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The $50 Piano Tuning

By October 11, 2010Uncategorized

So, you are looking for a piano tuner. Of course you are, or you likely would not be reading this. So you find yourself browsing the internet searching for “piano tuning” on Google. Likely you have identified several choices. How do you narrow it down? A piano tuner is, after all, a piano tuner, right?

Let’s see if you agree after reading about what I call “The $50 Tuning.” Or, rather, I should refer to it as “The $50 Problem.”

Well, first, let’s talk about piano tuning. What it is and what it is not.

Piano tuning is not:

Just tightening some wires and matching a pitch on a generic tuning device.

Just like tuning a guitar only with more strings.

On the other hand, piano tuning does entail making minute adjustments to the pitches of individual strings to ensure appropriate relationships between neighboring strings (notes on the piano).

What is an appropriate relationship? Glad you asked. Appropriate relationships among neighboring strings (and even strings located on the other end of the keyboard) very simply put means that the individual notes themselves sound pleasing to the ear, as well as various combinations of notes (chords) sound just as pleasing.

So, as a part of your quest for a piano tuner, you read some websites, maybe make a few calls and get some basic quotes: $100, $110, $95, and $50. Like any cost-conscious consumer, you should choose the $50, right? Probably not….but we’ll see.

Take a closer look that the quotes above. Notice how all but one of them is in the same range–around $100. So, why would one quote be so much lower at $50?

Let’s forget about piano tuning for a moment, and I’ll highlight some general tactics (some of them could be considered underhanded) to lure you, the consumer, into choosing the cheapest basic quote. These apply whether you are calling a plumber, an electrician, a lawn service, or any other “home services” provider…not just piano tuners.

Tactic #1. The low price lure.

The provider throws out a crazy low price–or maybe even advertises it–to do nothing more than catch your eye. It’s like smoke and mirrors in a magic show. You become so enamored with the possibility of saving a bundle, you cannot image yourself choosing any other provider. But, there is such a thing as fine-print in everything we do. Read it. If it is not there, ask about it. Providers using Tactic #1 will not usually be forthcoming with their fine-print. Why? Because if you knew what the fine-print said, you probably would not choose them.

So what’s the fine print? Well, it’s hard to say. Generally, the fine-print goes something like this (once the provider is in your home). Let’s use a piano tuner for this illustration:

Well, your piano needs such-and-such before I can tune,” or “Without such-and-such the tuning won’t hold up.” And, of course such-and-such costs more $$$. And, because they are already there, you are backed into a corner, and cannot easily refuse the such-and-such. Or, if you do, they come back with some other non-sense like: “Well, the service call charge today is $$$.”

Now, why would they not tell you this possibility when you called or emailed? Well, again, as a part of the low price lure, you probably would not choose them if you knew what the total cost would ultimately be.

How to beat Tactic #1: Ask lots of questions when you are setting the appointment or getting the quote/discussing the service. The cut-rate provider will be intentionally vague when discussing with you–he does not want to know too much that would force him into quoting prices for repairs over the phone or email for fear you would not choose him. Be aware of the statements like, “The tuning is $xyz cost ‘flat’.” Translated this means, yes, the tuning only is $xyz, any other stuff they find (or invent once they see your piano) will cost more. A cut-rate provider will usually just stopping responding to your email questions once he gets the sense that you cannot be “taken for a ride,” and that you are an informed piano owner.

Tactic #2. We’re all Booked up.

Usually used in combination with tactic #1, the cut-rate provider will tell you they are all book up for the next 3 – 4 weeks (they likely are not). They are wanting you to think that they are busier than they really are. Why? To further entice you into choosing them. After all, if they are that busy, they must be great! Usually, this tactic is followed by them offering a “rush service fee” of $$$ if you want your piano tuned sooner. If you agree, you are paying more that the cut-rate price they offer for piano tuning. See Tactic #1 above for what will likely happen once the tuner shows up.

How to beat Tactic #2: You really can’t. Just recognize the trick being used and move on. Ask lots of questions about the service (see How to beat Tactic #1), and they will loose interest in you and your piano.

Tactic #3. Your Piano Cannot Be Tuned.

This one is much less common, but still happens to unsuspecting clients. Once in the door, and after they’ve had a preliminary look at your piano, the cut-rate guys will tell you that for some reason (usually a big reason–and usually quite exaggerated and not always true) your piano cannot be tuned. This is usually followed by a “I’d hate to charge you for something that’s not going to work…

Depending on your response, they will most definitely “happen” to have a similar piano for sale. And, they’d be happy to remove your “un-tunable” piano at no charge. What a deal….

