Pianos are delicate instruments that need consistent tuning and maintenance. Fortunately, piano technicians provide expert piano tuning and repairs. A frequently played piano requires basic tuning every few months, while a lightly played piano could go a year without tuning. But if you have invested in a piano for your home (or church or business), it’s a good rule of thumb to have a piano tuned once a year, preferably during "spring cleaning" because the temperature changes of the winter are the sort of thing that can cause a piano to go out of tune.
To tune a piano, technicians adjust the tension of each of the piano’s strings until they are in the standard tuning of A440, which means that the A above middle C vibrates at 440 cycles per second. Waiting too long between tunings puts a piano at risk of losing its pitch. If a piano has dropped pitch, the pitch will have to be raised before it can be tuned. Average costs for a piano tuner depend on the geographical region, the kind of piano, whether the piano has broken strings and the piano’s age. Older pianos are more delicate and may require extra time and care to accurately fine tune or return to concert pitch.
Type of piano tuning
Piano tuning technicians often categorize customer pianos into four basic categories:
Regularly maintained pianos. These customers have their instruments tuned every six months to one year on a regular basis. About one-third of all pianos are regularly maintained with an annual tuning. These jobs take a tuner between an hour and an hour and a half.
Moderately maintained pianos. These pianos have recently been moved or haven’t been tuned in two years or so. Tuners see moderately maintained pianos about 50 percent of the time. The tuner will have to manipulate all the tuning pins once to pressurize the sound board before doing the tuning itself, and the service should take about two hours.
Ignored pianos. Referred to by the pros as a "sore arm" tuning job because of the work involved in bringing a neglected piano back into working order. Pianos over 60 years old will likely require this level of service, which is basically three fine tunings at once, or two and a half to three hours of work. Maybe one-sixth of the pianos that tuners see fall into this category.
- DOA pianos. Some pianos are beyond a tuner’s help. Water or fire damage, massive humidity changes, or just too much age and neglect can render a piano dead. A small fraction of pianos that technicians see fall into this category, and piano tuners will likely not charge for work they can’t do. Most will say if you want a piano, you’re going to need a better one than that one.
Piano tuning estimates
Some piano tuners ask questions over the phone and provide an estimate; others will want to see and hear the piano for themselves before they can offer a quote. If a piano can’t be tuned, some technicians offer inspection services for a fee to better understand what repairs are needed and how much they will cost.
Flat rate versus hourly
Some piano tuners charge a flat rate for their services. For example, Piano Doctor of McKinney, Texas, charges $85 for a standard piano tuning. Others charge by the hour. Most repairs are usually extra, with the exception of certain smaller ones. As a general rule, more expensive piano tuners typically charge a flat rate that includes small repairs, while less expensive pros might charge a la carte for additional services such as unsticking sticky keys, installing new strings or other tasks.
Most piano tuners charge about $100 per hour. For large grand pianos or other expensive instruments that require a high level of skill, some tuners charge as much as $200 an hour.
Piano tuners offer a wide variety of services for various prices. Quality Piano Service of Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, offers the following common tuning and repair services:
Pitch correction: $60
Repairs: $65 per hour
Voicing: $175 to $600
Grand action reconditioning and regulation: $2,500 to $3,500
Vertical action reconditioning and regulation: $800 to $2,500
Soundboard cleaning: $100 to $150
Climate control installation: $450 to $800
Installation of under-covers: $250 to $350
String cover installation: $250 to $350
Grand action rebuilding: $5,000 to $8,000
Vertical action rebuilding: $4,000
- Evaluations: $100 to $250
Age of piano
New or recently restrung pianos require tuning more frequently than older pianos because the new strings are stretching. It’s a good idea to tune a new piano three or four times in its first year to help the strings settle. However, an older, neglected piano usually requires more extensive repairs and refinements before tuning, which will make the overall cost higher than with a standard tuning. Also, the more out of tune a piano, the more the tuning might cost.
Location of piano
Piano tuning and repair professionals charge different rates depending on location. Some piano tuners charge a small fee if they have to travel beyond a certain distance. Pianos in humid areas may need to be tuned more frequently.
Level of service
Some lower-priced tuners might simply readjust a piano’s strings. More meticulous (and expensive) professionals typically look at other aspects of the piano, such squeaky foot pedals or sticky keys. Not all piano tuners offer these kinds of "spiff job" services. So if a piano needs some TLC besides just the tuning, be sure to tell tuners upfront so they can price your job accordingly.
Spiff jobs typically cost an additional $250–$350 for four hours (a half day) of work or $450–$650 for eight hours (a full day).
Older pianos may also need to be regulated as well as tuned. Regulation can cost $200–$600. A poorly regulated piano might have the following symptoms:
Having to strike a key harder to get a tone
Not being able to quickly repeat a note
Hearing a double strike when a key is only struck once
Clicks, squeaks or other noises
- Uneven piano key height
Some tuners also offer hammer voicing as a service to change the piano’s tone. There are two types of voicing techniques:
Steam voicing. This technique is noninvasive and less expensive. It uses heat and steam to soften hammer felts. Steam voicing costs about $125.
- Needle voicing. This traditional method reshapes hammer felts by pricking them with needles and can cost about $250.
A select few piano tuners are certified as Registered Piano Technicians (RPTs), but that’s not necessarily a measure of their quality. Many unregistered piano tuners have as much experience and are just as outstanding.
Sometimes piano strings break during a tuning. The average life span of a piano string is about eight years. The cost of replacement strings might not be included in a price quote or hourly rate. Be sure to ask your technician ahead of time who pays for broken strings. A piano tuner will probably tell you: Piano tuners don’t break strings, but piano strings do break.
In very rare situations, a piano’s plate can break during a tuning. The piano plate is made of cast iron, but sometimes these sturdy frames can develop weak points, and during a tuning, especially for a long-neglected piano, the plate can break and render your piano DOA. If you have an older piano, ask your technician who is liable in the rare case of a broken plate.
Don’t waste your money getting a piano tuned until it’s been in its current location for three months, recommends Eddy Visser of Houston. Temperature and humidity changes during a move can unsettle a piano and require more work than if you let it settle down in its new location first
If your piano is in a humid area inside your house, it could lose its tuning more quickly. It’s best to keep your piano away from windows, exterior walls, or heating sources such as vents, fireplaces and registers.
Some piano tuning companies employ multiple technicians, so be sure to find out exactly who will be servicing your piano and read their reviews before you work with him or her.
It’s a good idea to work with piano tuners who do tuning for music institutions as well as residences because the work of these professionals is regularly evaluated by experts.
- Find out upfront if a piano technician also does repairs because some don’t.