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What is the Cost to Tune a Piano?

Apr 30, 2017

What Piano Repair and Tuning Services Do I Need?

Piano Maintenance Enables You to Spend Less and Get More

How Regularly the Piano is Tuned

You might have hear that pianos ought to be tuned once or twice a year. This is a catch phrase of the piano tuning industry older than most living tuners. As an experienced piano tuner I know that many piano owners don't exactly follow this mandate. But why should they? A piano's tune is really comprised of two different things. First, the pitch relative to A440. This is a measure of how sharp or flat, how high or low the pianos overall tune is compared to an ideal perfect pitch. But that is only half the story. A piano tuners job is not simply to tune every string to some perfect pitch, but to place every harmony in the piano in a perfectly balanced setting. This is the piano's harmony, or how pleasant does the piano sound to the human ear. We need to understand that these are two different things, one measuring a pianos pitch on a scale moving up and down, and one measuring it as if a photo being sharp and clear or fuzzy and granular.

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What many piano owners don't realize is that a piano will fall in pitch before it falls out of harmony. This is because when a piano is tuned all the harmonies are set, and the strings begin to stretch and fall together, in unison. Only after a significant amount of drop in pitch will a player be able to notice that the harmonies are beginning to slip. This is why many piano owners feel fine letting a piano go untuned for one, two, or twenty years before considering another tuning. Herein lies the wisdom of the '6 month' rule. Pianos should be tuned every six to twelve months in order to keep the harmonies of the piano set, and to keep the piano at pitch. The further a piano falls out of pitch, the harder it is to reset the pitch, and therefore the uglier that harmonies will sound. Without intentionally scaring anyone, I also want to point out that there is a treacherous 'point of no return'. This means that if a piano falls so far flat, it may be impossible or at least incredibly expensive to return it to a normal, pleasant sounding tune.

When considering the cost of a piano tuning, if a piano has not been tuned in more than two years, you are likely going to need additional work in order to get the piano back in a harmonious tune. This is a rule of thumb and no reasonable piano tuner will commit to a price without first measuring the piano's pitch and harmony. This rule works in most scenarios though.

How Often the Piano is Played

At the bottom of it there are two types of pianos, those that are played and those that are not played. Pianos that are played very often, such as concert pianos, teaching pianos, bar and venue pianos, and even personal pianos owned by a passionate individual. These pianos often require fine tunings more often than personal pianos played less than 2-3 hours per day. In most cases if you own a personal piano that lives in your house, how often you play the piano has little impact on how out of tune it will be or how often it should be tuned.

Stability of the Piano's Environment

What if I told you that one of the least important factors in the cost of a piano tuning is how often the piano is played? Given the last section this may come as expected to you. The most crucial factor in a piano maintaining it's tune is the stability of the piano's environment. Piano's like to live at 73 degrees with 40% relative humidity, otherwise known as room temperature. The more fluctuations there are in temperature, the more a piano will fall out of tune. It's just a fact. It doesn't even matter if a piano is played at all, or how high quality a piano it is. If you leave a 100k dollar steinway concert grand in a dusty garage for a year, it will most likely be very out of tune. By the way, never do that. Someone always wants a Steinway.

Pianos prefer to stay out of direct sunlight and upright pianos should be positioned back facing an interior wall, if possible. This simply reduces the amount of change in the environment but if your piano looks great by the window, I wouldn't fret. Just understand that it will have a slight affect on how much tune your piano will loose over a given period of time. Pianos regularly kept in high change, high temperature environments won't hold their tune as well and therefore will need to be tuned more often. Typically seasonal changes in temperature and humidity cause just about any piano to loose some tune in a six month period, and now the '6 month rule' should start to make some sense. Seasonal changes, compounded with how a piano is treated make up the bulk of how muc htune a piano will loose in a given period of time. This is also why regular piano tunings are highly recommended to keep a piano in top shape.

Piano Quality and History

It's no secret that all pianos are not made equal. Big brands like Steinway, Yamaha, Kawaii and such are known for making high quality machines that cost in the tens to the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Less known brands like Wurlitzer, Baldwin, Kholer and Campbell make reliable but not exquisite pianos that will often stand the test of time if they don't sound quite as heavenly. What does the quality and history of a piano have to do with the cost of tuning it?

There are really two ways the quality of a piano affects the cost to tune the piano. Firstly, higher quality pianos require less effort to tune because they hold their pitch more consistently, and the technology in the underlying body of the piano is more precise and easier to work with while tuning. That's only half the story though. The second effect is that higher quality pianos must be tuned more accurately in order to sound in tune. Because the tone of a really high end piano is so clear, it is actually easier for most people to hear small tweaks in the pitch and harmony meaning that those pianos must be tuned more carefully. These two factors kind of cancel each other out, and that is why often a 100k piano and a 1k piano cost the same to tune, assuming the same circumstances.

What about the history of a piano? Think of buying a used car, don't you want to know if it has flooded, or been in a major car accident? The same principle applies to a piano. If a piano is left in a steamy attick or garage for twenty years, it simply won't hold its tune as well as a piano that has lived under air conditioning it's whole life. All things being equal. Pianos require regular maintenance to avoid needing extensive work to restore and recondition. The more regularly a piano is cared for, the less costly it is to tune it and maintain it in general.

How Much Does It Cost To Tune a Piano?

Considering everything before us, let's answer the question, how much does it cost to tune a piano? From what we know, we need to consider what kind of piano we have. Is it a really nice piano, an average piano, or a more plain piano? How has the piano been cared for in the past? If it has received regular tunings we can expect it to require less work to tune. But don't let me intimidate you. I've successfully tuned pianos that haven't been tuned in 40+ years. I've brought pianos back from the dead and I can probably fix your piano too. Pianos are magical instruments that sometimes are passed from generation to generation. Your piano deserves care that makes sense for you and that is why Your Piano Service prides itself on offering fair prices, clear guidelines and honest advice.

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