Robert Estrin - piano expert

Can You Tune Your Own Piano?

How easy is to tune a piano yourself?

In this video, Robert tells you how you can tune your own piano. Is that something easy to do?

Released on August 24, 2017

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, welcome. This is Robert Estrin at The great question, can you tune your own piano? I can't tell you how many times I've had people approach me and say, "I think maybe I got to give a stab at tuning my piano." And they take out a pliers and boy, you can do major damage. Or maybe you think, "Well it's too hard. I'm going to use a locking wrench." No this will not work. I'm going to tell you a little story how I learned how hard it is to tune a piano from a very young age. I would see my father sometimes touch up his piano, his grand piano, and it looked kinda cool. He would take the tuning hammer out and touch up a couple of notes. So one time, I was in his studio which is, you know, in the back of our house and I went there and I got brave and I took out his tuning hammer and I went and just tried it and oh my gosh. I thought I destroyed the piano because suddenly I struck one note and I heard two and I was like, "Dad." And to my surprise, he was like, "Oh no problem." And he was very quickly able to get it back in tune. But for the life of me, I couldn't do anything with it. As a matter of fact, if you ever try to even touch up your piano, one string on your whole piano, you will have a deep respect for your piano technician.

So first of all, can you tune your own piano? The short answer is sort of because while you may be able to tune your piano with proper guidance, with online courses, and books and things of that nature, the fact of the matter is a good piano tuner only is able to really provide a first-class tuning that's going to hold for any reasonable amount of time if they've tuned hundreds of pianos. It takes a long time to set a string.

Now, what do I mean by set a string? Well, you know that the pins are really hard to turn which is why you have to use a tool like this. This tuning wrench, first of all, there are two types. The top of this actually twists off. If you find one that's one piece, those are inferior. They absolutely must have a hex head. A five-sided head. If you have one that's just square, you only have very few places that you could place the tuning hammer or the tuning wrench, so it's very difficult to get the traction in the right angle. So you must have a hex head that's removable.

Now you can get them pretty cheaply but I recommend if you're going to do any kind of tuning even just touch up on any kind of basis, you want to invest in a good tool that's nicely weighted. Because once you start touching up even one string, you'll realize, well, I want the best tools I could possibly get. Now the good news is this, there are now amazing software programs that could work even on your phone, it's unbelievable, that can actually give you the right pitches. So you don't have to develop the super ears that tuners in the past relied upon which isn't to say that you don't have to use your ears to tune a piano, you absolutely do, but the online resources, online programs, programs for your phone, for your computer, they can show you when something is flat or sharp.

Now getting the note in tune, that's one challenge. If you listen to a great tuner though, they will hit the notes with great force to make sure the notes will hold because you see, the string has to overcome tension because there are parts of the string that are the speaking length of the string but then there's tension, points of termination. So you can have tension in this part of the string here that is greater than the tension here and the first time you play a note, it evens out and the note goes out of tune. And there is other points of termination in the back of the piano. So getting that string set in the right place at all the points of termination takes a real expert to finesse the string just right to give it a few hard blows so it will hold. Consider this also. There are over 220 strings on most pianos. So it's a very time-consuming task.

Not only that. Even if you have the tools, that is the software programs and the felts and the rubber stoppers so you can just listen to one string at a time, the tools are not very expensive to come by but being able to hear because the very highest notes of the piano and the very lowest notes, even a tuner is going to get confused and you may only have a few moments where you'll actually see where the pitch is because it's changing so rapidly.

So if you are really determined to tune your piano, yes you can learn how, get the proper tools, get the best software programs and plan on tuning a lot of pianos before any piano you tune is really going to sound good and hold for any length of time. My suggestion though is, learn how to touch up a piano. It's invaluable because your tuner will come and then when the few unisons start to go out, you can keep it fresh sounding and keep it in tune much longer. More than that, if you happen to have a broken string that's repaired and it goes wildly out, you can touch it up and not have to mute it out until the tuner comes back or suffer with a hideous sound until you can get your tuner there. Because even one note in the middle of the piano that's out of tune could drive you crazy and you might not want to have to spend all that money to have your whole piano tuned or just get the tuner there to touch up a note if you learn how yourself.

So that is a practical thing that I encourage anyone thinking about tuning your own piano. Get the best tools, learn how to touch up your piano, then you can determine how you feel about tuning your whole piano. I hope this has been helpful. If you need any more information, feel free to contact me, I'll do my best to provide you with the proper resources. Thanks for joining me, see you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

François Leroux * VSM MEMBER * on November 14, 2018 @6:15 am PST
Wow! Thank you Robert for this very interesting session about tuning your own piano. I bought myself a whole kit to tune my piano 3 month ago. It didn't take me long before realizing that there was more than meets my “ears” and brain! I ended up calling my usual technician so to spend more time improving the more than a thousand sheets that are in need for improvement.
In French there is proverb : « À chacun son métier et les vaches seront bien gardées. » In other words, do well what you are good at and let the specialists do the work that they are good at. Back to practising J.S. Bach's variations which I am trying to master..
Robert Estrin - host, on November 14, 2018 @9:45 am PST
Since you have the equipment, you can possibly extend your tuning a bit by touching up unisons as they go out if you are brave!
François Leroux * VSM MEMBER * on November 14, 2018 @4:56 pm PST
Dear Robert, brave, I am! And I will in deed do minor touch-ups when I hear minor 'dissonances'. Merci beaucoup for your taking the time to read and reply to my comment. By the way, I'm playing on a German baby grand August-Förster made in 1936 (serial no. 71065) that I bought in Belgium in 2005 where I was working. It crossed the ocean back home in 2009. I had a special case made to measure so that it would resist the container transportation. No need to say the major tuning that was required when I un-wrapped the case. Merci encore pour vos précieux conseils et votre excellent site web.
Edward Grabczewski call me Eddy on October 16, 2018 @10:00 am PST
Just watched the video on "Can you tune your own piano?". It reminded me of when I tried to tune my old Broadwood grand. I read a book and tried to do the whole piano. After a few hours I gave up and called in a tuner. It was taking too long and I wasn't getting it right. All I had was a tuning fork and the tuning equipment. There were no smartphone apps in the mid 80s. But I learnt a lot and I felt confident to touch up a rogue note afterwards. I've no doubt that only a professional piano tuner can do the job properly.
Robert Estrin - host, on October 17, 2018 @10:53 am PST
Anyone who has ever tried to tune one string on a piano will have a healthy respect for their piano tuner!
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