personality and the tenacity to work at it for many, many hours, never settling for pretty good.

If so, please attend a local Piano Technicians Guild meeting, acquire a mentor, and practice, practice, practice (hopefully on a free Craigslist upright, not on your good studio piano).

If not, please leave it to a professional.

Joe
Old 1st February 2010
  #18
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idylldon's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by kafka View Post
There is no good directory of ratings of them, and incompetent people work on good pianos all the time.
Actually, there is. PIANO PAGE - Piano Technicians Guild - Everything about Pianos, Tuner, Technicians, Service, Repair, History, Find a Technician

PTG registered piano techs are pretty competent because they have to pass stringent testing on tuning and repairs.

I'm pretty much in the same place as JoeDeF; that is, I've been working on pianos for quite a few years now, and I keep the 9' Steinway D in my studio in impeccable tune and voice. I enjoy being able to do it myself and the piano brings in a lot of work.

Cheers,
--
Don
Old 1st February 2010
  #19
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Thanks for the replies. I am curious to give it a shot...it's just my nature. However, I can't afford to wreck this piano. I may try a practice on an old beater.

I figured it would be a great skill to have as a studio owner. Maybe I'll pay attention to a hired pro before I try it on the beater.

Cheers.
Old 1st February 2010
  #20
Gear Addict
Quote:
Originally Posted by los marbles View Post
I may try a practice on an old beater
Definitely the way to go!

Quote:
Originally Posted by los marbles View Post
I figured it would be a great skill to have as a studio owner.
Yes, but it takes just as much work to be a great piano technician as to be a great recording engineer (or to be a great musician). Unless you put that kind of commitment into it, you won't get great results.

Quote:
Originally Posted by los marbles View Post
Maybe I'll pay attention to a hired pro before I try it on the beater.
Do find a mentor to show you the basics, and get some educational materials from the Piano Technicians Guild.

Some books are available at:

Piano Book List

Others that are guild publications can be purchased by calling the guild "home office." And consider joining the guild if you really get interested.
Old 1st February 2010
  #21
Gear Maniac
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by los marbles View Post
Thanks for the replies. I am curious to give it a shot...it's just my nature. However, I can't afford to wreck this piano. I may try a practice on an old beater.

I figured it would be a great skill to have as a studio owner. Maybe I'll pay attention to a hired pro before I try it on the beater.

Cheers.
Consider this--

Tuning a piano is NOT about having good pitch. I mean, I'm sure good piano tuners DO have great pitch, but that is not what makes them good piano tuners.

There are things like counting the number of times tones waver per second and stuff. It is not the same thing as having a good musical brain and going for it.

It is a special LEARNED skill. Don't screw up your piano to save a few bucks.

If you care that much about piano tuning, then set yourself on a course that will get you there. Having a good ear and a tuner won't do the job.
Old 2nd February 2010
  #22
Here for the gear
 

Setting the temperament is the difficult part. Making sure the beat frequencies of the out of tune strings are perfect, and gradually get faster as you go up the scale, and slow down as you go down the scale is what makes tuning a piano so difficult. It's also why piano tuners only use a tuner or pitchfork for the first couple of pitches, then tune the rest by ear.

I recently watched a DVD that featured a piano tuner using only two references. One was a tuning fork (A=440). The other was a metronome. It was a truly amazing sight to see.

BTW: Though there is a fairly standard "equal temperament" used in modern times, the idea of equal temperament has always been (and still is) hotly debated. Even at the time of Bach's Well Tempered Klavier the harpsichord was actually retuned between each piece, resulting in a more just temperament than is common now.
Old 2nd February 2010
  #23
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Sounds Great's Avatar
 

I occasionally have my piano tuned by a professional, but tune it in between myself. It isn't that hard if you have the ears for it. I have a 7 foot Masin & Hamlin. I've also tuned the family Steinway many times as well as a Steinway upright I used to have and other pianos.

I have a very old Korg digital tuner that I use, but really all I need is one note to get started.
Old 2nd February 2010
  #24
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I used to do a lot of tuning. I'd say it's one of those deals that the more you do it, the better you get.

When I first got started, I had been working at a big piano company in the repair/rebuild dept. and paid a tuner whose work I thought was top to give me instruction.

I got to the point after a year of tuning new delivery pianos for the big company that I could tune a piano in an hour. Eventually I quit the big company and did tuning and repair under my own shingle.

I finally got so picky about the tuning of my own pianos that I gave up doing the work myself and hire folks now whose work sounds good to me.

And these days, I can make a bit more coin doing other work... so I've given it up entirely. But I'm sure I could tune one if I needed it tuned and no one else was available.

My opinion is that you need to tune a couple hundred pianos before you can deliver reliable work.

There's so much more to tuning a piano than just getting the pins set at the right pitch. Others have mentioned the weather... how often the piano is tuned... the pitch from which you are starting and how far you want to pull it up... the condition of the pin block... Much can go wrong.

Pros are worth the money.
Old 2nd February 2010
  #25
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LOL, My first tuning took me about 6 hours and now about 1 hour. The first thing I did was hire a pro tuner and watched the tuning process and thought to myself wow that's a pretty counter-intuitive method . Of course, no disrespect to you guys that do this for a living. After watching and reading lots of piano tuning sources, I decided to developed my own process, which I plan to apply for a patent this year. I personally think the current tuning process is very destructive to the piano. One of the main reasons tunings don't stick is how the tuning pins are manipulated during the tuning process. So, with the help of my Sanderson Accu-tuner and my personal process my tuning is less destructive to the piano and last far longer than the average tuning.

The one thing that bothers me the most are people that always say what you can't or shouldn't do, in fact, that is the thing that motivates me the most. Never ever let anyone discourage you from learning and expanding your mind. Also, I have rarely met anyone pro or not that would give the same care and commitment that I would give the task at hand.

If you think that's a load of crap, simply search google for contractor complaints or similar.
Old 2nd February 2010
  #26
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I think I'll pass on doing it myself. I'm not really interested in learning the art of piano tuning, I just want my piano in tune on a regular basis.

The idea of doing it DIY was inspired by being short $ at the moment.

I'll chase down some owing clients and get someone in.

Thanks for the honest replies.
Old 2nd February 2010
  #27
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I've tried it. If you have the time, it can be fun, yet time consuming. Not nearly as easy as tuning a Rhodes!
Old 2nd February 2010
  #28
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studiostuff's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by obostic View Post
So, with the help of my Sanderson Accu-tuner and my personal process my tuning is less destructive to the piano and last far longer than the average tuning.
Does your personal process involve wearing a tin-foil hat?

Uh-huh, I thought so...
Old 2nd February 2010
  #29
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obostic's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by studiostuff View Post
Does your personal process involve wearing a tin-foil hat?

Uh-huh, I thought so...
You'll have to wait for the patent to see!
Old 2nd February 2010
  #30
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You might have better luck giving yourself a root canal.

-R
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