June 18, 2024

How much money can make a piano tuner, is it profitable?

Is it profitable to tune pianos? A few days ago, looking the statistics at the control panel of this site, I saw an interesting phrase by which somebody found us in the Google search engine. This was the phrase: Is it profitable to be a piano tuner?

It seemed such a good question that I immediately started to write this post. Of course the question does not have an easy answer, since the matter depends a great deal on the individual. In my case, I never entered this profession with the idea of making money, but by pure interest and fascination in the world of pianos, and humbly I must admit that although obviously I never became a millionaire; I managed to make a decent comfortable living.

I always have thought that if somebody engages in something with real enthusiasm and commitment, sooner than later things will roll your way and eventually this will translate into economic gain, even without having sought it. However I am not so sure that in the reverse order, that is engaging in a profession with the sole purpose of making money, will produce the same results. The profession of piano technician is no doubt one of the most beautiful and interesting careers that exists, especially if you have a genuine interest in music and arts in general.

The profitable potential is of course there, within your reach, but as in any other trade, the competition can be somewhat strong. At the end of the day, are the competent, honest and skillful piano tuners, the ones that are more in demand, and obviously the ones that will get a higher income. There are three types of people who tune pianos.

The first group is the ones who play piano for pleasure and learn to tune pianos in order to tune their own piano. Usually they are perfectionist people who like to have their piano always in tune and obviously not bother saving the money that costs calling regularly a piano tuner.

The second group consists of people who tune their own piano but also dare with others (friends, family, and so) pianos, making from piano tuning a part time profitable activity. I think this is the largest group, I know quite a few people who have a regular job and also tune and repair pianos for money at weekends and in their free time.

The third group is the full-time professionals, usually people who have been in this trade for many years and have a considerable level of practice and experience. Many of them (myself for example) have converted their hobby into a full time job. Net income of these “pros” (as in any job) varies according to circumstances and personal competence.

So, to be specific we could calculate the monthly income of a busy full time skillful piano tuner around 3 or 4 thousand Euros, which roughly makes around 5 thousand USD. If we are talking about a part time “amateur”, the monthly income could be something from a few hundred up to 1 or 2 thousands. Which by the way, wouldn’t allow you to buy the Ferrari, but never the less will let you lead a reasonably comfortable life.

I truly believe that if you have a real interest in this fascinating topic and would like to deepen your knowledge and follow a career as piano technician, my books “How to tune a piano” and “How to repair a piano” will be of great help and a very positive asset for you to achieve your goals. https://howtotuneapiano.com/blog/?page_id=70

© Copyright Juan Olalla 2011.  All rights reserved   www.howtotuneapiano.com

Important notice:  Reproduction of this article (or any other articles contained in this site) in part or in whole is strictly prohibited, unless permission is given directly by the copyright owner. Contact: Juan Olalla at [email protected]

Has this article been helpful to you, do you have any question? You are welcome to leave a reply. Your opinion, comments and/or suggestions are highly appreciated. Thanks

About How to repair a piano eBook

Learn to repair, regulate and voice pianos the professional way. This book “How to repair a piano” will be a great asset for beginers and/or advance students who also want to repair as well as tune their own piano.
Save lots of money in expensive repairs, and learn a skill that you can use to repair and service other people pianos. In addition, “How to repair a piano” will teach you not only to do repairs, but also so important aspects of the piano as regulation and voicing.

This book is the product of so many years of work. The techniques and methods exposed in this method are based on my own experience working as a piano technician for the last 32 years. As you will discover in this book, most malfunctions on the piano are easier to mend than they look at first sight so, why not to do it yourself. Learn the “tricks of the trade” and repair pianos in no time, I’ll show you how.


“How to repair a piano” Buy and download Now!

