KELLEY PIANO SERVICE

Frequently Asked Questions


  How often should I have my piano tuned?
     My most common answer is once a year, but it depends on a number of things.  If the piano is played heavily it will go out of tune more quickly.  So for a professional musician or a busy teacher, two or three times a year may be typical.  The discernment of the pianist and audience matters - a concert grand is tuned before almost every performance, so it could be tuned dozens of times a year.  Tuning a piano less often does not hurt it, so if it is only occasionally played, every two or three years may be satisfactory to some.

    Changes in humidity can affect tuning, so a piano can go out of tune seasonally even if it is played lightly.  Tunings will generally be much more stable over the seasons if the piano has a humidity control system installed - go to www.pianolifesaver.com for more information.  These systems can only be installed by a professional piano technician.  These systems are a good investment for almost any situation.  I especially recommend them for pianos located within a few hundred feet of Puget Sound or a large lake, where seasonal humidity swings can be even greater, and the higher average humidity can cause strings, tuning pins and other metal parts to corrode prematurely.


Should a piano be tuned whenever it is moved?
     If you move a piano from one place to another in your living room, it is not likely to go out of tune.  Generally, physically moving the piano has little effect, but changes in humidity do.  When it is moved to a new house or other location, the different temperature and humidity conditions will often put it out of tune.  It is best to wait a week or two to let it settle in its new location before having it tuned - this will result in a tuning that lasts longer.  Some movers suggest two months, which is far too long.



Do you move pianos?  Can you recommend a mover?

    I do very little moving myself.  I always recommend using a mover that specializes in pianos.  I have repaired damaged pedal lyres on grands and casters on uprights that resulted from moves by amateurs or by workers from general moving companies with no training in piano moving.

    I know several good, professional movers in the Puget Sound area.  Please call for information.  

 I just inherited a wonderful old piano.  Can you come fix it up and tune it?
     Or perhaps you found it on Craigslist for free or a few hundred dollars.  Yes, in some cases I can fix a few minor problems and then tune it.  But even if it is then "playable," its sound and touch are often less than satisfactory.  And many of those old pianos have major problems that cannot be fixed on site.  To restore an old upright to good playing condition can require $6,000 of work, not including refinishing.  If it was a quality instrument when originally built, this might be justified, but keep in mind that this sum would buy a very good, more recent used piano.
     Before you buy or accept an old piano, it is important to assess its condition.  The best way is to hire a technician to inspect it.  Before you do that, you can "inspect" it yourself by simply playing it and listening closely (or by bringing along someone who plays well).  Play each note with a staccato strike, play chords and pieces that use the pedal, play softly and loudly.  Listen for buzzes in the strings, clicks and other noises in the action, notes that do not damp properly, single notes that are radically out of tune, and the general feel of the keys while you play.  If the piano has problems, it is often obvious from playing it this way, and you can at least determine whether a piano is not the one to buy.  For a piano under about $1000, this kind of amateur inspection might be enough.  For more expensive pianos, hire a technician to inspect it for problems that are not apparent to the untrained eye and ear.

 Do you use an electronic tuner?
     No, I tune by ear.  Modern electronic tuning devices are very accurate and many tuners do a good job with them.  In fact, some of the best concert technicians wear earplugs while they tune with an electronic device, because they want to "save their ears" for other tasks such as voicing.  However, all the best technicians are able to tune by ear, and they often check the tuning done with an electronic device by listening.  Whether a technician uses an electronic device or not is less important than how the piano sounds and how long it stays in tune.  It is also important that anyone who tunes your piano also be able to do any common repair, such as fixing a broken string or a malfunctioning note.

 How long have you been doing piano work?  Where did you learn to do this?
     I have done this professionally for nine years.  In March 2008 I became a Registered Piano Technician (RPT) after passing a series of tests administered by the Piano Technician's Guild.  The tests were on general knowledge, repair and regulation, and tuning, which I passed with high scores.  There are only about 2200 RPTs in the country.   (You can look me up on the guild's website at www.ptg.org, by clicking on "Find a Technician" in the top right corner.  You can also read more about the RPT designation and find other useful information.)
     I learned the trade from Steve Brady, one of the top concert technicians in the northwest.  I apprenticed for a year with him when he was the technician at the University of Washington.

 My piano just doesn't feel right when I play it.  What can you do?
     When you don't have the control you hope for, it might be time to regulate the action.  The motion of keys might feel clunky, or shallow, or too heavy.  The notes might not repeat easily, or have good dynamic range.  Lubricating certain moving parts and regulating the action can make a big difference in how the piano plays, and usually in how it sounds too.  I can assess the problem when I visit and give you an estimate for getting the piano in good working order.
     Regulating the action usually includes shaping the hammers and always involves tuning.  My fee for a full grand regulation is $520, but sometimes a partial regulation makes a difference.  Sometimes simply adjusting what is called the lost motion in an upright makes a noticeable difference in the touch; it often takes less than half an hour and can be done for a modest extra fee beyond tuning.

 Where should I put the piano in my house?
     In an older house, it is best to keep a piano away from outside walls that are uninsulated and single-pane windows.  This is generally not an issue in modern houses, which are better insulated, but in all cases the piano should not be over a furnace register or near any other heat supply.  Direct sunlight should also be avoided.