Pianits are the only musics that doesn’t tune their instrumet. The piano is instrument with an exterior box, but it can be oppened carefully without problems (usually it doesn’t have screws), and either tuning it is doesn’t bring you to problems. As the other string instruments it has strings that are knoted to the pins. The diference with othe string instruments is htat it has many strings (between 220 and 240 strings), the strenght to turn the pins (it is bigger so it is needed a tuning hammer, and the register of the notes which is much wider (from the bass note A0, to the treble note C8).
Tune your piano is not a mistery, it doesn’t require any special hability except patience and concentration, and it has many advantages:
• Piano go untuned slower than other string instruments, but they untune when played and also with changes of humidity and temperature. Only with a pair of weeks of playing you can detect some notes aren’t as clear as they where just after tuning. For that reason pianos for concert or recording are tuned before the performance or the recording session. You can have your piano tuned with more frequency than the annual tuning of the technician.
• You don’t have to search and call the technician, and wait for schedule to have you piano tuned.
• The price of the tools is covered quickly, each time we tune the piano it equals to a tuning with a cost of 100€.
• You can learn a little more of you instrument, its operation and functioning, the muscal intervals, you can practice your hearing, and also patience. Even more, tunings are done better when you repeat its practice of moving the pins with a tuning hammer. First tunings it’s better to not give a lot of priority to accuracy.
• If you do more frequent tunings the piano will be closer to its pitch standard (usually A4 on 440Hz), and the tunings will be more stable and the piano will go less untuned.
• A piano tuned with the help of an electronic or digital device, than a piano thats hasn’t been tuned in months, especially if it hasn’t been tuned in years.
• Although you are not going to do a complet tuning of the piano, it is very useful to know how to open the piano and turn the pins, even if it is just to tune an unison (each key has one, two or three strings, that strings of a key are the unisons). What goes first untuned and are more noticeable are the unisons, there is always a key that is more noticeable, a key that goes untuned earlier, and it is useful to know how to tune that untuned unisons.
• Pianos are very resistent instruments (unless it is an old piano or a piano in bad condition) so it is very unusual to break anything when tuning. If something is desregulated or broken, the solutions aren’t complicated and a technician can repair them in your house. The other string instrumenticians bring often their instruments to a luthier, in the case of the piano, technician can regulate and repair the piano, however, if the piano is on the standard pitch and tuned all is resolved faster.
To tune your home piano you need few tools:
• Standard tunning hammer, with a star tip size number 2.
• 2 wedges to mute the strings so they don’t sound when pressing the key (for me the felter wedges are better than the plastic wedges).
• Plastic tweezers (they are useful to mute treble strings).
• A digital or electronic tuner.
• An A4 440Hz diapason can be useful.
The tuning hammer has a tip (with a hole where the pins are moved), the hole with a star shape is better because you have more positions to set the tuning hammer, square holes are uncomfortable. The are different sizes for the tip, the standard size which is suitable for all pianos is the size number 2, the hammer must get in the pin not loose not tight. Also, the best tuning hammers are long and rigid, the let move the pins with less strenght and more precision. The best tuning hammers are made of carbon fiber but they are expensive. Tuning hammers made of metal (they have a wood handle) have diverse flexibility, depending on their stiffness and longitude. Personally, extendable tuning hammers don’t contribute to tune the piano, if they are extended they bend easilier so they are used without extending. At first it is better to spend more in the tunning hammer and do not buy the cheapest, because a good hammer will help whentuning, and also the other tuning tools are cheap and it is no a great expense for tools that will be used often.
There are different options for digital and electronic tuners, or mobile apps. For example, electronic tuner Korg OT-120 is enough to tune and it is confortable, especially in the AUTO position where it detects the note sounding and it shows it directly with a deviation respect to the «exact» not, altough the precision is not excessive (1 cent), it is enough to tune in home. There are many apps for mobile: The app Strobe Tuner is not expensive and runs well, or the trial version of Tunelab is for free, both apps show the notes with a precision os decimals of cents, they also have the Autodetect option as the Korg. There are other apps like Entropy piano tuner that calculate the temperament and octave stretching with the input of the notes, but it is a bit unconfortable because it needs to enter all the notes before tuning. There are more mobile apps and computer programs, it is convenient to consult the advantages and disadvantages.
