Tuning a Piano

This page is an introduction to how to tune a piano. Why would I share this information when I get paid for piano services? Because the piano trade worldwide is in desperate need of more piano tuners, technicians and restorers. Good ones.

In London there are enough to go around, but in other parts of the country they are scarce, and in some countries there are none at all. Most pianos are left unattended to suffer years of neglect, so hopefully this text will give some one confidence to have a go.

I take no responsibility for injury or broken pianos as a result of this article. You tune pianos at your own risk. When you learn to tune pianos you’re highly likely to snap a few strings and break other components. This is a normal part of the learning process so please ensure that you practise on pianos that nobody cares about. Here in England you can pick these up for free second-hand.

Note that piano tuning is only a small part of piano maintenance – if you ever want to sell your services you must learn how to correctly repair and regulate a piano mechanism. There are so many different piano designs that it takes years to become efficient in every possible scenario. But don’t be overwhelmed by it all, if you’re keen enough you just start with something simple like tuning and go from there.

Tuning a piano is like tuning your guitar, the difference being that on a guitar you’ve got six strings to perfect whereas an average piano has about 230 strings and each string must be as perfect as possible. I tune my guitar almost every time I pick it up to play, whereas a good piano tuning should last for at least a year. There are normally 88 notes but about 230 strings because the treble strings have three strings each to add richness of tone and volume, the bass notes only having one or two thicker strings per note.

A440 is a common term amongst musicians – it means that middle A (ie. A4 on a standard keyboard) has been tuned to 440Hz, which means that air pressure waves pass a fixed point in space at a frequency of 440 waves per second. This is standard concert pitch to which most instruments in the western world are tuned.

Traditionally, European concert pitch is slightly higher at A=444Hz, but to most people this small difference is difficult to notice at all. My father used to tune the Steinway concert grand piano in the Portsmouth Guildhall where they had both English and European orchestras giving concerts on a regular basis, the English insisting on A440 and the Europeans on A444. The constant pitch-raising and pitch-lowering of the piano was potentially bad for the piano, and in the end my father had to put his foot down – from then on the piano was always kept at a compromise of A=442Hz to try and please both the British and the visitors.

The average domestic piano, however, is not tuned before every concert, but once or twice a year. For this reason when a piano hasn’t been tuned for several years, it’s probably gone flat so it’s customary for the tuner to leave it slightly sharp, expecting the piano to settle back into concert pitch over the next few months or years. For example, if the piano was found to be ¼ semitone below concert pitch, most piano tuners would try and leave it about 1-2 Hz sharp; if the piano was a whole tone flat then it might be raised to 4 Hz sharp. Yes there are many neglected pianos that are a whole tone flat!

What you will need

You will need a tuning lever (tuning wrench in North America), at least one wedge to mute strings, and an accurate reference of pitch such as a tuning fork, electronic tuning gadget or a smartphone tuning app. If you use electronics, do check with a tuning fork that they are accurate – correct tuning of the whole piano relies on your initial reference of pitch.

I recommend the Heckscher Piano Parts Company of Camden Town, London for every tool or component you’ll ever need. You can just walk in and buy stuff or alternatively they do ship world-wide. Note that quality piano tools are not cheap but they can last a whole lifetime, even several generations.

Tuning a piano – essential steps

  • Remove external panels.
  • Observe that in the mid-treble there are 3 strings to each note, whereas in the bass section there are only two or one.
  • In the treble you can stick a wedge between two of the strings to mute them so you only hear the third string. After the first string of a note has been tuned, the other two are tuned to the first string to create a perfect unison. The tool of choice is a pap’s wedge which is cheap.
  • Compare a mid-treble note to the pitch of a standard tuning fork (commonly top C or middle A).
  • Begin to tune other notes relative to the first note tuned. The most pure musical interval is the 8ve, followed by the 5th, the 4th then the major 3rd. So, for example, once you’ve tuned top C to a standard C tuning fork, you can use top C to tune middle C, then use middle C to tune the note one 5th above (middle G), then use middle G (G4) to tune G3, use Gto tune D4, use D4 to tune D3, use D3 to tune A3, and so on.
  • Check major third intervals. In my example the next note would be E, which you can compare with C to see if the interval of a 3rd also sounds right – this is the way tuners check their progress.
  • The sequence of 5ths is a cycle – in my example: C G D A E B F# C# G# D# A# F returning to C. If all the 5th’s were tuned perfectly, when you return to C you’d find you were very sharp. Let me pause the bullet points and explain…

When the first keyboard instruments were developed, this didn’t matter because people only played in two or three different keys and these instruments only had one or two ‘black notes’ per octave. Renaissance music typically modulated to the dominant and perhaps sub-dominant and then back to the tonic and finished – no compromise had to be made in tuning perfection.

Music became more complex through the C17-C18th and the other black notes were added so that keyboards had the full chromatic scale as we have today. A compromise had to be made and fifths were tuned ever so slightly flat (about ½Hz in the mid-treble) and major thirds sharp so that they sounded nice in every key. This is how I tune pianos, it’s called equal temperament and was first put to practical use five hundred years ago by an Italian lutenist and composer called Vincenzo Galilei (father of Galileo Galilei).

  • After the mid-treble section (known as the temperament) has been tuned, the rest of the piano can be tuned relative to the mid-treble using ascending and descending intervals of an 8ve.
  • It’s customary for a tuner to give the piano a quick checking over afterwards, to check 8ves especially round the bass-treble break-point, and to check that none of the unisons have moved.
  • Put the piano’s external panels back on. The panels trap the sound so soft and quiet pianos might benefit from leaving them off. However this leaves the fragile mechanism exposed to curious children, pets, coffee, beer, and leaves you with nowhere to stand your sheet music.

The first piano I tuned took my about five days. The second one took me one day but it was so bad that I had to tune it again four times over! It was a wooden-framed John Broadwood upright made in 1850 that had been left untuned for so long that it was five semitones flat. My dad wanted it a concert pitch and it made it in the end. After this thorough introduction to piano tuning I got faster and I now tune a piano in anything between one to four hours depending how bad it is to begin with.

Piano tuning is a great job, I heartily recommend it. The actual tuning part is very long and repetitive – you can’t talk to anyone or think about anything else for several hours, just deafen yourself by playing each note at maximum volume and point-blank range. But it’s the rest of the day that makes it so much fun.

The repairs and regulation are varied and more relaxed, the clients are interesting to meet and the best part is cycling around seeing different areas of the country. It’s not necessary to pollute the environment with a motor vehicle because the tools required for the average job could probably all be squeezed into my pockets. They key is to relax the schedule and not try to pack too many jobs into one day.

131 thoughts on “Tuning a Piano

    • If the piano is tuned regularly and kept in a stable environment that’s not too dry, it should take between one and two hours.

      However pianos are rarely kept in this way, so there are large deviations from this average – anything from one hour to two days for a more involved restoration.

    • …did I see the description say 1-4 hours for a proficient tuner – depending upon the degree of ‘out of tune-ness [and age etc.]’ the piano is ?

  1. Could one tune the entire middle treble section using an electronic tuner that displays an accurate frequency count for each note, similar to how one uses an electronic tuner to tune each string on a guitar? In that case, could you tune the piano strings in ascending order instead of fifths?

    Another question: I find it very difficult to compare the sound of notes at the lowest and highest bass and treble sections when tuning. Do you have any advice for those sections?

    • Hi Chris, it is possible but I doubt the end result will be as accurate as doing it by ear. However the chromatic tuner can be a good tool to boost your confidence – for example when tuning a note, after getting the correct reading on the device you can perfect it by ear.

      The only problem is you may have to re-calibrate it for different pianos as some pianos need to be left in tune but slightly sharp or flat on average, depending on the history of the instrument and the needs of the client.

