“I need to leave for the airport in fifteen minutes. Can you be done by then?”
Piano tuning and repair is an unpredictable business – appointments frequently go over the allotted time, especially when repairs are involved.
You always want to allow some flexibility for both the start and finish time. Piano tuners schedule a start time with a half hour leeway before and after the agreed upon time for the appointment. This is because we don’t always know when the appointment before yours will end, or how long it will take for us to get to your house. Nor do we know exactly how long your appointment will take.
When you schedule an appointment, you always want to give the piano tuner as much information as you can about the requirements of your piano, so he can schedule enough time to get the job done. Make sure you don’t schedule other commitments too close to the appointment in case the piano tuner arrives early, or the appointment goes over.
If you and your piano tuner run out of time before the job is done, you can end up rushing the piano tuner without meaning to.
Most honest piano tuners will respond to a ‘time’s up’ by evaluating the remaining work and scheduling a new appointment to come back and complete it, along with a new quote for the cost.
Some, however, will try to fit forty-five minutes of work in the twenty you still have left. They’ll rush the job, do inferior work, and then charge you full price anyway.
For your sake, for the sake of your piano, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have more than enough time for any work on your piano to be done right the first time.
Not Knowing What to Expect
“I wish I’d known that!”
My sister’s neighbor in Saratoga Springs ended up feeling this way after I tuned for her. She was surprised that I had tuned all 88 notes of the piano and charged less than the piano tuner she’d been using for years. She was also surprised at how much better her piano sounded when I was done.
Unfortunate but true, we live in a society where you have to have some idea of what to expect to know whether you’re getting your money’s worth or not.
Some Expectations to Keep in Mind
1. I don’t care how good a piano tuner says he is; don’t ever pay more than about $80 per hour for any piano work (as of September 2017 – adjust for inflation if applicable). So get a quote for the time, get a quote in dollars, divide, and evaluate before you request a piano tuning appointment.
2. As a piano services consumer, you have the right to a piano that has been tuned as close to the A440 standard as possible, with all 88 notes tuned to fit – all for a reasonable price. You should not have to settle for having the piano be ‘in tune with itself,’ or to have your tuner pick the ten worst notes, correct them, and then leave you a bill for $90.
There are some exceptions to this:
If your piano is so old that the piano tuner is hesitant to bring it up to pitch for fear of breaking strings, it is advisable to tune it flat until you can arrange to have your piano fully re-strung.
If the piano is so flat that it’s going to take multiple tunings to get it up to pitch, it may be advisable to do the pitch raises in one appointment, then do the tuning in another a few weeks later.
In rare cases, your piano may be old enough that it’s appropriate to tune to Early Music Pitch (A415), which is approximately half a step flat.
Never let your piano tuner get away with anything less than tuning all 88 notes of the piano – stable, and up to correct pitch – without a valid explanation.
3. As a piano ages, strings break. They get rusty and brittle. They get stubborn and don’t want to move. In these circumstances, sometimes, no matter how careful he is, your piano tuner is going to break strings.
Once in a great while, a broken string is the result of inexperience or carelessness. The piano tuner should be honest enough to repair that on his dime.
However, nine out of ten times when string breaks, it was just that string’s time to go, and the piano tuner had the unwitting misfortune of being party to its passing. When this happens, the repair is likely to incur additional cost. Your piano tuner may recommend having the piano completely re-strung or offer to set an appointment and give you a quote to come back and do the work himself.
4. You should expect genuine parts to be used to repair your piano. They don’t have to be exact matches of factory parts for your particular piano – especially if your piano is out of manufacture. But you don’t want a piano tuner to ‘jury-rig’ your piano.
In extreme cases, a piano tuner may do something to help mitigate a situation temporarily, but he should be honest enough to explain that it’s a temporary fix and recommend a plan for full repair.
5. It should never take more than about two or two-and-a-half hours to tune even the flattest piano in the world – not even for an aural tuner. It takes between 60-90 minutes to tune a piano. Unless the piano is really old or it’s a pneumatic player piano, if it takes much longer than two hours, your piano tuner doesn’t know what he’s doing. I just hope he isn’t charging you a normal rate for his time.
As I think of other things, I’ll continue to add to this list, so keep checking to see what’s been added since you were last here.
Some Good Precautions to Take:
Help keep your piano tuner honest… get out your guitar. Yep, you heard me right. Dust off the old guitar and place it next to the piano before the piano tuner gets there. Any instrument will work… a violin, a cello, a flute… even a harmonica on top of the piano will help. This will cause the piano tuner to think two things:
1. This person has an outside pitch reference for knowing whether her piano is flat or not.
2. (If the instrument is tuneable) This person can hear out-of-tunes
Complain about specific notes – Even if you’re “tone-deaf,” you might see if you can get a neighbor or your kids’ piano teacher to come over and evaluate your piano before the piano tuner gets there. Make a list, and be prepared to reference tuning problems with specific notes in the piano. If you’ll do this, any piano tuner – honest or not – is more likely to take the job seriously, because he’ll believe you know it when something is not right with your piano.
If it’s been a long, long time since the piano tuner came to your house, be sure to set expectations. Tell the piano tuner you know your piano is really out of tune. Tell him you still want to make sure to get your piano tuned right, even if it takes a couple of appointments to get it to come all the way up to pitch and stay there.
Hire by word-of-mouth, or insist on getting references and checking them – even if you call a piano store or piano tuning business. Your friends and family will rarely steer you wrong, and references will give you objective advice, even if they are somewhat biased to the piano tuner in question.
Most piano tuners by far are “good apples.” In most instances, you won’t have to fret about any of the things I’ve described here. Most piano tuners want to do the job right and give you fair value for your money. Most piano tuners will be straight with you when they encounter problems with your piano.
I wrote this page because ‘most of the time’ isn’t good enough. If you are tired of tuning your piano and just want beginner piano lessons for kids go check out the best piano keyboards for the money – ragamuffin music page.
I wrote this page because, while every piano tuner makes mistakes from time to time, on a rare occasion a piano tuner will do something he knows entirely well he shouldn’t. Willful disregard for you, your piano, or your needs is contrary to the expectation you set when you place your hard-earned money on the line.
I wrote this page, not to have you lump piano tuners in with lawyers on your list of favorite corrupt characters, but to give you the ability to ensure that your next piano tuning experience will be a good one.