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Frequently Asked Questions

                Tuning, touch, tone, sticky keys, piano worth, best location, moving


                Q:  My piano has not been tuned in years.  Can it be tuned? 

A:  The great majority of pianos can be tuned.    But pianos that have been neglected sometimes require additional tuning (called pitch raising) to achieve concert pitch (also called A440 or standard pitch).  Concert pitch is a standard that insures that one instrument can play along with a corresponding note of another instrument and play in tune with each other.  However, many people are satisfied to tune their piano so that it is in tune with itself only, not at concert pitch,  because they do not play the piano along with other instruments or recordings.  In this case a single standard tuning is often all that is required.  On very old pianos with rusty strings, first tuning the piano to itself is sometimes advisable to test the condition of the piano before adding greater tension.  Note: There are some pianos with loose tuning pins or other structural problems that can make tuning difficult.  Some cost effective remedies are available depending on the severity. 


Q:  What will tuning cost?

A:  If you decide to tune the piano to itself (as described above), and it is not horrendously out of tune, a standard tuning will normally suffice.  Cost for most locations:  from $90 (see Rates for your location). 

      To tune the piano to concert pitch:  The standard fee alone applies to most well maintained pianos.  Add $45 to a standard tuning fee for pianos that are up to 1/4 tone flat/sharp.  This can be done in one visit.  Double the standard tuning fee for pianos that are between 1/4 and 2/3 tone flat (2 visits).  Pianos that are more than 2/3 tone flat may require additional pitch raisings at $45 each.  If you have a tuning device, like a guitar tuner, you may be able to test the piano’s pitch yourself.


Q:  When and how often should I tune my piano?

A:  In Wisconsin, with our humidity extremes, most people find that tuning twice a year is needed.  This is the recommendation of most piano manufacturers.  If the piano is brand new, has tuning stability problems (i.e. loose tuning pins), or is poorly located in the house, more frequent tunings may be necessary.  The truth is that pianos begin to incrementally change the minute the tuner walks out the door.  A heavy handed concert pianist can throw notes out of tune before the concerto ends!

      Some of the more serious players on my customer list tune with every season change.  Other more casual players may schedule at longer intervals.  If you decide to wait longer than six months, let your ear be your guide.  When sour notes begin to cut into playing enjoyment, get it tuned.  If you wait longer than one year, it may be necessary to pay additional charges for pitch raising.     

      Is there a best time of year to tune?  I find there to be no great advantage in seasonal timing.  In Wisconsin, no matter what month you decide to tune, two or three months later the humidity has changed…tune in November and by January humidity has dropped…tune in April, and by July it has increased.  However, I do see a slight advantage for customers tuning on a yearly schedule to try to keep to approximately the same month every year.

      Whatever tuning schedule you decide upon, I will be happy to call you for tuning reminders.        


                Q:  I just inherited an old piano from aunt Mildred.  Is it worth fixing up?

A:  First you have to define “fixing up”.  Most pianos can be brought into playing condition at a reasonable cost.  However, the full restoration of a piano to like new condition is usually recommended only for fine quality instruments…and sometimes for the preservation of a beloved family heirloom.  But most pianos do not need major work to perform well.  And improvements to a piano can easily be made over time, as the players ability advances.  Best advice…schedule a tuning.  Tuning is the best way to thoroughly assess piano tone and touch and to detect any mechanical problems.  There is no charge for verbal repair estimates if a tuning is done.


Q:  I have a sticky key.  What will that cost to fix?

A:  If a key makes a tone when played, the problem is usually minor.  If it does not make a tone, it may still be minor or parts may need to be repaired or replaced.  An estimate of additional cost, if any, will be given upon tuning.  It sometimes helps for you to look inside the piano as a note is being played (just lift up the lid).  Your description of this over the phone can often help me with a diagnosis and a phone estimate.


Q:  I have some cracked, chipped and missing ivories.  Can they be replaced?

A:  Yes, I have a collection of old ivory, fake ivory, and modern key top material to do individual replacements in your home.  If there are many key tops to be replaced or if the keys are generally discolored or stained, many people opt to have all white keys and/or sharps replaced with modern key top material (see “RATES”).  The result is a keyboard that looks like new.  The work is done by me personally in my shop usually returning within 3 business days of pickup.  