      The top treble and lower bass are difficult to hear clearly, but not just for the piano tuner – the pianist and whoever’s listening will have equal trouble, so the important thing is not to be sure it’s mathematically perfect but instead to just listen to the overall sound as if it were music – tweak it until it just sounds pleasant. But don’t waste much time on these sections because they won’t get played much – I always leave them until last.

  2. I’m a professional pianist that does lessons and play in piano bars, weddings, etc… Very interested in becoming a piano tuner – I have looked at Home study Piano Tuning Cousres, but most seem USA based. I’m interested in knowing more – please could you contact me


    • Curious, I wonder if I was one of the subjects? I went to Holborn a few times to do brain scans and aural tests for a research project.

      With my lifestyle of tuning pianos and exploring London by bike I must have an interesting hippocampus!

  3. I’m 28 and french, I play piano since I’m child, self learned. I travel since 2 years around Europe, 60 000km so far, playing sometimes where I find a piano. Several times it was on very distuned one, nobody played it since long time, so 6 months ago I surfed on internet to see if I can tune a piano myself. I also met piano tuners in Estonia and France, I learn how to change a string in Warsaw. Step by step, I tuned some piano, slowly. Now, I already tuned 50 pianos so far, but still I feel unexperimented today, so I don’t ask money for now. I want to make it my lifestyle, nomadic piano tuner. I’m still young in this world, have to learn everything, and since I discover you today, I’m double inspired now. My biggest dream is to build a rain/water-proof piano to play it in streets and live like that. Thank you, and very hope to meet you. Guillaume Ohz on facebook.

  4. 1. Join PianoWorld, look on the Internet, where you will find stacks of advice.
    2. Go to your local library and borrow a book on piano tuning.
    3.If you have any mechanical interest or experience,e.g. motor car repair or other DIY you will find pianos fascinating.
    4. You may find that you have no time left to actually play!

    • Perhaps, I don’t know ^^ I’m alone :/ I’m in France, travelling around for now… I’m going to hitchhike through the Balkans…

  5. I’ve recently been given an old piano, this is the first piano I’ve ever owned and I’m 61 this year, quite exciting! I’ve repaired a broken hammer and with help from your page I’m tuning it, its mostly 1 – 1’1/5 semitones flat, hasn’t been tuned for a long time. I figured I can tune a guitar by ear so why not have a go.. The most difficult thing at the moment is blocking the strings to listen to one at a time, I bought a star tuning tool and some wedges but the mechanism is in the way so it’s difficult to use them, do you have any tips?

    • Hi John, you need a Papps tuning wedge, you can get one from Heckscher Piano Parts Company in Camden Town, London. They deliver internationally. See http://www.pianotrade.co.uk/category/tuning-tools

      Well done for giving it a try. Before raising the pitch, make sure you lubricate all points of friction on the strings near the top with motor or vegetable oil, and release the tension on each string before you increase it, to break all the bonds of corrosion and get the strings moving freely.

      It’s ok to go four or five semitones flat on each string before you go up to the desired pitch. (Only take one string down then up at a time, don’t lower the whole piano by four semitones!) This is especially important in the bass section as bass strings are more expensive to replace.

      I take no responsibility for broken strings/pianos/injury resulting from your DIY attempt, but good luck! Let us know how it goes.

    • PS. If it’s an old over-damped (aka ‘birdcage’) mechanism you won’t be able to see where you’re muting the strings. That doesn’t matter, you just pluck the strings with the Papps wedge instead and listen for the right place to put it. In this case the wedge can go in just above the hammer rail, just below the hammer heads.

      At some point I really must upload some photos…

  6. Thanks for the reply 🙂

    Good tip about the oil (like using graphite pencil on the nut of the guitar) I’ll do that before doing any more tuning and I’ll slacken before tightening in future. I’ve now got it in the ballpark apart from the top octave, which is taking more time as the pitch changes radically with a tiny movement of the tuning tool. Also I’ve noticed that when I go back to the notes I first tuned they are now all a little flat and need re-tuning, I guess this is normal as it would be on a guitar tuned from scratch. I’ve got a Cleartune app on the iPhone which I’ve set to “Equal Temperament” so I’m using that as a reference but really trying to do it by listening and hearing the beats. Quite a few hours spent on it today, I can see that 4 days could be quite easy!

  7. The piano is a “Regent”.
    I see the type of mute tool you’re suggesting, very neat, I just have the rubber wedges on wire that came with the tuning tool kit. I can see that on some of the notes I can work one in below the hammer though..

  8. I’ve put a couple of pics of using a Papps wedge on my Facebook page, as I had an enquiry from a tuner in Malaysia, who is not experienced with Overdamper actions. http://www.facebook.com/DavidBoycePiano#!/DavidBoycePiano?sk=messages_inbox&action=read&tid=id.173794936117254

    My A tuning fork turned up in Kuala Lumpur! I tuned a piano in Glasgow, left the fork in it (rare for me to lose a tool in that way), and the family moved and took the piano with them to Malaysia.

    • Thanks David, excellent photos on your Facebook pages, well worth a butcher’s – not just the piano work, also the stunning Scottish landscape!

      Do give us a shout if you ever visit London again

  9. A fascinating read for me and so many unwanted pianos about these days that you can,t give them away.Obviously the piano tuners do still find work.Great job.

    • Hi Luca,

      You should apply to as many piano shops and workshops as you can. Unfortunately it will be difficult to find a good apprenticeship.

      Alternatively you can buy some books on the subject and collect a few old pianos to start learning. All you need is a dry and relatively quiet space to work in, old pianos you can get for free. Good luck moving them around though!

      You also need a lot of patience and perseverance.

  10. HI, i have already started my apprenticeship to repair Pianos, but i am not confident that much to do tuning. the man who taught had travel to the States and left me with no tools to start with, no credit card to purchase tools online, no parts like strings, center pin & its remover just to mention a few. this are things that create fear in me and does not give me confidence to go on with the Job so i hang up on the job. What in your opinion can i do to get back to this job. I love to do this work because it is one of the amazing things that has ever happened to me. Thanks

  11. Thanks so much for your website. I would love to have a go at this! I’ve got a good ear and am quite practical – do you think I’m barmy to have a go at tuning my own small upright? It’s 7 octaves, not full height. (I totally appreciate your point about not taking responsibility for injury/broken pianos, of course.) Thanks. Mary

    • You might break a few strings while you’re learning, but this is normal. Ideally a few old pianos that no one cares about to practise on, you can pick these pages for free.

      Good luck!

  12. Hello,
    My name is jidee mike Am hearing impaired i have 2 piano’s, 1 Steinway grand piano, and 1 upright piano in my home in New York, and I have stop using them some years back since I heard my ear problem, So I have 2 nephew I want to pass it to because they have a music group So i want to service them, before giving them as gift, But they are relocating here in Same State with you soon so I want the piano’s to be a surprise so by the time they settle I will present it to them as a surprise, so it would be better for me to service the piano’s here, that’s why i am contacting you for the service, so can you do the servicing for me,
    It will have to be shipped from New York, to your shop if you can do the servicing for me as I’m currently recuperating from an ear surgery so i am paying with my credit card and i would have the piano’s shipped to your workshop for the servicing, let me have your info also i want a full service for it okay and i hope if i get it to you then you. Can estimate me the amount it will cost, so i need your tel number, fax number and your workshop address and your name.


    • Hi Jidee Mike,

      Sorry for the slow reply, I’m wintering abroad. Unfortunately I can’t help you with this job. You could try contacting my father’s piano workshop in Oxford via robertspianos.com as he is a specialist in Steinway restoration, he can also arrange shipping and storage.


    • I think it would be very unwise to tune a piano before and not after moving it. They typically go out of tune from a move.

  13. Hi, I’ve been tuning my piano for a few years now and have tuned a couple of pianos locally. Just tuned a piano newly rebuilt by a retired plumber and in the local pub. Had to raise it by two semitones to get to 440Hz and broke a string near the top, but replaced this without any difficulty. I really want to do this professionally – I love tuning pianos. Is there any way I can legitimately set myself up as a tuner without formal training? I am 53 and I’m not in a position to spend 3 yrs in Newark. I am also repairing free reed accordians, which includes tuning. Any advice would be welcome.

