I'd love to learn to tune a piano myself - time investment?

Posted by: CrashTest

I'd love to learn to tune a piano myself - time investment? - 03/03/14 03:36 PM

I love the piano - and I'd love to learn how to tune, voice, and regulate a piano myself. This is more for personal involvement and knowledge rather than wanting to save money.

How difficult is it to service a piano at a professional level? Any good resources that you guys would recommend? I just basically want to know exactly how my piano works, and how to adjust it to my liking.
Posted by: BDB

Re: I'd love to learn to tune a piano myself - time investment? - 03/03/14 03:46 PM

It takes an investment of about 4 years of time, and $500 to $2000 in capital, if you have talent for it.
Posted by: Rickster

Re: I'd love to learn to tune a piano myself - time investment? - 03/03/14 04:01 PM

This topic is somewhat of a sore-spot/tender territory here on Piano World; especially over on the technician’s forum. Not sure why, but I have my suspicions. Some are understanding and helpful and others are critical of the idea from the start.

I’m in the process of learning to tune and service my own pianos. I recognize my skills are at the early stages of the learning curve and I need a lot more experience; but my tunings still sound a lot better than some out-of-tune pianos I’ve played at some piano dealer showrooms, and better than most YouTube piano music videos I listen to.

That said, it is not at all easy. Give it a try and you will see what I’m talking about.

Just a bit of advice from one DIYer to another… buy a good tuning hammer, and not one of the cheap apprentice ones. Read up on the subject as much as you can. Learn the terminology and the jargon. Get a decent tuning program or electronic tuner and learn how to use it. Then, practice, practice, practice, and practice some more.

Oh yea, I forgot to weigh in on your original questions… like BDB said, $500 is not a bad place to start, but might get by with $300 or so initially. As far as the time element involved, it took me 8 hours to tune my piano for the first time… now, I’m down to about 2+ hours if all I do is tune. Regulation and voicing?... well, how much time ya got? smile

One of the benefits of tuning your own piano is that you only have yourself to please… smile

Good luck!

Rick
Posted by: Retsacnal

Re: I'd love to learn to tune a piano myself - time investment? - 03/03/14 04:15 PM

Originally Posted By: BDB
It takes an investment of about 4 years of time, and $500 to $2000 in capital, if you have talent for it.

I can definitely see it taking a few years to develop a level of competency, especially in all three: tuning, voicing and regulating (and, assuming one has the aptitude for it, as BDB points out).
Does the cost reflect tools alone, or training too? I would think training would be more expensive.
Posted by: BDB

Re: I'd love to learn to tune a piano myself - time investment? - 03/03/14 04:24 PM

If you need training, that would be additional. Equipment alone is $500 to $1000, and if you are serious about it, you should get an old piano (a free upright will do) and another $500 to $1000 worth of parts to restore it. If you do it well, you may be able to recover the money that you spent restoring the piano. If you do not do it well, you should do something else.

I was being very optimistic. It can take longer and cost more. Just think of how long it takes and how much it costs to become a reasonably good pianist, and then consider how many more good pianists there are than good piano technicians.
Posted by: Swarth

Re: I'd love to learn to tune a piano myself - time investment? - 03/03/14 07:00 PM

Tuning takes practice and patience and the desire to spend the time that is required. I decided that it was better off left to professionals and my time is better spent practicing. That said I won't say that educating yourself about the process and being able correct an unison is a bad thing, just don't expect results like a pro unless you are prepared to take the time to become one.
Posted by: Rickster

Re: I'd love to learn to tune a piano myself - time investment? - 03/03/14 07:58 PM

I just cleaned up some of the twangy unisons on my Yamaha C7. Sally Phillips (a very well known and respected concert piano tech) tuned it for me about a year ago. I asked her if she would come by and do some tuning, regulation and voicing on it and check some of the work I had done.

Her tuning on the C7 was far superior to mine. Not that my tuning was bad, but hers was better, cleaner and more precise than mine. She showed me what a concert tuning was… and I was pleasantly surprised at the results. She gave me some pointers on how the set the tuning pin and some other important details that I was not doing. She gave me a lesson on regulation and voicing as she did the work.

Her tuning is still holding up well, even though it has been about a year… stable as can be, other than a few wayward unisons due to humidity swings.

She raised the bar high for me to work toward. I doubt I will ever be able to tune a piano as well as Sally, but I will keep trying to improve. So, my hat is off to the real pros who tune pianos for a living. Again, it ain’t easy, even for the pros, though they make it look easy.

Guess I need to do like Swarth and concentrate on my playing instead… thing is, I enjoy learning to tune almost as much as I enjoy learning to play. I figure I can do a little of both, for better or worse.

I have tuned some pianos for others for free… don’t know if I can keep doing that either. It is very time consuming. I’ve got 3 grands and 2 uprights… that keeps me busy enough. smile

Rick
Posted by: Swarth

Re: I'd love to learn to tune a piano myself - time investment? - 03/03/14 08:17 PM

That's the thing Rick, you have to have the disposition for it in the first place, you do, I do not. If you enjoy it then it's not really something you struggle with and "have" to know. I enjoyed it to the point where it became real work to become real good.
Posted by: anrpiano

Re: I'd love to learn to tune a piano myself - time investment? - 03/03/14 08:24 PM

The cost and time depends on how good and thorough you want to be. My tuning kit, which I carry with me has about $2500 worth of tools in it. I don't use an ETD so that isn't part of the cost. A very good, ergonomic tuning hammer can cost $250 - $400 alone. The above advise is right... get the very best.

