Stop! Don’t buy that piano

Most people view pianos as being static, unchanging objects. They are likely to perceive a 50 year old piano as being no different than a 1 year old piano. If given the choice between a piano that costs $100 or one that costs $1,000, a person, with little or no knowledge of pianos might conclude that the two instruments are fundamentally identical, the only difference being price.

But that is far from the truth. Instead, think of pianos as being more like cars. I love antique cars. If I made up my mind to purchase one, I could go about it in one of two ways, I could find an antique car in excellent condition like this one.
Antique Buick

Or I could go out and find one that costs very little money like this one:
junk yard buick

The problem, however, is that the two are not equal.

The one that’s in excellent condition, speaks for itself. But the rust bucket needs an enormous amount of money, parts and labor before it can be driven again. I’m not a mechanic. I’m not able to work on cars myself. If I bought the car in the second picture, I would have to hire an automotive expert to do that work for me and I’d end up paying him as much or more than I would have spent on the car in the first image.

Likewise, most people are not piano technicians. If they purchased a run down, worn out piano, they will have to hire a piano tuner to fix it. And he may have to replace strings, hammers, dampers, felts, springs, straps, and many other parts inside the piano. This is going to be very expensive. You could have saved money by having purchased a piano that’s in excellent condition.

Of course, you may not have the experience to know if a piano is or is not in good condition, but you can hire a piano tuner to inspect the piano you’re interested in buying. He’ll be able to tell you everything that’s wrong with it.

Photo credit: flickr Creative Commons, 1956 Buick Series 60 Century 2 door Riviera Hardtop by Sicnag

Photo credit: flickr Creative Commons, among the dead by Mike Tewkesbury

How often Should Your Piano Be Tuned?

Your piano should be tuned once a year, even if you’re not using it. Here’s the reason why:

Pianos have about 1,400 moving parts. When a piano sits idle for a few years, those parts can become stuck from non-use. Imagine buying a car and then parking it in your garage for four or five years without using it. When the day comes that you do decide to drive it, that’s when you discover it won’t start. The battery is dead, the tires are flat and nothing seems to work. Now you’re facing a huge repair bill just to get it working again. The same is true for pianos.

If you paid good money to purchase your piano, you’ll definitely want to keep it maintained, even during the times you’re not using it. This is especially true for grand pianos because they can cost tens of thousands of dollars to purchase. Imagine spending $15,000 dollars or more for a Kawai grand piano and then letting it sit for five years without having it tuned. Then one day someone who knows how to play the piano visits your home, but when they sit down to play, they discover the keys are stuck, it’s horribly out of tune and they simply can’t play it. Now you’re embarrassed, and after your guests leave you’re going to feel an urgent need to get it fixed, but the repair is going to cost a lot of money. All of this could have been avoided by simply having the piano tuned once a year. Not only that, but you don’t even need to keep track of it because as a professional piano tuner, I can do all the record keeping for you and will call, write or email you two or three weeks in advance to let you know when it’s time to tune your piano.

By scheduling an annual tuning your piano can be maintained and kept in working condition from year to year. Furthermore, if you should ever decide to sell your piano, you’ll be able to get a lot more for it if it’s been maintained and is in good condition. No one wants to buy a broken down piano. By simply having it tuned and maintained once a year, you can keep your piano from deteriorating over time, even when it’s not being used.

But what about pianos that are played regularly, how often should they be tuned?

If you play your piano nearly every day you might consider getting it tuned twice a year because regular use and vigorous playing may require more frequent tuning. This is really a matter of trial and error because environment and your playing style will have an impact on how long your instrument remains in tune. Obviously there’s no reason to tune a piano that’s already in tune. If I discover that your piano is still in tune six months after I tuned it last, I’ll immediately let you know and we can adjust your tuning schedule.

In the case of churches where the heat/AC is cranked on during the weekend and then turned off during weekdays, pianos may need to be tuned more often.

How to Receive the Best Possible Tuning

To achieve the best tuning possible on your piano I need to hear tiny variations in pitch between two strings. That’s why a quiet house is very helpful to achieving a perfect tuning.

Getting your home to be very quiet can be a challenge, and a little noise here or there will not prevent me from being able to tune your piano. However I have found that some noises make it particularly difficult to tune a piano well.

Below is a list of the most common noises I encounter that make piano tuning difficult. Doing your best to prevent these noises will help me to give you the best and most accurate tuning.

Schedule your piano tuning now.

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Children yelling and screaming:
The most common noise that makes piano tuning very difficult is when children are yelling and screaming inside the home. I encounter this more often in homes where there are two or more elementary school age boys. Kids have voices that are naturally higher in pitch than adults. Often times these higher pitched voices will be near the pitch I’m trying to tune and so when children are yelling in the house I often am unable to hear the tone of the piano.

Having the TV on while I’m tuning the piano is another common noise I encounter that makes piano tuning difficult. There are so many different sounds and pitches coming from a typical TV show, not to mention songs in every commercial, that it makes hearing the tones of your piano very hard to do.

The Kitchen:
In most homes I visit, the piano is typically situated in or near the living room, and the living room is normally near the kitchen. Running the dish washer, blender, garbage disposal or other kitchen appliances can make it hard to hear your piano. Surprisingly, one of the most common noises I encounter in homes when I’m tuning pianos is that of running water. The home owner might decide to go wash dishes while I’m tuning the piano but the hiss of the sink faucet can interfere with my ability to hear the middle octaves of your piano. Likewise, the sound of a sizzling frying pan can also make it hard for me to tune your piano well. Along with the frying pan is the humm of the fan above the stove which can also make it hard to tune your piano.

The best tunings I’ve ever accomplished were in homes that were completely silent during my visit. I recognize that this is hard to do, especially in homes with children, but by keeping the TV off, staying out of the kitchen and encouraging the kids to be quiet will ensure the best possible and accurate tuning for your piano.