$29,95 USD


“How to repair a piano” main Features:

  • 132 pages divides into 7 Chapters comvering all the important issues
  • More than 140 pictures and helpful diagrams
  • Numerous tips and first hand advices
  • Full dedicated chapters covering regulation and voicing
  • A check list for quick reference with the piano most common failures

                            Table of Contents

Chapter I: How the action works 
Grand piano main sections
Note on cross sections nomenclature
Grand piano cabinet  nomenclature
Grand piano action cross section
Upright piano action cross section
Operation of the upright action
Upright wippen assembly
Upright action operation in four phases
How the grand piano action works
Grand piano wippen assembly
Grand piano operation in five phases 

Chapter II: The hammers, common faults and how to repair them
Basic tools
The virtues of “hot glue”
Repairing hammers and shanks
Changing a whole set of hammers
Modus operandi
Repairing a broken hammer shank
Flanges and bushings
Repairing a flange
Sluggish action parts
Repairing broken or damage bridle straps
Final notes and recommendations

Chapter III: The piano strings
Basic tools
Bass strings
Middle and treble section steel strings
Piano wire size number
Procedure to replace a string
Restringing a piano 

Chapter IV: The pins and the pinblock
Pinblock cross section
Pianos that don’t stay in tune
How to repair a loose pin
Pinblock tightener 

Chapter V: The keyboard, the keys
Most common fault
Determine where is the problem
Fixing a sluggish or sticking key
Keys rubbing on the key slip, a classic
Replacing the key bushings
Repairing a broken key 

Chapter VI: Regulating
Understanding regulation
Regulation tools
Basic preparations

Regulating the upright piano
General alignment and squaring
Check and align the travel of the hammer butt
Check and align the hammers to the strings
Check and align the jacks to the hammers
Aligning the backcheck
Regulate hammer stroke
Regulate lost motion
Regulate the average key height
Regulate hammer let-off
Regulate key dip
Regulate hammer checking
Regulate the pedals
Regulate the dampers
Regulate the damper spoons
Regulate the bridle straps
Final note on regulating the upright piano 

Regulating the grand piano
The let-off regulation rack
Basic preparations
Spacing and levelling the keys
Regulate the travel of hammers
Align hammers to strings
Regulate the jack to the hammer roller
Adjust the height of the repetition lever
Regulate the hammer height
Regulate the hammer let-off
Regulate the hammer drop
Regulate the backchecks
Regulate the repetition lever spring
Regulate the dampers
Adjust the height of the damper stop rail
The grand piano pedals
Regulating the grand pedals  

Chapter VII: Voicing
Understanding piano voicing
Voicing tools
The voicing technique
Voicing procedure
Voicing for “strong”
Voicing for “soft
Comprehensive hammer voicing
Voicing the last treble octave
Final notes on voicing 

Action problems summary quick reference
Note is too weak
Note doesn’t sound at all (dead key)
Hammer strikes the strings two or more times
Hammer gets blocked against the strings
Sluggish and “lazy” notes
Notes “clicking” noise
Dampers unable to damp

Buy the two eBooks Now and save a 15% - Instant download!

$50,92 USD
Any questions about this/these books? Please, let us know.

Copyright © Juan Olalla 2011

Aural piano tuning versus electronic piano tuning

Why learning how to tune a piano aurally when you can use an electronic piano tuner device or a piano tuning software? Aural piano tuner versus electronic piano tuner, what is best? 

In the world of piano tuning, this current topic has been around for quite a while. Tuning a piano with an electronic device never has been completely accepted by the community of piano tuners, specially the senior ones, as it was consider poor quality and unprofessional sort of piano tuning. However, during the last decade or so, have appeared a new generation of much more accurate electronic tuners and computer programs.

Although I always been in favor of aural tuning, (still I am) have to admit that thes days  is possible to tune a piano to areasonable good standard with an electronic tuner. The only drawback is its high price and therefore the difficulty to make them worth unless you tune many pianos.

There are two basic types of electronic tuners, the chromatic ones (fairly inexpensive) and the specially dedicated for tuning the pianos used by professionals in general, as we said before, quite dear.

With a chromatic tuner you can tune just about anything, You can use a chromatic tuner to tune a piano, but have to follow a certain procedure (already explained by me in another article). In short, have to recalibrate at every step. Also these chromatic tuners can’t read too well the very low and high frequencies of the piano, so you must have the ability to tune by ear at least unisons and octaves.

Specific computer and electronics piano tuners and its main applications
These ones are specially thought for pianos. They can read partials, correct inharmonicity and calculate the stretch for every note in the piano. All these functions are produced automatically, so you only have to worry about reading and tuning. These more sophisticated tuners can also have some interesting applications:

One of the most atractive applications I can see is to be able to record a good aural tuning, so you can reproduce in the future as many times as you want. Just think, you are inspired and produce an outstanding aural tuning in a particular piano, why not record it? So when you tune again the same piano you can replicate the same excellent tune you did before. You never know, maybe next time the muses will not be around. Inspiration? yes it’s a fact, some days you tune better than others.

