Since this topic has been discussed here frequently I thought some might be interested in this "news" article from today's (Jul 15) LA Times.
Since (free) registration is required I thought I would copy and paste instead of just link.
I wonder what you get for that?
Piano Tuner Blues
Those who keep our ivories in key are rarely in sync themselves, especially when debating whether to work digitally or by ear.
By Paul Pringle, Times Staff Writer
A note about piano tuners: They often are not in accord.
Tuners can't agree whether their ranks resonate with talent or reek of the tone-deaf. A professional guild sets the bar for training, but most tuners won't join it.
Many are sharply critical of how piano owners treat their instruments — and their tuners. Others flatly don't care, as long as the customer pays scale.
And nothing stirs more dissonance in the do-re-mi trade than the debate over tuning by ear versus tuning by technology.
The dispute predates the Digital Age — electronic tuners debuted in the 1930s — but has grown louder as software becomes increasingly popular on the job. The Kansas City, Mo.-based Piano Technicians Guild says computers are now used by at least half the 10,000 tuners who service America's 18 million pianos.
"Piano tuners love to argue," said Jim Ogden, 55, a La Cañada Flintridge resident who got into the business nine years ago. "It's just endless."
Cyber-tuning has drawn a line between the likes of Richard Davenport and Ron Elliott, who otherwise have much in common. They occupy the upper range of Los Angeles tuners, with a combined six decades of experience, big-name clients, and steady gigs at recording studios and concert halls.
The similarities stop when they lift the piano lid and go to work.
Davenport's routine is to wrestle a laptop from his gear bag, place it gently on the piano's cast-iron plate, and power up a program that displays a spinning green disc that measures the pitches of the 88 keys. Davenport watches it as he tunes.
Elliott simply tilts his head toward the strings and listens. His tools are sleeved in a handyman's roll pouch. None requires batteries.
"I've always tuned by ear," he said.
Elliott stood over a nine-foot Steinway on the darkened stage of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. His task was to improve the "feel" of the piano for soloist Richard Goode.
Elliott tugged his tuning hammer — a misnamed wrench — this way and that on the pin of a B-flat string, adjusting it by hair-widths, while pounding the key. The B flat reverberated like a pipe banging in a storm drain, only purer.
"There are a lot of people who use electronic tuners," said Elliott, a soft-spoken 51-year-old with clipped, graying hair. He wore a suit and tie. "Maybe they never really learned to tune by ear." He said no computer can "hear" the subtle tonal differences between two pianos, or along the multi-string unisons within a single instrument.
Elliott also said the gadgets can't "stretch the octaves," making the bass flatter and treble sharper — to suit a performer's taste.
"A machine is very rigid," said the Pasadena resident. "Tuning is creative."
Elliott has tuned the Music Center's pianos for 17 years. He drifted into the craft after studying piano.
It took him an hour to sweeten the Steinway. The piano is tuned before every concert. Household pianos typically are tuned once a year.
"Richard Goode is a very sensitive player," Elliott said as he tinkered with the Steinway's felt hammers. They bounced on the Swedish-steel strings like woodpeckers peppering bark. Elliott jabbed one hammer with a needle — "sugar-coating" it — to render the string less strident.
Goode appeared from the gloom just as Elliott finished. The impish-faced pianist wanted another rehearsal before that night's performance.
Music to His Ears
Elliott hurriedly collected his tools and retreated backstage. After tearing into a Mozart concerto, Goode complimented Elliott. "Ron is one of my favorites," he said. Elliott was visibly pleased.
It's all about the ear, Elliot said later.
"When you start using a machine, you are allowed to become kind of lazy," he added. "You don't really have to pay attention to what you're doing. The machine becomes a crutch."
That view prevails at some prestigious music academies, including the Juilliard School, as well as at Steinway & Sons.
"We don't use electronic tuners here and we don't advise any of our technicians to use them," said Ron Coners, chief concert technician for Steinway in New York. "We feel you do not train your ear well enough because you're relying on the machine."
That's Luddite nonsense, said Davenport. He described gizmos such as Accu-Tuner, and software packages like CyberTuner, as aids for the ear, not substitutes.
"It's just so absurd to say that, because you're using a machine, you're not tuning aurally," he said.
The Brentwood resident ventured into tuning after earning a music degree at Occidental College and teaching junior high school.
He said that electronic tuning cuts wear and tear on the ear, saving it for the finer adjustments, and that his customers appreciate the precision.
"The folks who aren't using it aren't necessarily the best tuners," he said in a deep voice that fits his bearish frame. Davenport, 55, has a geeky enthusiasm for the mathematics of music; algorithms interest him almost as much as rhythms.
On a recent night, he took his laptop to Fox Studios in Century City, where he tunes in a hangar-sized scoring stage. He opened his computer on the rib cage of a 1928 Steinway. The piano sat in a forest of music stands, microphones and guitar racks, above an undergrowth of floor cables.