Q:  My piano has a different “feel” than other pianos.  It seems harder to play.  Can this be improved?

A:  Almost always.  The feel or touch of a piano is often adjusted by means of action regulation.  When you press down any key, about 3/8”, the piano action converts this into a hammer moving 5 times the distance to strike the string.  The piano action must be adjusted to within very tight tolerances to do this efficiently.  SYMPTOMS OF A POORLY REGULATED PIANO COULD INCLUDE;

1.      A feeling of having to strike the key harder to get a tone

2.      Not being able to repeat a note quickly

3.      Striking a key once and hearing a blubbering double strike

4.      Hearing clicks, squeaks or other noises

5.      Uneven piano key height (look at the keys at eye level)

A player should be able to strike a key softly, pianissimo, and hear each note sound evenly.  Most piano owners understand the importance of tuning but may be unaware of the importance of regulation.  Consequently MANY PIANOS HAVE NEVER BEEN REGULATED! 


Q:  My piano does not sound as good as my teacher’s.  Can the tone be improved?

A:  Again, almost always.  Can a spinet sound like a grand? No.  Can a Kimball sound like a Steinway?  No.  Can a bright brassy piano be mellowed out?  Yes, easily.  Can the inconsistent tone from one note to the next be evened out?  Yes.  This modification of tone is largely the business of voicing.  It frequently involves working with the felt of the hammers.  Voicing is often a relatively inexpensive way of markedly improving the tone of your piano.  But keep in mind that regulation plays a role in tone as well.


Q:  How much is my piano worth?

A:  Over the phone, anyone’s estimate would be worth very little.  Best advice…schedule a tuning.  Tuning puts your piano in a much more sellable condition and gives me the best opportunity to thoroughly assess tone and touch.  THERE IS NO CHARGE FOR A VERBAL APPRAISAL IF A TUNING IS DONE.  In addition, your potential buyers will gain confidence in a purchase when a professional appraisal has been done.  Also, if you wish, I am always happy to field any questions your prospective buyers may wish to ask…i.e. regarding costs of tuning, repairs etc.


                Q:  What is the best piano location in the house?

A:  First consider:  Humidity change is a piano’s worst enemy.  Extreme humidity change can cause wood to change size by up to 10%!  Your piano is mostly wood.  So what happens when your piano is subjected to Wisconsin’s extreme wet/dry conditions?  Soundboards and bridges crack, pin blocks (which hold the tuning pins tight) loosen,  keys get sticky and sluggish in summer and loose and noisy in the winter.  So…

1.      Keep your piano as far away from heat sources as possible…i.e. heating vents, registers, radiators, fireplaces and wood burning stoves.

2.      Keep your piano as far as possible away from windows.

3.  Best to avoid placement on an outside wall (less of a problem on well insulated homes).

4.  Avoid basements.  Damp basements will kill a piano.  Even finished “dry” lower levels have greater   moisture coming through the cement walls and floor.


Air conditioning can mitigate the humidity extremes of summer, but most people do not use air conditioning that much.  Greater benefit can be achieved with humidification in the winter.  Whole house units that attach to the furnace are ideal.  If you have a room that can be shut off (doors shut),  a small humidifier for the piano room is very effective.  (Note:  If the room is not closed off, that small unit will actually be working to humidify the whole house.) 


Q:  What is the best way to move a piano?


A:  The best way is to pay a professional very experienced in piano moving.  Grand pianos require tear down and setup skills and specific tools to do the job.  And a mover has to know how to reattach grand pedals so they function properly.  Vertical pianos (spinets, consoles, studios, uprights) are still very heavy…up to 600 pounds.  Beware!  See more do-it yourself into on Piano Buying/Selling Tips.

       Piano stores are an excellent piano moving resource.  They are experienced, they use delivery trucks that are smaller and more designed for piano moving.  And because of their efficiency, they are almost always less expensive.


       Please email me with any suggestions for additions to this piano FAQs page.


For answers to other questions, please see the contact page of brownpianotuning.co