This post was originally published on 4/29/2014.
It is not uncommon for piano technicians to receive calls from individuals who want their piano to be in tune, but do not want to pay to bring it up to A-440 pitch. They say that they do not care if it is up to pitch and just want it to be in tune with itself. Sometimes they will even say, "Oh, and don't even bother with the highest or the lowest notes. They never get played." This is not the correct way to go about it and it is not good for the life or your piano. That is why I will not perform this type of work. Let me explain.
First of all, what is A-440 pitch? If you have ever gone to a concert and heard all the musicians tuning their instruments to pitch, they were tuning it to A-440. "A" being the name of the note, 440 hertz being the frequency of the note. In other words, A-440 is concert pitch.
So, if you never plan to have your piano in a concert, why would it need to be at concert pitch? The answer is quite simple. That is the way your piano was designed to be tuned. Depending on their size, pianos are designed to sound their best with 30,000-40,000 lbs. of tension. This tension is achieved by tightening the strings and bringing them up to concert pitch. The tension maintains the correct shape of the soundboard and gives the piano more carrying power. A piano that is not tuned to concert pitch will sound lifeless and dull.
Related: How often should I tune my piano?
So why do the highest and lowest notes need tuning if they never get played? When you play a note in the center of the piano, the harmonics of that note will ring in higher and lower strings within the piano that have shared harmonics. This also gives the piano more carrying power and a full, vibrant sound. If the higher and lower strings have not been properly tuned, this effect will not be achieved and again you will be left with a dull, lifeless piano. It also does not create the proper balance of tension which can lead to other problems later on.
Here is one way to look at it. You go to your local tire store to get your tires checked. Would you ever say, "Don't worry about inflating them all the way. Just inflate them all to equal whichever tire has the most pressure. Oh, and when you tighten the lug nuts, don't worry about tightening all of them." Of course not. Even if you did, it is unlikely the mechanic would even be willing to do so for liability reasons. Just as tires work best when properly inflated, pianos work best when properly tuned.
Do you live in the Boise, Idaho area and need your piano tuned? Click here for pricing and to schedule online.