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My mother has a Yamaha upright piano, purchased around 1991. It hasn't been tuned in over 6 years. She lives in a small town, rural area. My question is this: Should we trust practically any "Piano Tuning" service we find in the area? Do they typically tune "by ear" or do they use a digital device typically? It is very important to me that A = 440 and that every note be tuned digitally and not just "by ear" because we will frequently be playing alongside recordings, and if the entire piano is shifted sharp or flat, it will create major issues for us. Do most tuners in small town, rural areas use a digital device to make sure all the notes are in tune, or do some just "wing it" by ear and hope for the best?

Also, since it has been since 1991, do we need a more advanced service to inspect the piano, and how do we make sure we don't get up-sold on something we don't need?

Any and all help, thoughts, and recommendations are greatly appreciated! Thanks!

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I’m guessing, and I hope I’m not wrong, that the days of people winging it by ear and hoping for the best are behind us. Probably such people were ones looking for the easy way out, and in these days, the easy way out is downloading an app. At least where I live, aural tuners are skilled artisans who have worked hard to develop reliable skills. I personally use an electronic tuning device, and strive to do excellent work. I do recognize however, that one can do careless work whether they’re using just their ears, or a machine plus the ears. As to what you’ll find in your area, find other piano owners are taking music seriously, and ask them for recommendations.


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Originally Posted by joe3701
My mother has a Yamaha upright piano, purchased around 1991. It hasn't been tuned in over 6 years. She lives in a small town, rural area. My question is this: Should we trust practically any "Piano Tuning" service we find in the area? Do they typically tune "by ear" or do they use a digital device typically? It is very important to me that A = 440 and that every note be tuned digitally and not just "by ear" because we will frequently be playing alongside recordings, and if the entire piano is shifted sharp or flat, it will create major issues for us. Do most tuners in small town, rural areas use a digital device to make sure all the notes are in tune, or do some just "wing it" by ear and hope for the best?

Also, since it has been since 1991, do we need a more advanced service to inspect the piano, and how do we make sure we don't get up-sold on something we don't need?

Any and all help, thoughts, and recommendations are greatly appreciated! Thanks!

Joe you are asking a general question about a very small sample of tuners. I am a rural piano tuner and tune aurally. My standard is A-440, but there are times I will float the pitch a hertz or two due to the season of the year so that it will always be within a hertz or two from A-440. The next tuner over the river tunes with a machine. I would guess our territories overlap. Most of the pianos around here, I tune. But some are tuned by store tuners from a decent sized city an hour away.

So what? You want a tuner that tunes how you want - fine! Ask at the schools and churches and piano teachers who tunes for them. Maybe listen to the results. Then call them up and talk to them. Don't see how we can help you much.


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Originally Posted by UnrightTooner
Joe you are asking a general question about a very small sample of tuners. I am a rural piano tuner and tune aurally. My standard is A-440, but there are times I will float the pitch a hertz or two due to the season of the year so that it will always be within a hertz or two from A-440. The next tuner over the river tunes with a machine. I would guess our territories overlap. Most of the pianos around here, I tune. But some are tuned by store tuners from a decent sized city an hour away.

So what? You want a tuner that tunes how you want - fine! Ask at the schools and churches and piano teachers who tunes for them. Maybe listen to the results. Then call them up and talk to them. Don't see how we can help you much.

This helps though. For tuners such as yourself that tune aurally, are you using A-440 from memory or do most aural tuners have a tuning fork or some device to make sure it is 100% every time? Also, for aural tuners, with what level of confidence do you have that the lower register of the piano is in tune once you are completed? Is it a pretty reliable science behind it, even aurally, for the entire 88 keys?

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Joe
I’m not a tech but just haunt these forums. My understanding is a piano that has not been tuned in 6 years may take several tunings to get it to A=440. Just wanted to temper your expectations .


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Yes all tuners have frequency source, and unfortunately I have to say that your understanding of tuning a piano is wrong, if you would tune lowest A0 to 27,5hz (so precisely 440hz tuning) that note would not be in tune, your octave A0 to A1 and so on would be out of tune, bass needs to be tuned lower than "ideal" tuning and high treble needs to be tuned higher and how much depends on particular piano. If you want to know more search about octave stretch and inharmonicity of piano strings.

