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Our upright piano has been last tuned about a year ago. (It was a major retuning, two sessions, including bringing it up from something 435-ish to 442 Hz.)

I just tried to check whether it is still in tune and I couldn't find any flaw.

  1. It just sounds good when practicing.

  2. Using tuning software (basic Android phone, Intonia Pro in tuning mode) I was able to check that every note (every struck key) is chromatically consistent with a 442 Hz tuning.

    For additional science, I also checked that everything between A1 and C7 was visually detected as higher than consistent with 441 Hz tuning and lower than 443 Hz; there's a gradual 440-ish tail in the deepest basses as expected. I'm not sure I really checked the top few notes as carefully as the rest, none of these was off to the tuner or to my own ear.

  3. Individually picked strings for each key were in unison, judging just by ear. No vibrato, no pitch differences. In this step I ignored the bass notes that have just a single string.

Apparently the professional tuner has done a very lasting job a year ago - or I'm missing something I should also check.

I'm tempted to consider this condition of the piano more than sufficient for amateur and student use and re-check its tuning only in another year or two.

Except that every online resource I can find advises to invite a tuner at least once a year, if not twice. Are such guidelines written simply to create more business for tuners? Or is this a marvelous instrument that's resistant to humidity fluctuations?

  • 1
    Where in the universe is this piano? Important information! – Tim Sep 21 at 18:44
  • Phrased like that...! youtube.com/watch?v=ULrx5J0WfgQ – Camille Goudeseune Sep 21 at 20:13
  • @Tim - This is Europe, temperate climate. Seasonal variations of humidity, but no furnace, no AC, stable indoor temperatures. – Jirka Hanika Sep 21 at 21:34
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    Camille's answer below is excellent. The only comment I have is don't set a "time" on when you will re-check if the piano needs tuning. Camille's tips on how to know when a piano might benefit from a tuning are a better gauge than time. My piano gets bright, zingy, and plinky and it aggravates me so much I get it tuned then. If I could afford it, I'd get my piano tuned four times a year, once for each season, just because the sound changes and it bugs me. I do have a humidifier for it, which helps. – Heather S. Sep 21 at 23:41
  • @Heather - I learned tons of things from Camille's answer but I'll set a timer as well. I have some reasons not to trust my own sense of auditory discomfort although I'm sure that this depends on individual experience and on how the piano is used. – Jirka Hanika Sep 22 at 12:20
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If the piano's passed an inspection that meticulous, then it doesn't need a tuning.

"Once a year" is general advice to correct for seasonal variations of humidity.

In climates with a significant winter and summer, other advice is to tune a few weeks after you've started to run the furnace, and then again after you've started to run the air conditioner. But I've sometimes gone 18 months between tunings despite living in the American Midwest, where some joke that we get twenty seasons per year.

Indications that a tuning would make the piano more enjoyable to play:

  • treble chromatic scales have uneven loudness, because the unisons are drifting apart, making some notes bright and zingy

  • late romantic repertoire starts sounding muddy

  • bare octaves start sounding rich

  • the piano was recently moved (to a different building, not just across the room).

But this piano is very far from needing a tuning in the sense of "if it doesn't get one soon, then all the strings will need replacing."

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    I would add humidity changes as a factor also. In the mid Atlantic region of the US, it’s not unheard of to have three tunings a year. And many will recommend 2-3. – Todd Wilcox Sep 21 at 18:41
  • @Todd: I also missed the factor humidity. It might even be stronger than temperature. I always put an open bottle of water inside of the corpus bottom. The tuning holds normally some years and when a single string lowers I can correct it myself with a piano tuning clef. – Albrecht Hügli Sep 21 at 20:29
  • Wood's dimensional change w.r.t. temperature is so small compared to w.r.t. humidity that professional carpenters ignore it. – Camille Goudeseune Sep 21 at 21:05
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    I think it's actually moving a piano at all, except maybe unless it's on a rolling frame. We very gently lifted, turned and moved our grand piano across the room once and the tuning went horribly out of whack. But still, great answer! – niemiro Sep 22 at 10:52
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    @AlbrechtHügli putting a bottle of water inside only helps if the problem is low humidity - I suffer from high humidity and would love to be able to put a bottle of un-water in there. – Bob Sep 22 at 12:17
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This isn't like a car where you change oil every year even though it's running perfectly well. (Do I detect something of that thinking behind your question?) Tune it when it needs tuning. If you've got a piano (and a location) where tuning holds for a year plus, be happy!

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    Thank you, I will be happy. I now also better appreciate the importance of the "setting the pin" phase of the tuning procedure. (An experienced tuner will, after arriving at the right tension of each string, do a one more tiny manipulation of the pin aimed at the pin staying that way. I had no idea how effective that can be.) – Jirka Hanika Sep 21 at 21:52
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After a year without seeing a technician that kind of stability is remarkable.

If your piano technician is as skilled at regulation and voicing, as they appear to be at tuning, then bring them in anyway. They can probably make the instrument sound and play even better for the same money as a tuning. Allow that the technician should probably be the one to decide best bang for buck and it should be clear to you what they're going to do, before they do it.

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It is possible that you simply have a very stable piano and it's in a stable environment. Also, sometimes, a well-scaled piano will drop in pitch very uniformly across the octaves, which can fool you into thinking your piano is still at A=440. Here is a short article that I have written covers the many factors which determine how often to have your piano tuned, I hope you find it to be helpful: How often should my piano be tuned?

  • The OP describes that this piano at the time of asking at A=442 Hz (a common tuning standard in Europe) and this cannot be the result of any uniform dropping from A=440Hz fooling the frequency analyzer. – Jirka Hanika Oct 1 at 7:35
  • Your link makes several valuable points; this piano is one of the smaller uprights, it is neither very new or very old, it is placed away from outer walls, etc., and these factors probably contribute to the observed stability, along with the evident skill of the technician who has tuned it like this! – Jirka Hanika Oct 1 at 7:35

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