Here at Millers Music we have been tuning and maintaining Pianos for over 150 years; whether you’re a teacher, concert hall, church, or have a family heirloom that needs checking over for a beginner we have experienced professional technicians who can service and tune your piano. You can book a tuning, service or repair here or call our team on 01223 354452.
Why do I need my piano tuned?
Getting your piano tuned is essential to keep it in top condition – think of it as an instrument MOT! When was the last time you had your piano tuned? If it was more than six months ago, chances are your instrument is in need of a check-up. As with all acoustic instruments, tuning your piano regularly is crucial if you want to maintain its performance and ensure it’s in good working order.
With more than 12,000 parts and predominantly made from wood and felt (as well as metal strings), changes in temperature and humidity inevitably affect the materials in the instrument. These changes can often be subtle and sometimes almost imperceptible to the person playing it – but they will gradually shift the piano out of tune.
“Tuning a piano maintains the pitch of it and ensures it’s working well,” says Chris Vesty, service manager at Millers Music. But there is much more to it than that, he explains. “It’s more of a regular check-up – almost like an MOT. We check that it’s working properly, but we also check to see if there are any potential problems that might come up and deal with them. Without regular checks, these issues can cause further problems down the line that require more work – and cost for the customer.”
The tuning process can uncover a number of issues, including keys that stick or don’t return correctly, hammers that don’t strike the strings properly and many other small but important issues. “There are thousands of moving parts in a piano and any one of them has a really fine tolerance – and that affects how smoothly a piano will play,” Chris says. “You’ve got to have everything absolutely precise.”
Millers Music’s piano technicians’ standard recommendation is that a piano is tuned every six months, at least for the first four years in a new location, although if an instrument is used more heavily tuning could be required more frequently.
The tuning process takes approximately one hour for Millers’ technicians and involves a combination of tuning by ear and using dedicated software.
The first step is to play each key on the piano to get an idea of the current tuning and to identify any buzzes, rattles or potential problems with the regulation of the instrument. The casing is then removed and the tuner gets to work, using the tuner app to set one of each of the three strings of the piano.
The software app listens to the piano first as the tuner plays a series of notes and works out which overtones and frequencies it is registering, and suggests a ‘tuning curve’ to where the instrument should be set. The tuner can then play a few notes to assess the ‘tuning curve’ and adjust to ear as they see fit. They then go through the notes and strings individually until the piano is fully tuned and any final adjustments made. The software’s tuning profile can then be saved for an individual customer’s piano so it can be replicated later. “If the customer then decides they want a tweak – for example, making the bass a bit boomier – it can be adjusted. But 99.9% of the time customers are very happy with the outcome.”
Although the latest technology is now used, every piano tuner brings their own experience and skill to the process, sometimes applying slightly different techniques to particular types of piano. Chris, 34, has been tuning pianos for Millers Music for two and half years and completed his Certificate of Musical Instrument Technology (CMIT) qualification in June 2017 after finishing a full-time, three-year course at the Lincoln College(’s) Newark Campus.
Senior piano technician David, 62, has been tuning pianos since he left school, and started his apprenticeship aged 16 in 1971 with Ken Stevens Music and Instruments (acquired by Millers in 1980). Over his career, he has tuned thousands of pianos – including one in which a hoard of gold coins was subsequently discovered.
Both men are passionate about their craft and continue to refine their skills, complementing them with courses from piano makers such as Bechstein, Yamaha and Kawai designed to optimise the tuning and maintenance of their particular range. As David says, “Even after more than 40 years in the business, I’m still learning. I can honestly say that every day you learn something new.”
Top 5 Tips from Chris and Dave
It is good to leave the piano a few inches from the wall
It is better for the soundboard and its tuning stability if you leave the piano standing out from the wall a little
Temperature and humidity are vital
Seasonal changes are inevitable, but try to keep the environment consistent - the pianos like it!
Avoid underfloor heating and direct heat sources
If you have the option, switch off underfloor heating in a room housing a piano, or use a protection mat to limit any damage. Keep the piano away from heat sources such as radiators.
Play the piano
Playing the piano is really good for it. If you regularly play an instrument, it will keep everything moving and the components working. It is good for the long-term tuning stability to keep the strings vibrating and stop dust settling - especially important on a grand piano. If it gets dust settling on strings this will attract moisture and rust the strings, affecting both the tuning and the overall condition of the instrument.
Don't try and tune the piano yourself
If you do it incorrectly you can unintentionally damage your piano. You need to move tuning pins as little as possible, so an untrained person twisting them to retune will loosen them and affect its stability.