The following are questions we get from new customers who are shopping for a tuner-technician. If your question isn’t answered here, please don’t hesitate to call us at 530-924-4469.
What kind of pianos do you work on?
We work on most traditional pianos and the occasional Square Grands. We encounter Viennese and English Birdcage pianos but typically do not service them. We work and have specialized training on Baldwin, Bechstein, Hailun, Kawai, Mason & Hamlin, Pearl River, Schimmel, Steinway, and Yamaha pianos.
What is your service area?
Apollo Piano is based in Chico, CA. We cover the following areas:
NorthState, including, Yuba City, Oroville, Paradise, Orland, Red Bluff, Redding, and surrounding areas.
North Coast - Willits, Clear Lake, Mendocino, Fort Bragg, Eureka
Lake Tahoe Area
San Francisco Bay Area – North and East Bay
SoCal - Long Beach, San Pedro, Costa Mesa, etc.
What’s the difference between a tuner and a technician?
Before the advent of really good tools, advanced techniques, electronic tunings devices (ETDs), and regular conventions, meetings, and journals, it made some sense for tuners and technicians to be separate. In 2016, however, a “Pianoman” or “Pianowoman” should be familiar with tuning, repairs, adjustments, and be able to handle most service requests. There’s really no reason to only be a tuner. However, a rebuilder is a different classification, and some of those rebuilders are not actually tuners. Of course, there are tuner/technician/rebuilders, but regardless, the person who comes to your house for a tuning should be able to handle all but the most obscure mechanical issues.
Do you tune with a "machine" or by ear?
I tuned by ear for 30 years, but now I use my ears and an Electronic Tuning Device – EDT. First I use the ETD to measure inharmonicity and create a stretch tuning. I then check the intervals and make adjustments by ear, save the tuning I’ve created in the device, then I tune the piano. This method allows me to move quickly through areas which are difficult to hear due to construction or design flaws.
The gold standard tuning device – The Sanderson AccuTuner - is $1600, and takes several months and 100+ tunings to competently use. If you’d prefer, you can buy one the most expensive apps in Apple’s App Store –the Reyburn CyberTuner – for $999 This also takes technical mastery for proper use – think Photoshop – and is not for amateurs.
How long does it take to tune a piano?
This is a somewhat loaded question, but the simple answer is about 45 minutes. If it takes much longer for me, either the piano has a structural or mechanical problem with the action which hinders tuning efficiency, or it’s more than simply out of tune and in need of pitch adjustment. Pitch Raising or Lowering typically takes about 30-45 minutes with two full passes over the piano, followed by a fine-tuning.
Hence I do not simply “tune pianos,” but rather “Service" pianos. My appointments account for services beyond tuning so that I can leave your piano in optimal playing condition.
My last tuner took 90 minutes to tune my piano. Are you skipping something?
Good question, but the answer is no, I’m not skipping anything, I just move quickly, and concentrate on my work. However, in order for me to tune quickly, several things must happen:
1. Your piano must be in good shape. Notes which skip, get stuck or have other issues slow down the process.
2. I don’t mean to be rude, but I can't always talk while I tune.
3. It takes a conscious effort to move quickly and even requires special techniques to rest certain muscles in between notes.
4. My service sessions are usually two hours, but not all of that time is spent tuning. There are many other things in the piano which need adjusting, which tuning alone can not address.
Someone told me they could tune a piano in 20 minutes. Is this possible?
Yes; sort of:
1. A pitch raising can be performed in as little 15 minutes. This, however, is not a fine-tuning.
2. A touch-up tuning during the intermission of a concert can take just 10-20 minutes. This is simply because the piano was properly tuned just before the concert, so there’s not much to do besides cleaning up the few outliers.
What’s a “good” tuner? What do they do differently than other tuners?
This is a great question, and we get asked this a few times per month since we charge premium prices. Fortunately, it’s quantifiable.
1. Dedication, Interest, and an Intelligent Approach to their work: This should be obvious when you speak to them on the phone, in person, and watch them work. Does everything seem to have a place? Do they appear to have what they’re looking for? Are they able to quickly identify problems and solutions as if they’ve encountered them before?
