Let’s get some historical context to this question. When I was growing up, if we saw a piano tuner come into a home carrying a strobe tuner, and that’s all that was available at that time, well, you knew right away that you had basically an incompetent tuner. Why is this? Because the technology at the time wasn’t accurate enough to take into account so many aspects of tuning a piano, like stretch-tuning.
What is stretch-tuning?
If a piano is mathematically, perfectly in tune, it’s actually out of tune because your ears hear pitches in the high register flat. They have to be stretched. And the strobe tuner just does simple math, so it’s not going to sound right.
The technology has come a long way. Any really experienced tuner knows that you can’t tune a baby grand the same way you would tune a concert grand. In fact, each piano requires a different method of tuning. You may wonder, “Why is that?”
There’s something called overtones. The fundamental pitch, that is the pitch you hear when you strike a note, is only part of the sound, and there are overtones coloring the sound.
And those must also balance and mesh with other notes, so a small piano, for example, may have very strong overtones at a certain register, and those overtones have to sound good with fundamental pitches of higher notes. It’s very complicated.
How can machines possibly take that into account? By having virtual tunings of hundreds of first-class piano technicians, their models are loaded in the software. It’s possible to tune a piano with software like CyberTuner or TuneLab is another one. What they do is, first you punch in the size of the piano. The next thing is really interesting. It has you play all the octaves of the piano, one by one, so it hears where the piano is in pitch.
This is incredibly helpful because it can save vast amounts of time. Normally, if a piano is low in pitch, it takes a couple of passes, of pitch raises, because once you raise the pitch in one section, the other section goes out of tune, so it takes several tunings.
By playing all the notes of the piano, and it knows what size piano, it knows how much to stretch the tuning in different registers of the piano, so that by the time you’re done, it’s decently in tune. It’s pretty incredible technology.
Here’s the thing, though. Many tuners today use technology, but there are also tuners who tune completely by ear, and increasingly, I find that tuners utilize both because ultimately, there are decisions that can be made by a fine tuner, but checking the work and getting suggestions with the technology, nobody can complain about that, right?
If you think that maybe you can just take one of these software programs and be able to tune your piano, realize that not only is an arduous task, tuning a piano, but just setting the tuning pins and the strings so they’re going to hold, you’ve got to tune a lot of pianos in order to get to that point.
So you should have a healthy respect for your piano technician.
I hope this has been helpful for you. Again, I’m Robert Estrin here at LivingPianos.com, Your Online Piano Store info@LivingPianos.com 949-244-3729