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The Mysterious World of Piano Tuning

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Most of us own a number of items and use daily that we have little understanding of how they actually work. My fridge, DVR, and car transmission are certainly on that list for me. And most piano owners would also add to that list their piano. Oh sure, if you have a piano, you may have seen how the hammer strikes the string when you play a key. But as far as the other thousands of parts that make up a piano, who knows how they work together or how to take care of them?

The answer to that question is a piano technician, aka piano tuner. A well-trained technician is someone who can tune and repair your piano. He can also provide other services to keep your piano in its best shape, such as voicing and regulation. Hammers become grooved over time and use, changing the tone of the piano. A technician will restore the shape of  piano hammers and voice them to restore a good tone.

Another thing that happens gradually over time is that the action and touch of the instrument become sluggish. Many piano players don’t even realize how slowly their piano responds to them now until they play another piano.

A common repair requested of piano tuners is to fix a stuck or silent key. Often a pianist will call his tuner asking for a quote on a repair. This is a lot like calling your mechanic to ask why your car won’t start and how much will it cost to fix. Much like your car, a piano has thousands of moving parts. The reason a key won’t play may be because a pencil is stuck in the action or because a string has broken or a few hundred other reasons. A technician can’t tell what the issue is without examining the piano.

As far as the care of your piano, you should have it tuned regularly by a piano technician. For most pianos, this will be every six to twelve months, depending on the piano, the environment, and what it's used for. Going much longer, regardless of the amount of use your piano gets, is much like running your car too long without changing the oil. You can certainly do it, but the tuning stability will suffer, and regular maintenance cannot be performed. This regular maintenance is important in preventing problems that will be more difficult and expensive to deal with later on. Regular maintenance by a qualified technician is critical to the long term performance of your instrument.

One way to know about the training of a piano tuner is if he has the initials RPT after his name. This means that he is not only a member of the Piano Technicians Guild, an international organization, but he has passed the rigorous tests to become a Registered Piano Technician (RPT). The Guild has regular local and national meetings where members take classes, share information and learn more about the latest in piano technology. A technician will be able to tune, repair, voice, and regulate your piano. Beware the “tooner” who only tunes. Many of these well-meaning amateurs can do more harm than good, using harmful techniques and materials on your delicate instrument that could cause damage, and they often do not perform the regular maintenance required.

Hiring a technician on a regular basis is an investment, just as your initial purchase of a piano was. Since you cared enough to make the initial purchase of a piano, why wouldn’t you invest in this asset by keeping it maintained?

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