Some estimates put the number of pianos in the United States at nearly 20 million, and thanks to factors such as temperature, humidity, age, and frequent or hard playing, every one of them needs regular tuning and upkeep. A single home piano might need to be tuned once or twice per year, while studio pianos might be tuned monthly and concert pianos before every single performance. Piano tuners, who are often professional pianists or instrument repair technicians, take full advantage of this demand as a steady side gig.
Piano tuning and repair is delicate, painstaking work, best suited to calm and focused individuals who don't mind working alone.
Piano tuners use a handful of simple tools to test and adjust the pitch of a piano's strings, including a tuning lever, a variety of mutes to silence strings that aren't being tuned, and a tuning fork or electronic tuning device to determine accurate tones. Their most important tools, however, are their ears and deep knowledge of pianos: their anatomy, mechanical operation, and sound. A straightforward tuning job takes about an hour to complete, but a more complex one can involve assessing components such as the keyboard, pedals, and action, and correcting problems such as loose pins or worn felt on hammers. The piano tuner's art is simple to learn, but takes a lifetime to master.
At a Glance
Tuners might learn the trade through an apprenticeship with an experienced piano technician, participation in a specialized training program, or rigorous self-education. According to the Piano Technicians Guild, which offers certification to its members, it takes two to five years of training and practice to develop competence in piano tuning and repair.
Many take piano tuning gigs as a means to pay the bills while pursuing a career as a professional musician, but for those interested in a long-term career, advancement means acquiring advanced repair skills and becoming the go-to piano tech for prestigious clients, like a successful recording artist or studio. Those who perform instrument maintenance on tour are called instrument techs, while those who do broad instrument repair work are called instrument repair technicians.
- Excellent ears for pitch and nuance
- Finger dexterity
- Basic woodworking and instrument repair techniques
- Strong knowledge of the anatomy and functions of pianos
- Patience and calm
Piano tuning and repair is delicate, painstaking work, best suited to calm and focused individuals who don't mind working alone. Networking and relationship-building are valuable skills for self-employed piano tuners, whose success might be measured by how many consistent clients they have.
Piano tuners and technicians usually work during standard business hours—with the exception of an occasional emergency call from a concert hall or venue—and the many freelancers in the field are free to make their own schedules.