We all know that pianos need periodic tuning. That’s true. But how often ? First it helps to know that pianos go out of tune in two ways. The first way is usually that the pitch of the whole piano will shift up or down more or less together. This “out of tune” is hard to hear because the piano stays relatively in tune with it self. In tune with itself, yes, but not in tune with the rest of the world.
As it continues to drift sharper or flatter the piano begins to go out of tune in a second way. Single notes now sound bad by themselves. You hear a beating or swirling. By the time this second “out of tune” has made itself apparent the pitch of the piano has usually dropped enough to possibly need two tunings to get it back up to the correct pitch and be stable. This is why it is better to tune the piano before it actually sounds too far out of tune .
As piano technicians we want our tunings to last as long as possible. The more that we need to raise (or lower) the pitch of the whole piano, the less stable the tuning will be. Waiting too long to tune can make more work. The best way to know how often to tune is to ask the technician that just tuned your piano. Often they will recommend something as soon as six months. They might say that it can go for a year if the humidity is stable, the piano is healthy, and it does not get a lot of use. Every piano is different.
Pianos have thousands of moving parts made of mostly wood and felt. Inside your piano is an amazing mechanism called the “action”. And it is indeed where all the action is ! This marvel is what takes the movement of your finger and translates that into a sound. This part of the piano also needs maintenance. This mechanical maintenance is called “regulation”. We do regulation work to improve the control, the consistency, and the reliability of the action. When do you need it ? Ask your piano technician what they notice about the action. We often find that even pianos that seem to be “working fine” could benefit from a little regulation.
Now imagine that your piano is in tune, and that the regulation is in good shape. Finally we can pay some attention to the idea of “tone”. How bright or dark the sound is. Is it hard or soft ? Brittle or puffy ? Does one note stand out, or not seem to match the other notes around it ? These things can change over time in a piano. Those changes can be corrected. When we work with the tone of a piano we call it Voicing. Voicing can be done to a single note or to the whole piano. We voice single notes when they don’t match their neighbors . We do it globally when a pianist prefers a different sound thru-out range of the whole instrument . With this kind of voicing it is a matter of taste. Your taste.