How often you should need to tune your piano: Tuner tuning tips

Kevin Busse Feb 07, 2024
145 People Read
How often should I tune my piano?


How often you should tune your piano


As a piano technician, I have a lot of experience getting to know about how often a piano should be tuned.

I understand that there are varying needs for different people, with different pianos, in different environments

If your piano is on an exterior wall near the radiator you can forget everything in this chart and begin moving your piano to a safer location! It will be necessary to tune your piano the most, otherwise.

Quick Verdict…

How often should you tune your piano?

Brand New

Piano

5 - 40 y.o.

Piano

50+ y.o.

Piano

"Tinkerers"

3-4 1st year

1 per year

1 per year

Parents w/

students

3-4 1st year

1-2 per year

2-3 per yer

Adult

learner

3-4 1st year

1-2 per year

2-3 per year

Teacher/

professional

4 first year

3 per year

3+ per year

University

pianos

1 per month

1 per month

1 per month

Concert

Piano

1-2 pre

concert

1 pre

concert

1-2 pre

concert

Type of owner - Tuning Frequency

"Tinkerer": 1 per year

parents with students: 2 per year

adult intermediate: 2 per year

teachers/professionals: 3+ per year

Concert piano: 1-2 times before concert

Age of piano - Tuning Frequency

Brand new piano: Anywhere between 3-4 times first year

5-40 years old: 1-2 times a year

50+ years old: Seasonal changes

Type of environment - Tuning Frequency

Tuning frequency depends heavily on the location of the piano in a room. Location "A" needs very frequent tunings, while location "B" needs the least frequent tuning.

Location "A": Along exterior wall, near windows, near radiator, near A/C vent, no humidity control or awareness, lid always open, near a doorway to the outside.

Location "B": Along Interior wall, away from ventilation, stable humidity controlled, Piano Life Savor Installed, lid always closed, most central room of the building.

Generally, its a good idea to follow these basic rules for tuning your piano depending on how you use the piano, what kind of piano you have, and where the piano is placed in your home.

Tuning forks

Expert Recommendations for frequency of tuning

Piano experts typically recommend tuning your piano 2-4 times a year in order to keep the piano in excellent playing condition. This actually isn’t all that much when you consider that concert pianos at the highest level are tuned daily.

"Is it okay to have my piano tuned once a year?"

The short answer is yes; it's “okay” at the very best, not "good" nor "great." It is likely that the piano will sound unsatisfactory through portions of the year especially when humidity levels are out of control. But hey, you're a "tinkerer", doesn't matter so much!

What affects tuning frequency?

  • There are a lot of variables that go into deciding how long one can go without tuning their piano.

  • placement of the piano

  • age of the piano

  • size of the piano

  • humidity controls

  • type of piano

  • maintenance history of the piano

  • whether or not a student is taking lessons on the piano

*Once a piano is moved to a new location it must adapt from anywhere between a few weeks or a couple months before getting it tuned again.


How many tunings during the first year owning a piano?

First Year

A new instrument will need extra tuning for a variety of reasons.

  • Some of these reasons include that the piano’s strings are still stretching out and adapting to the high tensions which can cause instability early on.

  • The tuning pin block is made up of seasoned wood which still must adapt to the environment that it’s moved into in order to settle.

  • The steel strings are strung over the bridge and soundboard which fluctuate due to humidity changes and are especially sensitive in a brand new piano.

  • The number of tunings necessary for a brand new piano is quite high because the wood is brand new causing it to fluctuate the pitch more. Within the first year, the piano will need 3-4 tunings in order to sound acceptable throughout the year.

Varying customer needs & tuning frequency

Different types of people

I also know that customers have varying needs depending on how active they are at playing piano. 

For instance, if someone is just starting up lessons more frequent tuning is necessary, whereas if someone just likes to maintain the piano because it is a family heirloom, it’s not as critical to keep a precise schedule for tuning the piano.

How much should I tune my piano as a “Tinkerer?”

Are you a Tinkerer? Or someone who maintains a family heirloom? Then I bless you with my recommendation for 1 tuning per year.

With acoustic pianos, there’s no way to avoid not having it tuned unless you can tolerate moderate to severe levels of imperfection.

It often makes it less appealing to play if one waits long enough to have it tuned.

Caution

Tinkerers beware! (Consequences)

The number one reason why tuning your piano once a year is not good enough, is because the piano needs to have a certain level of stability before being able to have it tuned well, and hold it’s tune. A piano’s strings rely on the combined tension from each string, and if not enough of that string tension is within the piano before the tuning begins, then it will revert back to its untuned condition much quicker.

If you wait once a year, your piano is at risk for needing a “Pitch raise” which is common for piano tuners and technicians to charge more for because of the extra work and a tuning that will last a long time isn’t really possible under those conditions.

The piano has a memory of the condition it was in before the piano starts to be tuned by the tuner. This means that it will revert more quickly to how it sounded before, depending on the severity. If it was in really bad shape beforehand, it will more quickly revert to that sound. However, if the piano was already in good tuning shape, then it will likely continue to have great sound quality in so far as tuning is concerned.

