Piano Tuner

The Job and What's Involved

Piano tuners, increasingly known as tuner/technicians, tune, repair, regulate and voice pianos to improve their sound and touch. Some have workshops and undertake full-scale restorations.

Piano tuning pins are set very tightly, and so unlike instruments such as guitars, which have their own tuning mechanisms, a piano tuner uses a lever (in principle like a socket wrench) to turn the pins. This process requires a degree of physical strength.

Pianos have up to three strings for each note. When a note is tuned one of the strings is isolated and set to the correct pitch. The other strings are then tuned to match it. This set of two or three identically tuned strings is called a unison.

Piano tuners:

  • Tune a C or an A at the middle of the piano to a tuning fork.
  • Tune all the other notes of the central octave or scale by ear to act as guides for all the rest.
  • From this central scale, progress up and down the piano in octaves using the central guides as the reference points.
  • Constantly check each note tuned with several others that have already been tuned, to make sure that other intervals such as fifths and thirds are good, as well as the octaves.
  • Do any running repairs or regulation (adjusting the moving parts) that may be necessary.
  • Replace broken strings (this requires about 13 tools).
  • Give advice about looking after the piano to the owner.

Electronic tuning aids are available to help professional tuners, and can be used in a variety of ways, including full tuning. However, it still takes an expert and experienced ear to check the result, no matter how good the device. These devices cost many hundreds of pounds. A piano tuner/technician needs a comprehensive and heavy toolkit, which may cost £2,000 or more to acquire.

A tuner may be called upon to modify the tone of the piano; this is called voicing.

Every piano has its own characteristics and peculiarities. Pianos are affected by conditions such as humidity, temperature, transportation and the amount they are played, so there is considerable challenge and variety in the day-to-day work.

Domestic pianos should be tuned about once every six months. Concert or studio pianos have to be tuned before every performance or recording.

Most tuners are self-employed and run their own business, so they have additional tasks, such as keeping records and bookkeeping. Phoning clients to make appointments can also take up several evenings a week.

It normally takes about one hour to tune a piano and tuners generally tune four to six pianos per day. Hours are usually flexible to suit the piano tuner and customers. Some early morning, evening or weekend work may be necessary.

Many piano tuners work for domestic clients who have a piano in their home. Tuners may also work in schools, music colleges, theatres, concert halls, recording studios, clubs, restaurants and other similar venues.

Travel to visit clients is necessary. Some very experienced tuners travel internationally.

Most tuners are self-employed and charge for each tuning. Earnings vary widely depending on how much they charge, their expenses and how much business they can generate.

Initial earnings are likely to be low, but after two years in the profession it may be possible to earn around £15,000 a year.
With another five years' experience, piano tuners may earn around £25,000 in fees. At the top of the profession, fees of up to £45,000 a year may be possible.

There are considerable expenses to be deducted from these earnings including, e.g. advertising, transport costs, accountancy fees and phone bills, which will add up to several thousand pounds a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Piano tuning is a small profession and opportunities exist throughout the UK. Most piano tuners are self-employed. Unless they take over an existing business from a retiring piano tuner, they have to build up a business of their own through advertising and personal recommendation.

Blind or partially sighted piano tuners may be able to receive financial assistance through the Access To Work Scheme. Regional Access to Work contact centres or Disability Employment Advisers at local Jobcentres can provide more details.

Although rare, there may be occasional opportunities for employment, mainly in piano dealerships, repair shops and as a residential tuner at music colleges. It may be necessary to move to a different area of the country to take up employment.

Vacancies are not advertised often, although a few might appear in Classical Music and Piano.

Education and Training

There are no set academic entry requirements, although full training is essential.

Practical ability and having a particular interest in the work are important, and having some musical aptitude can help. It may be possible to learn the craft working alongside an experienced piano tuner.

The following courses prepare students with the basic and specialised skills and knowledge needed to work in the piano industry as a tuner or technician:

  • London Metropolitan University offers a BSc Hons degree in musical instruments. Students can choose to specialise in one of a range of instrument families, including pianos: tuning, regulation, servicing and repair. The degree is available over three years full time, six years part time or four years as an extended degree. Entry requirements are usually two A levels at grade C or above, and five GCSE's, including maths and English at grade C or above. All other qualifications are considered on an individual basis. Applicants should have a keen interest in music and musical instruments. The piano tuning and repair programme focuses on practical piano tuning, repair and regulation of both upright and grand pianos, and is well placed to offer work experience to third-year students.
  • Newark College offers a three-year, full-time course in piano tuning, maintenance and repair leading to EDI certificates at Level 2 and Level 3 in classical music instrument technology (CMIT). No formal qualifications are needed, although previous experience in woodwork, art or engineering is an advantage. At the end of the three years, students can also take a Diploma in piano tuning. The course focuses on piano tuning and the full restoration and casework finishing of both upright and grand pianos.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

The Pianoforte Tuners' Association (PTA), the National Association of Musical Instrument Repairers (NAMIR), and the Association of Blind Piano Tuners (ABPT) offer various levels of membership, with different entry requirements. Visit their individual websites for further information.

All new UK members of the ABPT are required to undergo a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check.

The PTA and ABPT offer ongoing training, through seminars and technical classes, to piano tuners who wish to acquire extra levels of ability.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Piano tuners should:

  • Have normal hearing.
  • Have an ear for pitch and quality of sound.
  • Have practical hand skills.
  • Be able to solve problems.
  • Be patient.
  • Have excellent communication skills.
  • Have good organisational skills and self discipline.
  • Be able to deal with a wide variety of people.
  • Have business skills.

Your Long Term Prospects

Progress in piano tuning depends on establishing a strong reputation and gaining more customers.

Some piano tuners set up their own piano repair workshops and/or piano shops.

Get Further Information

Association of Blind Piano Tuners (ABPT)
Website: www.uk-piano.org

Creative & Cultural Skills,
Lafone House, The Leathermarket,
Weston Street, London SE1 3HN
Tel: 020 7015 1800
Website: www.creative-choices.co.uk/music

Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM),
10 Stratford Place, London W1C 1AA
Tel: 020 7629 4413
Website: www.ism.org

National Association of Musical
Instrument Repairers (NAMIR)
Website: www.namir.org.uk

Pianoforte Tuners' Association (PTA),
PO Box 1312, Lightwater, Woking GU18 5UB
Tel: 0845 602 8796
Website: www.pianotuner.org.uk

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