Can an Out of Tune Piano Have More Sustain?

Piano Lessons / piano myths / Can an Out of Tune Piano Have More Sustain?

Hello, this is Robert Estrin from LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store. The question today is, “Can an out of tune piano have more sustain than a piano that is perfectly tuned?” The simple answer to this question is, believe it or not, yes! Here is an explanation of how and why this is.

If you look inside a piano you know that all the notes have more than one string except on the lowest notes. Most notes have three strings. If you know something about the acoustics of vibrating strings, you understand that if they are vibrating perfectly with one another you’ll get a certain level of sustain. But if one string is just ever-so-slightly out of tune, there will be a slow wave created. If that slow wave is about the same length of time or slightly longer than the sustain of that note, it will actually enhance the sustain of the note more than if it was absolutely dead-on in pitch!

I once talked to a piano tuner who claimed that they purposely de-tuned the piano precisely to get the maximum amount of sustain. I’ve talked to other piano tuners who said that this was total nonsense! My feeling is this: striving to tune a piano is hard enough. Once it is in tune, it is going out of tune little by little. Even if you tried to make the piano perfectly in tune, with every unison phase locked in perfect tune where they didn’t drift at all, in a very short amount of time, some of the notes will still drift slightly sharp or more likely flat. This would cause that slight detuning which could add sustain as long as the tuning doesn’t become so great that the wave cycle is shorter than the length the note sustains naturally.

Indeed, a slightly out of tune piano where the wave cycle is less than the sustain of the notes will sustain longer than a perfectly in tune piano. However, I wouldn’t try to de-tune your piano to get this effect. Believe me, it will de-tune itself soon enough just from playing it! Thanks for all the great questions and keep them coming in to:

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