Your piano is a complex and delicate piece of machinery, requiring a master craftsman to maintain it. Just lifting the lid and taking a cursory glance at the intricate mechanism within should tell you that it’s as much of an art to maintain it well as it is to play it with any proficiency. For example, even though the average piano has 88 notes, than can mean as many as 240 steel strings under extreme tension. Just as new strings on a violin go out of tune frequently, so will the strings on a new, or newly-strung piano – even though one is played with a bow, and the other by depressing keys, the principle is very much the same.
The level of maintenance will depend on several factors – just as a classic car needs extra love and attention, so will an elderly piano. You should also take into account the environment the instrument is kept in – doors stick in damp weather, and your piano won’t be any great fan of it either. Where possible, keep the conditions as stable as you can, avoiding extremes of heat and cold.
The most basic and regular form of maintenance your piano will require is tuning; the more you play your piano, the more frequently this will need to be done. For example, my piano is used most days, both to teach from, and to prepare music myself for public performance. Therefore, it’s subject to several different weights of attack, varying levels of technique, and really needs tuning every eight weeks or so. If your piano is used a few times a week, between two and four times a year will be adequate, although this will depend on your local climate. Even the piano that is little more than a piece of furniture shouldn’t be neglected, as the repair bill will be astronomical.
So what should you look for when scouting round for piano tuners? Well, as with so many things, all piano tuners are not created equal. We have all suffered the workman that was no more than adequate or otherwise workaday at the task in hand, and piano tuners are no different. Finding a good piano tuner can be a minefield for everyone, from the keen student, through enthusiastic amateur, right up to the international concert pianist. An out of tune piano can be a huge obstacle to a student trying to develop a good ear, and the instrument will be no pleasure to play.
If you purchased your piano through a reputable music store or piano showroom, they should be able to make recommendations, although be aware that if you have to resort to the phonebook, or searching on the internet, cheapest is not necessarily the best way to go. Arm yourself with this list of questions before booking your piano tuner:
Where did you study, and how long for? – The Piano Technicians’ Guild in the US and the Piano Tuners’ Association in the UK will be useful for checking up on qualifications, or places of study.
How long have you been tuning pianos full-time for? – a minimum of two years “flying solo” is a good benchmark
Where have you worked? – A useful line of questioning here would be to ascertain whether they’ve worked for professional musicians and concert venues, – including schools – or whether they cater exclusively to the home market.
Can I telephone your previous customers for a reference before I book you? – again, equate your piano with your car, another high-value item; would you go to a garage that you didn’t know something about in advance?
A good craftsman is always enthusiastic about their work – wouldn’t you always rather hire someone who cares about what they do?