How often should a piano be tuned?
This is a commonly asked question. My answer is based on four decades of experience tuning pianos in different environments throughout the United Sates.
The first place to start when answering this question is with the manufactures recommendation. Piano makers all recommend a basic tuning schedule of twice each year. There is good reason for this and I endorse the recommendation. The primary reason for this, in addition to the principles discussed in Piano Tuning Stability, is based on typical climatic change within a six month period in most geographic areas. In any given six month period climate will change from hot humid to cold and dry. This has a direct effect on movement and position of the soundboard, therefore affecting string tension.
Climate affects Piano Tuning
The principle is this: Relative humidity (air moisture) affects moisture content within the soundboard causing it to expand or contract; air conditioning and heating systems lower relative humidity within interior building spaces, warmer outside temperatures generally mean open windows and doors allowing outside humidity to entire indoors. In the Northeastern US, where most of my work is done, wintertime means low humidity and summertime mean high humidity. In low humidity the soundboard contracts allowing string tension to lower while high humidity causes expansion and an increase in string tension.
I am often asked if playing a piano is good or bad for the tuning. My answer is both:
Playing a piano moderately can help tuning stability
Moderate playing does allow the strings to adjust uniformly across all bearing points as the soundboard position changes. From tuning pin to hitch pin there are at least four bearing points causing the strings to fragment into sections of unequal tension. Playing the instrument regularly, as the hammer strikes the string, helps equalize this tension.
Heavy use does make a piano go out of tune
Heavy use, which would be defined as 90 minutes or more each day with aggressive heavy strikes, will cause the instrument to go out of tune. This is natural, however, a piano’s ability to maintain stability under heavy use denotes quality. As the hammer strikes the string the wire is driven upwards within its amplitude. As well, the string is stretch to the limits of its elasticity. This places a demand on the properties of the piano wire itself, the hitch points, and bearing points and bridges.
Piano Tuning Recommendations
Here’s a Piano Tuning schedule that I recommend:
- Piano used regularly for practice and leisurely play – Tune every 6 months
- Piano used for rehearsals and serious practice – Tune 3 times each year
- Piano used by professional for composition, performance practice, etc. – Tune every 6 weeks
- Piano used for performance or recording – Tune within 12 hours of use
- Piano on sabbatical – Tune 12 – 18 months to maintain
The above applies to a piano which has been on a regular schedule. Neglected instruments will require more frequent tuning until the instrument fully stabilizes.
If you have a piano in your home, school, studio, or organization following these recommendations will safeguard your investment and save money in the long run.
Nearly every day I see pianos discredited because they sound so bad. It is hard for the owner to recognized what they have until it is tuned. So many good old pianos have been replaced by lower quality new ones just because they were written off as being too far gone. Not so in most cases. In fact, as I end this writing I am leaving to finish a reconditioning job and tune a piano that has not had serviced for 30 years since the client’s children grew up. They are excited and so am I, because I know they will be delighted with how good their piano really is and that it is still just a “puppy” capable of providing enjoyment for generations to come.