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Piano Tuning Series: Is My Piano 'Perfectly' In Tune?

When you have your piano tuned, you expect the best tuning you can possibly get and your piano to be 'perfect'. This is not a very accurate representation of a piano tuning as there are factors which are taken in to consideration which as a client, you are probably unaware of.

We will cover the basics of some these below but for more technical details see our 'Technical Series' which will be launching soon.

1. Quality of the instrument. One of the first things to consider is how well the piano was originally made. What materials were used? How well was the wood seasoned? Is it mostly handmade or factory crafted?

Even things which are more specific such as the mathematics which went in to making the strings certain lengths; the quality of the steel strings; how well the piano was strung to begin with. Like we said, lots of technical things. To make it easy this is the general rule:

The better the quality of the instrument when it was first made, the easier it will be to tune.

To this end, your piano can only be tuned as perfectly as it is capable. You can not for example tune a poor quality made Zender to the same level of perfection as an Steinway.

2. Condition of the instrument. Closely linked to the quality of the instrument is the condition in which it is in now. How old is your instrument? Has it been kept in a stable environment? Has it been regularly tuned and maintained? Is there any dirt or sometimes rust on the strings? Do the pins move nicely through the pin block? Do the pins slip when you try and set them?

Again, as a general rule:

The better the condition and environment your piano has been in, the easier it will be to tune.

Condition is another reason your piano can only be tuned as perfectly as it is capable for the instrument. You can not tune a battered rusty piano to the same perfection as a clean and well cared for instrument.

3. False Beats. In any piano you play there will be occasional false beats. A singular steel string should sound pure, that is, you will not be able to hear a 'wobble'. False beats are 'wobbles' within a singular steel string which should not be there.

Even the best quality instruments can have false beats and a good tuner will be able to 'hide' them to the best of their ability. Pianos can gain false beats as they get older from natural string fatigue and dirt.

However, the more false beats there are the harder they become to 'blend in' until a piano tuner just has to do their best around them and accept to a certain extent, that they are there.

The worse the quality of your instrument and the worse the condition it is in; the more that you will have false beats.

The more false beats that your piano has the less perfect the tuning will be, as it is incable of being perfect.

4. Mathematics of the scale. We have discussed in another post how A=440Hz. When a piano tuner begins a piano tuning they will 'set the scale', by first using a tuning fork or a very good app, to set A=440Hz. They will then tune the notes around this until all of the notes in that octave are complete.

In order to have 12 equal segments throughout it is necessary for a piano tuner to deliberately stretch some distances too wide and others too narrow. There is a formula for getting this right but no 'scale' will be exactly the same.

There are checks and balances which need to be correct, but even these will not be identical from piano to piano and yet again, the quality, condition and falseness of your piano must be taken in to consideration. The scale will only be as perfect as is possible on that instrument.

Musical scale theory is very complicated even for a trained piano tuner. To learn more about this please see our Technical Series.

5. Stretching the tuning. A professional piano tuner will know how important it is to 'stretch' the extremities. Theoretically the scale which was set at the beginning should be copied throughout the rest of the piano. However is this was the case then the very top treble would sound flat to the human ear and a similar phenomenon in the bass.

For that reason a piano tuner will for example deliberately make the extremities of the treble (high) section a little bit sharp, too stretched to compensate for this. This makes sure that to the human ear the extremities sound in tune and sparkly.

You could argue therefore that your piano tuning is not 'perfect' as mathematically it is over stretched. But without this your piano wouldn't sound nearly as good.

Again, musical scale theory is very complicated and you'll have to check back in with us at a later date to see some posts in our Technical Series to learn more.

We hope that this has helped answer the question Is My Piano Perfectly In Tune. The simple answer is no. But as you have learnt above, that does not necessarily mean that your piano is not in tune or has not been tuned to the best of your piano tuners, or of the piano's ability.

Is My Piano Tuned Perfectly?
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