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#630893 - 02/14/09 10:25 PM Useless Piano???  
Joined: Sep 2008
Posts: 40
Glenn Doyle Offline
Full Member
Glenn Doyle  Offline
Full Member

Joined: Sep 2008
Posts: 40
Central Texas, USA
Ok. I've got a customer who asked me to come tune her console piano (sorry, can't remember the model) a year ago. She told me at the time that the instrument had not been tuned in 10 years. I worked very hard that day to make the piano sound as good as possible, and I warned her before I left that she would notice a drop in pitch soon after I left. I never heard back from her until meeting at a convention this week. She informed me that the pitch dropped off considerably just a few days after I left.

She felt that the only option at this point was to buy a new piano. I told her that I felt I could save this instrument she has owned for nearly 50 years, but only with several tuning visits in a short period of time.

What I'm wondering here is if I'm taking a gamble in making any promises to her. Are there certain brands that are worthless when it comes to attempting to bring them up to stable intonation? She is willing to spend the money on having her instrument playing in tune. I'm just wondering how many visits (within a reasonable period of time) would it normally take to get the job done - or should I just tell her to get a new piano?


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#630894 - 02/14/09 11:15 PM Re: Useless Piano???  
Joined: Dec 2003
Posts: 476
Jeff A. Smith, RPT Offline
Full Member
Jeff A. Smith, RPT  Offline
Full Member

Joined: Dec 2003
Posts: 476
Angola, Indiana USA
Definitely some brands are less stable than others with changes in humidity, but any reasonable piano in good condition should hold pretty well otherwise, once they acclimate to tension. Sounds like this one did fine the last time it was tuned, no?

If it were I, I'd come up with a plan that wouldn't take "several" visits to find if the piano is salvageable. Even if that required temporarily setting the pitch to A435 or something, just to see if it would stabilize there, I'd do it. If that works, then you could do more pitch raising and tuning down the road if desired, after she's had a chance to live with the results of your preliminary work and make a judgement.

Really, you should be able to do enough in one more visit for her to live with awhile and think about, unless it's actually been a lot longer than ten years since she had it tuned. People's memories are sometimes funny about that... wink

Of course that's assuming you make an accurate structural evaluation, judge the condition of strings and pinblock, etc.

Be sure you tighten all the plate and pinblock screws/bolts, or you may be losing stability because of that.


Jeff A. Smith
Registered Piano Technician
Indiana, USA
#630895 - 02/15/09 12:53 AM Re: Useless Piano???  
Joined: Sep 2008
Posts: 40
Glenn Doyle Offline
Full Member
Glenn Doyle  Offline
Full Member

Joined: Sep 2008
Posts: 40
Central Texas, USA
Thanks Jeff! I will definitely take all of that into consideration!


#630896 - 02/15/09 11:32 AM Re: Useless Piano???  
Joined: Nov 2007
Posts: 6,828
Jerry Groot RPT Offline
6000 Post Club Member
Jerry Groot RPT  Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Joined: Nov 2007
Posts: 6,828
Grand Rapids Michigan
Tuning it several different times is a waste of time and money.

Bring it all the way up up to pitch IF the piano is worth salvaging. Always look at it from the customers perspective. "If I were to tune this piano for myself, how would it turn out? Is it REALLY worth it? Would I be happy with the eventual final outcome?"

I bring any and all pianos unless to many strings break during the pitch raise, up to A/440. If something is going to break, it'll break then, or bringing it up a little bit at a time. Bringing it up to pitch is always best.

ALWAYS warn them on the possibility of strings breaking or the harp breaking. COVER YOUR OWN BUTT.

I generally tell them to tune again in a few months as things will settle if you just raised it a key or two. From that point on, it should stay fairly well other than the typical weather related and playing changes.

Most importantly, make sure whatever the brand regardless of your eagerness to improve it, is actually worth the expense of tuning and/or repairing it.

