It’s time to tickle the ivories. If your piano is out of tune, no need to live in discord. Keelan Taylor of Taylor Piano Service in the Nashville Metro Area and Alvin Smithson of Smithson Music serving the Northern Virginia, Washington DC, and Potomac regions are here with the top tips for getting your keys back in shape.
Most people need tuning done on an heirloom piano, says Keelan, or else their children are taking lessons.
Alvin agrees piano tuning is the most common call, although he also gets piano teaching leads and wedding ceremony jobs through Thumbtack.
The average tuning takes about 2 hours, shares Alvin. Some pianos he can tune more quickly, especially if he’s been tuning them for years and has taught the strings how to move with each other as the climate changes throughout the year.
A normal tuning is generally $120, says Alvin. Some pianos can only be tuned once in a sitting because they are very, very old or haven’t been tuned in years. The cost does cover going through pianos twice for pitch stabilization if they are suited for it. Newer pianos, such as Yamahas, require the least work, he explains. Cost is extra for technical work or simple repairs that go beyond basic adjustments. The easiest repairs are sticky keys, he says, at that point it’s mostly about time.
Minor repairs (as opposed to tuning) can take as little as 10-20 minutes, shares Keelan. The average repair probably takes 30-60 minutes, but more often I do tuning, he says.
Do different types of pianos require more time and knowledge to repair than others?
Yes, says Keelan. Pianos, although similar in construction, have many variables.
Each piano is different, explains Alvin. He learns new things from each piano he works on. Older, more fragile pianos will take longer…sometimes up to three hours. Some pianos require different tuning techniques and approaches. There are also pitch raises, or tuning a piano down that has gone sharp because of high humidity—which is especially common in the DC area. Concert pianos that are played on constantly also need continuous attention and tuning.
What are the most complicated type of repairs?
Replacing a soundboard, says Keelan. Or, replacing a pinblock. Although regulation can also be quite tedious, he shares.
The most complicated repairs are those that require removing the action, explains Alvin. Spinet pianos are the most difficult because of their drop action. Age also plays a part. 100 year old pianos can be difficult because all the parts are so fragile. In antique pianos common issues are resetting the spoons when a hammer is bobbling or gluing old parts that have come apart. Replacing a string can also be difficult, he shares.
What questions should someone ask before hiring a piano tuning specialist?
Alvin shares his suggestions:
- How long does will the process take?
- How often should I tune the piano?
- Does weather have an influence on my piano?
- Does my piano need major repair work or just simple adjustments or a tuning?
- Can you recommend someone for work that you don’t feel qualified to do?
Honestly, most techs are reputable and knowledgeable, says Keelan. Learn more about the person’s character and business ethics through friends or reading online reviews. Find a person who can educate you about the process, and someone you communicate well with.
Is certification or insurance required to repair or tune pianos?
No, certification or insurance is not required, says Keelan. Many advanced techs have no certification. Unlike more traditional professions, there is no governing system for insuring or licensing. Although, Keelan laughs, insurance is never a bad idea.
Some people only know how to tune, says Alvin, while others only know how to repair, restring, or rebuild pianos—but don’t have an ear for tuning. A few are good at all of it. Certified technicians are great for high end concert halls, rebuilding pianos, and have a vast amount of knowledge and understanding. Alvin has discovered that many certified piano technicians or tuners can’t perform or teach or write but they are great at the specified work they do. So certified is always helpful, but not required.
What’s one of the craziest piano problems you’ve been called to help with?
Keys that only had about an eighth inch of key dip gave Keelan pause.
Alvin was working on an old player piano and the keys wouldn’t work. He opened it up and crayons were stuffed underneath all the keys. He says he’s found so many silly things blocking the action in pianos…mostly school pianos.
Any last tips?
Look for someone who is kind, courteous, and flexible, suggests Alvin. Find the specialist who understands pianos and specifically what your piano is being used for. For example, theater, school, concerts, household play, learner piano, etc., will all be handled a little differently. If the piano requires major work, look for a tuner who will recommend someone who specializes in that kind of repair.