Frequently Asked Questions
I’m often asked about piano tuning, how I got involved in this career and the best practices for caring for your piano. This FAQ is on ongoing effort to help let you know a bit about this business and about our favorite instrument.
How did you get into piano tuning?
I initially saw a piano technician disassemble a piano at a summer music camp and was fascinated by the innards of the instrument. Later, when I was studying music in college, I often found myself frustrated when there were issues with the practice room pianos. Though the technician was quite prompt upon receiving service requests, I wished I could simply take care of the sticking keys and noisy pedals on my own without having to wait until the next day. I actually figured out how to install a disconnected pedal rod during one of my midnight practice sessions!
After college, I drifted like a typical early 20-something, and decided to fully pursue an education in piano technology. I decided to attend two year program offered by the Emil Fries School of Piano Technology in Vancouver, Washington. Now dedicated solely to training the blind and visually impaired, I was the last sighted student to emerge from its doors in 2006, whereupon I became gainfully employed by Classic Pianos in Portland, Oregon.
I live in ______ and need my piano serviced. Do you service that area?
I serve the entire Portland Metro area, including all of Clark County, Washington. Please fill out the service form and I will be in touch with you very shortly!
If you live outside of the metro area, but within 2 hours of Portland, I would still love to take care of your piano! Please contact me for details regarding how I can serve you!
Wow! You tune pianos! By ear! That must mean you have perfect pitch, right?
Interestingly, perfect pitch is not at all necessary to become a successful piano tuner.
Piano tuning is about hearing how different frequencies interact with each other, which does not require perfect pitch at all. I know a tone-deaf person who is one of the most well-known and well-respected tuners in our region.
Okay, so you don’t have perfect pitch. But you must play the piano really well, at least, right?
While I do have a long history of classical piano training, playing the piano is not necessary in order to become a piano technician. That being said, I do believe it helps me to relate to what my clients need.
Well, since you play the piano, you teach piano, right?
Nope! Piano playing is recreational for me at this point in my life, though I definitely support anyone learning how to play. I would be more than happy to provide a list of piano teachers if you live in the Portland, OR area—please contact me for details.
I am interested in becoming a piano technician. Are you taking on apprentices?
Not at this time. I do offer private lessons in aural tuning, which is an interesting way to learn a bit more about your piano and one aspect of the role of a piano technician. Please contact me for rates and information.
Do you know of anyone looking for apprentices?
Unfortunately, I do not know of anyone taking on apprentices at this time.
I’m looking to fix my own piano. Do you sell piano tools and/or parts so I can do so?
Because I am service operation only and not a retailer, I cannot sell or help you obtain any tools or parts. I would be more than happy to take a look at your piano to determine its service needs. Please fill out the service contact form if you are interested in that type of assistance.
I need to have my piano moved. Are there companies that specialize in piano moving?
Yes! Piano moving is a delicate procedure that requires knowledge of how to disassemble and reassemble parts, as well as specialized equipment that many general moving companies lack. I highly recommend that you find a moving company that specializes in moving pianos.
Keep in mind that some research into the company will probably have to be done beforehand. Any moving company you call will say they can move a piano, but many do not really know how to do it safely and properly. Be sure to get references from previous clients and take care to do your own due diligence prior to having your piano moved. Visit my links and resources page for a recommendation or feel free to contact me for a referral if you live in the Portland, OR area.
How often should I get my piano tuned?
It is recommended that a piano be tuned twice a year, a few weeks after a major change in season (i.e. a few weeks after winter or summer temperatures have settled in and stabilized.)
New pianos and recently restrung pianos will need to be tuned more often, usually every 2-4 months for the first year, since new strings are still in the process of stretching out, which results in increased tuning instability.
What causes a piano to go out of tune?
The Short Answer: Its existence.
The Long Answer: Pianos are designed to be at a certain tension. The average piano has 230 strings, each with a pull of 165 pounds of tension, which equals a combined pull of approximately 18 total tons of tension! Like anything at a high tension, piano wire, if not maintained at its designed tension via regular tunings, will naturally release tension bit by bit, resulting in the piano going out of tune.
As such, this makes tuning the most important form of regular maintenance for a piano, as consistent tension is good for the stability of the overall physical structure, not to mention the optimal sound, of the instrument.
The Even Longer Answer: Changes in temperature and humidity, since pianos primarily consist of wood, steel, and iron, all three of which are extremely sensitive to changes in temperature and humidity.
Therefore, to keep a piano from going out of tune as much as possible in between service calls, the instrument should, if possible, be kept out of basements and garages, and away from windows, drafty areas (i.e. any door leading outside), direct sunlight, any heating source (including fireplaces, radiators, heating vents, and air conditioners), as well as rooms that frequently have fluctuating levels of temperature and humidity such as kitchens and bathrooms.
And Finally: Frequent playing, which causes the strings to vibrate and move every time a note is struck, which therefore incrementally changes its position, often necessitates more frequent tuning.
I have an old-fashioned player piano with paper rolls and foot pumps. Do you work on those?
Unfortunately, I do not. Traditional pneumatic player pianos require particular expertise, I am not trained in how to service or repair them, nor do I know how to move the components out of the way in order to tune them. If you live in the Portland, OR area, I would be happy to refer you to an expert who can properly care for and service your player piano.
I have an old-fashioned piano shaped like a rectangle. Do you work on those?
I do not work on that type of piano, known as “square grands.” As they were built before the 1900s, the playing mechanism differs from today’s standard and requires special expertise. Also, the position of the tuning pins on square grands is such that I cannot physically reach them in order to tune the piano. If you live in the Portland, Oregon area, I would be happy to refer you to an expert who can properly care for and service your square grand piano.
What is regulation and why is it necessary?
Regulation is the optimal adjustment of each of the the many parts in the playing mechanism, known as the action, in order to make each note feel consistent for the player. Over time, as felts compress and leather wears down, the parts in the action gradually move out of their optimal positions, necessitating adjustments. The piano action is a machine in which millimeters matter, so even the most minute adjustments greatly enhance the playing potential of the instrument.
What should I use to clean my piano?
For light dusting, use a slightly damp soft cotton (never synthetic) cloth or chamois and gently wipe, in the case of satin and wood finishes, in the direction of the lines and grain. For more extensive cleaning to remove fingerprints and smudges, use products specifically designed for pianos, such as Cory Care piano cleaners and polishes. Do not use any old household cleaners such as 409 or Windex; they can damage the finish of your instrument.
How do I find out the age of my piano?
To find out how old (or new) your piano is, you will need the manufacturer and serial number.
On uprights, this can usually be found by opening the lid and looking along the top of the plate. On grands, remove the music rack (or push it back far enough, if possible). The serial number will usually be on the portion of the plate closest to the keys, and is often in a triangular section that separates the bass and tenor sections of the strings. There are usually two numbers, one which indicates the model, while the other indicates the serial number, stamped or etched into the top of the plate. The serial number will usually be longer in length, while the model is often a single letter or number and usually does not exceed 4 digits. If the number is not on that section of the plate, it may be on another section of the plate, stamped somewhere on the edge of the soundboard, or inside the piano, for which you will need a technician’s assistance to find it.
Once you have the manufacturer and serial number, the age can be determined by looking them up in the Pierce Piano Atlas, a comprehensive source of piano production records.
Have a question not answered here? Drop me a line!