What I a nutshell....

What I a nutshell....

I think it may be helpful to give you the rundown as to the platform I use in tuning your piano. If I were the customer I'm sure I would be curious and think "I wonder how Duane would approach tuning or fixing my piano."

I mean wouldn't you like to know the procedure that I take when you call to enquire as to piano repairs and tuning. This is the purpose of this article of interest appropriately titled "How I Would Tune Your Piano."


Now days I never know how I will be approached with a piano job. It could be any number of ways for example texting, FaceBook, Instagram, gmail, email, phone etc. What I try to do in the end is at least "talk" by way of telephone, at some point before actually meeting as this seems warmer, more personable don't you think?

Admittedly, sometimes this cannot be easily attained so in the end, however the enquiry comes, the response to "How I Would Tune Your Piano" should be similar at least to the following brief outline.



(1) I try to always talk with a smile on my face especially when I'm on the telephone. Before you laugh to hard and fall off your chair....try it. If you do you'll see that your tone is very pleasant.

I took a course one time about general office ethics and part of the advice was "always talk with a smile and if you have to leave a message by all means make it but do so with a broad smile on your face." Sounds silly but it works.

(2) Basic information needs to be handled now. Things like making sure you have the persons first name in your head. So what I will do if it is a first time contact is right it down and often will ask "...did you say your first name was..." or something like that. 


Now, the reason for this approach is that during the course of the conversation you will need to address the client asking them for information. There is no better way to relax things then to be on a first name basis immediately. A big part of that is to remember that name and be sure to pronounce it properly.

A huge problem I have is with names of the various ethnic peoples in the communities. It can get a bit dicey trying to get to the bottom of an acceptable pronunciation of some names. I have found though that most people are very acceptable and just by attempting to say it right is seen as a good sign by them and so even that is a victory.

The bottom line here is that you are just breaking the ice and relaxing the situation and showing yourself as friendly. The response is always positive and rewarding both ways.

(3) As the conversation developes from where the customer lives to what exactly is wrong with the piano the field starts to broaden. As a piano technition at this point my mind is engaged with questions like: "Now, when was the last time your piano was tuned?" The answer will usually determine whether it needs a "pitch-raise" procedure or not. 


Then I will, no doubt, ask "Do all the keys play or at least make a sound?" This question, as the one previously mentioned, will tell me if I have to spend the first 30 minutes to an hour repairing the piano.

Something that most piano owners don't realize is that every piano has to be able to play sufficiently at least before it can be tuned. Therefore, often repairs and/or adjustments are iminent.

These are brief questions that when the answers are given in what ever way tell me the condition of the piano. This helps me establish a surprisingly accurate vision of what I will be facing with any particular piano. 

(4) Then I would be asking where they live. Then, their availability during the work week which will ultimately determine the all important question "....what do you think it will cost me?" Of course this is common and my answer is direct but slightly vague, I suppose. The answer I give at this point is based on the result of the "vision" gleaned from the answers that I have received thus far. 


So, this is approximately how the initial conversation would transpire. I find that the more people know about the actual condition of their piano when they call me makes for a more precise and clearer answer from me. It stands to reason that if a client tells me that one "or more" of the keys won't play and there is a "clunk" happening.....then little wonder that I cannot give a more exact answer. 

In the end though, what I personally want to relay to the client is first, that I am friendly, and second, that I know what I am talking about (that their lovely piano is in good hands). 


It’s better to arrive late than to arrive ugly....

The day of the tuning/repair has arrived. What now? I have found that first impressions are important but not as important as just trying to be friendly and above all "be yourself".

My approach on this has always been "Treat others as you yourself would like to be treated and you will do alright." 

Some small talk at the door sizing one another up as humans do. This is common. Then it's shoes off but I will ask usually as it is better for me if I can keep them on. Not so hard on the feet and legs at the end of the day. 

So, finally, you are introduced to the center of all the conversation....the piano. 


(1) The first thing that I will do is ask the client to "unload" the top of the piano. This is often covered with heirlooms and delicate memoirs and pictures and artifacts. I will help with simple pieces but usually will leave the delicate things to the owner. I do not want to be responsible for breaking something that money cannot replace. 

(2) Then I begin to "open" the piano. This means tipping open the very top which is usually on hinges. Next, I will take the top front panel off which will often arouse great interest in clients. This reveals all the working parts of the piano which at first view is very intimadating and unusual looking. 


As I make a few initial tests one being determing whether the bottom front panel needs to be removed to adjust the damper pedals or try to eliminate squeaky pedal rods and springs and such. This is often an eye-opener to men, women and children alike to see what is behind the front panels.