    • Hi Roger,

      I wrote you a long reply last week that seems to have disappeared, most annoying. Anyway well done for attempting the pitch raise.

      I don’t have any qualifications except my apprenticeship with Dad which is not certified in any way. Perhaps this reassures some of my clients but no one ever asks me for qualifications. Indeed I often get work through recommendations and the client has no idea who I am or where I learnt my trade.

      Something you could work towards is a membership to the Piano Tuner’s Association. They have strict ability tests for new members so if you pass them you’ve got a good well-rounded craft, and they’re the only official body in the UK. Testing and membership is cheap as chips and they include personal liability insurance. Visit their website for more information: pianotuner.org.uk.

      It’s important you find out what’s required for membership now because from the moment you fulfil their criteria it will be five years before you can present yourself for examination. Contact them, they’re friendly and helpful.

      But no need to wait five years, the world is desperate for good piano tuners. If you’re honest and thorough in your work it will build up. Even if you advertise in a heavily populated area, expect to do it as a hobby and then part time for a few years until the local client base and reputation builds up.

      To speed up the process I highly recommend getting yourself a garage or a dry workspace as a temporary workshop where you can aquire pianos for free or very cheaply and practise at your own leisure. If they turn out nice you can sell them cheaply or give them away.

      I also recommend the Piano Servicing book by Arthur Reblitz – my dad used it when he got started (just beware some of the nomenclature is exclusively American).

      You could also look for an apprenticeship but you’d have to ask far and wide and be very persistent and lucky because they’re few and far between.

      Which area are you working in? And just out of curiosity what trade do you come from?

  14. Hi Richard,
    Thank you for your reply, it is very encouraging and helpful. I hope you are enjoying Israel (I was there in 1979, but that’s another story).
    I’ll check out the piano tuners organisation – it looks like there are various routes in.
    I’ve held down various job. I started life as a draughtsman but also worked as a programmer and project manager for a long time. In the background however I’ve always dabbled with music, sang in choirs from the age of 7, played piano and various instruments, latterly button accordions. I don’t have perfect pitch but I have a very sensitive ear and find tuning intuitive and enjoyable. I recently tuned a 3 voice accordion and have another 5 accordion projects on the go. When I get the chance I’ll tune pianos too, for instance old pianos that have sat unused for a while, like the one in the pub and also my neighbour’s heirloom piano.
    I am based just north of Andover, Hants, an hour’s drive south of Oxford.

    • Dad’s old piano shop in Hampshire is still going under the name ‘Venn Pianos’ on Albert Road in Portsmouth. Steve Venn used to work for my dad and he’s still there. You’re welcome to visit, also dad’s shops and workshops in Oxford, see robertspianos.com

      It sounds like you have the skills and the patience… it’s just a matter of time and experience. Let me know how you get on!

  15. it’s muppetts like you that keep real fully trained (at an acredited college) piano tuners constant work with your bumbling, cowboy approach to tuning a piano. . if you want to destroy a beautifully tuned piano with a (at best) a novice’s attitude and approach with an electronic POS, then go right ahead. Otherwise use a small amount of common sense and get a proffesional (who knows what they are doing) to tune it.

    • I teach people about piano tuning over the internet. There are a lot of videos and sites with misinformation and confusing descriptions, but that doesn’t mean all the content on the net is useless.

      Also, you can’t learn how to tune a piano just from browsing the internet, but you also can’t learn how to tune a piano by just:
      Talking to a tuner
      or just reading books
      or just practising on your own
      or just going to conventions
      or just taking classes
      or just shadowing a tuner
      or just…you get the point.

      The internet can be a valuable resource for knowledge, but you have to choose your sites wisely.

    • Dear M Goddard,

      I learnt how to tune my own piano because I was always so unimpressed with the professional (note, not proffesional) ‘accredited’ one that I employed. He charged a fortune and did a very poor job that didn’t last a week. That was 20 years ago. I tune pianos now as a hobby for my friends and family and local church.

      The church pianos are now used for music exams and after a visit by the chief executive of the VCM the church was recommended to be upgraded to a diploma centre as the pianos were considered to be maintained to a very high standard.

      Prior to me taking on the job, the pianos were all flat and poorly tuned – it certainly wasn’t equal temperament and the pianos couldn’t be played with any other instrument without it sounding awful! The tuner was too ‘professional’ to take the time to do a proper job, never doing any proper regulating etc – complaining that the pianos were dirty and the pins were too loose (both issues very easily fixed!) – but still charging a fortune.

      I have cleaned\replaced strings, tuning pins, centre pins, flanges and re-bushed keys, fitted new damper felts and hammers, voiced hammers, fitted new key tops and regulated actions on numerous pianos – all to a very high standard. All self taught!

      I am a very capable and diligent person and I regard pianos as a living mechanism. I play too, to grade 8 standard and regularly in public. In my opinion, if you can’t play you will never be able to have the sensitivity to make a good and musical tuner – that’s certainly been my experience of many professionally ‘accredited’ tuners. I am certainly no Muppet – (Note not muppett!).

        • Indeed yes. There is no reason why an intelligent DIY person should not develop a skill-set, by diligent study and practice. Sufficient anyway to tune his or her own piano nicely, even if it takes a long time.

          This leads me to think about piano training in general:

          The old model of factory apprenticeships is gone, at least in the UK. There are no piano factories left (just some high-end artisan piano making) therefore no factory apprenticeships. Nor do we nowadays have the large piano dealers with their own extensive rebuilding worships that formerly existed. So no apprenticeships there either. Piano-related businesses are mostly small businesses which cannot afford trainees/apprentices.

          That leaves college courses as a mode of training. Six UK piano technology courses in the 1980s, have dwindled down to one; the course at Newark. And knowing Further Education colleges as I do, if numbers are low for a couple of years, it too will probably close.

          In the USA the situation is similar. The North Bennett Street school has a superb reputation, but undertaking a course there is EXPENSIVE. Some other courses have closed down in recent years. And in Canada, the Ontario course is now closed. There is still a little piano manufacturing in the USA – notably Steinway, of course, and Charles Walter Pianos. But nothing like the former scale.

          So, why shouldn’t a person with an intelligent interest, and good technical aptitude, self-educate? Youtube videos need to be carefully chosen, mind you, to separate the wheat from the chaff. I wouldn’t pay much attention to the guy who says you can tune a piano with a radiator key!

  16. Thanks for your kind words. One of the problems in the UK now is that there is only one place to gain formal qualification (Newark). In the case of free reed instruments there is nowhere in the UK to get formal training (i repair these and tune them) and I can tell you they are much more complicated to tune than a plain old piano. Of course you have your interests to protect, because you can’t stand any competition. And what’s more I’d probably take your comments more seriously about professionalism if you knew how to spell it. And you can’t even spell muppet either, so I wouldn’t let you near my piano.
    You will also note that the blog owner received no formal training, so your comment applies to him as well. Anyway, as I said, thanks for you encouraging words.

  17. Ah, Mr Martyn Goddard! My great grandfather used to tune pianos and organs in your area. You’d better watch out, I’ll be in Devon myself this Summer with my ‘bumbling, cowboy approach to tuning a piano’!

    Jokes aside, I do agree with you that a well-tuned modern piano will not usually benefit from the amateur hand. However I specialise in restoring old, neglected pianos that are semitones flat and so out of tune that it’s difficult to recognise a melody. These pianos are often acquired for free, and a really keen amateur, aware of the risks, might be forgiven for learning on the job.

    In fact I have known professional musicians who learned to tune on their own piano, even keeping modern Yamahas bang in tune.

