Did you know?

A digital piano will lose approximately 40% to 50% of all it's value within the first 5 years, in contrast to an acoustical piano which will only lose about 15% of it's value over 10 years.

Services :: Fine Tuning

Fine tuning refers to a stable tuning which results in the instrument being tuned to A440 or a customer's preferred pitch.

The standard pitch since about 1925 is A440. The "A" refers to the fifth A as one comes up the keyboard from bass. The "440" is in reference to the strings' frequency - that is 440 cycles per second (or Hertz). Before 1925 A435 was a common pitch.

Yet, a piano does not always need to be tuned to A440 to consider a tuning a fine tune. Sometimes customers prefer their pianos to be tuned to a pitch that is not standard. It may be the need to match another instrument's pitch or to make the piano more suitable to a particular groups' vocals. An experienced tuner will not find it difficult to finely tune the instrument to any reasonable pitch.

Fine tuning really is more accurately defined as a tuning that results in the instrument being tuned to the desired pitch (whatever that may be) and that the tuning is stable.

Tuning stability is rather important. Without stability the piano would soon return to a point close to the pitch the piano was at before the tuning. A number of things can effect a piano's stability.

- Piano Quality

A piano's quality will usually indicate an expected stability duration - i.e. how long a tuner might expect (without other outside influences) the piano to remain stable). Higher quality instruments are built with higher quality materials to more exacting specifications and, should, result in an instrument that will be more stable in it's pitch and regulation. Usually older pianos (say pre-1930s) tend to have been built to higher quality standards than you would usually find in today's pianos (exceptions of course exist, usually at the high end of the market).

- Surrounding Environment

Since a piano is composed mostly of wood it will come as no surprise that humidity and temperature have an effect on the instrument.

Relative humidity is not the same as simply humidity. Humidity is the "wetness" of the air, while relative humidity is how saturated the air is at a particular temperature compared to how much the air could hold at that temperature. As the temperature of air rises it can hold more moisture than it could at a lower temperature. This is important because wood swells and shrinks according to relative humidity.

Wood was created in such a way as to always attempt to balance it's cells moisture level with that of the relative humidity around it. If the wood has a high moisture level and the air a low relative humidity (dryer) the wood will begin to release water vapor as it attempts to balance with the air. This causes the wood to shrink. If the air's relative humidity rises higher than the moisture levels within the wood, the wood will begin to absorb moisture from the air causing the wood to swell.

This cycle of absorption/swelling and evaporation/shrinking is constant and normal as the seasons change. It can be exasperated though by moving the instrument from an area of higher relative humidity to one with lower or vice-versa. We usually suggest customers wait to tune a piano for about three weeks after it is moved. This will allow the piano to adjust to it's new environment and can result in a more stable tuning.

It should be mentioned that the piano's (like all furniture) finish is its first line of defence against excessive swelling and shrinking of the wood. A well maintained finish slows the exchange of moisture between air and wood, which results in a slower swelling/shrinking cycle. Since the relative humidity in the air is constantly rising and falling, slowing this moisture exchange results is a more consistent level of moisture in the wood (i.e. stability). Please see the article Your Piano And Relative Humidity in our Information Library for more information about effects of environment on wood.

Reasonable temperatures do not have so great an effect as relative humidity. Of course, as we saw above, temperature does play a role in relative humidity.

Extremely low temperatures can make metal more prone to breaking (this danger disappears as the metal returns to a normal temperature). Low temperatures can also help form rust on metal parts. Since air tends to warm up faster than metal can the warmer air (containing higher humidity) contacting the colder metal causes moisture to leave the air and form as water on the colder metal (i.e. condensation). This of course tends to form rust. If you have to leave a piano in an unheated location over cold winters we suggest you contact us for information that could help reduce the dangers of damage.

- Piano Usage and Playing Styles

Of course the more the instrument is used the faster it will tend to fall out of it's tuned pitch. This effects all pianos, though higher quality instruments will generally remain stable longer than lower quality pianos.

Playing style can also effect the stability of a tuning. Lilting waltzes will have much less effect than say the 1804 Overture. Again, higher quality instruments tend to be less effected.

- The Tuner

The tuner can also effect stability. An inexperienced tuner will usually not understand how to "set" the pins or how the tension's distribution across the piano can effect a tuning. This tends to result in tunings that "fall out" quicker. Experienced tuners should be able to provide a more stable tuning, depending on the other outside influences of course.

So as we see, the tuner/technician has to take into account many factors to provide a quality tuning. Sometimes it is simply impossible to provide a stable fine tuning if a piano is so far off the desired pitch that the tuner can not safely make the needed physical adjustments. In these cases the tuner will make use of Pitch Raises (also known as Pitch Stabilization) tunings. Read more about Pitch Raises (a.k.a Pitch Stabilization).

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