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October 19, 2018

Can You DIY Piano Tuning?

Regular Piano Tuning is needed for any piano that you regularly use, whether that's for performances, instruction, or just your own enjoyment. Every strike of piano wires causes those strings to lose tension, and the shrinking and expansion of the piano body also cause its pins to shift out of place constantly.

Proper piano tuning is not typically a DIY job, as correctly adjusting wires and other parts of a piano require years of practice and experience. However, with the right tools and a bit of patience, you can try to tune a piano so that its sound is acceptable for everyday use, even if the keyboard would not necessarily be performance ready.

Note a few tips on how to tune a piano on your own, and for keeping your keyboard in tune over time. Remember, too, that professional piano tuning cost is worth the investment if you find that attempting this job on your own doesn't get your piano in proper tune or pitch. A professional tuner will know how to properly adjust pins to create the sound you expect from your keyboard, and can also advise on how you might keep that instrument in good repair for as long as possible.

Tuning Starts With a Quality Lever

Tuning Starts With a Quality Lever

A lever, wrench, or key is an essential tool for adjusting a piano. This tool is what's used actually to tighten the pins holding the wires in position. Note a few reminders before you invest in a new lever:

  • Never use anything other than a proper tuning lever for this job. Not only is a tuner specifically designed to fit the connectors of piano pins, but this tool is also lightweight enough to allow a very precise tightening. A screwdriver or other such items can also damage those pins and may not allow for an accurate adjustment.
  • Cheap levers may not correctly fit those pins or offer a comfortable grip for precise tuning. Invest in a high-quality wrench that fits your hand and is comfortable and easy for you to use.
  • If you purchase a lever with an interchangeable tip, opt for a specialty wrench that allows you to tighten each tip without stripping connectors.
  • An extendable grip can make it easier to reach each wire without straining, and without damaging nearby wires.

Don't Tune a Piano By Ear!

Never assume that you can learn how to tune a piano by ear, but invest in a quality chromatic tuner instead. A tuner will "hear" middle octaves and tones and then provide you with the information needed to make a proper adjustment. Consider some suggestions for purchasing a tuner:

  • A tuner with a needle may function better than one with an LCD. Some LCD models are not as sensitive as tuners with needles and watching the needle move as you adjust a wire can help you learn how to make minute adjustments.
  • Avoid guitar tuners for this job. Guitars typically do not play as many notes as pianos, so guitar tuners are often not as sensitive as piano tuners.
  • Consider a tuner with an external contact microphone. A microphone will allow you to move the tuner close to the wires, so there is no interference from outside noises, vibrations, and so on.

Don't Rely on Homemade Piano Mutes

Rubber or foam mutes, also called wedges, are used to keep surrounding wires in place while you tune a particular string. These mutes are very inexpensive, although it's good to invest in quality wedges and avoid homemade pieces, so they don't scratch or damage piano wires.

Also, consider investing in wedges with long wire handles, as this provides for a better reach, making those mutes easier to manage. You'll also want a variety of mute sizes, to fit different areas where the wires are attached to their pins.

Piano Simple Tuning Tools

Other Simple Tuning Tools

It can be helpful to remove parts of the piano box when tuning its wires, so have a good screwdriver and other such tools available. Even with the lid removed, it's also difficult to see all the wires inside a piano, so invest in a light source. A flexible LED light used by auto mechanics can often be an excellent choice for working on your instrument!

The underside of a piano lid often collects lots of dust and debris, so invest in lint-free cloths for wiping down those wires before you begin work. Avoid using a vacuum of any sort, as the vibration from even a small handheld tool can put those wires even further out of tune!

The Best Piano Tuning Technique

Start your tuning with the middle octaves, typically C4 or C5, rather than working from the outside edges. Middle octaves generally are used most in performances, so a piano should be tuned according to the sound of these notes!

  • Place your foot on the damper pedal and gently nudge a mute under surrounding wires as you see them move. Be sure you only isolate these wires rather than stretching them out of position with the mute.
  • Ensure your lever is firmly seated on the pin of the wire you will be tuning. Avoid tapping the lever into place, as this can damage the pin. If the lever doesn't fit the pin, try a different tip.
  • Flat the note before you tune it. Flattening a note refers to turning the pin counterclockwise so that the wire becomes a bit loose. This process will ensure you're tuning the right wire, and that you don't tighten the wire too much during the tuning process.
  • Strike the key firmly while tightening the wire. Be sure to turn the lever only slightly while you continuously hit the key and check your tuner every time you sound that note.

Once you've tuned the first string, adjust the second and, if there is one, the third wire in the set. If you only want to tune a particular set of strings, such as B6, start with the note in the middle octave and then work your way out in this same fashion.

Piano Tuning DIY Tips

Additional Tuning DIY Tips

Note a few additional tips for proper tuning of your keyboard:

  • Never wiggle a pin or try to force it to turn. If you cannot move a pin during the tuning process, call a professional tuner or repair person to check that pin, the connecting wire, the key, and other parts for damage or some obstruction. You might ask how much it costs to tune a piano as well, so that they can manage both repairs and tuning for you!
  • Patience is needed when tuning a piano. Overturning the pin or trying to force it can result in breaking the pin or wire, leading to costly repairs. Too much tightening can also produce a tinny or otherwise incorrect sound from your piece.
  • Setting the pin refers to turning it a hair length too tight, and then loosening it with just slightly less effort. This adjustment will keep the wire in tune for as long as possible.
  • Listen for a changing sound with each turn of the pin, no matter how slight. If you don't hear any difference in sound, check to see if you're adjusting the correct pin.
  • Use a firm strike of the key when tuning a piano, so you hear a sharp, crisp note. A firm keystroke will also ensure the tuner can pick up on the vibrations of the string and offer a proper reading of the sound.

How to Keep a Piano From Going Out of Tune

Even with the best care, a piano will still need proper tuning on a regular basis. However, you might note a few tips that will ensure you keep your keyboard in tune for as long as possible, and avoid unnecessary and early damage and wear. When asking a professional how much to tune a piano, note if they also suggest you do the following to avoid that cost if possible!

  • A wood piano body will shrink as it dries, and expand as it absorbs moisture, putting pressure on its wires. To avoid this damaging cycle, keep the room in which you store your piano property heated and cooled; add a humidifier or dehumidifier as necessary, and protect the piano from harsh sunlight.
  • A firm keystroke will bring out a pure, rich sound from your piano, but avoid banging the keys. Too much pressure on the wires will cause them to stretch out sooner than they should, becoming out of tune.
  • Regularly clean the piano wires with a lint-free cloth meant for musical instruments. Consistent cleaning will remove dust and other debris that can put pressure on those wires and cause them to go out of tune. Dust-free wires are also more likely to produce a rich, accurate sound when you play your piano.

If your DIY piano tuning doesn't produce the sound you expect, be sure to hire a professional tuner or repair person to inspect the piano for damage and to make any repairs needed. He or she can also ensure that the keyboard produces beautiful music with every use.

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