It would surprise you how many pianists have never viewed what a piano looks like behind the front top and bottom panels. I have seen many clients take pictures of their piano at this stage of the process and send them to family members wherever they are on earth. Easily done with today's modern technologies.

....ninety percent of the game is half mental....
— Yogi Berra

Often they will gather up their children and bring them to view this strange and surprising new and mysterious view of their piano.

It is not uncommon that at this juncture I am asked to point out some of the various working parts and demonstrate what they do. This is always so very interesting to me.

(3) Okay, panels off, top's time to get to work as they say. Since I tune using a program called Tune Lab Pro with my laptop I will now set this laptop up on a folding stool I bring with me. I remember tuning a fellows piano one time and after I set the laptop up he stood in bewilderment and said "I never saw anyone tune a piano with a computer."

I search and find a electrical plugin and bring up my tuning program on my screen. Now we are off to the races. The next step is critical to me as it determines where the piano is in terms of pitch. 

So, to find the approximate present pitch of the piano I will press A4 on the piano and watch where the peak of the graph on my screen shows up. I will subsequently strike A3, A2 and up to A5, A6 all the time determining how I will approach the tuning.  

(4) The next thing I like to do is strike every key from A0 to C8 (88 keys) slowly, listening first of all to the sound being made but most importantly "if" there is a sound at all. This determines whether there are repairs or adjustments needed before the tuning even begins which is often the case.


By this procedure I can tell if there is a major pitch raise needed or not. During this part of the inspection I determine the condition of the strings them selves. I make a choice based on experience, mostly, that if the piano has "heavily" rusted strings then possibly I will "cut back on the pitch" raise which means A440 which is "Concert Pitch" is not attainable. 

(Briefly let me explain that the standard world wide pitch that all tuners shoot for is found by tuning A4 (A in the fourth octive) to a 440 pitch. When this is accomplished we say the piano is set at Standard Concert Pitch which is A440. That also means that if someone wanted to play the violin or guitar etc. along with that piano they could because the pitch is the same.)

With this decision I will have already asked if they play other instruments along with this piano and if they do not, which often the case, then that will determine whether to "cut back on the pitch". But, if they do play other instruments with that piano then it will have to be the piano owners choice whether to proceed. The reason for this caution is that strings may break bringing them up to standard pitch and, of course, so will the cost of the job.

Now, sometimes repairs etc. are obvious but my inspection at this point does include the owner because if I find something that will require an extended period of time to repair or parts that need to be replaced I will not proceed until they are thourghly aware of the problem(s). Generally, but not always, this would lead to extra charges which the client must approve of. Of course I could just proceed but to me that would not be fair.


(5) Then, when all is said and done, the repairs, the adjustments, the discussion, etc. when all is settled....I tune the piano. This will take me the better part of 90 minutes. I always allow myself two hours from start to finish and so now you can see why.

The tuning of the piano is the crowning edge of it all. It will demand great concentration and attention to details for the most part but when a piano technician is through and he has been successful he can walk away very satisfied for a job well-done.

(6) When the job is finished I will test every key just as I did at the beginning listening intently to the bi-chords and the tri-chords to see if they are playing in unison. Then I will close it up again as it was when I came to it and the very last thing I do to a freshly tuned piano is play usually in the presence of the owner. 


If the client can play sufficiently I will sometimes ask them to try it themselves for verification. If all is satisfactory payment is made and I am on my way but before a leave the premisis I have do two things; first, I tell them I will call them in 12 months to see if they want to retune (some want it done in six months which is not a problem) and secondly, I ask them to pass the word to their piano playing friends that I do this sort of thing.



So this is pretty well how I would react and follow through if you called me to tune your piano. Acoustic pianos have become my passion and tuning and repairing them is actually a privelege for me and to think that I get paid for doing something I actually like doing. 

But it goes beyond that, really. You see I actually like people and families and the unity thereof. You might ask how does that enter your thoughts about tuning a piano and my answer is this.

I vision family gatherings around that piano that I have made ready. I vision the Christmas celebrations and hymns and songs being sung at Easter, at birthday parties, at weddings parties, at graduations, and so on all on that piano that I have brought life to hence delivering joy to that home.

Often, when my two daughters are home here they will sit together and with joy they play various tunes and often together. One taking the lead and the other filling in the melody and all the time laughing and chattering. That is pure joy to me.

do what you love.jpg

I vision, also, the young and old practising on that very piano diligently. It gives me a warm feeling and makes me feel good. 

As you can now imagine I take pride in what I do and I am not ashamed to say it. So there you have it....a tuned piano.

Written by Duane Graves of Duane's Piano Tuning & Technology

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