Jerry Groot RPT
Piano Technicians Guild
Grand Rapids, Michigan

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#630897 - 02/16/09 06:49 PM Re: Useless Piano???  
Joined: Mar 2005
Posts: 961
RPD Offline
500 Post Club Member
RPD  Offline
500 Post Club Member

Joined: Mar 2005
Posts: 961
Kalamazoo Michigan
I take possibly a little different approach with brittle older pianos, especially old uprights from 100 years ago. My first rule, and I make it clear to clients, is "do no harm". I break a string once or maybe a couple times per year; but sometimes I try to avoid huge jumps in pitch on old rusty strings...its a thing you'll get the feel for eventually...I'll of course lean the client towards moving it to A440, but if the customer has displayed a careless attitude about the instrument (not tuning for ten years qualifies) then they're not going to want me to basically take them down a very expensive road (pitch raise fee, tuning fee, broken string costs, etc etc )after just initially committing to one tuning. I take a 10 year failure to tune a piano as an opportunity to educate, and I start at the first appt.

On a piano you describe, I might tune it once to see what happens, how stable it is, and to break any rusty coils loose, etc...and then I'll suggest a later follow-up visit to go further into the instrument, pitch raise, repair, etc. If the customer doesn't want to take it that direction, then I've done no harm, assisted them, and they've got my suggestion to get another piano. Occasionally, if it warrants I've been known to happily waive a service call fee and just give free advice, when a customer is lacking funds to properly maintain their piano.

I totally agree that the final product should arrive at A440 (or whatever pitch the piano was designed for-I have several that state on the plate A-435). But, call me chicken...I hate breaking strings and try for a certain artisti/technical compromise if the customer is worried about it.


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#630898 - 02/16/09 07:21 PM Re: Useless Piano???  
Joined: Jun 2003
Posts: 1,292
Ron Alexander Offline
1000 Post Club Member
Ron Alexander  Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Joined: Jun 2003
Posts: 1,292
North Carolina
On this one I have to go with Jerry's approach. Tuning it multiple times to get it to A440 is a waste of time and energy, if not money. If the strings are really rusty, that is something to consider, but since I have begun putting a drop of CLP at the V-Bar, and along the pressure bar (on an vertical), and along the agraffes or V Bar (on grands), I have had very very few strings to break.

But this leads to another issue in my mind. The piano the OP mentions has gone 10 years without a tuning. Many of the first time customers I get, seem to let them go. Most have not been tuned within the past 5 to 10 years, and many are almost, or a quarter to a half step low.

I know it is the "sacred duty" of all piano tuners to tell people how important A440 is, and to tune most if not all pianos to standard pitch.
But why is this important? I know the arguement that it's important for the integrity and structure of the piano. It's important to maintain the correct amount of tension on the strings. It is imporant for the best tonal aspects of the piano, and important that people develop a good sense of tone.

Well it has been my experience that most of the people I tune for "aint" the best of piano players, and will probably NEVER be an accomplished pianist, no matter how serious they are about their music. Maybe it's the area in which I reside. Just NOT many artists, around here.

So why the big deal? If people are using their piano strictly as a practice piano, and never use it to play with other instruments, why the big deal? I know this is heresy for a piano tech to state this. It doesnt mean that I will not continue to tell people how important it is their piano be tuned to standard pitch, and tune most of my calls to standard pitch, but sometimes, in some instances I feel I'm being hyprocritical and less than forthcoming with people. Some of these people would be just as happy plunking away at 1/2 step low and be a few bucks richer when I leave.

Ron Alexander
Piano Tuner-Technician
#630899 - 02/16/09 08:19 PM Re: Useless Piano???  
Joined: Jan 2005
Posts: 1,379
Roger Ransom Offline
1000 Post Club Member
Roger Ransom  Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Joined: Jan 2005
Posts: 1,379
SouthWest Michigan
Most of the pianos I tune would have no chance of getting near A440 without breaking strings. I simply tell them that, and explain what the implications of a piano tuned a 50 cents (or more) flat are. I want to make sure they understand what I'm proposing and why.

Most of the time it doesn't matter at all what pitch the piano is tuned at for these old relics. Just being in tune with themselves is a vast improvement.

I tell them the only times it really matters is if they are playing with other instruments that can't be tuned that low or for a really good singer to whom pitch matters. Almost all are fine with that.

If they insist that it must be at "concert" pitch, I tell them (politely) to either buy a better piano or call a different tuner who is willing to replace whatever strings they break getting it there.

A440 is not sacrosanct in these cases in my opinion.

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