My training and experience

    Fisher Piano Service   Rob Fisher, RPT

             175 McHenry Av., Crystal Lake, IL  60014   815-455-2940

My name is Rob Fisher, and I have been tuning pianos full-time in McHenry, Lake, and Kane Counties (IL) for more than 30 years.  I am an aural (by ear) tuner, and do all kinds of major and minor repairs, and regulations on uprights and grands, as well as on players and old square grands.  I live in Crystal Lake, Illinois with my wife, Lin.  Please don’t hesitate to call me with any questions you might have regarding any aspect of your piano care.


                                                          My services

                                                         Piano moving

                                                 Advice for piano buyers

                                                          My prices

                                             Why pianos go out of tune

                                                  Common piano myths

                                              What is "tuning by ear"?

                                                          Contact me

I first became interested in piano tuning when I was in the U.S. Navy.  I had taken a book, Piano Tuning and Allied Arts, out of the San Diego public library and after reading it, I just knew that this was what I would do for a living.  Along with piano, I had been playing, and hence tuning guitars for years, and so was already familiar with the idea of tuning with interference beats, which is the core of piano tuning.  After I got out of the Navy, my wife, Lin, and I moved to Wisconsin where I spent a year at a tuning program for the blind at Blackhawk Technical College in Beloit, although I myself am not blind.  This was a full time program - 6 hours a day, five days a week.  It covered tuning, repair, and rebuilding.  From there we moved to Algonquin, IL, and started Fisher Piano Service.   In 1986 we moved to our present home in Crystal Lake.


My tunings typically cost $100 - $125, depending on how badly out of tune a piano is, and take from an hour and half to two hours.  I always tune to A-440 (standard pitch), with rare exceptions such as tuning to off-pitch pipe organs, etc.  It is natural when shopping for services to compare prices, but one needs to be careful how price differences are interpreted.  We've all heard the ol', "You get what you pay for."  Well, sometimes we do, and sometimes we don't!  Unlike many other products or services, piano tuning doesn't have a lot of market control, and piano tuners can charge whatever they think is fair, or what they think they can get away with, depending on their perspective.  Be careful how much credence you lend to your friends and neighbors statements as to how much their piano tuner charges.  A tuner might combine the cost of tuning and repairs, and so what you are told was a $120 tuning was really a tuning and extra repairs added on to the cost.  Always call tuners and ask them directly what they charge.


 Any time you ask a tuner how much he charges, be sure to ask a couple of other important questions as well.  Firstly, how much time does he spend tuning?  A tuner who tells you his typical tuning takes 45 minutes or an hour is not doing a complete tuning, but is most probably leaving the pitch of the piano wherever it is at, and is not tuning to A-440.  If your piano has not been tuned for a long time, be sure to bring that up and ask how that will affect the price.  You might get one price, but when the tuner arrives and finds your piano is half a note flat, the charge might either go up, or he might say it will need an extra tuning.

Tuning - Except for particular pianos (ones that need to be tuned to pipe organs, etc.) I always tune to standard pitch, A-440.


"Un-tunable pianos" - I often have customers tell me that their piano could not be tuned.  These are usually old pianos that often can be tuned, although they may require more work.  A truly un-tunable piano is relatively rare.  Don't allow your piano to be "condemned" without a second opinion!


Repairs - I do major and minor repairs, bass bridge repair and replacement, tuning pin re-pinning, and regulation.  I not only work on regular upright and grand pianos, but also on player pianos and square grands.  Repair costs are based on $65 per hour, although many minor repairs are free.


Cleaning - I clean both upright and grand pianos, as well as advising customers on what cleaning they can do themselves. Cleaning a grand piano will typically take at least an hour, and in some cases take longer than two hours.


Inspect pianos - I will go to stores or homes and inspect pianos for client's possible purchase, estimate cost of necessary repairs, and whether this is the right piano for their needs.


Keytop replacement - I can replace missing ivory or plastic keytops.  I don't replace full sets of keytops myself, as it is less expensive to send the keys out to a shop that specializes in keytop replacement.  Because they have special equipment, they can also do a nicer job, and usually at less cost, than the average tuner can usually do.


Talks/demonstrations - I offer talks on how the piano works and how it is tuned, the origin or musical scales, and the physics of music for church and school groups/classes.