    If there were a surplus of piano tuners I would agree with you, however there is a serious shortfall in number, availability, skill and professionalism of piano tuners and technicians in this country, and especially abroad. I have seen some towns in my travels where the only ‘piano tuner’ has charged an arm and a leg to make a piano worse.

    Because of this I believe that keen and honest amateurs, if they have a good ear, tons of patience, and deft fingers, should be encouraged to learn on the job, but start with old pianos that belong to them. Not in a client’s house!

  18. I have a question. If we were to adopt the 432 A tuning as standard, other than giving you more employment, what would be the overall effect? Was there a sound scientific reason they set 440 Hz as the standard…thanks, Will

    • I’m training currently in the US to tune pianos, and I’m also a professional violinist. The answer–as I understand it–is that the lower tension will change the sound of the piano, just as it would a violin.

      An instrument with lower tension will have less volume and brilliance, and may even have more inharmonicity. In the case of the violin, the sound will be darker, softer, and with a longer decay time, though with a faster response. Raising the pitch will add brilliance and volume, but at the cost of response and a shorter decay. It’s a similar situation with a piano, as one can see the same effects with a change in down bearing force. Modern pianos are designed to sound their best at about 440.

      • Yes when it’s more than two semitones flat you can really hear the difference after bringing it back to concert pitch. As you say more brightness and punch and sometimes even the damping works better. I recently raised an 1867 wooden-framed Pleyel up six semitones – that one really brightened up!

  19. Hi,
    Is it always possible to tune a piano? We have a piano where all notes sound when pressed. Some notes do however sound out of tune. It is only used for family entertainment. A friend told us it was 5 pitches out so don’t even bother trying to get it tuned as it was impossible.
    Is this correct? We are not looking for perfection but would like to get the piano sounding nicely again.
    Would really appreciate some expert advice.
    Many Thanks

    • I have raised 150-year-old pianos more than six semitones up to concert pitch and they work just fine. Sadly, most piano tuners will tell you that it’s not worth it. But in most cases it is worth it, in half a day or maybe a day’s work even a piano that sounds disastrous can be tuned and made to sound sweet again. I would have to inspect the piano to confirm this.

  20. Ah ha! Advice from a robot on how to let a robot write for you, Douglas Adams would have loved this stuff 🙂
    The piano is sounding good btw, still some work to be done, repairs and tuning, I have the parts and tools just need to find the time.

    • Thanks John for pointing that spam comment out, must have slipped through the net. I’ve deleted it now. I get so many spam comments these days, such an annoying and selfish activity, wish there was a way to send them a nasty computer virus.

      Well done on the piano do ask or send photos if you get stuck.

  21. Hi, I’ve been asked to tune an ancient pub piano and it has a sort of frame thing that makes it hard to get at the strings behind, unlike other (old, valueless) pianos that I’ve tuned (except mine, which is a Collard and Collard but none the worse for wear after I’ve tuned it).
    Can you offer any advice on how to tune with this mechanism (apart from being called a muppet as above and being told to leave it to the pros).

    • It sounds like it might be an overdamper design like mine. Richard gave me some advice in June 2013, you’ll find it back up the page. You basically need a pabst tuning wedge to reach in and mute the strings. That whole “birdcage” mechanism lifts off quite easily with a few screws or catches undone and I did this to clean everything up and repair a few broken parts.

  22. Hi, thanks. Ah it was here that i read about it. I’ll check back up the comments to find it. I’ll let you know how I get on.

  23. I used to buy piano strings from Hecksers,they have closed down.Is there a alternative supplier in Camden town?Would you have contact number for Mr Hecksher please?

    • Hi Shobhan, unfortunately I don’t know any other piano string suppliers in London. Heckscher’s have become mail order based in Tring. The only place you can still show up in person and buy piano parts is Fletcher & Newman in Kent. Both companies have websites which are easy to find if you Google them

  24. Hi Richard,
    I was reading happily this blog this morning, not paying attention to the name of the author and then the mention of the bike brought a smile and recognition!
    Thank you for your advice – my ancient Weber got badly out of tune in a few top strings and as I can’t afford asking you back every time for a minor adjustment, I thought of correcting it by myself. Fingers crossed!
    Would you be able to advise on adjusting the dampers? Some of them stopped dropping down properly and there’s a long reverberation on some keys.

    Warmest regards.

  25. Hi Richard

    A very interesting page you have! I like the ethical side you have managed to add into this.
    I am currently training to be a piano tuner. My father is also a piano tuner in North Hertfordshire and I am living in Chester and as I am learning from him it is a long process, one that I have only really just started. I am trying as part of it to learn the trade as well and like you say in your site there are fewer people coming into the trade nowadays so I’m keen to be a part of keeping it going. I guess I just wanted to introduce myself as someone in their late 20’s taking it on 🙂


    • Hi Ella that’s great news, we need all the help we can get to bring all the old pianos back to life before they get scrapped!

      I’m now living with my girlfriend in Machynlleth, Wales, but still working in London now and then

  26. Hello RIchard, not been in touch with you for a while. How are things with you? I still think your living experiment could be a bestseller, published as a little illustarted volume!
    I’m having a non-piano adventure of my own, having gone back into teaching, and currently living on the edge of the desert http://www.facebook.com/DavidBoycePiano
    I don’t have your email address on this laptop.

    Kind regards,


    • Thanks David! Good to hear from you. Yes a book is still very much on the cards but first (towards the end of this year) I hope to update the blog with two years of piano misadventures in Britain and Argentina and a religious quest in Israel. I’m living with my girlfriend in mid-Wales at the moment.

      Facebook desert photos look interesting where is it? What are you up to?

    • Wow that’s quite a change from Scotland! It comes as a surprise to hear that you’re out there, I hope you’re enjoying it. Have you taken your piano tuning tools? Seen any pianos?

      People and pianos are few and far between in mid-Wales but it seems that piano tuners are even scarcer so I have found some work, although it doesn’t pay like London.

      Thanks for the encouragement about the book, I do feel there are fun stories and some import points to make, this stage of my life is evolving into some major personal conclusions that would round off such a work quite nicely.

  27. No pianos in KSA, Richard. No concerts, no theatres, no cinemas. There may, somewhere, be some pianos in private ownership, but very few, I’d think, in the whole country of 30 million inhabitants.
    I took the decision to seek a way back into teaching, when I found that it just wasn’t proving possible to build up the piano work into a decent living in Scotland at the moment. Since the further education sector, where I formerly worked, is still contracting (some 2000 jobs gone in the last 4 years, I read), there is very little likelihood of me ever getting back into FE teaching in Scotland. I am qualified and Registered to teach in Secondary too, but my age is against me, I think. An opportunity came up with Lincoln College International to teach in KSA, and following an interview in London last September, I was offered a job. Lincoln college group is co-incidentally the parent now of Newark College, the last FE college in the UK that offers a piano technology course.

    I think your book could do well. You are able to offer a good photographic record as well as a written one, of your adventures, and you have the moral/philosophical reflective aspect to the whole thing.

  28. Hello Richard. Greetings from one of the other Londons, Canada to be exact. Another “Muppet ” (too funny), who has ordered a tuning hammer and needs to get his Heintzman up about 18 cents across the board. I am also a muppet electronics tech with a decent studio mic with a flat frequency response. I’m not quite understanding the equal temperament thing and was wondering, since I have the gear to accurately count hz, whether there is a comprehensive frequency vs key chart around, that I could use ? I do recollect reading that this temperament issue and adjustment can vary from one piano to the next. Thank you so much for the blog.

  29. CM, a frequency chart for all 88 notes on the piano won’t cut it, I’m afraid. Your best bet I think would be to download a free trial version of the Tunelab piano tuning software and try that. http://www.tunelab-world.com

    Much more than half the battle, is mastering the physical aspects of using the tuning lever. Start practicing with unisons (the three strings of one note).

    Equal temperament has its theoretical set of pitches, but how each piano behaves and sounds good, is individual. Tuning is part arithmetic and part flower-arranging.