2. They have the right training: Preferably at a school, but most have done apprenticeships, and some have taken correspondence courses backed up with convention courses. Most important is the desire to constantly improve. Once that’s gone, it’s game over.
3. Members, The Piano Technicians Guild: Good tuner/techs attend conventions, take courses, and pal around with other technicians to share information. Lone Wolfs who keep to themselves has a hard time keeping up, let alone improving.
4. They’re pretty busy: Bad news travels fast, and it’s hard for 1000 tuning customers per year to be wrong.
5. They are relatively fast: Less time spent turning a tuning pins causes less disturbance in the instrument leading to greater stability.
6. Offers extras: A good tuner/technician can make a few mechanical tweaks in 10-15 minutes, which require years of dedication and practice to master. These little tweaks will make your piano play better, last longer, and be more enjoyable to play.
7. Has the right tools: Investing in tools is expensive and time-consuming. Buying from small supply houses, many of whom custom make or import tools from Europe and Asia, allows technicians to perform work much more quickly, accurately, and efficiently. Most of those tools suppliers can only be found at conventions and in journals.
8. Understands the physics behind the sound: Good piano tuners should know a lot about the little-known topic of “inharmonicity.” If you’re bored and up for a “thrilling” conversation, ask your tuner to explain it to you in simple terms. If they can’t, they don’t get it, which is a problem. Inharmonicity makes it impossible to tune a piano mathematically perfectly, and forces tuners to compromise. The more a tuner understands the physics of sound, and the better tuned their ear is to inharmonicity, the better the tuner can be. And it’s such a big deal, a study was done on how piano tuner’s brains are affected by learning to listen to these sounds: The University College of London’s Study results were reported in the Journal of Neuroscience on how Piano Tuning Changes Brain Structure
How often should I have my piano tuned?
Manufacturers routinely recommend that you tune your piano two times per year. This should be a simple answer, but there are several “it depends” questions, all leading back to 1-4 times per year, or about 2x per year on average:
1. How old is your piano?
Newer pianos go out of tune more quickly and require progressively fewer tunings. For instance, we like to tune our new pianos 7 times before we deliver them to our customers, often within only 3 months. It really makes a difference.
2. How often is it played?
- Are you a teacher? Composer?
- Is it in a bar or restaurant?
- A recording studio or Concert Stage?
3. How well is the environment in which your piano resides controlled?
- Is the humidity and temperature a constant?
- Is it moved often?
- Do you have a DamppChaser System installed?
Regular professional, high-quality tunings improve stability, tone, and enjoyment. As your piano improves with regular tuning, they should be able to recommend a change in the frequency of your tunings.
I heard that pianos get better with age. Is this true?
The hypothesis is that tone of a piano – or any acoustic instrument for that matter - will improve with age. Here’s my non-scientific take on this:
Pianos are designed to sound a certain way and function optimally when the action is properly regulated and prepared, and the piano is in tune at the concert pitch of A-440. Furthermore, the wood used in acoustic instrument manufacturing is seasoned or aged so that it is optimal from day one, not year 50. A brand new piano is ideal. The 30+/- tons of tension on the strings, and over 1000 pounds of pressure pressing down onto the soundboard is also part of that design. The joints, adhesives, and bolts holding this all together are somewhat flexible, and keeping a piano in tune and playing well will allow an instrument to settle into its designed state. A piano which is was kept 100 cents low (a half step flat) may settle into nooks and crannies differently, and may never recover from 20 years of improper tuning. Hence the “feeling” that well played – and by definition well maintained – instruments improve with age. Perhaps it’s just better to say they get a bit seasoned.
I feel that a brand new, properly prepared piano will run circles around an old one of the same quality, but often I’m asked to compare a 75-year-old Steinway to a brand new entry-level Pearl River for instance. These are not fair comparisons for anyone, and it’s like comparing a 20-year-old Lexus to a brand new entry-level Kia. They are not Apple to Apple comparisons, but they are good questions.
One thing for certain is that if you play the piano every day for 20 years, you’ll get better at it, and that will make any instrument “sound better.”
Any perceived improvements in the piano are outweighed by the fact the pianos have a “shelf-life,” as the parts age simply being exposed to the atmosphere. Of course, playing the instrument wears them out as well, and many technicians are uncomfortable recommending regulation service.