Another important function, probably the most interesting one, is when tuning in noisy environments. In these situations when hearing the beats can be tricky, an electronic tuner can be of great help and significantly improve your tuning. In some of these electronic or computer tuners you have also the possibility to connect accessories like a contact mike.

Also an electronic tuner can make life easier when tuning to a non-standard pitch, for instance, A 442. That kind of tuning is required mainly when the piano is going to play with brass instruments as those have the particularity to lift their pitch when they have been playing for a while.

Can also be handy when tuning two pianos that have to play together. You tune one piano aurally and record the tuning, then replicate the tuning you have just recorded on the second piano to the exact parameters.

So, you could ask: Why to learn to tune a piano aurally when you can use an electronic piano tuner device or a piano tuning software? An electronic or computer based piano tuner can be a good asset  and certainly a valuable tool for professional piano tuners, but in no way can replace aural tuning. To have a good insight of his job a piano tuner should always be able to tune a piano aurally. That will no doubt enhance considerably the quality of his work.

In my opinion aural and electronic tuning are compatible, and there is nothing that indicates the contrary. The two ways can co-exist and work nicely side by side. Why not to used the best of both worlds? After all, technology is here to stay, or so they say.

©  copyright Juan Olalla 2010 

What do you think about this article, has it been helpful to you? Got some questions? Please leave a reply. Your opinion and/or suggestions are highly appreciated. Thanks                                                      

Old pianos, the plain truth

 This is about Old Pianos, and how their owners often overate them. In plain words, an old piano  regarded as a “gem” by his/her owner, for the piano tuner is often just a piece of  “old junk”. Better not to say!

Not long ago, (probably a few years) I had a telephone call asking to tune a piano. By the tone of her voice, I guessed the potential customer was and old lady. I must point out that every time I get a call asking for an appointment, I ask for some information. Things  like, what’s the piano maker, how old it is, (the piano, not the customer), and so on. But this time, I probably was busy and didn’t ask more information, just the address. Big mistake.

Few days later I went to do the job, which incidentally was quite far away, in a village about 100 kms. from my place. A charming old lady was there to greet me. Her house, full of antiques, truly looked like a museum. The whole place expired tradition and memories. In that house everything was old, very old. By the way, the pic of the piano in this entry doesn’t correspond to the piano involved in this story.  This is just a  pic from a piano rougly the same period. but in a much better condition.

She took me to the piano, “the jewel” she said. When I saw the “jewel”, at first glance I knew that wasn’t my lucky day. I cursed my negligence for not asking sufficient information before accepting the job and giving an appointment. Let me clarify this, I don’t undertake jobs for pianos over a certain age and state.  Experience tells you, in the vast majority of circunstances they are not worth it. Not for the piano owner neither for the piano tuner.

Any way, it was a massive upright piano, probably mid-19th century, that is about 150 years old, easily. All kind of ornaments, chandeliers and so on, so highly appreciated at the time. I open the top lid, and as expected, a total ruin. The strings, all rusty. The action, neglected and completely out of condition. Also, as in all the pianos of that time, wooden string-plate. 

For the ones of you who don’t know, a piano with a wooden plate, is a piano that in the vast majority of cases, simply is not tunable, and therefore useless, at least from a technical point of view, of course. Cast-iron plates only started to be broadly manufactured around the beginning of the 20th century.

I must admit that my first impulse when I saw the “jewel” was to give an excuse and run away. But not, I didn’t chicken out. After all, I wasn’t prepare to waste the whole day and do about 200  kms. just for nothing. So, I started seriously inspecting the piano.

As I was evaluating the piano, and by extension the silly mess I got myself in, the charming old lady was illustrating me. She bought the piano only two months ago from an old gentleman that obviously had known better times. He inherited the piano from his parents, who at the same time, inherited it from his grandparents.

It is a gorgeous piano which have seen several generations and therefore of a very high value (she reasoned). I am a little bit ashamed to say (she giggled) but the best thing is that I bought this beauty for a ridiculous bargain price (she lowered her voice), just 2000 euros. 