The string tension is very important to tuning stability. After a year of not being tuned, the string tension will be lower than where it really needs to be at. Then when it comes time to tune the piano, the strings will be “shocked” into place making it necessary to get another tuning shortly afterwards.

Bottom line: It can take a lot for a piano to get back to standard pitch of A440 especially if it has been a long time since its last tuning.

How often should I have my piano tuned for piano lessons?

piano student

As adults, the piano often sounds "good enough" and make make some wonder whether or not you can really tell the difference.

For students, they will develop an "ear" for how the piano sounds and will be less likely to spend as much time at the piano once the piano begins to go out of tune.

It is best to maintain a regular schedule of tunings, especially when the students are taking piano lessons.

How often should serious piano owners/piano teachers tune their piano?

pianist

A professional pianist will not tolerate an out of tune piano for very long.

As a piano tuner I hear stories about various piano teachers who stretch out the lifetime of the tunings as much as they can, to save on the expense.

I completely understand. Perhaps, work with a local piano technician and share business contacts at a discounted regular tuning rate.

Old Pianos vs. Lightly aged pianos vs. Brand new pianos

Brand new piano

How often should a brand new piano be tuned?

For A Brand New Piano: This piano will need to be tuned 3-4 times per year in order to sound acceptable throughout that first year. It will take weeks, months or years for the piano to “settle” into its new home environment.

5 - 40 Year old piano: This is the age range for a piano that I like to call the "Sweet Spot" that keeps the best tune and that you'll get the best mileage between these years.

How often should really old pianos be tuned?

50+ Year old piano: For an old piano it is likely that you will need to have it tuned every season.

Old Piano


Environmental Factors

Seasonal humidity changes are the #1 reason why pianos go out of tune. Contrary to the commonly held believe that it is how often or infrequently the piano is played, environmental factors like temperature and humidity play the largest role in the longevity of a pianos tuning.

The strings are stretched over the bridge and soundboard which fluctuates due to humidity having an impact on the bridge which will change the tension placed upon the strings.  It is best to first begin monitoring the relative humidity in the room, and then make adjustments to the room humidity as necessary.

Direct sunlight is never a good idea for a piano, and should be avoided especially if you want to reduce the amount of piano tunings your piano needs. While pianos handle temperature changes better than humidity changes, direct sunlight significantly lowers the relative humidity in the room to a dangerous level.

Sunlight through window

High humidity may be better than low humidity because the soundboard is less likely to crack, however, the soundboard can develop compression “ridges” due to high humidity which may help open up a crack when exposed to drier than usual humidity levels.

Pianos can handle high temperature fluctuations much better than humidity fluctuations until it reaches above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Although, fluctuations of more than 20 degrees in a day will likely result in instability for the piano.

New environment for the piano

Always tune a piano after the piano is moved (but wait a few weeks) because a piano must adapt sufficiently to its new location after being moved.

How do I reduce the number of piano tunings?

  • The first step to prolonging a tuning is to monitor your humidity levels so that you may be aware of how humidity fluctuates regularly in a room.Position the piano along an interior wall

  • Away from any ventilation

  • Control the humidity of the room between 35-50% relative humidity

  • Keep the cabinet closed

  • Cover the piano with a piano blanket for extra insulation

  • The key to maintaining the pianos tuning for a long time is to have the piano tuned on a regular basis.

  • Having the piano tuned on the same exact day each year proves to be a great strategy for some pianos.

Do piano humidity systems reduce the need for tuning?

A humidity control system makes an already stable humidity environment better. So, you must already have decent humidity control of the room before you upgrade and invest in a piano humidifier that can take your humidity management to the next level.

Read my article about 10 Things to know about The Piano Life Saver which helps control humidity for the piano.

Humidity levels

A local piano tuner will likely do the trick, however, a qualified technician is always the best route to go but it’s not always easy to find a qualified technician.

Read my article on 7 Better Ways To Find A Piano Technician. 

When's the best time to get my piano tuned?

  1. The best time to get your piano tuned in my humble opinion is right before the holidays!! This way your family, friends, and guests throughout the season will be able to play your instrument sounding at its best. You’ll successfully avoid hearing people say “this piano is great, but it should really get tuned.”

  2. Once the heat gets turned on and/or once the A/C gets turned on.

  3. Each seasonal change.

  4. Whenever someone complains about the tuning.

How often should I tune my digital piano?

A digital piano does not need tuning (I have been asked this, and I have a feeling people know the answer but they just want to hear it from the expert!).

Extras!

Can you tell that is an out-of-tune piano? YES! Otherwise I would not be tuning pianos!! 

The tuning of the piano takes around 1.5 hours. You may also read my article on How long does it take to tune a piano.

Action regulation is not the same thing as piano tuning. Generally you should get separate work done on the action if it feels funny or the piano isn’t playing properly, especially if it takes longer than 15 minutes for a qualified piano tuner to resolve.

An acoustic piano is not quite living, but it’s practically “breathing” the humidity levels in a given room that make the tuning fluctuate.

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