I would tell my apprenti, to plan on 100 tunings to become truly awful. After 1000 you will begin to know what you are doing. Now this is from a professional's perspective, who had to earn a living (which means I had to learn to work fast) and was liable for anything wrong I did to a customer's piano. So the standards are quite different from "I want to learn to work on my own piano, and if it takes all afternoon to tune the thing, that is fine."

BDB is right, get a old beast which has everything wrong with it and have at it. I wouldn't worry about selling it to recoup you costs, your taking a trip to the university, that is the main point. You can always haul it to the curb and get another and try again. My first rebuilding job left the state... I am very happy about that! When you are starting out you tend to really screw things up, but that is how you learn.

Good luck.
Posted by: BDB

Re: I'd love to learn to tune a piano myself - time investment? - 03/03/14 08:41 PM

You should not get an old piano with everything wrong with it. Strings and action work are where to start. You do not want to get into bridges, pin blocks, or soundboards unless you have some woodworking experience. (Of course, if there is a junior college or similar school that offers woodworking, by all means you should look into it.) A case which is not too beat up is a plus. (Furniture repair is another course you should look for.)
Posted by: JohnSprung

Re: I'd love to learn to tune a piano myself - time investment? - 03/04/14 01:57 AM

First thing, buy and read the Arthur Reblitz book, " Piano Servicing, tuning, and rebuilding ". When you get to the end of page 310, you'll only be out about $30 plus shipping, and you'll be much better prepared to decide whether to go further. If you do, take your newly read knowledge, and apply it to the freebie pianos on Craig's list. Bring one home and have at it.

Don't mess with your good piano, do your learning curve string breaking on the freebie. It's real easy to get the hammer on the wrong pin and pull and pull, wondering why nothing changes.... PING!
Posted by: Rickster

Re: I'd love to learn to tune a piano myself - time investment? - 03/04/14 07:43 AM

Originally Posted By: JohnSprung
Don't mess with your good piano, do your learning curve string breaking on the freebie. It's real easy to get the hammer on the wrong pin and pull and pull, wondering why nothing changes.... PING!

I have never broken a string while tuning... I have, however, broken a string while playing. NOT a very musical sound. smile

Rick
Posted by: bkw58

Re: I'd love to learn to tune a piano myself - time investment? - 03/04/14 08:31 AM

Everyone has their own way of approaching things. Reading before doing is always a good idea for professionals and amateurs alike for a great many reasons. Best wishes.
Posted by: Withindale

Re: I'd love to learn to tune a piano myself - time investment? - 03/04/14 09:53 AM

I agree with BDB. Find a serviceable, lower mileage, older piano where nothing needs to be replaced. Then focus on getting the best sound out of it. Don't do any voicing with needles until you have learnt about everything else.
Posted by: Ed McMorrow, RPT

Re: I'd love to learn to tune a piano myself - time investment? - 03/04/14 10:42 AM

I suggest finding a tech who will take you along to some of their jobs so you can observe several service calls. Prepare to pay something for slowing them down.

Reading all the literature is also a good first step.
Posted by: BDB

Re: I'd love to learn to tune a piano myself - time investment? - 03/04/14 12:51 PM

At the very least, watch as you get your piano tuned.
Posted by: Mark Cerisano, RPT

Re: I'd love to learn to tune a piano myself - time investment? - 03/05/14 12:38 AM

All good suggestions. I will add my own. These are my opinions, gained from 14 years experience as a professional tuner and 8 as a piano technology instructor.

Reblitz is awesome for repair and regulation. No so good for tuning.

The standard that you have to tune 1000 pianos to be good, has to do with the method taught. The "just do it 'til you feel it" method, requires years of practice, getting experience on different pianos so that the unconscious mind begins to "learn" what to do with different pianos.

In my experience with my students, we use a more analytical approach, understanding how the steel of the pins and string behave under friction and elastic deformation. This means when a student finds a problem, like an unstable string, they are able to analyze and test different hypothesis as to why the string is unstable, and try out different techniques that may produce stability, not in a trial and error method, but a logical and analytical method, knowing why and expecting better stability.

Positive feedback in the form of stability achieved, serves to fast track the unconscious mind into "learning" how to react to different pianos, and the 1000 piano bench mark is reduced considerably. This is my real life experience with my own tuning path and by watching my students as they use the same method.

My last suggestion is to avoid the temptation to learn by bits and pieces, taking free advice here and there from a variety of technicians and sources. Each technician has their own approach. Some I've met are vehemently opposed to the successful application of techniques by others, techniques that they do not believe work, even though these other technicians swear by them. (The old saying goes, give 10 technicians a problem and you'll get 11 opinions.)

I agree with Ed when he says, follow one technician, if you can find one agreeable, and be prepared to pay for his expertise.

Good luck, have fun.