Tuning & Maintenance

J. Mark Campbell

Playing the Piano
Tuning your piano as a part of a regularly scheduled maintenance program can bring great pleasure to those who listen and inspire those who play.  We make every note ready to accurately respond to your playing so that each piece, whether a taxing classical Prokofiev or a subtle jazz Bill Evans, is rendered with the musical quality you had in mind.  Students will be inspired when the piano is ready to respond to their playing.  When you call, be sure to ask about unequal temperaments and how they can add a new found expression to your music.

Schedule your tuning and start reaping the rewards.

Below are some answers to questions we frequently hear regarding tuning a piano.  If you do not find the answer to your specific question, use the form below to submit a request.


 FAQs about Tuning

1.  How often does my piano need to be tuned?

Manufacturers recommend a home instrument be tuned twice a year.  An active teaching instrument  will likely need tuning monthly.  However, there are a number of factors that will impact how often a piano needs to be tuned. The best answer is to discuss your instrument, its condition and environment, along with your requirements with your technician and develop a maintenance plan that includes a tuning schedule. Below are a few of the elements you may wish to consider in developing such a plan:

  • How often is the instrument used?
  • What is the relative age and condition of the instrument?
  • What is the relative force used by a particular musician?
  • What are the expectations of the performance? Instruments used in concerts or recording studios will likely be required to perform at higher levels than others.
  • What are the expectations of the performer?
  • What environmental conditions are being controlled and how do they impact the health of the instrument?

It is important to remember that much as a doctor monitors your health through regular exams, regularly scheduled maintenance calls will allow your technician to monitor the health of your instrument for signs of problems so they can be corrected before causing more damage to the instrument and its parts.

2. Why do the strings in my piano keep breaking when the piano is tuned?

Take a piece of wire and bend it back and forth until it breaks. You have created the same conditions that causes a piano string to break. The stiff metal from which piano strings are made becomes fatigued causing them to become brittle and break.  The question is what conditions exist in your instrument that would fatigue the metal string to the point of failure? This is not easily answered as there a number of conditions that may contribute.

  • The quality of the metal and manufacturing process of the string
  • The design of the instrument
  • Environmental conditions that react with the metal
  • The force with which the instrument is played
  • The tension designed into the scale of the instrument
  • The age of the instrument and its strings

It is worth noting that changing the tension in the process of tuning will rarely cause a string to break unless it is already fatigued do to other conditions or actions for which the technician is not responsible.  Most technicians will be glad to repair or replace the string for the cost of time and materials.

3. What is a ‘pitch raise’ and why do I need one?

You can think of a pitch raise as a quick tuning to stretch the strings before completing a more refined tuning. This first tuning is necessary when a piano has been allowed to stray from the A440 standard too far.  When the errant string is returned to the proper tension it is likely to stretch causing it to be under pitch and out of tune again in a short time. By raising the pitch of the instrument slightly over the target point, your piano has a chance to accommodate the new forces, stretch, and should settle more closely to the proper pitch. A second tuning then sets the strings at their proper tension and pitch and should result in a more stable tuning.

“But why raise the pitch? Can’t it just stay where it is?” 

The answer to this question lies in the design of the piano. Most instruments made in the past one hundred years have been designed around the standard pitch of A440. That is to say, the fundamental pitch of A above middle C is tuned to 440 cycles per second.  All the rest of the notes are then tuned relative to this standard pitch. When the instrument was designed, each string was given a specification for its diameter, length, and tension in order to achieve the proper pitch as well as a defined character to the sound. If the tension of a string is too far from the design, the character of the sound will be changed, usually adversely, resulting in a poor tone quality.  In an attempt to keep a piano playing and sounding its best, it is wise to keep its strings at the pitch where they were designed to perform their best.

There are exceptions to this standard such as when a piano’s structural condition is suspect or, in some cases, an orchestra may  select a slightly different standard. However, in most cases it is best to maintain your instrument at the standard pitch of A440.

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