    Best regards,

    David Boyce

    • Thanks David. Your answer is predictable given my other readings. I was just going to get everything to the theoretical point and then look at the dynamic / temperament tweaking. Thanks for the link to the software. I saw another product advertised “Dirks Piano Tuner” at at dirksprojects.nl
      Unfortunately neither TuneLab or Dirks tell me what the limitations of the software are on these demo products and I am loathe to start installing stuff on my computer until I get a prewarning of what the inevitable catches are. Perhaps you can help me with the TuneLab by telling me what the hook is on the offered TuneLab Pro download ? Cheers.

  30. The Tunelab website has this information regarding the trial use of the software:

    “Initially TuneLab Piano Tuner runs in free-trial mode. In this mode it has all the functions and abilities as the paid mode. But it will display a message about free-trial mode for two minutes every 14 notes. This is the only restriction in free-trial mode. In order to eliminate these messages and pauses you can license your Android device for $300 USD”.

    In practice, especially while you are learning, the two-minute pauses are not that much of a hindrance.

    Robert Scott who invented Tunelab is a nice guy and it’s an excellent product..

  31. Awesome, thanks. I must have overlooked the note. I’ll download it to my PC when my hammer comes in. I have a nice studio mic with a flat frequency response, if called upon. Cheers.

  32. I have a Yamaha CP80 (acoustic electric grand piano) which has really benefited from your tuning advice. By the way, your approach to tuning brought back great memories of being coached how to tune a piano as a young lad by our local piano tuner. Like you, he was never afraid to share his knowledge and always delighted us by putting the old girl (My Great -Grandmother’s Player Piano, 1918 vintage) thru its paces once the annual tune-up was completed….

    Karl (across the pond….Canada)

  33. Hi Richard, glad to come across your website. I just bought an old piano too from the 1850s and it’s not too bad, all the keys seem to be in tune with the concert pitch but most will need a little tuning. So I’m going to try to tune this myself (first-timer) after learning from the web.

    But, I think about 5 keys are approx. 1 note away. What advice would you have for me to avoid breaking these 5 strings? I’ve read the comments above where you suggested adding motor oil to the pin, but I’m not exactly sure what you mean. Should I oil all over the pin, and is it OK for the strings to get in contact with oil?

    Thanks for sharing.


  34. I think a tiny shot of WD40 would be better. I think he meant to penetrate the mating surface of pin to tapered hole, in case of corrosion. No need to get any on the strings. I just tuned a Heintzman using TuneLab Pro and the result was awesome…. and I mean awesome. I bought a very affordable Konig and Meyer hammer and am pleased with it.

  35. Eek! Do NOT put any oil anywhere near tuning pins. You will make the piano untunable if you do.

    Where you might usefully apply a tiny amount of lubricant (Protek CLP is favoured) is at string bearing points – all the points where strings pass over and under and around metal things they are in contact with. We are talking about tiny amounts here, very carefully applied. This can help to avoid string breakage. No lubricant must get onto the coils of the wound bass strings.

    However, 1850s is very old – more than twice the normal lifespan of a piano. You have to consider seriously that it may be better to burn the piano. If it is a Spring & Loop upright (see the Birdcage Pianos page of my website), definitely better to burn it.

    • Yes it sounded odd to me to lubricate the pins, hence I suggested, if he was going to do that, to use WD40 as it is mostly solvent based. I guess he was reading ” Before raising the pitch, make sure you lubricate all points of friction on the strings near the top with motor or vegetable oil” as lubricating the pins. That’s what I thought too but did not do on my piano. I’m curious to know whether these pins are mating on wood or metal. I have a heintzman with metal soundboard, but I’m not sure what is behind it. A wood panel with tapered holes ?

  36. Oh dear, what have I done?! David is absolutely right NO LUBRICANTS ON TUNING PINS please! Thank you David for getting the urgent message across, I’ve been a bit slow on the replies lately. This point can’t be stressed enough:


    We want a lot of friction between the tuning pins and the wrest plank (the wood they go into) to hold the strings in tune – lubrication would achieve quite the opposite and it may become impossible to tune the piano.

    The only time the tuning pins are ever lubricated is in manufacturing or when changing tuning pins: before they are put into the piano for the first time a little rub of French chalk ensures the pin will turn smoothly when tuning. But oils or other wet lubricants could be disastrous!

    If you get oil into the wrest plank it might need replacing which costs a good £4000 and it’s difficult to find a workshop that will do it unless you have a Steinway or such like. This is because changing the wrest plank involves taking all the strings off and possibly also detaching the frame from the soundboard/bridge assembly to gain access. The original wrest plank can then be sent to Germany for copying using specially selected well-seasoned hardwood of the highest quality that will then be extensively cross-laminated to give stability to the piano tuning under various environmental conditions. This plank must then be drilled precisely with over two hundred holes for the tuning pins in exactly the same positions as the original, then the whole piano reassembled (usually with new strings and pins). The moral of the story is to look after one’s wrest plank.

    It would be difficult to argue that the wrest plank is the most important part of the piano but it does receive the most attention when discussing old pianos in Britain because a shrunken wrest plank is the most common reason for throwing an old piano away. Excessive warmth and dryness can shrink a wrest plank, for example a piano by a radiator or in a conservatory. It’s no use having a lovely soundboard if the piano will never stay in tune! See my page on ‘piano care’ for photos of a wrest plank.

    So why did I mention oil? A tiny amount of string lubrication is advisable prior to significantly raising the pitch of ancient pianos like the one in question. NOT ON THE TUNING PINS! I’m sorry to shout again but that could ruin a good piano forever. And this is not normally necessary for new strings (new in piano speak being less than 30 years old) where the piano doesn’t need to go up in pitch.

    It is the strings that might benefit from a drop of oil – NOT THE WHOLE STRING, just the point where the string passes over or under the frame and/or pressure bar, the end of the string that’s nearest the tuning pin. There is no need to lubricate the other end of the string where it passes over the bridge, on the contrary the oil could even damage the bridge.

    I use a syringe to put a tiny drop of oil where the string touches the frame and pressure bar near the tuning pin end. This is so that the string can slide freely over the frame, thus turning the tuning pin will increase the tension of the whole string instead of snapping it. If you still sense that the strings are likely to snap then wind each string down at least five semitones, to free it up before going up to the desired pitch. It sounds a bit dramatic but it’s better than snapping strings. Do this with all the bass notes when raising the pitch of an old piano because the bass strings are expensive to replace if you snap them: they’re not standard and will cost about £30 each to have a piano stringmaker copy the original properly.

    On some pianos the string passes through a little hole called an agraf into which you can put a droplet of oil. However an 1850 upright piano will not have these or a pressure bar: the strings will probably pass over some wood around a little metal pin near the tuning pins which I will call the ‘top bridge pin’ (I don’t know the proper name for it). Before you read on please do not confuse ‘tuning pin’ with ‘top bridge pin’. A small drop of oil can be applied with a syringe where the top bridge pin meets the string (not the tuning pin; the top bridge pin!). Try not to get much oil on the wood because it can swell.

    My favourite is motor oil because it’s long lasting and it’s viscous enough to prevent any drops flowing down the strings. Avoid this because if the oil flows down to the dampers they will get sticky and stop working properly. The tiniest droplet is all you need and it should stay where the string touches the frame or pin. I have tried the piano centre-pin lubricant ‘Protek’ for this few times with poor results: it can make the strings a bit jumpy and difficult to tune – the string moves over the fiction point in little jumps. I find motor oil gives much smoother movement for accurate tuning, so I reserve Protek for all the delicate little wooden hinges that it was designed for. Instead of motor oil on the string I also use vegetable oils or other synthetics like ‘3-in-1’.