I'm always willing to talk to people who call looking for advice on buying a piano.

Perhaps the first question prospective piano buyers should ask is - do I want a new or used piano?

If you do a little homework and talk to a piano tuner, you will always get a lot more for your money in a used piano than a new one.  Years ago when all there were classified ads in newspapers it was hard to get buyers and sellers in contact with one another.  With the internet - especially Craigslist - it's a different world altogether.  There are many used pianos available and often at very low cost.


Then there's the question - do I want an upright or a grand? Just as you will almost generally get more value for your dollar in a used piano than in a new one, the same is true about uprights versus grands.  For the average pianist the fundamental difference between an upright and a grand with similar string length is that uprights go up and down and grands go side to side.  There is nothing about grand pianos, in principle, that makes them "better" than uprights.  More important are matters of brand, model, condition, age, etc.  I'd rather have a well-built upright than a cheap grand.  For the cost of a very used, so-so condition grand you can generally get a top of the line used upright.  As a rule, if you are buying a grand, try to get as close to six feet (or more) in length.  Anything under five feet defeats the one advantage that grands have over uprights - string length.  Keep in mind that a grand piano is measured from the far end of the piano to the front edge of the keys, so that about 6 inches of the piano's length is not string length but key length.  On an upright on the other hand, it is all string length, so that a 5 and a half foot grand has about the same string length as a five foot upright.


Read Larry Fine's "The Piano Book: Buying And Owning A New Or Used Piano."  This book is by far the best book available for piano buyers.  It's full of information about piano designs, brands, what to look for and what to look out for when buying new or used pianos.  He compares brands, features, etc.  You can get it on Amazon for about $20.

Buying a used piano


Buying a used piano can be even more tricky than buying a new piano.  Besides the questions of brand, etc. that apply to new pianos, there is the unknown question of the piano's condition.  Get any used piano you want to buy inspected by a tuner.  Whether the piano is in a store or in someone's home, it's the best insurance you can get.  For a usually small fee a tuner can tell you if there is anything wrong with the piano, how much it will cost to fix it, and can give you his opinion on the price as well.  As a general rule, notes that don't work, the occasional broken string, pedals that don't work right, etc. are relatively easy and inexpensive to fix.  It is often the things you don't even know to look for that are going to cost the big bucks - split bass bridges, loose tuning pins, slow action centers, etc.


Always take what people tell you about their pianos with a grain of salt.  It's not that they're lying, but very often the owners themselves really don't know the condition.  They often have vague memories of what a tuner (or worse yet, Grandma) told them twenty years ago.  People will try to sell a junk piano for a lot of money because they think it's an "antique," or they give away perfectly good pianos they think are junk because there are pencils stuck inside.  (Here's my favorite true-life "no-good piano" story.  A lady called me to work on a piano where most of the notes didn't work.  Her friend had given it to her for free thinking it had some kind of serious problem.  The problem?  The first lady had birds, and seed had gotten jammed between the keys.  All I had to do was to lift the keys so the seed could fall through and - presto - no more "broken" keys.)

If at all possible, use a professional piano mover.  As a rule they charge less than conventional movers and almost always do a better job.  Any tuner can tell you story after story of problems caused by conventional movers - nicks and scratches, broken legs, lost pedal lyre parts, mixing up leg and lyre screws - and the list goes on.  The average move (not involving a lot of stairs, etc.) typically runs between $250 and $350.  If you call around for prices, try to provide as much information as possible - especially regarding stairs, any access problems, or other obstacles.


It is possible to move a piano yourself.  The best way to start is by doing a YouTube search for "how to move an upright piano" or "how to move a grand piano."  Like a lot of jobs, a little information can go a long way, and can turn what at the outset might seem like a horrible job into something manageable in the end.



Why do pianos go out of tune?


       Although common sense would suggest that pianos go out of tune from being played, the largest influence is change in humidity from season to season.  In order to understand what makes pianos go out of tune it is necessary to have a basic understanding of piano structure.  Although the soundboard (that big sheet of wood under the strings) looks flat, it actually bulges, or is “crowned” very slightly toward the strings.  The strings, in turn, pass over the bridges at a slight angle.  It is essentially the same set-up as that on a violin, although the curvature of the wood and bend in the strings is much more pronounced on a violin than on a piano.  The result is a constant pressure between the soundboard and the strings.  As the humidity increases throughout the spring and summer, the soundboard, like anything else wooden, absorbs moisture and expands, swelling in the direction of the strings.  As a result of this expansion of the soundboard the strings are stretched and the overall pitch of the piano rises.  As the humidity in the room decreases with the onset of fall and winter, the soundboard shrinks, the tension on the strings is slightly relaxed, and the piano goes flat.  It goes through this cycle year after year, ending up flatter with each yearly cycle.