I almost faint, 2000 euros!!?? For me, that old thing wasn’t worth it the money to transport it, and this woman had paid 2000 eutos!!. I wouldn’t accept that piano, even as a gift!!. As often happens, she was totally unconcern about the mechanical condition of the instrument and because there were no missing keys, she more or less figure out that an ordinary piano tuning would be all that was required to bring the piano back to live.

There are times and situations in the life of a piano tuner that are hateful, and this was one of them. How to tell this nice old lady that her piano wasn’t exactly a “jewel”. Well, trying to be as diplomatic as I possible could, I told her that although her piano was certainly a beauty, in reality the mechanical condition left much to be desired, so what the piano needed wasn’t just a tuning, but a restoration.

Now then, a full restoration (I kept informing the lady) would be extremely costly (I wasn’t certainly, willing to do it) and an ordinary standard tuning, little less than impossible, as the pin-block wouldn’t hold the new pressure of the strings (the piano was about one and a half whole steps down).  In the very improbable case that the piano were able to hold the tune, it would be needed at least three sessions to raise the piano pitch, up to standard.

 The lady, to my amazed, didn’t look surprised at all, and took it quite well. This made think that maybe she new more about the piano than she admitted to know. Well, she insisted that I tuned the piano lower pitch, so at least she could play it. 

Then, I did one of the things I most dislike. That is to tune a piano lower pitch. But the customer is always right and the one who subscribes have neither will nor intention to discuss the instructions of his payer. The piano was tuned a whole step down (as requested, impossible to tune it any higher)) and I also did a couple of repairs and odd regulations. 

To finish the whole job took me about four hours. I have to do a first rough tuning, follow by a second fine one. Hated the job, but at least, the old lady was happy to “play” her piano and I didn’t wasted the day and the long driving.  A day to reflect and also to forget.

Notice: If you are a newbie piano tuner or want to work as a such,  I strongly advice you to keep your thoughts (regarding a very old piano) to yourself, as that piece of “old junk” can mean a lot to his/her owner. In order to survive in this business, better to be polite and discreet.

©  copyright Juan Olalla 2010 

Has his articule been helpful to you? Got some questions? Please, leave a reply. Your opinion and/or suggestions are highly appreciated. Thanks                                                      

Why some pianos don’t stay in tune

Why some pianos don’t stay in tune (after you tuned them)
You have done what looks like a good piano tune, but after a few days or even hours the piano is out of tune, again !!?? Does it sound familiar to you? Two hours of work wasted. What went wrong?

This is one of the most popular topics in the world of piano tuning. Why some pianos don’t stay in tune. What can we do to properly fix a tune so that the piano stays tuned for a reasonable period of time.

This nuisance may be due basically to two main  reasons. The first one, to an improper use of the tuning hammer. The second one, to the fact that the piano that you are trying to tune could be simply “not tunable”. Yes, some pianos are not possible to tune for a number of reasons.

Very old pianos, specially if they still have wooden frames are in the vast majority of circumstances impossible to tune. The pin-block, far too old can’t hold its grip on the pins, and therefore the tension falls and the strings flatten down very soon, sometimes at the same time as you tune.

Also, a piano that doesn’t stays in tune may be due to structural problems. For example; a broken pin-block. Also a cast-iron plate can be broken or just fissured, even the frame can be damage. In any of those cases the repair can be very costly, and only worth in prestigious expensive brands.

Now, if the piano is fairly new, chances are that the reason for don’t staying in tune is due to a faulty tuning lever manipulation. In my opinion, a good technique with the tuning hammer, accounts for at least half of the success of a piano tune. What to do then? Obviously improve your skill with the tuning hammer.

Have in mind something very important. For a piano to stay in tune is utterly important to properly set pins and strings. My advice; strike the keys solidly “staccato” stile, don’t be afraid. Also, move the tuning hammer a bit too far while playing the keys with firm blows till in tune. I am convince that by following these two simple recommendations, you will improve the quality of your piano tunings. Good luck.
© copyright Juan Olalla 2010  


Tuning a piano in noisy environments, tricks from the pro

They called you to tune a piano for a concert at the last hour. The time available is ridiculously short, about half an hour, and to top it up is very noisy. What to do?

