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We are new to our area and our piano needed tuning, having acclimated after about six months to the humidity here. I check the RPT guild and found a guy with 30+ years working on and tuning pianos. Chatted on the phone and he seemed to know what he was talking about.

His method of tuning was to start with the lowest note, tune it with his piano wrench and an app on his phone. Then he moved to the next key, one at time, until he reached the highest note. He never played more than one key at a time. This took him two hours.

I have never heard of tuning a piano this way, and, in fact, could probably do it myself. I let him go to see what the result would be but was highly skeptical. Each note individually sounds in tune now, but most groups of notes are not harmonious. The result is not good at all.

Is that how members of this guild are taught to tune a piano? If so, it doesn't work and should be discouraged.

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What make and age is your piano ? How flat from A440 was it ?

Did he say he will need to do a repeat visit in the near future ? Possibly he was doing a large pitch raise prior to fine tuning at a later date.

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The method you describe is consistent with the use of an ETD. Unfortunately there is plenty of disagreement inside and outside the PTG as to what is the best method to use to tune a solid ET from note 1 to note 88.

The Guild has long officially held to the conclusion that all tuners should be able to tune entirely aurally (analog) since long before these devices existed. And there are those of us who still maintain that viewpoint. Once a tuner has been accepted into the Guild by successfully passing all the exams at 80% or better, he/she will never be "re-tested" again, ever. It is up to the individual to hold to the standards of quality that the PTG represents. There is no "Guild Police Force" to ensure that each member does so.

A reasonably high % of tuners use an ETD to one degree or another. Best practice is to view it merely as a tool to help achieve a higher quality end result, with constant checking and re-checking intervals, etc by ear to confirm that the ETD is operating properly. Unfortunately this practice does not always get followed and the result can be highly variable. If one has simply fallen into a routine of letting the machine make all the decisions and assuming it is, the possibility of error creeps in. And there are numerous other possible issues going on there and I cannot speak to them all.

Personally I am an analog (aural) tuner. I have my reasons for not using an ETD. no need to go there now. It is quite difficult (impossible) to judge a tuning quality without hearing it. Only those that are capable of analog tuning can judge it aurally. I believe that the vast majority of ETD using tuners are in the best practice mode (IOW they know how to tune aurally but use the ETD as a tool and consistently check their work aurally to ensure it is up to high standards). Some though may simply assume that the device is doing it's job and don't check. Maybe it is and maybe it ain't.

As to the Guild, you will find any number of arguments along this line. It is not a settled matter. I'm sure others who can express themselves more fluently on the subject than I can/will add to this. It is unfortunate that you were not happy. I would suggest you make it known to him.that you are not happy with it and give him a chance to fix it (or prove somehow that it is in fact up to the standard that the PTG expects).

This is about all I can think of right at the moment.

Peter Grey Piano Doctor


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Just as there are huge differences between different models of cars, there are equally huge differences between electronic tuning devices available as apps...

Then, once an app has been chosen, there is the difference between knowing and controlling the capabilities of the app, or just "following the default tuning"... Yes, it is possible to achieve wonderful results with the method you describe, but it can also lead to poorer results depending on the app chosen and the skill of the tech.

"RPT" means literally: registered piano technician. They passed a test once and continue to pay dues to maintain the qualification of being registered with the Piano Technicians Guild in the US.

Seek out recommendations from local churches, schools, piano teachers, universities, and music stores and you may find a more appropriate match for you.

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Originally Posted by oldMH
His method of tuning was to start with the lowest note, tune it with his piano wrench and an app on his phone. Then he moved to the next key, one at time, until he reached the highest note. He never played more than one key at a time. This took him two hours.

Has he consistently used the ETD for every individual string or has he tuned the 2 and 3 string unisons by ear?

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The Guild is not a school of piano technology.
Guild: an association of people with similar interests. Webster.


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Originally Posted by oldMH
...in fact, could probably do it myself...

Probably not actually. At least half the skill is in physically manipulating the pins. It's not like tuning a guitar.

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Originally Posted by Mr Dibbs
Originally Posted by oldMH
...in fact, could probably do it myself...

Probably not actually. At least half the skill is in physically manipulating the pins. It's not like tuning a guitar.

Well he didn't say it's as easy as a guitar.

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Originally Posted by oldMH
We are new to our area and our piano needed tuning, having acclimated after about six months to the humidity here. I check the RPT guild and found a guy with 30+ years working on and tuning pianos. Chatted on the phone and he seemed to know what he was talking about.

His method of tuning was to start with the lowest note, tune it with his piano wrench and an app on his phone. Then he moved to the next key, one at time, until he reached the highest note. He never played more than one key at a time. This took him two hours.

I have never heard of tuning a piano this way, and, in fact, could probably do it myself. I let him go to see what the result would be but was highly skeptical. Each note individually sounds in tune now, but most groups of notes are not harmonious. The result is not good at all.
It would be helpful to have a recording of your piano to help evaluate the tuning.
  • If you slowly played a series of major 3rds starting at the F below middle C up an 8ve that could help evaluate the temperament.
  • Starting on the same F and playing major 10ths would also be revealing.
  • And, of course, playing some of those "groups of notes" that are not "harmonious". There are other tests that others could recommend and use to evaluate stretch, etc.