Davenport focused on the spinning disc, a CyberTuner feature. He was preparing the piano for an episode of "The Simpsons." A small orchestra would record 40 bits of music — cues — to a videotape of the show. Michael Lang would be on the Steinway.
"I just had a broken string — the high A," Davenport said, as he eyed the whirling circle. A clockwise spin meant the new string was sharp, counterclockwise flat.
Davenport nudged the pin with his wrench and punched the key. The disc froze and the screen blushed, signaling that the A was just right.
"I try to keep the piano in the middle," Davenport said. He polished the tuning with his ear, tightening or loosening the odd string in tiny increments. "It's not too bright, not too dead."
Lang, a robust man in a flowered shirt, arrived at the studio shortly before the orchestra warmed up. "I'm spoiled," he said of Davenport's tunings.
But he also made clear that even the top tuners can't deliver the flawless tones a pianist craves. "I used to sit down and play and hear the imperfections," Lang said. "And I'd remember them and they'd bother me." Davenport tried to smile.
The subject of picky performers — not to mention software-averse tuners — comes up regularly at Davenport's backyard workshop, where he and three colleagues gather once a week to restore pianos. On this afternoon, the workshop discussion became a group gripe about the tuning life, to the accompaniment of a Beethoven violin concerto floating from the stereo.
"You spend all day with people and they never call you back," said Pamella Consoli, 52, a Claremont tuner.
Kayoko Forrest, 44, a Santa Monica resident who learned to tune as a piano saleswoman, complained about dogs in customers' homes that relieved themselves on her leg.
Mark Abbott Stern, 73, who began tuning in Beverly Hills after retiring as an aerospace engineer, lamented that piano owners don't know when to toss inexpensive or dilapidated instruments — especially family heirlooms. (Other tuners tell war stories of finding rats, rotting food and even stashes of cash in the guts of pianos.)
"The emotional attachment to a piano goes way beyond its real value," Stern said. "You can't get them to sound the way you want them to. The keys just ooze down." He splayed his fingers and lowered them slowly.
"It's like arthritis," Davenport said.
"Rigor mortis," Stern said.
Forrest nodded: "If a piano is cheap, it plays like a Mack truck."
The topic of tuner competence popped up. "There are literally clowns in this business," Davenport said.
He and the others pointed out that virtually anyone can become a tuner, and it's easier than ever because of the computer option. The devices and software sell for around $350 to $1,600; a tuning session usually pays $80 to $200.
Tuners can get started with a correspondence course. The more-ambitious novices undergo a multiyear apprenticeship with a veteran tuner.
"We get a lot of music teachers, musicians whose careers didn't quite take off. This is a way to stay in the field," said Barbara Cassaday, executive director of the tuners guild. "But it takes two years of full-time training."
Not necessarily, said Walt Eckstein, 68, a Palmdale tuner and former Assemblies of God pastor who charges $895 for a six-week course — 24 hours total. "It teaches all the basics," he said.
Eckstein said he considers every customer, no matter how fussy, a friend. And he downplayed talk of disharmony in the tuner world.
"I haven't heard much of that," he said.
Stuart Isacoff has heard plenty.
The New Jersey pianist and author published a 2001 book that celebrated the 18th-century introduction of equal temperament, the now-standard tuning system for bringing all 88 tones into harmony.
"People are still attacking me over it," said Isacoff, who also edits Piano Today magazine.
In "Temperament," Isacoff writes that the debate preceding the adoption of the system — in which each tone on the keyboard is equidistant from the ones before and after it — had engaged the minds of Sir Isaac Newton, astronomer Johannes Kepler and mathematician-philosopher Rene Descartes.
When his book hit the shelves, Isacoff came under fire from devotees of Baroque-era tunings or new variations of them, which produce richer sounds on a limited number of tones. They denounce equal temperament as a corrupting compromise.
"I decided to write the book after I began learning there were all these battles over tuning," Isacoff said. "Small groups of people think it's evil. I call them the 'Tuning Taliban.' "
Ogden, the La Cañada Flintridge tuner, has a theory on why such tiffs persist.
"When you work by yourself, you're the final, ultimate check," he said. "There are no committee decisions. Piano tuners tend to be loners, nonconformist."
He was tuning a 1908 Wellington upright at the home of a Glendale chemistry teacher. The piano was partially dismantled, its sculpted panels resting on the dining room floor. Ogden, who uses CyberTuner, directed a flashlight at the innards, illuminating rust and dust.
"And you have to be weird," he said, "to keep your head in a piano all day."
See a video report with piano tuners Richard Davenport and Ron Elliott discussing and demonstrating the differences between computer-assisted tuning and tuning solely by ear. Go to latimes.com/piano.