What’s the Difference: Tuning vs. Repair/Restoration
Question: “I am considering purchasing an old piano I found online. The owner says it is in good shape, but it needs tuned. Do you think it will need more than that, or by tuning do they mean restoration or repairs as well?”
This is a question we hear quite a bit from people who have questions regarding the purchase of a piano. The term ‘tuning’ seems to have become a catch-all definition for work done on a piano. It often gets confused with work that would fall under restoration, basic maintenance, or repairs. Often, pianos that ‘just need tuning’ require much more work than that to even make them playable. To understand the difference between tuning and piano repair/restoration it is good to know the definitions.
What is Piano Tuning?
Piano tuning describes the process of altering string tension in a piano to subtly adjust the sound wave’s frequency. The end result of tuning a piano is to create an optimal playing experience, ensure the piano is at the correct pitch, and eliminates unwanted ‘waves’ in the tone.
The act of tuning a piano relies on making small adjustments to individual string tension. This allows the tuner to align the intervals between the tones. This is usually done around the universal pitch of A440. Utilizing a tuning wrench/hammer, a tuner skillfully adjusts each string. Attached to hitch pins near the tail of the piano and finely threaded tuning pins at the front, there are over 200 individually strung strings inside each grand piano. It is important to note that tuning a piano does not repair any mechanical or structural issues your piano may have, so if the piano refuses to stay in tune or there are other mechanical or structural issues, repair or restoration work would need to be done to correct that.
The number of times a piano should be tuned each year can vary on the amount the instrument is played and the environment the piano lives in. [Humidity control devices such as the Dampp Chaser Piano Life Saver System can extend the tuning stability of a piano.] The dawn of piano tuning as a career coincided with the increasing popularity of pianos during the mid-1800s. The ‘golden age’ of piano building saw the piano industry become one of the highest tech manufacturing industries in the world. [It is important to note that not every person who can tune, is qualified as a piano technician.]
What is Piano Repair/Restoration?
Piano repair/restoration describes any cosmetic, structural, or mechanical work done to a piano. This goes above and beyond the area of tuning. The areas of repair, restoration, and regulation are much more in-depth. Although from the outside a piano can be deceptively ‘simple’, in reality even a ‘basic’ upright piano is a complex piece of mechanical design. Hiding behind each white or black key are dozens of individual parts that must work in harmony for the piano to even function, let alone play well. A problem such as a few notes not playing or sticking keys can require the replacement of parts and extensive repair. A piano that refuses to stay in tone may need the pinblock restored, larger tuning pins installed or a brand new custom fitted pinblock installed. The cost of this can turn a Craigslist deal into a much more expensive process than the new owner initially thought. The extensiveness of one of our full piano restorations requires hundreds of hours of work and a firm grasp on concepts such as piano design, tone quality, woodworking skills, etc. [Click here to read more about the differences that exist under the mantle of ‘piano restoration.]
A Complex Instrument – Complex Problems
When thought of in the context of other musical instruments, the difference between tuning and restoration/repair becomes a bit more evident. If a prized guitar’s neck is snapped, the musician’s first instinct is not to tune it, but to take it to a qualified guitar technician who can complete the repairs required. The same thing is true for pianos. We often receive requests from piano owners asking to have their piano tuned, when in actuality the piano requires more extensive repairs. It is somewhat understandable. A piano is a complex instrument with a Steinway & Sons Grand Piano being comprised of over 12,000 parts with thousands of moving parts requiring adjustment and maintenance inside of the action alone. With this high number of components, there a number of issues that can go unnoticed unless a detailed inspection is conducted.
The difference between tuning and more in-depth work is large, in both the time spent and the eventual cost of the work. Due to this, it is highly recommended that you consult with a qualified piano technician before making the purchase of a ‘deal’ piano. On the same note, pianos offered for ‘free’ often end up costing much more than that when moving, repair and tuning costs are added in. Often, the cost to complete this work is much more than the piano is actually worth. Having a piano technician inspect the piano before you decide on purchasing it, requires a minimal investment that can save you some sour notes in the future.
See a Piano Technician to Repair, Restore, or Tune Your Piano
As you can now see how complex and intricate a piano is, it is often best to have a piano specialist complete any technical work on your piano. With countless ways to go wrong and only a few ways to go right, it is recommended to leave these kinds of jobs to professionals. If you are wondering what kind of work needs to be done on your piano in order to bring out its peak condition, please feel free give us a call here at Chupp’s Piano Service. We can recommend how best to proceed and give you a quote for what work should be done.
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About Us: Founded in 1975, Chupp’s Piano Service, Inc. features one of the largest selections of fully restored pianos in the Midwest United States. Specializing in the premium restored Steinway pianos, our work has become the preferred choice of countless universities, concert venues, and professional pianists around the world. With a focus on service and only the finest craftsmanship, a piano restored by us is sure to provide you with countless hours of pure musical enjoyment. Located less than two hours from Chicago and less than an hour and a half from Fort Wayne, we invite you to visit us at our rebuilding facility and showroom. [Meet Our Team of Piano Rebuilders]