Presumably, could I tune a piano myself?

So, I’m going to be heading to a cabin with my band to do that whole “sequester yourself & finish up these damn songs” things in a couple months. At said cabin, there is a wonderful upright piano that sounds plucky & gorgeous, but also, rather sour. I’d say about half the notes are out of tune.

Now, I understand a professional piano tuning (not counting hammer repairs, restringing, felt replacements, etc.) runs between 130 and 200 bucks. Of course, there’s a big problem: this piano is in a cabin out in the sticks and I’m sure I’d end up paying hundreds just in drive time for the guy. So, my question: is this something your average musician can do? If I had a mic tuner, a good ear, and a lot of patience, could I pull this off?

I just spent a while talking to a neighborhood tuner who recommended tuning every string at 5% above 440 to account for the piano flattening itself. So there’s a little trick. I didn’t want to ask him if I could tune it myself though as…well…that’s his livelihood. I can ask y’all though. Diabolical.

Well, if you’re not careful, you can seriously damage your hearing doing piano tuning. So there’s that.

How so? Seems like a fairly innocuous task to me…

There’s a special wrench needed to turn those pegs, BTW. Don’t use a crescent wrench.

Of course, I’m sure you know that. It’s just, you’re not the only person that’s ever going to see this thread, so I thought I’d just bring it up.

I figured, if people thought that a layman could pull it off, I’d buy the requisite tools.

To the best of my knowledge, you can’t just go and buy a piano tuning wrench. You have to be a licensed piano tuner to get one. I’d be happy to be proven wrong on that, because if I could get one, I’d tune my own piano. My father welded together his own tuning wrench, which I took to a religious organization to tune their piano. I left it inside while I went to lunch. When I got back, it was gone.

No vouching for the quality of the information give, but this is perhaps a good place to start. For the dangers of using an electronic tuner and simply cranking up the tension take a look here.

Ultimately, what is the piano worth? If you inadvertently do something wrong, have you harmed a valuable item or an heirloom, or merely a cheap piano?

Must preview…from one of my links above is

My dad’s housemate is a piano tuner, and almost completely deaf. It never occured to me that the one might be connected to the other. But he’s been doing it for 40 years, so presumably we’re talking a far greater repetition of “plunk, plunk,” twist “plunk, plunk” than you’re looking at with one piano.

As for doing it yourself, he says have at it. As long as nothing needs repair and it doesn’t need a pitch-raise, it’s a pretty simple job. (Even a pitch-raise, you can do yourself, it’s just more work.) His two tips: turn slowly and hit hard. The wire should not be overtightened, or it might break, causing injury to you and the piano. Hit the keys hard when you’re testing them - pianos tuned to a soft plink will fall out of tune the first time someone plays it at volume.

fishbicycle’s statement that one can’t just buy a piano tuning wrench seemed so ridiculous to me that I did a Google search and found this:

I don’t have a clue whether or not this guy’s method is any good but it seems well explained. He also gives a link where you can get all of the tools that you need.

That first link seems pretty thorough and fairly trustworthy. Thanks.

As for the piano itself, it’s merely a cheap piano. I think it came with the place and the owners had recently thought of getting rid of it. So, if I snapped something, I doubt they’d get too upset about it. Definately something to ask though…

“So, if I ruin your piano, how would you feel about that? Ok…Great. You want me to stick what, where exactly?”

Ah, professional advice. Wonderful. Thanks for asking for me. And the comment about hitting them hard seems obvious…after you said it. Thanks for that too.

OK, thanks for fighting my ignorance on the tuning wrench. There was no need to call my statement ridiculous. I seem to recall the reason for my father building his own wrench being because you couldn’t buy one. This was 40 years ago, though, and I hadn’t looked into it since.

I am not a piano tuner, but one of my best friends had one as a father, and she tunes pianos herself from time to time. She got her wrench at the local sheet-music-and-rent-horns-to-school-band-members store.

I’ll ask her if she has any specific advice, but I do know this: plan on taking a day to do it. As you tune up each string, it has a small effect on the others, so you’ll have to go up and down the soundboard a few times before they’re all about right. That could be a few hours, or a lot longer. Don’t rush, and don’t expect to be able to tune any of the strings on the first run. Work your way closer on each pass.

Also, she and her dad both eschew electronic tuners. They use tuning forks and playing two notes together to hear the harmonics. So know that you’re going to be doing it the easy way.

On one more note: never date a piano-tuner’s daughter unless you don’t mind helping someone move half-ton musical instruments a couple times a month for no pay. :wink:

That’s no way to talk about…oh wait, you mean pianos.

Makes sense. Sometimes, when tuning a(n) (admittedly shitty) guitar, I run into that problem—once the high string is properly tuned, the low string’s out. Sounds fun with almost 15 times the strings to deal with.

88 notes * three strings per note

have FUN :wink:
(but I bet a cast iron frame does not flex anywhere near as much as guitar does)


If I return with wire lacerations, I will recommend avoiding it yourselves.

Somebody’s gotta say it:

You can tune a piano, but you can’t tuna fish. (cite)

Tuning anything in fifths and fourths will make the tuning of octaves become inaccurate. Guitars need to approximate - electronic tuners will get you into equal-tempered tuning, which is what is generally used, including pianos. On the other hand, having someone who understands the particular issues of tuning to a single pitch is very useful if you’re dealing with numerous players.