    DISCLAIMER: The first time you pitch raise and tune an old piano you are likely to snap several strings which can be expensive to replace. (TIP for beginners: double-check that you are turning the right pin and listening to the right string and aiming for the right pitch to avoid nasty surprises). You can also pierce your skin on the sharp snapped ends, and on some underdamped grand pianos a string snapping right at the tail end can whip you in the face and give you a nasty gash. There is also repetitive strain injury from sitting in the same position with one arm up for so many hours per day. I take no liability for injury to yourself or your pianos.

    Also note that the first time you pitch-raise and tune it could take anything from a day to a week to get right. Doing this in a hurry or under stressful conditions is bound to end in disaster.

    Attn. CM: I have tuned Heinzman and they all had wooden wrest planks and soundboards. Soundboards are usually spruce to amplify vibrations effectively. There was one experimental model (I think made by Broadwood, or Erard?) in the late C19th that made the wrest ‘plank’ out of metal, ie. the tuning pins screwed into metal thread. However if I remember rightly it was impossible to tune accurately because there was no give in the wrest ‘plank’ to allow for the more subtle movements of the tuning lever, and if the tuning pins went loose what could you do? Apart from that failed experiment, the wrest plank has always been made of hardwood but it’s often covered in a sheet of brass or steel, perhaps meant to protect the wood or maybe just for decorative purposes.

    And finally I would like to challenge the idea of an average lifespan of a piano being 75 years. It is true that ancient pianos can be more fragile to work on and that some experiments in piano mechanism (like the aforementioned ‘spring and loop’) are incredibly frustrating to work with. However the rate at which pianos age varies widely depending on the piano and on the environment it has been kept in. I have tuned an 1870 Hopkinson which was in mint condition and working reliably in contrast to a 1980’s ‘Gold Star’ piano that was falling apart already. Last week I tuned and serviced an 1818 Broadwood square piano which was still playing alright. For such work one needs to budget several extra hours because there will be unexpected problems, and work very slowly and carefully. I agree that the modern instrument is far superior in design but many people appreciate the soft tone and historical quirks of a vintage instrument. If I had a house my ideal pianos would be a Blüthner patent 6’6″ grand from the period 1890-1920, or for uprights a 1920’s George Rogers and an 1890’s Broadwood cottage piano (straight strung ‘birdcage’ overdamper). I would use the different pianos for different music in different settings depending on the mood. For example the Broadwood cottage piano is useless in a bar because it’s too quiet, but is perfect for a bedroom piano or a typical small sitting room. It has a lovely soft, woody and friendly tone and it damps quite well if properly adjusted.

  37. Hello, do your trips ever take you to Swindon as I have a piano that’s sounding more honky tonk every day.

  38. Heintzman ’56 Upright: Tunelab Pro is driving me batty. I hit a note with only one string unmuted and it does about a 10 or even 15 cent dance around the note I am trying to tune to, on either side of it. Those squares that are supposed to stay still when you are on the note, never do. It’s always flat or sharp.The aftertones, that start in less than a second after the string is struck, seem to be what drags the graph all over the place. I also don’t know how precise I have to be. I was hoping for +/- 2 cents. Does anyone know how to get the strings to stop resonating all over the place or how to stabilize Tunelab’s detection process ? Also my Konig and Meyer hammer is flopping around quite a bit. Maybe about 30 degrees. Is this normal ? Should it not it snugly on the keys ? I find this program to be particularly ineffective on the extreme octave, especially the low notes.. I don’t hear anyone ekse, even the pros making these complaints though. Maybe I don’t have it set up correctly ?? Any advice or help is appreciated.

  39. Yet another issue I’m having tuning my Heintzman upright : I thought it sounded pretty good after using Tunelab Pro. But, I’m a beginning piano student who plays about the middle of the piano, rarely with left and right hand more than a couple octaves apart. A friend comes over, who plays much better and the octave spread is maybe 4 or 5 and it just sounded horribly out of tune and the friend concurred. Now I have been researching about equal temperament tuning, which Tunelab calculates first. I don’t really understand this theory, especially as a guitar player who tunes his instrument and carries on. The thing with this ‘stretching’ of the extreme octaves is particularly puzzling. How does that not result in these extreme octaves not sounding out of tune with the central octaves ? I really don’t understand this at all and am wondering if this octave stretching is what is causing the dissonant sound only when one plays their hands wide apart on the piano.

  40. You outline two problems in two posts: One, that the Tunelab ‘phase display’ is dancing around and you find it hard to use and Two, that you are having problems understanding ‘octave stretch’. Also that you find your tuning lever a bit loose on the pins.

    Are you sure that the notes you are trying to tune are actually somewhere near concert pitch, not, say, a semitone out?

    Are you muting properly? What mutes and/or method are you using?

    Are you attempting to tune the whole piano with Tunelab arther than tuning octaves by ear?

    Tunelab is very good, as are the other sophisticated piano tuning softwares. But you still need to practice tuning technique. I think you really need to be able to tune clean unisons by ear, and then clean octaves ditto. Don’t forget that you can use the other display, the ‘peak’ on Tunelab, to let you see if the peak is falling to the left or right of the red line and if so by how far. It’s a good quick indicator.

    If you tune ocataves clean, i.e. beatless, then you are by default, ‘stretching’. It’s a little more complex than that, but broadly that will do to start with!

    The need for stretch arises from the phenomenon of ‘inharmonicity’. To briefly explain: You know as a guitarist that strings vibrate as fractions as well as the full length.

    Imagine note A4 on a piano. The strings should vibrate at 440Hz (cycles per second) along the whole length. But they will also split up as they move, into halves, thirds, quarters etc. Moving as two halves, the strings will vibrate at 880 Hz. However, because the shorter half-lengths have greater reltaive stiffness, they will move very slightly faster than 880. let us exaggerate for eas of understanding, and suppose that the half-langths move at 881Hz. When you go to tune note A5, it should be tuned to 880Hz. But if you tune it to exactly 880Hz, it will clash with the ‘secod partial’ – the half-length of A4. So you will need to tune A5 at 881 instead on 880, so that it is in tune with the second partial of the octave below.

    That is a simplified explanation.

    I think it would help you, to buy The Haynes Piano Manual. It is not very expensive.

  41. I took a second pass with Tunelab and it sounds OK. I almost feel a need to bring my friend back to play it again as it sounds fine when I play it but rough when he does. I’ll have a second read of the article to get a better understanding, but up until now, I have been using TL for all keys.I am muting the strings and doing it one at a time. My first pass, I actually plucked the strings with a finger nail. This second pass…. third, come to think of it, I used a strip of felt and a metal string clamp on the 3 string notes. I don’t think muting is the problem at all, as the other strings are dead quiet. Once one of these single strings are struck or even plucked the peak graph, both visually and the numerical cent report start jumping around a lot. I might get within half a cent on the first half second and then it starts going, maybe +5 >> -8 >>> + 3 etc as it continues to resonate all over the place. I have a tough time deciding which reading to take. Anyhow, just a couple quick questions from my previous posts: 1) What accuracy should I strive for ? +/- half a cent OK ? This problem with my hammer ? Should it fit like a glove ? It sure is real sloppy, despite both K&M and Heintzman having good reputations. If I could just get answers to those 2 questions, I will return to the article and other resources and do another pass with your article direction and this one too : http://www.precisionstrobe.com/apps/pianotemp/temper.html
    I don’t know what to do about this floppy TL readings except to accept that it’s the nature of the beast and to take the first reported reading as what is. Thanks again for your time, help and advice.

  42. Floppy lever: It sounds as if you may need a smaller tip. Tuning pins come in different sizes, both in their cylindrical diameter and in the size of the squared heads. While the lever won’t usually fit on ‘like a glove’ with absolutely no sideplay, it should not be waggling madly around with loads of play. Tips come in different sizes. If you have a good fit of the lever on the pin, it makes control very much easier.
    Dancing display: You should be able to control the tuning lever such that you can see the display move as you apply pressure to the lever. Listen and watch a little into the ‘decay’ of the note, rather than trying to judge it its very beginning, with all the onset partials.
    Accuracy: Try not to worry about hundredths of a cent. Watch for a reasonably stationary display, and try test intervals with notes you’ve already tuned, to see if they sound OK.

