How often should I have my piano tuned?
Many piano manufacturers recommend from 2 to 4 tunings per year. I recommend 2, but at least once a year.

Why does a piano go out of tune?

The primary reason strings in a piano change pitch is because they move. If the soundboard and consequently the bridge move, the strings change and the piano goes out of tune. This movement of the soundboard often is caused by changes in humidity. Changes in temperature cause the strings to vibrate at a slightly different frequency, thus changing the pitch. Strings can also move because the tuning pins, which hold the strings in place, may be too loose to hold the string tension. Even if a piano is not played, the string tension will gradually lessen over time, thus the piano will go out of tune. Very hard playing of the keys can jar the stings out of tune as well. The better the tuner sets the tuning pin and string, however, the less this will effect the tuning.

When is the best time to tune a piano, say, if I wish to tune it twice a year?

About a month or so after each weather change. The soundboard needs time to readjust to the new temperature and humidity changes after a major change in the season. For Fall, about a month after the heat has been turned on. The same in the Spring. This really only applies if you tune the piano regularly. A long neglected piano can benefit from a good servicing at any time.

I heard that pianos are tuned "out of tune". Is that true?

Yes, that is basically true. There are two reasons that a piano cannot be tuned "in tune". First, the piano keyboard is very practically designed so that there are enharmonic notes, such as f# and gb. If one tunes pure intervals, these notes are actually not the same pitch, although very close. To accommodate both the design of the keyboard and the need to be able to play in all keys so that everything sounds acceptable, the octave on the piano is mathematically divided into 12 equal parts. This process is called tempering. The specific type of tempering commonly used in piano tuning is called equal temperament. This does produce out of tune intervals. For example, perfect 5ths are not perfect but slightly narrow. Secondly, octaves are commonly stretched (or the piano will not sound right). This is necessary because the unique properties of the stretched piano wire cause the overtones produced to be sharp (higher). This property is called inharmonicity. In order to make octave tuning sound correct, the tuner must stretch the octave in order to have the higher note match the sharp overtones of the lower note. This is further complicated by the fact that all pianos have a varying degree of inharmonicity.

Some tuners use electronic devices to tune with. Is that better than tuning by ear?

This is a controversial subject. Any professional such as a good piano tuner uses tools of the trade. The electronic device, no matter how technically up to date, is simply a tool which is as good as the hands that it is in. It takes knowledge to use this tool correctly, just as it takes knowledge, skill, and experience to hear the necessary components to create a satisfactory tuning. Both methods use the constant judgment of the tuner. I personally have been trained to tune by ear. I prefer not to be encumbered with a tool I feel is unnecessary for me. Pianos are also so unique in the way each tunes, that I also prefer the latitude that tuning by ear provides me to make judgments in each unique circumstance. Therefore, I know that I can create a better tuning by ear. After all, is not the ear the final judge of the overall results?

After my piano is tuned, I play on it a short time and it is out of tune again. Why?

The tuner actually has two jobs to do when he tunes your piano. One is to hear everything properly and put it there, the other is to make it stay there. This is a very physical skill the tuner must develop so that when the keys are struck, and struck hard, they do not go out of tune. From experience, this again is dependent on the piano and what it will allow you to do. Normally, hard test blows, and even some hard blows to pitch a string are necessary. If your tuner plays the notes hard, you can be assured that he is not doing so to hear better! He is actually setting the tuning pins and strings so that when you play the piano, you do not change the pitch even if you play it hard. An inexperienced tuner may also make the mistake of bending or twisting the tuning pins into tune. Soon, the metal in the pins remembers where it was and returns to its relaxed state, and changes the string right along with it. A skilled tuner sets the pins in a relaxed state at the proper pitch, with the string set. If done correctly, even a concert pianist should not be able to knock the tuning out.

I've heard the terms "regulation" and "voicing". Does my piano ever need these?

Regulation refers to the adjustment of the keys and mechanical parts of the piano action so they function in the optimum manner in which they were designed - evenly across the keyboard. Voicing refers to the manipulation of the hammers to produce the optimum or preferred quality of tone and brilliance. On a new piano, regulation should be checked within a year or two, as parts compress and screws loosen. Over time, hammer felt compresses and grooves. Sometimes it is necessary to correct this. This is best decided by your discussing this with a skilled piano technician who can look at your piano and assess the need.

How do I find a reputable piano tuner/technician?

Ask the professionals who they use. A reputable piano teacher, university or college music department, or symphony orchestra business office is a good place to start. Get a consensus and call the technician for availability. If the technician is not available to you, ask who he/she would recommend. Remember, anyone can pick up a tuning hammer and advertise in the phone book. These are not necessarily experienced or trained piano technicians. Though I may be criticized for saying so, tuners who advertise as belonging to some organization associated with piano tuning are not necessarily the best choice either. Choosing a skilled technician is especially important if you have a good professional model upright or grand piano. For the piano to be all that it was designed to be requires the skill of qualified piano technician to extract the very best from the piano.