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Piano tuning – can you do it yourself?

I have been a professional piano tuner for decades, but I still remember well a time when I was a young pianist who knew nothing about tuning. I only knew that to satisfy my ears my piano needed to be tuned about four times a year, with the changing of the seasons, and that my parents could only afford one tuning a year.

In a recent popular movie, a teenage magician reminds his friends that all skilled people, even the greatest, started out as beginners. As long as you don’t have prohibitive physical limitations, you can learn, with time, study, and practice, to do anything yourself.

Can you tune your own piano? You can, as long as you have a good sense of pitch and are not deaf. However, you should never attempt to tune a piano string without fully understanding what you are about to do. There is a real danger of damaging your valuable piano or even seriously injuring yourself if you don’t do it correctly. You must have the proper tools and always wear safety glasses. A piano wire is a spring steel wire under high tension. If a piano string suddenly breaks, it could kick back and damage or destroy an eye.

Basically, an acoustic piano is considered a percussion instrument because the sounds are produced by a felt hammer striking the strings, causing them to vibrate at a frequency (or pitch) determined by their tension. Piano tuning is fundamentally a matter of carefully adjusting the tension of each string so that it vibrates at the correct pitch.

Structurally, a standard piano is a large harp with steel strings stretched over a cast iron frame. The moving mechanical parts of the piano, including the keys, hammers, and dampers, are called the “action” of the piano. The vibration of the strings is transferred to a wooden soundboard that resonates and amplifies the sound.

There are no fundamental structural differences between an upright (upright) piano and a grand piano beyond the orientation of the harp. Physically, longer strings produce a more precise and pleasing sound in terms of pitch. Grand pianos tend to have longer strings than upright pianos and therefore better tonal quality. Grand and upright pianos require different mechanisms of action.

The first necessary step you need to take before considering trying to tune your own piano is to have it inspected and serviced by an experienced professional piano technician. Do not attempt to tune any piano without having it checked by a professional first. It may sound like I’m trying to boost your local tuner’s business, but I’m not. This is a security issue. The first thing a technician does is check the instrument to make sure it doesn’t have dangerous structural flaws. Few tuners will play a piano that has a cracked or fractured harp. It happens very rarely, but a piano with structurally compromised cast iron could suffer what metallurgists call “catastrophic failure,” which basically means that the iron breaks very quickly with a release of all the energy from all those tightened steel strings. You don’t want to be near a piano, and especially not with your hands inside pulling on a string, if that were to happen.

Only a few tools are required:

  • piano tuning key
  • Set of felt and rubber dampers
  • Pitch Reference (Fingerboard or Electronic)

You should have a good quality tuning key (called a hammer) specifically designed to manipulate piano tuning pegs. Never try to move a piano tuning peg with any tool other than a piano tuning hammer. The best hammers have interchangeable heads. For personal use, it is not necessary to invest a lot in a professional hammer, but be careful not to save too much.

Only the lowest bass section of the piano has any loose strings. Typically, the treble, tenor, and treble bass sections are in groups of two or three strings per note that sound in unison (at the same pitch or tension). Each string has to be adjusted one at a time. Felt or rubber dampers are used to quiet (stop vibrating) the string(s) you are not adjusting.

Finally, you need a pitch reference, like a tuning fork or an electronic device that sounds at a constant frequency, like A-440, which means it sounds in the pitch of A above middle C, which has a frequency of 440 hertz. . (cycles per second).

Once you’ve checked out your piano and have the proper tools, you’re ready to learn piano tuning. You will find that it is a long and laborious process that requires a lot of patience. The biggest misconception beginners have is that “only a few” notes need to be tuned on their piano. This is rarely true. The moment a few notes fade, the entire piano will need to be adjusted. Also, strings can break when you change their tension, no matter how careful and gentle you are.

String breakage can be an individual tendency of certain pianos. Some instruments last 100 years with all their original strings; others may have two or three breaks with each tuning. I do not recommend that beginners try to replace broken piano strings. I was tuning for two years before I started replacing strings for customers.

The one key skill every piano tuner needs to master is called “peg tuning.” This is the process of turning each steel tuning pin without twisting it. It’s a bit hard to explain in a short article, but if you leave a twist or “twist” on the tuning pin (or worse, a bend), it will gradually return to its original shape and the note will soon disappear. detune again. To avoid this, tuners must develop the skill of “lifting” the peg instead of twisting it. This is critical for all piano tunings, but especially on newer pianos that have very “tight” pinblocks (the laminated plate that the tuning pegs sit on).

You shouldn’t be afraid to try to tune your own piano, but you should do some reading and research before setting up your first tuning peg. You may find that the effort required is not worth it to you, or you may find the process interesting enough that you decide to put in the time and effort to become a piano technician. That’s what happened to me.

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