  43. Thank you. I guess I’ll try and get another hammer but I spent on this K&M and it is not one with replaceable tips. I’m a machinist so may have to make my own.

    • Thanks David for all the detailed information. I would only add a couple of comments…

      I’ve noticed many North American upright pianos have a lot of false beats, including Heintzman, and it can drive even an experienced piano tuner crazy. I’ve learnt that it’s sometimes best to let them go out of tune for a few years before tuning them again because when tuned regularly it’s really difficult to distinguish between the false beats and the fine tuning. A lot of trial and error is required, and then you just have to move on when it becomes clear that a string simply can’t be improved. A lot of isolating individual strings to check how much they’re beating on their own before trying to tune them to the unison.

      A false beat is when a string beats all by itself, as if two strings are slightly out of tune with each other, but it’s only one string sounding. I don’t know the theory of why this happens but my guess is that one part of the string is slightly different to another so that the harmonics are slightly out of phase with each other.

      Some pianos have this much worse than Heintzman for example a Kimball I tuned last week. It’s torture to tune and I try to persuade my client to wait longer each time because the wrest plank is very stable and when I arrive I’m never quite sure if it has really gone out of tune or if it’s just the false beats. I often spend a long time tuning it only to realise that there’s no improvement. They must have used poor quality strings.

      I can imagine how false beats would confuse digital tuning software. It would be easier and much quicker to use a reference for the first note, then use your ear after that. Digital tuners are alright in the midrange but can be hopeless in the bass and high treble, you stand a good chance of breaking bass stings which are expensive (usually custom-made replacements), if you rely exclusively on the visual feedback of the software without listening.

      For beginners I would recommend using a reference for the first note (tuning fork or software) then tuning the temperament by ear and checking as you go along with the software to boost your confidence. Then put that away and tune the high treble and bass using octaves by ear, checking fourths and fifths as you go along.

      I actually stretch the treble a little more than as David described, by tuning all the fifths perfect but then bringing them down ever so slightly from there to ensure that the octaves and fourths sound OK. This is because it sounds more satisfying that way but also because the treble will fall in pitch much faster than the bass and many of the pianos that I tune might not be tuned again for at least a year. I stretch the bass out the other way. There are other subtleties for example when a bass note is played louder the human brain perceives the note slightly sharper, I can’t remember exactly why I need to look it up again.

      You must get a tuning lever (wrench) with a small tip, it will be a real pain to try and tune with that much play and you might round off the tuning pins. Unfortunately there are many sizes of pin and on some pianos even a small tip doesn’t fit snugly. If you really struggle to find one small enough there are old tuning levers about with square tips which will be less likely to round off the pins but you only get four angles of purchase on the tuning pins instead of the eight angles you get with the star tip, which is not so convenient.

      Lastly I must reassure you that Heintzman make nice pianos and although false beats can be a pain for the tuner, when the whole thing’s in tune and you’re playing music with all its harmony and rhythm they don’t detract from the experience, in fact they often add some character to the tone.

  44. Tunelab was great for my Heintzman, until I got to the lowest two octaves. It doesn’t matter what I do down there, it all sounds like the swamp to me. That’s the worst of it.

    • Don’t worry too much there is a lot more tolerance in the lowest bass section which still sounds acceptable, also the last few notes don’t really sound like notes at all on a piano with short bass strings. Higher up in the bass on a Heintzman and many modern pianos the bichord section can be a pig to tune because of all the false beats ringing out in the harmonics.

      Just experiment and leave it where it sounds the least bad but make sure you never take a bass string more than a quarter of a semitone above the target pitch because it might break, and I don’t know about your side of the pond but over here it costs me £30 to get one bass string copied exactly by the best stringmaker (I use the Early Keyboard Agency in Oxfordshire).

  45. Hi,
    Came across your blog today – great! I’ve been around pianos for a VERY long time now – used to have a piano shop in Reigate. However, I’m a neighbour of yours (I moved near Rhayader 21 years ago), and am just getting back into tuning and restoration and selling decent older pianos. My son achieved third place in the under-16 piano solo at the National Eisteddfod and our regular pianos are a Bechstein Model 7 upright from 1895 and an 1854 London Erard. We should meet up sometime as we’re so close and seem to share a love of things “ancient and modern”!!

    • Hi Mike great to hear from you! I moved out of Wales in Summer and I’m mostly in the London area now – have actually spent more time in Reigate than Powys recently! If I visit the area again it would be good to gave some tea and talk pianos.

      I’m glad you’re in the area because judging from the pianos I went out to tune around Machynlleth there might be some tuners around but not proper technicians.

  46. HI Richard,

    I’ve always been interested in tuning, in equal temperament and pitch and have a really great ear (if I do say so myself). I think that with some training and practice I could be a good piano tuner. I have a few questions about this article if you don’t mind.

    1. How exactly do you tune fifths deliberately slightly wrongly? Are you listening for a very slow pulsing? if so, how often should you hear it pulse? And how do you time it, using a metronome?

    2. How do you compensate for inharmonicity in a piano? Or does this just sort of happen naturally when you are tuning the octaves? Am I correct in thinking that it’s possible, when tuning octaves, for the first harmonic (of the lower octave) and fundamental (of the higher octave) to be in tune, but the third harmonic (lower) and first harmonic (higher) to be slightly out? What do you tune to?

    3. Would love to know if you have any recommendations on books about piano tuning to read. Seems like a good place to start.

    Thanks and all the best,

  47. There are a couple of decent books. I used Cree Fischers’. There is also the book by Reblitz. You can now easily get your hands on a tuning kit on Amazon, unlike a few years ago. I’m no piano tuning expert, unlike the owner of this site, and I once got some childish abuse from a so-called ‘professional’ tuner on here for suggesting it, but if you haven’t had umpteen years training, then a chromatic tuner is also very handy, to get the temperament right, or at least in the right ball park. Then you have to play the instrument in various keys to identify the parts that aren’t tuned correctly. But the best place to start is to tune your own piano, as long as it’s not a priceless antique. I’ve also tuned a couple of pub pianos. In fact I now restore and tune accordions and all professionals in this field use chromatic tuners, so I don’t see the issue with using them on pianos. The issue, I think, that some tuners have is that amateurs may/can damage a piano when trying to tune it, which is a fair point, and is why you should learn on old pianos. Also, there is a lot more to being a piano tech than just tuning the instrument.

  48. Eric, there is only one college left in the UK offering a piano technology course; the Newark campus of Lincoln College (for whose international arm I have coincidentally been working as a teacher for the last year).
    There are books you can read, and start teaching yourself, if so inclined.

  49. Eric, a good book to get, just to see how interested you get in the whole subject, is the Haynes Piano Manual. It is very reasonably priced and has the benefit of being in full colour throughout. It is also written by a UK tuner and is biased towards British pianos (in the USA there are more grands, and uprights can be a bit different in style).

    You could easily get a basic tuning lever and some mutes from Ebay, and practice on your own piano (or if you haven’t got a piano, or you;d rather not mess about with your own, get an old piano free to experiment with).

    The most comprehensive and excellent book thee days is the monumental masterpiece Pianos Inside Out, by Mario Igrec (in the Bibliography of which, my own humble website is mentioned!).

  50. Steinway do not tune this way. They do it correctly. Dad did not tune correctly either, I suppose. Over 60 years experience and one does not break strings by normal tuning.

  51. William Burden, those are very cryptic and unexplained comments to leave on this blog! Please, in the interests of good manners, explain yourself a bit more……..

  52. Over a period of around 15 years 600 tuner graduates were launched onto unsuspecting piano owners. This was another of Tony Blair’s (through the Education MInistry) disasters. The courses at 5/6 colleges in the UK were launched to make bricklayers, painters, chefs, accountants and piano tuners employable rather than self employable. It is not possible to teach experience.

