If the piano really is not in good tune shortly after being tuned, it is pretty easy to tell if it is because the tuner did a bad job, or if it is due to factors beyond his or her control. Let us have a listen!
In a more general discussion, it is impossible to say for certain what’s going on, but there are a few possibilities. Although clearly there are times when a tuner simply has not done a good job, often these situations occur when the client does not have a lot of experience with piano tuning. This is even more true when the client has a good but untrained ear. Let’s start with the most likely, and move to the more unusual reasons.
- Many people do not know exactly what they are “supposed” to hear when a piano is in tune. The nature of tuning involves a compromise that leaves some musical intervals “off” from what might be considered an ideal sound. Often the piano really has been tuned well, but the inexperienced client hears elements that are definitely not desirable, but in fact necessary. A good tuner should take the time to demonstrate where and why this occurs so you can hear and understand.
- Keep in mind that the farther out of tune a piano is at the start, the less ideal the result of a tuning will be. It is unrealistic to expect that a piano which has not been tuned for years will end up sounding as good as it would if it had been tuned regularly. If the piano had to undergo a dramatic pitch raise before tuning, it is likely that some of the strings will shift slightly in spite of the tuners best and most professional efforts. Stability in a piano is a result that takes time. If a piano is tuned on a regular schedule, the stability should improve with each tuning.
- Often inexperienced clients assume that tuning will pretty much fix everything. After a tuning, there may still be sounds that are created by the strings that are a natural part of their resonance, but which they assumed would disappear with tuning. Similarly, if the tone is harsh or uneven, the piano may need voicing, which is often not included in the tuning price. (Also, it is never a good idea for a tuner to assume that the client will want the piano voiced unless they have discussed it first. For this reason we always recommend that the client remain to listen to the piano after it has been tuned.)
- The use of a high quality electronic device can really help to see what has happened. If some strings have gone flat, and others have gone sharp, and to different degrees, it is likely that the tuner did not do a good job. If all the strings have moved more or less uniformly in one direction, it is probably due to shifting temperature and humidity or the inherent instability of a piano that has not been tuned in a long time. If this is the case, we urge patience. It really will get better with each tuning.