Many pianos are regularly tuned to standard pitch, or A440. At this pitch, the “A” above middle C will have 440 beats per second. The other piano notes are tuned in relation to this pitch.
Other pianos have not been tuned for several years. Some have been stored at uncontrolled temperatures and have gone flat, or come below the standard pitch. Piano technicians divide each key’s sound into 100 segments of sound, called “cents”. One piano I tuned lately had keys that were about 80 cents flat. In other words, a middle C would have sounded closer to a B than a C. When I meet a piano like this, I recommend a few options for tuning. Older pianos that have suffered neglect for many years may react better to a tuning that will provide agreement within the piano, but not with “standard pitch”. To bring a neglected piano up to standard pitch in one tuning in the above case would not be a good idea. Steel strings, though of the highest quality, tend to break when tuned up too suddenly. Bass strings, especially, tend to be expensive per string, so my options are as follows:
Tune the piano in it’s general range to agree with itself.
Tune the piano to standard pitch in several tunings.
I leave the decision with the owner. If the piano is mainly a solo instrument, or is played with instruments that can be tuned such as a guitar, mandolin, or violin, a piano that agrees with itself can be sufficient. This option works if the owner wants to have their piano sound good right away.
If, however the piano is to be played with an organ, flute, another piano, or an electrical keyboard that cannot change pitch, the owner may require the piano to be tuned to standard pitch. If this is the case, I try to evaluate how many tunings will be required before the standard pitch goal is met. In the case of neglected pianos, other parts of the piano must be considered, especially the wood tuning pin bushings, which can dry out and cause slipping pins and “flat” or “out of tune” notes. If the bushings have dried or shrunk, fixing them should be a priority. Unless the bushings can hold the tuning pins in place, no tuning, especially a higher tuning, will hold as it should. The result, even after two or three tunings can be painful to the ears and financially disappointing. Larger tuning pins, tuning pin shims, or pinblock fluid can help, depending on the number of pins that are slipping.
If you are considering the proper care for your piano, think about purchasing a climate control machine for your piano, tunings at annual or six month intervals, the overall value of your piano, and your main goal. I can help you meet your goals for you piano by offering catalog choices of climate control machines, selections of tuning pins, bushings, or pinblock fluid. I also offer tuning to a wide variety of pitches.