    Since these people were launched I have noticed a lowering of standards when I see the efforts of some attempts to repair or restore instruments; some of which were dreadful. Those who have not had works training would be oblivious of this and their opinions cannot be taken into account through no fault of their own.

    Much of the correspondence above suggests that the training is faulty and I now understand why the website http://www.steinway.com has created the word recently, STEINWAS !
    This suggests that if incorrectly trained people attempt to restore a Steinway piano it is no longer a Steinway, but a STEINWAS ! I wrote to Steinway Hall, London some while back to enquire if a individual who was claiming on line that he was Steinway trained. The response was, “Mr Venables did indeed attend a one day seminar at Steinway Hall.”

    To lay a basic scale is to tune all the 5ths narrow, and the 4ths wide of
    perfect. The bass octaves should be perfect octaves but when the treble has an inharmonic fault it is acceptable to tune a beat or two sharp to counter this problem.

    I suggest that you should read “First Steps in Piano Tuning” by Lawrence Nayler although It may be hard to find a copy.


  53. the frame of the hammers (steinmann), is in front of the strings where i need to fit mutes. so, do i have to move the hammer frame, separately for each string’s tuning?

  54. hi richard, did you understand my question on the steinmann, about getting access to the strings for muting, thnx in anticipation.

    • Thanks for the photos. It is an overdamped (birdcage) upright piano as David suspected, and I second his advice, you need a paps wedge which you can insert through the damper rods and hammer shanks.

      It’s difficult to see which strings you’re muting but with trial and error you get used to plucking them with the paps wedge so you can hear where you are. You quickly get used to it and it actually becomes easier than an underdamped piano in some respects because there’s much more space for the wedge.

      Before tuning you need to remove the action mechanism to remove the celeste rail from behind it (soft pedal mech) to create this space, then put the action back.

      Be sure to follow above article advice on string lubrication and other precautions before changing the pitch of an old piano… you are likely to break some strings which can be expensive to replace.

  55. Les, I posted a reply yesterday but I think it got lost, so until Richard responds, here are my thoughts. It sounds like you have what’s called “Birdcage” piano – more prperly called a piano with overdamper action. You ned a Papps Mute for muting, inserting between the wires. Also, Steinmann sounds like a transfer name. Lots of very old cheap pianos were “modernised” in the 50s and 60s, and nonsense names stuck on. If really old, they can be hard to tune. See the Birdcage pianos page of my website.

  56. hello richard, and david and other contributors. many thanks for your help, and pleased to report she’s now in tune. need to revisit the sustain mechanism, but she is now well playable. i’m ever greatfull for your support, Les

  57. Hi Richard,
    Writing to say thank you. I first read your blog around four years ago, and found it again today – I’ve always been interested in pianos beyond just playing, but this blog post was what stuck in my head, as a calling of sorts… last September I started the piano tuning/maintenance/repair course at Newark College. So I wanted to say thank you for the inspiration, and I hope your cool and interesting life is going well (as someone who grew up doing a lot of travelling around in a campervan and living between 2 different countries, your lifestyle posts are really interesting & resonant!) keep doing what you’re doing, and writing about it when you have the time! 🙂

  58. Richard, you might (or might not) like to know that I showed the film about you to a group of secondary school pupils on the Isle of Tiree today. S3, aged 13/14. I am doing a supply teaching stint on TIree, and we are reading a novel called Stone Cold, whose main character is a homeless boy on London’s streets. I thought it would be interesting for them to see the story of someone who chose to have no fixed abode for other reasons.

  59. Hi

    We have Kemble upright which now has some loose tuning pins according to the tuner we use every 6 months. I would not wan the expense of a complete pin replacement & restoration, but do need a solution. I came across many sites (mainly US) where the go-to solution is to use very thin CA (Superglue) dropped by pippette onto the board around the loose pins. As it soaks in it expands the board and dries making the hole narrower and hence the pin stays in tune. Are you familiar with this technique and if so can you do it for us?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61PVFDejOyw&t=525s (about 7mins in onwards)

    • Hi Nick,

      Sorry for the slow reply, it has been a crazy year. My father and I have had mostly negative experiences with pianos that have had this treatment. Either the effect is not durable or the tuning pins become difficult to tune. There are a couple of other simple tricks to try, if I’m in your area I could give it a go – contact me vía the form on my homepage to discuss further.

  60. Hello dear Richard,

    I need to change some or all tuning pins in my old (perhaps 1920 made) SCHNEIDER & SOHN piano.

    Allow me please two questions:
    1. what would be the most suitable length of Germany made KLINKE DIAMANT tuning pins for this piano (current pins are 57.75mm length and 6.75mm dia.). 57mm or 60mm?
    2. Some pins lose their tuning immediately after I remove the hammer. Should I then buy 6.90mm dia. or 7.00 dia. pins?

    My piano has not been tuned in last 4 decades.
    Thank you for your time to reply.

    Dimitrios from Greece

    • Before tackling that very big job, you could try the low-viscosity superglue treatment. It is generally very effective and has rescued many old pianos that would not be worth the expense of new tuning pins.

  61. Richard has reservations about this treatment, but my experience is very positive, and the technique has been in use in the USA for about 30 years, with very positive results.

  62. Thank you David for your prompt reply!
    I am a bit scared on using the low-viscosity superglue treatment due to (irreversible?) effect it might have on the old pin block. On the other hand I could afford purchasing the German-made 250 new KLINKE Diamant tuning pins (about Euros 160).
    On that case, what is your opinion on my above two questions about the size of the new pins?
    NOTE: I will not try to finish re-pinning the whole piano in a single day! Rather a month I would say.

    • Dimitrios, is it an open-face pinblock – Ie, you can see the surface of the wood where the pins go in? Or is it a full plate, that is, with bushed holes in the cast iron plate? Maybe you could send me a photo or two to David@piano.plus.com On my website on one of the Technical Info pages there is a PDF which describes the low-viscosity CA glue (superglue) method (my website is very easy to find on Google) I assure you that it is safe, has been in use for thirty years, and is generally very effective. It can make an un-tuneable piano able to be tuned within minutes of the treatment. Bear in mind that Richard’s family business restores and sell very high-grade pianos, of the top makes, which sell for prices big enough to justify new pinblocks (“wrest planks” in UK terminology), new tuning pins and new strings. Very very few pianos are worth all that work financially. Low-viscosity superglue could fix your piano in an hour, for a very low cost. Even if for some reason it doesn’t work, you can still fit new pins; the superglue will not damage the pinblock in any way.

  63. Hi Richard,
    I found your “Tuning a Piano” article enlightening and informative. Thank you for taking the time to share your passion so. I have an 1865 (approx) John Broadwood & Sons Boudoir Grand #1109 (black with gold routings with filagree accents, fluted, turned legs, and a filagre-screen music desk) that I have owned since about 1965. This piano plays very well and sounds great and my wife used to teach piano lessons on this piano. I like to do my own tuning, but I have been advised to tune it 50 cents flat. Can you please comment on that? I understand that the standard for A440 is significantly younger than my piano and I was told by the last professional tuner (in 1990) that the iron frame may not take the extra tons of pressure from tuning to A440.

    Thank you,

    James Moore
    Decatur, GA USA

  64. I’m not Richard but he has been quiet lately, so I will venture a reply….

    Broadwood serial numbers are a minefield. They had various different sets of serial numbers, for different models of piano. The best source is http://www.broadwood.co.uk The Broadwood brand is owned now by Dr. Alastair Laurence, a 6th-generation piano maker whose family go back a long way intertwined with Broadwood. Are you sure your piano is as early as 1865? The advice not to tune the piano to A440 is sensible – it may very well not have been designed for A440; possibly A435. If it is 50 cents flat, I’d leave it 50 cents flat and tune it where the average pitch is at. Is it 50 cents flat, or more than that?

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