Regular Tuning Vs. Pitch Raise: Piano Tuning Basics

Even the most tone-deaf, non-musical individual cringes when they hear a piano that's extremely out of tune. There's something about that grating dissonance that makes your skin crawl and your hair stand on end. But when a piano is just slightly out of tune, it gets a little trickier to hear the problem unless you have an ear that's finely tuned to hear pitch. Fortunately, a professional piano tuner will have the ear for the job as well as the technical equipment needed to get your piano as close to perfect as possible. However, not all piano tuning jobs are the same.

If your piano has been sitting for many years without receiving a professional tuning, it may require something called a pitch raise. It's a process that's a little more complicated than the average tune. Here's why.

The Problem

The inside of a piano consists of a complicated set of strings made of high-tensile steel wire. Even though the piano has only 88 keys, there are many more strings. In fact, the tenor and treble notes have three apiece and the thickness of the string varies with pitch. The soundboard is the piano's main acoustic structure. It's made of wood and is therefore susceptible to shrinking and stretching with climate humidity, and this causes the strings to stretch and settle as well. The longer those strings go without being adjusted to the proper pitch, the more settled they become. This creates more tension on the instrument when the tuner needs to adjust them.

The Fix

In order to tune a piano that has been sitting for many years without causing too much stress on the soundboard, the piano tuner may need to perform a pitch raise. During this process, instead of fine-tuning individual strings to the right pitch, all of the strings are adjusted in order to reach their initial correct tension levels. It's like a factory reset for your piano. Once all of the strings have been corrected, the tuner can then begin fine tuning individual strings to the correct pitch much more easily.

How Do You Know?

The only way to know if your piano needs a tune or a pitch raise is to have it inspected by a professional tuner. Your tuner will determine if your instrument needs a pitch raise based on the type of instrument, the age of the instrument, how long it's been sitting, and how far out of tune it is. The good news is that once the pitch raise is complete, your piano will only require regular tunings afterward as long as you make sure it's tuned regularly.