       Each piano goes out of tune with its own quirks, and the same piano will act differently in different houses, and even at different locations in the same house.  The weather over the course of the year has the largest impact.  Typically, pianos will tend to stay in tune relatively well in a year with a mild winter and cool summer.  On the other hand, a very cold winter (and consequently dry indoors) and hot, humid summer will cause the piano to go through a more extreme change in pitch.  Although moving a piano from one house to another will tend to knock it a little out of tune, this will not have as much impact as the change in seasons.


What can I do to help my piano stay in tune?


       Anything you can do to limit the overall change in humidity from winter to summer will help your piano stay in tune.  A humidifier in the winter and air conditioning in the summer will help, but even the effects of these will vary widely from piano to piano.  To get any real benefit from these you have to be consistent.  You can leave your air conditioner on all summer, but if you go on vacation for a week and leave it off, you may come home to a piano that has gone sharp.


       I have seen people put jars of water in and near pianos but it’s hard to say how much effect this has.  Probably the significant benefit from these water containers is simply adding humidity to the room.  In any case, it can’t hurt.  There are humidity control systems available for pianos, but different pianos will return differing results.  A complete system consists of a heating bar for drying the piano out in the summer, a humidifying tank for adding moisture in the winter, and a humidistat that turns the two elements on and off as the humidity changes.  Some people will swear that these devices make all the difference in the world, others will not notice much change.  In the end, it is control of the overall environment that makes the biggest difference.  (A word of caution for people who have these systems in their pianos.  It should not be used without a humidistat to turn it on and off.  I have come across many pianos with heating bars that do not have humidistats to turn them on and off.  Plugging one of these in without the humidistat - and having it stay on in the winter when the piano is already too dry - is like turning your furnace on without a thermostat, and can result in excessive drying of your piano.  These devices should not be used without humidistats.)


       One of the absolutely worst thing you can do to your piano - both in terms of tuning and overall condition - is to place it over or next to heating vents or radiators.  A close second to doing that is putting it in a place where the sun can shine on the soundboard.  Not only does the sun dry out the soundboard and make the piano go flat, but it will tend to fade the wood as well and encourage cracking and peeling of the finish.


How often should I get my piano tuned?


       Although most manufacturers say twice a year, that's somewhat arbitrary.  There's a whole range - from concert pianos that are tuned every time they're used to pianos that are never played and can usually be left to go a number of years without any problem.  The odds are that if your piano hasn't been tuned in the last year, it's out of tune to some degree.  A piano doesn’t sit there in tune, and then one day go out of tune.  It's going out of tune all the time as the soundboard expands and contracts with changes in humidity.  It's just a matter of how fast and how badly.  Some pianos can go sharp or flat with the weather but pretty much stay in tune with themselves.  Others go horribly out of tune with any change of pitch.  If you're not playing the piano, and if it literally just sits there, then you can usually go for 3 or 4 years before it gets really bad.



Myth #1  Piano tuners need perfect silence.


They may like perfect silence, but they certainly don’t need it.  I think that in most cases it's just the easiest way to get people to keep the kids and the dog quiet!  There are many times when you have to compete with all kinds of things - construction or lawn mowing from the house next door, ventilation fans in schools, band practice in the next room (after they assured you, "Don't worry, it'll be quiet") - and you just deal with it.  Tuning with noise in the background is not unlike driving in the rain - you just have to “squint” with your ears and listen past the noise.


 Myth #2 - Aural (ear) tuning is better than electronic tuning.