This is one of the tricky situations a piano tuner might encounter, when tuning at a concert.  Just imagine the situation; it’s terribly noisy as sound engineers and musicians are testing the sound. To make matters worst they ask you to hurry up as the concert will start in half an hour. How can you properly tune the piano in those circumstances?
You complain, but the answer is a typical “sorry, we understand you but you have to make do with what you’ve got”.  

You feel like swearing at them and walk away. Why haven’t they call me with time in advance? you rightly think. Reality check: in the real world this kind of situations are far from rare. Tuning a piano for a concert, ideally should be done in the morning or early afternoon, just before the sound engineers and musicians arrive, alone and in silence. Anyway, cool down and don’t panic, above all DON’T RUN AWAY.

What to do then? As I say before, keep yourself cool. After all is not your fault they called you with such a short time notice. You are not responsible for the lack of foresight of the organizers. Well, as it is materially impossible to do a full standard piano tuning you will concentrate on the unisons, specially the middle ones, also the middle upper section if possible.

Why to concentrate specifically on the middle and upper section unisons? Because this is the most played part of the piano and therefore bound to be out of tune.  Also, a unison out of tune can be really very conspicuous. So if you manage to get them right, the piano, although not perfect will have improve quite a big deal.

So, you will produce a makeshift piano tuning which I personally refer to as “cowboy emergency tuning” !! Play a chromatic scale up and down the keyboard and try to identify the keys that are out of tune, or at least the keys that are worst, then write them down on a piece of paper or make a little sign on the keys so you don’t forget.

Make sure there isn’t any key in the bass or treble section wickedly out of tune. If there is one or two, tune them, if not, don’t waste time and move quickly to the middle section, more or less from A25 to C64. Tune those unisons the best you can. To finish the job, check again by doing another chromatic scale up and down the keyboard. The whole job wouldn’t take you more than 20 minutes (the time available).

Maybe this procedure doesn’t look very orthodox, but the purpose is not to execute a work of art piano tuning, but to overcome a particularly exceptional situation, just trying to do the best with what you’ve got. They can ask you to do your best, but nobody can compel you to produce miracles !.

©  copyright Juan Olalla 2010 

Has this article been useful to yout? Got some questions?  Your opinion and/or suggestions are highly appreciated. Please leave a reply. Thanks

“The piano tuner” by Daniel Mason (reviewed by another piano tuner)

I don’t consider myself a compulsive reader but every now and then I find the time to relax and read, even if it is only for a few minutes. Sometime ago while visiting a book-shop at my home town I found a book that catch my eye “The piano tuner” by Daniel Mason. Out of curiosity I bought it.

The story takes place  in Victorian England and is about a piano tuner living in  London that went to “do a job” to Birmania, in those days under the British Empire (I figure out, at that time probably was quite difficult to find a local piano tuner). The man had to leave his new wife and his peaceful existence in London to undergo an adventure that changed his live and indeed ended it.

 What surprised me about the book, apart from the good written story was the excellent documentation. The author describes the job of a piano tuner in quite a convincing manner describing things like the tools for tuning a piano, changing and replacing broken strings, the technique of tuning a piano, the terrible effect that the humid weather and the rain forest had on the piano and so on.

I also found quite interesting the reference to Erard pianos as that was the piano he had to mend. Erard pianos for those of you who don’t know was one of the biggest and most prestigious piano brands, mainly because they were the ones that invented and pioneer the repetion lever (the repetion lever has been one of the most important innovations in the history of piano building and at the time considered as a major breakthrough). I have tuned a handful of Erard pianos and found them very refined with a very pleasent and precise action Nowadays the modern piano is not too different from the one describe in “The piano tuner”

Looking the credits at the end of the book I found where Mr Mason got most of his  documentary material from. The book  “Piano tuning and allied arts”  by William Braid White. Incidentally that was the first piano tuning book I ever had, edition 1946 and although quite old and batter I still keep it. 

“The piano tuner”  by Daniel Mason  is highly recommended.  Quite interesting and pleasent to read, but just in case anybody had a job for tuning a piano in Birmania and think of me as a suitable candidate, please look in another direction, I am busy.

©  copyright Juan Olalla 2010

Has this article been helpful to you? Got some questions? Please leave a reply, your opinion and/or suggestions are highly appreciated. Thanks