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Funny how the very result that took ETD's decades to emulate (a good aural tuning) is now considered by some to be "winging it". I am not making fun...simply expressing how things change over time, and how electronics are assumed to be more accurate than the brain, when in fact it was brains that devised and made the electronics...

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Originally Posted by P W Grey
Funny how the very result that took ETD's decades to emulate (a good aural tuning) is now considered by some to be "winging it". I am not making fun...simply expressing how things change over time, and how electronics are assumed to be more accurate than the brain, when in fact it was brains that devised and made the electronics...

Peter Grey Piano Doctor

If it takes “several tunings” to get A440, as a previous user posted, then wouldn’t that be winging it when a digital device would tell you instantly?

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it takes several tunings because of how piano works not because of tuner, when piano is very out of tune, when you tune first note spot on, by the time you are on last, that first goes flat by itself, I won't go into why this is happening here, search pitch raise if you want to know more about this, but I doubt you care, because you've only written 3 posts and all I see in them is your arrogance

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Originally Posted by ambrozy
it takes several tunings because of how piano works not because of tuner, when piano is very out of tune, when you tune first note spot on, by the time you are on last, that first goes flat by itself, I won't go into why this is happening here, search pitch raise if you want to know more about this, but I doubt you care, because you've only written 3 posts and all I see in them is your arrogance

Arrogance? Yikes. Can we try to be polite? I will search pitch raise, but are you suggesting multiple tuning sessions then, like paying for multiple sessions? Or do most tuners do multiple tunings in one session? I’d hate to pay a bunch of money and still have it out of tune.

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depends on state of your piano and on skill of tuner, after 6 years without tuning it will require at least 2 tunings to be spot on.
neglected pianos are money pits, can't help with that.

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Originally Posted by ambrozy
depends on state of your piano and on skill of tuner, after 6 years without tuning it will require at least 2 tunings to be spot on

Does 2 tunings mean typically the tuner will sit there and do it twice in one session? Or do you think this means he/she will need to come back a 2nd appointment? Thank you.

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it can be done in one session, if the tuner has skills, piano should be stable after that, you will pay probably 150% and next normal tuning after 3 months then 6 months, something like that, but it depends on state of piano, technician first must see it then he/she will tell you what are the options

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Originally Posted by ambrozy
it can be done in one session, if the tuner has skills, piano should be stable after that, you will pay probably 150% and next normal tuning after 3 months then 6 months, something like that, but it depends on state of piano, technician first must see it then he/she will tell you what are the options

Thank you. I understand better now. Also, do you expect an upright, purchased new from Yamaha in 1991, that was played moderately (average household) will typically need head felts or other replacements or repairs? If you had to predict or estimate? And if so, does a tuner replace those? (As far as I can tell the piano sounds great to me, albeit out of tune.)

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No, it shouldn't require any major repairs, but it probably needs action regulation and maybe some hammer shaping and voicing work if you are not happy with sound (to harsh or to mellow)

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Originally Posted by ambrozy
No, it shouldn't require any major repairs, but it probably needs action regulation and maybe some hammer shaping and voicing work if you are not happy with sound (to harsh or to mellow)

This has been a huge help. Thank you.

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Also keep in mind that the way pianos work, stretched octaves, and so on, when you play with recordings, it’ll never be matched perfectly. Even if you played along with recordings with a digital piano, that won’t perfectly match a recording, either. So much goes into the engineering process of recordings...two topics at once.


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It's a pity that it wasn't considered important to have the piano in tune over the past six years and now, suddently, it is.

When I find that a piano is below A440 by an amount that isn't do-able in a single pass, I always explain the situation carefully to the client, letting them hear with tuning fork. I explain the two options; single tuning at existing pitch, or two-pass tuning to raise to A440 and fine tune, more expensive.

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Originally Posted by P W Grey
Funny how the very result that took ETD's decades to emulate (a good aural tuning) is now considered by some to be "winging it". I am not making fun...simply expressing how things change over time, and how electronics are assumed to be more accurate than the brain, when in fact it was brains that devised and made the electronics...