To buy tools or a tuning kit, it can be bought on internet stores, or even marketplaces like Ebay, Amazon or Aliexpress. In Barcelona there is the store Parts Piano. For a store that manufactures tools there is for example Jahn Pianoteile but you have to be registered before buying. If you also foresee to begin some regulation of the piano there are bigger kits with specific tools.
Tutorial to tune the piano with tuning tools:
• Open the piano panels and take out the fallboard. Take out the muffler (sordina), remember how it was to later mount it the same way. For grand pianos just open the lid and take out the music rack, the pins go exposed.
• Turn on the tuning app or the digital or electronic tuner. If it has the AUTO option it can be conveninent that it detects the note we play. Usually the note detection works perfectly.
• You can verify that the note A4 is calibrated with a diapason, that the device shows the note without deviaton or a deviaton below 1 cent. If you can verify other notes is also ok.
• Don’t mistake the tunning pin, put the hammer on the appropiate pin, try to do gentle movements when tuning, trying to not increase a lot the string tension, to not pass by the standard frequency of the note.
• When you have the tuning hammer on the pin, it is better to beging turning a little bit to the left, lowering the tension before increasing, in that way you can check you are on the right pin because it changes the sound of the note. It also helps the string because you move it from its rest position (there are some parts of the structure that provoque notches on the strings), that way the string will not break easily.
• To tune a string it is better to increase its frequency over where it will be (some cents, for example 3 or 4), and then decrease the frequency to its final place. That helps the tuning stability.
• For the first tuning it is not necessary to be very precise because you don’t have the practice with the tuning hammer. The unison (keys with 2 or 3 strings) must not make beats, but you don’t have to spend many time on each string. For the notes tuned with the app or device, diferences below 1 cent are ok.
• The method is to tune the central string of A4 with the device, muting the side strings (lateral strings) with the wedges. Once it is tuned, the lateral strings (unisons) are tuned by ear so they don’t make beats with the central strings. Yo can try to tune the three strings with the device, but unisons have a better sound tuned by ear. Unisons must not make beats, but you don’t habe to spend many time tuning them, if they are not tuned properly you can tune them later or in a later tuning.
• The same process is done to tune the temperament, for example the central octave, the notes between A4 and A4. You can also tune a couple of octaves with the device. You tune the central string of each key and then the side strings. When you finish tuning that notes, check that they sound more or less correctly playing intervals, if not repeat the tuning. For later tuning you can check fifths and thirds to be on your personal tate and watching the deviations. At first, if you tune just how the device shors it is ok.
• Extend the temperament to the rest of the keys of the piano. It is better to do it by ear, making octaves, the octaves must not do beats (for later tuning you can check fifths so the octaves are a little long). You can also check the frequencies with the device that has a range of almost all the keys (except the bass octave and the two treble). You can tune all with the device, but octaves soun better by ear because of string inharmonicity (but a pino entery tuned with the device sounds better than a untuned piano). To mute the trebble strings the plastc tweezers are confortable, to mute the side unison, or to place it between the central and the side string and tune the other side string.
• In case of tuning all the piano with the app or the device (the unisons are better by ear), it will be better to do a little stretched temperament and also stretch octaves, to compensate the inharmonicity, without goung over a curve of cents (some softwares like TuneLab already incorporates a initial devitation, it can be edited or deleted), for example stretch octaves 1 or 2 cents. Specifically bass and treble octaves aren’t detected by the device, as they are the notes where more inharmonicity interfere, it is very positive to tune them by ear.
• Once all the piano is tuned it is time to close it. For the upright place the muffler where it was and place the music rack and panels (be careful to not hit the mechanism). For the grand piano place the music rack and close the lid.
• When a piano has been recently tuned the octaves and the temperament are ok or well enough, so it is only needed to revise the unisons to make the piano sound tuned and you don’t expend many time.
• In case somenthing is broken in the mechanism or any string it is not a big problem, anything in the acoustic piano has a reparation and they are usually easy. Pianos that can bring problems (like breaking strings) are pianos with a low pitch (many years without tuning), for those pianos it is better to rise the string tension bit by bit and not suddenly. For pianos with reparation problems (like old pianos) you can call a technician after trying to tune it up.
For more information about piano tuning visit Piano tuning theory and technique.
The following video shows opening the piano and tuning the note A4 to 442Hz.
For offical information you can search on international associations Europiano and PTG.
For more information about piano technical skills visit cleaning, regulation, voicing, reparation and restoration of pianos.