Watch their website….if you do this, your “un-tunable piano” will be up for sale at some point.

How to beat Tactic #3: Don’t fall for it. If they say your piano cannot be tuned for whatever reason, ask lots of questions and insist on a detailed explanation of why. If they are not legit, and are trying to get your piano for nothing, they will clam up and/or will not be able to really tell you what is wrong in a coherent and intelligent fashion. Much like in Tactic #1 or #2, they will loose interest when they realize that you are an informed piano owner.

But, aren’t there legitimate piano tuners and technicians that offer cut-rate low prices?

Not very likely. You see, piano tuning is an art that takes many years to master. There are different techniques employed for different pianos and situations. Among them are how the tuning lever is handled, how the tuning pin is manipulated, interpreting a pianos inharmonicity and making it work to your advantage. Every piano is different in the sense of inharmonicity; a fact that must be taken into account when properly tuning a piano. It is my experience that a piano tuner/technician offering a cut-rate fee for piano tuning is either a) not employing a technique that is going to provide you with a piano tuning that will last; b) does not have the skills that warrant charging the “going rate”; or c) a combination of a + b.

Carefully consider that last sentence. If I provide a service–any service–and my skills are stellar and in demand, I will set my fees for those services to reflect that fact. Cut-rate providers are most likely doing nothing more than trying to take your money. The sad reality is that many times when a piano owner chooses a cut-rate priced provider, the results will be less than desirable. The tuning probably will not last much longer than it takes the tuner to get to the end of your street after tuning. Of course, when you call to report that the tuning is “drifting” off pitch, the likely excuse will be something along the lines of, “Well, it had been a long time since the last tuning,” or, “It’s and older piano and it will always be difficult to tune,” or, “I can come back for $$$ to re-tune it.”

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes the above “excuses” can be valid. However, the person tuning your piano should communicate these possibilities with you during the tuning, or at least before his departure.
It is my recommendation that as you search for a piano tuner or technician, that you disregard any extremely low prices without much question. If you have a collection of other quotes in the same range, then go with one of those providers.

In addition, if the potential piano tuner/technician you are considering hiring to tune your piano does not spend at least a few minutes with you via phone or email discussing your specific piano and your needs, move on. Those of us who take pride in tuning and servicing pianos, and who do so with a high level of skill will be very interested to hear:

  • What type and make of piano you have.
  • What you are using it for, e.g. kid’s lessons, enjoyment, are you a professional player or a teacher?
  • Do you have any other concerns with the piano?
  • When was your last piano tuning?

On a final note, as I mentioned before, piano tuning is an art that takes much time to refine to the point of excellence. When you call or email me for piano tuning, I can offer you the following:

  • 100% satisfaction guarantee on piano tunings—which is very rare in the industry
  • Integrity, honesty, and respect when dealing with you and your piano
  • Complete focus on you, your piano, and your needs
  • Simple, routine adjustments and even basic repairs are included with the piano tuning—I seek out nuisance issues such as squeaky pedals, “mis-firing” keys, etc. and fix them before you have to ask.

Whether you choose me to tune/service your piano, or you decide to go with another provider, ask lots of questions, and don’t be afraid to become an informed piano owner.

10 Comments

  • Nathan Klein says:

    Piano was dropped during a move and finish was damaged slightly, do you offer repairs for this? Thanks.

  • loanemu.com says:

    I am so grateful for your blog article.Really thank you! Fantastic.

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  • Mame lam says:

    Hello I want my piano serviced I don’t know when was the last time we used the piano. It will e used only for the kids piano class nothing else.

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  • Hebergement web says:

    For example, we have seen MANY older pianos come through our studio where a basic interior cleaning, action regulation, tuning and voicing is all that is needed to restore the piano to a wonderful playing and sounding condition. These services can run anywhere between $750 and $3500 depending on the extent of the work.

  • mernetwork.com says:

    Awesome article.

  • Ryan P says:

    Hi there! What do u use to tunerhe piano? The last person who tuned my piano used his cellphone to tune. Is the the common tool to use now?

    • Ryan Reed says:

      There are a few “professional grade apps for phone and tablets. They are quite expensive and work well. But, there are also dozens of other cheap or free tuners for guitar and some for piano. These are not setup to properly tune a piano.

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