Peter Grey Piano Doctor
That was exactly my response when I read the op.
Where I live there is still resistance to anything digital used by the tuner. Everybody wants a tuner to tune by ear.
"Winging it" is such a weird way to describe it.
The answer has to be get your tuner by recommendation. And if he/she's any good she will explain exactly what David says above.
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Originally Posted by joe3701
Originally Posted by UnrightTooner
Joe you are asking a general question about a very small sample of tuners. I am a rural piano tuner and tune aurally. My standard is A-440, but there are times I will float the pitch a hertz or two due to the season of the year so that it will always be within a hertz or two from A-440. The next tuner over the river tunes with a machine. I would guess our territories overlap. Most of the pianos around here, I tune. But some are tuned by store tuners from a decent sized city an hour away.

So what? You want a tuner that tunes how you want - fine! Ask at the schools and churches and piano teachers who tunes for them. Maybe listen to the results. Then call them up and talk to them. Don't see how we can help you much.

This helps though. For tuners such as yourself that tune aurally, are you using A-440 from memory or do most aural tuners have a tuning fork or some device to make sure it is 100% every time? Also, for aural tuners, with what level of confidence do you have that the lower register of the piano is in tune once you are completed? Is it a pretty reliable science behind it, even aurally, for the entire 88 keys?

I don't think you are arrogant, just apprehensive. Nothing is scarier than the unknown. You came here for answers. Some answers will disagree with others, which can only be expected. You will have to do some weeding out. wink

I can't imagine ANY tuner picking a pitch out of thin air, even those with absolute (perfect) pitch. The traditional pitch source is a tuning fork, but electronic devices are now common. When aurally tuning, the pitch source is used for just one string and the tuning progresses from there. However, there are times that a piano is not tuned to A-440. If this happens, you can expect a discussion with the tuner as to why. There are some VERY good reasons.

Your question on the accuracy of tuning the lower register aurally made me smile. From what I understand from ETD tuners, the more experienced ones tune the bass (lower register) aurally. These strings are wound with copper so that even though they are not as long as ideal, they beat at the required frequency at a good tension by being made heavier. But one challenge is that they are never made quite perfectly. There are design and manufacturing limitations. So when tuning there are compromises to be made that are best done aurally. This holds true for the lowest unwound strings also. (Commonly somewhere down to around the F below middle C, but it depends on the piano.) Also there are many different ways to coordinate the two different compromises with each other. Not only will various aural tuners make these compromises and coordinations differently, but so will various ETDs and their users!

Which brings me around to what it means when an acoustical piano to tuned to A-440. All it means is just that one note is at it's theoretical pitch. All the others probably are not. The reason is inharmonicity, which I will let you research yourself.

"Is it a pretty reliable science behind it, even aurally, for the entire 88 keys?" Again I have to smile. It is as much an art as it is a science. The Piano Technicians Guild (PTG, long ago I was a member...) has a modern tuning exam (which I have not taken...) You can investigate the details, but as I understand it they take a good sized grand piano in good shape and have three highly qualified tuners work together and tune it the best they can AURALLY. They then record the tuning results with an ETD. When a test is given, they take THAT piano with THOSE results and tune the piano. They then slightly untune every other string alternately sharp or flat. The examinee then tunes a two octave "temperament" AURALLY within a specified time. This aurally tuned temperament is compared to the recorded values with an ETD. If any note is not very close to the recorded value, it is evaluated AURALLY. Unless both the ETD and AURAL checks determine the note is wrong, there is not a deduction from the score. Other parts of the tuning exam follow. Very, very few tuners ever get a perfect score. But would a typical pianist ever be able to notice those errors? Very, very doubtful.

So here's my take away. No matter who tunes the piano using whatever techniques and skills are available, the piano will not be tuned "perfectly." But YOU will probably not be able to tell. The tuner will be much better at tuning than you will be able at listening. But be warned, the piano will not stay that way. It is an acoustical instrument and humidity and organic materials will change and affect the tuning. Also remember that compromises have to be made. You might hear some of those, but don't automatically think it means an error was made. We do what we can with what we have. smile


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