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When a piano requires a fine tuning it is more of a slight adjustment than an overhaul. This occurs when a piano is only a fraction of a semitone out of tune. It is made by making only slight adjustments to the tension of the strings of the piano to return it to concert pitch.
Fine tuning is usually applied to pianos that are well maintained and regularly tuned (tuned every 6 months). It requires the tuner to only have to tune each string of the piano once while also making a few adjustments here and there at the end of the tune.
A fine tuning can usually not be applied to a piano that has not been tuned in over 6 months as the tension on the strings has changed so drastically that it requires 2 or 3 passes. If we adjust the tuning so that the piano is back in tune by the time we have finished the final string the first string we tuned will no longer be in tune even though at the start of the tune it was. Massive changes in tension undo our efforts in tuning at the start of a tune. This type of piano requires a pitch readjustment prior to a fine tuning.
A ‘Pitch Re-Adjustment’ or ‘Pitch Raise’ is used when a piano is passed being slightly out of tune (usually more than 20 cents flat). Essentially a ‘Pitch Re-adjustment’ is simply a very quick rough tune. Above all else it is about bringing the tension levels in the strings close to where they should be so that later when we apply a fine tuning it will stay in tune.
When a piano is extremely out of tune it may even require 2 pitch raises to get the tension close to where it should be.
Typically you will need a Pitch Re-Adjustment before a fine tuning when the piano is beyond being close to in tune. It can also be when parts of the piano are out of tune drastically when compared to other parts of the piano. The only real way to know for sure if you will need this is to have the piano assessed by an experienced piano tuner as there are always exceptions so this should be more of a guide than anything else.
When a piano is significantly out of tune, either too flat or sharp, is when you will most likely need a pitch raise. If a fine tuning is applied at this point it is very unlikely that it will stay in tune as massive changes in tension affect the surrounding strings to the string being tuned. The tension across the entire piano must be approximately right before a fine tuning will hold its tune.
While there are many factors at play the most common conditions are:
– The piano has not been tuned in less than 6 months
– The piano has been moved
– The piano has been exposed to a changing environment (temperature, humidity)
– The piano is older and the tuning pegs do not all hold their tune
Humidity affects the wooden tuning block that holds the pins in place drastically so the less exposed you piano is to a change in humidity the better. A good way to achieve this is by having your piano in a well insulated part of your house and to ensure it is against an inside wall (ie a wall where neither of its sides are an exterior wall of the house). Exterior walls are subject to rain and sunshine and everything in between and thus have greater differences in temperature and humidity than an inside wall.
Having a piano in the garage or shed is just asking for trouble!
If it is not possible to have your piano in an ideal environment or even if you can but would like extra protection for you piano, there is a device called a Dampp Chaser that can be installed to regulate the humidity level and help protect your piano. Please ask about this if you are interested during your next appointment.
One of the other major factors in avoiding a pitch raise is to have your piano regularly tuned every 6 months. Most pianos go require a tuning at least every 6 months due to the changes in the environment, stretching of the strings and the normal wear and tear of playing a piano.
Moving your piano is the other common factor in putting the piano largely out of tune. The sheer weight of a piano when being moved forces the sounding board and tuning pins to warp and bend as the piano’s weight is shifted in different directions. This can happen when you are moving a piano interstate, a few blocks away or even just to pick up something you dropped behind the piano.
Nine times out of ten the answer is yes. Because the wood in the piano contracts and expands more with greater changes in humidity there is always going to be a greater chance that the piano will be more exposed to such conditions being against an outside wall. More humidity equals more contorting in the wood of the piano which equals you piano going out of tune more frequently and thus needing to be tuned more regularly. While it may be possible in some instances that the wall is extremely insulated and the outside facing side of the wall is somehow protected from the elements it will still always be a safer bet not to risk it.
For the same reasons as not having your piano against an outside wall you should also keep your piano away from air-conditioning vents, bathroom walls and heaters. Any changes from dry to wet or hot to cold can affect the swelling of the wood within your piano and thus the tuning of your piano.
Ideally a piano should be tuned once every six months. However it really is up to the individual. Having greater changes in climate will put the piano out of tune than if the climate remained constant all year round. The more often the piano is played the faster it goes out of tune.
Sometimes a piano will go out of tune fairly uniformly across the entire piano which may leave the piano in tune but not at concert pitch. This will mean the piano will still sound ok to the average player playing by themselves but would not sound in tune relative to another instrument at concert pitch.
Click here to hear the sound of concert pitch A4 (440 Hz) and compare to your piano to hear the difference.