The most important difference between aural and electronic tuners, for the customer, is the same as the difference between two aural tuners – how much does the tuner want to do a good job, how much experience does he have, and how much time – or how little – is he willing to spend on your piano.  There are some aural tuners who do a good job and some that do a bad job, and the same is true of tuners who use electronic aids.  I have never used an electronic tuning aid because I’ve never wanted or needed to.  As is the case with other aspects of the piano world, there is a lot of the irrational wanting things “the old fashioned way.”  The differences between aural and electronic tuning are more in the process than in the result – both types are working toward the same theoretical end, and neither is ever, ever perfect.  Find a tuner – aural or electronic – who does a good job, can fix all of your piano problems, charges reasonable rates, and is dependable and pleasant to work with, and stick with him.


Myth #3 – Never buy a piano with a cracked soundboard.


First of all, don't buy a used piano without having a tuner inspect it first.  Secondly, don't worry about a cracked soundboard unless a tuner tells you to worry.   Often, depending on the size, location, and nature of the crack, it will make no difference at all in the pianos sound.  Many piano soundboards crack to a point and then stop once the excessive tension is released.  The real problem with cracks is that this is where the soundboard can peal away from the ribs.  Even this is not necessarily difficult to repair, especially on uprights where the soundboard is not visible and there is no need to make the repair look nice.  Regardless of what anyone has told you about not buying a piano with a cracked soundboard, don't worry about cracks, or anything else for that matter, until your piano tuner tells you to worry about it.


Myth #4 - Piano tuners need perfect pitch


People with so-called "perfect pitch" have the ability to identify and/or sing a musical note without any reference.  For example, you could play a note and such a person could say, "That's an F."  Or you could ask her to sing a G sharp and she could do it without an instrument to compare her voice to.  The belief that piano tuners need this ability lies at a misconception of how pianos are tuned.  A piano tuner doesn't play a note and think musically, "That B is a little flat."  Rather, using interference beats he determines whether a note is sharp or flat relative to other notes.  This process is tied back to the first note which, in turn, was tuned to a tuning fork or other reference using the same system of beats.


Actually, perfect pitch can be a bad thing for tuners, who must be able not only to tune pianos to standard pitch (A-440), but to any other pitch as well.  For example, churches often require a piano to be tuned to their pipe organ, which as often as not, is either sharp or flat.  The tuner must therefore be able to tune the piano at any pitch necessary.   If he is dependent on an innate sense of what the notes should sound like, every note in such a piano will seem to be either sharp or flat.  Another example would be the case of a very, very old piano that has had a lot of broken strings.  If you try to raise the pitch on such a piano you can have many more strings break.  It is often wise in such a case to leave the piano at whatever pitch it is at and tune it "to itself."


Myth #5 - Never put a piano on an outside wall.


The reason behind this idea is that a piano placed against an outside wall can trap cold air, which in turn can result in moisture buildup.  The operative word here is 'against.'  This is most likely to happen in older homes with poor insulation.  If there is enough space between the piano and the wall to allow for free air flow there should not be a problem.  If during the winter the wall behind the piano does not feel any colder than the wall next to the piano, it's far enough away.


A common misunderstanding of piano tuning is that tuners listen to the pitch of a string and adjust it sharp or flat accordingly.  What piano tuners actually listen to are the interference beats that result from two strings being out of tune.  Imagine two strings going back and forth - one a 100 cps and one at 101 cps.  (Cps = cycles per second - how many time a second the string goes back and forth.)  Once a second they will go from vibrating in phase (going back and forth together in the same direction) to vibrating out of phase (vibrating in opposite directions).  When they are going together they reinforce one another and sound relatively louder.  When they are vibrating in opposite directions they tend to cancel each other out, and hence sound relatively quieter.  Thus, at a one cps difference the sound the strings make goes loud - soft - loud - soft as they go in and out of phase.  If there is a one cycle per second difference this "beat" (loud, soft) will happen once a second.  If there is a ten cycle per second difference this "beat" will happen ten times a second.  To hear these beats for yourself, go to this web-site.   You can read more about interference beats, or else scroll down to the "speaker" icons to hear the beats.



                                                                                           Phone - 815-455-2940


Never hesitate to call or email with any questions you might have.  If you have even small problems that are interfering with your playing, let me know.  I never mind stopping by to do small repairs and I charge strictly on the actual time doing the repairs.  I don't have a "minimum service charge" to walk in the door.  I send a tuning reminder once a year.  Enjoy your piano, and remember that I am always willing to any questions you might have!


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My training and experience

Information for piano buyers

              Why pianos go out of tune

            Common piano myths

  Piano moving

What is tuning "by ear"?

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