It could be that your 30 year veteran was unskilled as you suggest.
That said, the opposite could be true.
Consider these things:
  • Among my friends, professional and otherwise, are 3 experienced piano technicians. Two are graduates of what was and continues to be a highly regarded training program at North Bennett Street School, the other is a German immigrant, trained there, who worked at Steingraeber after completing his earlier schooling. All 3 are completely capable of aural tuning. All 3 use an ETD, citing less fatigue, equal and sometimes better results than aural tuning only. Their tuning, as is mine, is a combination approach involving some aural checking.
  • Without knowing which ETD program your technician used, one cannot comment on specifics. That said, the Rayburn Cybertuner has an initial cost of roughly $1000 and an annual subscription fee on top of that. It is a professional tool, and professionals use it.
  • Could you buy a tuning program, tune each note sequentially, and obtain equal results to the 30 year veteran? Based on my own experience, I would be comfortable with 100 to 1 odds against that being possible. It takes time to develop the skills to tune unisons successfully. It takes time to develop the skills to "set" the tuning pins in such a way that your tuning would be stable. SOME tutoring by another individual with those skills is also, IMO, essential though it is within the realm of possibility that one could pick up those skills by reading and watching tutorial videos.
  • I would also suggest that you take the fact that this experienced technician took two hours to tune your piano as a potentially good thing (as opposed to, "wow, this guy is SLOW!). While there are technicians who can do stable tunings in less time, unless your piano needed just a "touch up" tuning similar to what concert instruments regularly maintained might need, it's entirely possible that the technician was being very careful to tune exactly to the device's readings and ensure the stability of the tuning of each note.


Originally Posted by oldMH
Is that how members of this guild are taught to tune a piano? If so, it doesn't work and should be discouraged.


Andrew Kraus, Pianist
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Are you sure that the tuner only made one pass from the lowest to highest note? That would only work for a piano that is already very close to pitch. If I am visiting a piano for the first time, I check to see how far off of standard pitch it is, throughout its range. I almost never find a piano that can be fine tuned in just one pass - maybe one in 50. They almost all require a pitch adjustment (usually a pitch raise) before they can be fine tuned. I don't believe any ETD is designed to produce fine tunings with a single pass.

If it is true that the tuner only made a single pass, then it is not surprising that the tuning didn't sound good. On the second pass, most or all of the notes need adjustment. The first pass is done with the ETD using an overpull calculation that is really a rough guess.

I use Pianometer and after two passes I rarely find notes that I disagree with when I check them aurally. Pianometer is way better than I am at tuning the low bass and the high treble. When I took the RPT exam, I used Pianometer to tune the highest octave (where I always have difficulty). This is allowed by the rules of the exam. I think I only missed a single point up there, and I would guess it was my mistake, not Pianometer's.


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Then there is the old saying: "30 years of experience...or 1 year repeated 30 times". You find them everywhere in all professions. Don't know here, however I still think it best to register your disappointment and request a re-check.

Peter Grey Piano Doctor


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Without wishing to criticise a tuning I haven't seen or heard...if it's true that he never played more than one note at a time, it's hard to see how he could have any judgement of the overall tuning before leaving the piano. That seems unacceptable to me.
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Another possibility is that the tuner chose an alternate temperament if groups of notes are not harmonious when played together? Strayed too far from ET?

I read through the first post quickly and missed that the unisons all sounded good individually...

So that makes me wonder a bit. I have heard in the past about a client that had grown so accustomed to an out-of-tune piano that hearing freshly tuned didn't sound harmonious anymore because there was a clarity to the beats that was missing in the jumble of sound before!


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Originally Posted by P W Grey
Then there is the old saying: "30 years of experience...or 1 year repeated 30 times".

Usually experience is the result of 70% of trial error as a result from not having competent and continuous tuition and supervision in the initial phase of learning a trade.

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By the way did he say that the tuning is a non-stretched one? I think is the first thing to ask.

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Originally Posted by RonTuner
Another possibility is that the tuner chose an alternate temperament if groups of notes are not harmonious when played together? Strayed too far from ET?

I read through the first post quickly and missed that the unisons all sounded good individually...

So that makes me wonder a bit. I have heard in the past about a client that had grown so accustomed to an out-of-tune piano that hearing freshly tuned didn't sound harmonious anymore because there was a clarity to the beats that was missing in the jumble of sound before!


Ron Koval

This is also a reasonable possibility. I have had clients who prefer non-pure unisons, even to the point of "vibrato". However, an ETD user who does not check things aurally (other than unisons) is not what I would call fully competent.

Then again, the possibility exists that this person is so good that he could tune circles around me. I don't know as I have not heard with my own ears what was actually done. All I have heard is a critical reaction from a someone other than the tuner.

Then again, if the OP's previous tuner tuned in a specific UT that he happened to like, then changing to ET could in fact be a bit of a shock.

Must hear the facts to accurately judge.

Peter Grey Piano Doctor


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A recording from oldMH would help.

Is the piano 1899 M&H C ?

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Did you call the technician back and let him know you are not happy with his tuning? Maybe there is an explanation. Maybe not. Online we can engage in endless speculation and never find the answer.


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Originally Posted by Gerry Johnston
Did you call the technician back and let him know you are not happy with his tuning? Maybe there is an explanation. Maybe not. Online we can engage in endless speculation and never find the answer.

Ditto. Continuing this thread without further information from the OP seems useless.

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Agreed

Peter Grey Piano Doctor


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