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Required Reading - Tuning

Updated: May 4, 2020

By Gregory Cheng, RPT


When I was a young technician, one of my first jobs was working in a shop rebuilding pianos and prepping floor pianos. I was fortunate to work with a lot of well-educated piano technicians and rebuilders. Early on, I was intimidated by the knowledge and experience these people had and felt I needed to catch up -  and catch up fast. My mentor pointed me to a few books I should read, which then dropped me into a rabbit hole of books and cataloged knowledge that I didn’t think was even available. 

Theoretical book knowledge will never replace hands-on physical experience. However, the insights you gain from book knowledge will give you a richer, deeper understanding of piano technology, and will increase your skillset, enhance your hands-on experience, and set you a level apart from most technicians with factual, sight-able knowledge. 

For the purposes of this article, I have categorized books into a few different categories: General Knowledge Books and Specialized Books. General knowledge books are well-rounded books that cover a wide range of topics within the book. These items are not necessarily summarized but are brief in their description. The specialized books dive deep into specific areas. 


Pianos Inside Out

By Mario Igrec

This a comprehensive book on tuning, repair, regulation, and rebuilding for the 21st-century technician. It starts with a brief history of piano-making, then dives straight into construction and design going over aspects of the rim, plate, soundboard, and action. Igrec also goes over making hammers, voicing procedures, and the function of the action. 

The next chapters cover maintenance, tuning, regulating verticals and grands, voicing, repairs, moving, geometry and touch weight, rebuilding and troubleshooting. That is a lot of ground to cover in 539 pages but Igrec does it well and thoroughly. If you are starting out, this is the book you need to have today. If you are an experienced technician and you don’t think you need this book, you are flat-out wrong, and you will miss out.


Piano Tuning and the Allied Arts

By William Braid White

The next book in the generalized category is seemingly timeless. Originally published in 1917, Piano Tuning and the Allied Arts was the only reliable resource many technicians had for nearly a century. By 21st-century standards, this book is out of date and no longer in print. However, I have found it on Amazon and many used book websites. This was the first piano technology book I read. It is amazing to see how little has changed in procedure between this book and Pianos Inside Out

White doesn’t dive nearly as deep as Igrec, but it gets the job done for tuning, regulation, and repairs. If you need a quick understanding of procedure - this is it. This book is 295 pages in length and is credited by Owen Jorgensen as creating the first written version of a mathematical equal temperament. I include this book because it is a short book that covers what you need to know on a very basic level, even though it is over 100 years old. 

These two books are staples to the modern everyday piano technician and will cover about 90 percent of what we run into on the road. If you are new to piano technology, this is a good  place to start. 


On Pitch

By Rick Baldassin

Think of this book as bridging the gap between aural and electronic tuning. Rick Baldassin does an exploration of octave and interval types through aural and electronic means. In 2015, Baldassin partnered with Jason Cassel to create the On Pitch DVD series furthering the explanation and demonstration process of tuning. Originally there were no temperament sequences to practice or memorize, instead you would be able to refine your aural skills by practicing and listening to what is outlined in the book, either with the help of the machine or aurally. Now with the [upcoming] release of the fifth DVD in the series, The Baldassin-Sanderson Temperament, you get the ultimate tool set for creating a temperament and tuning a piano. 


Upright and Grand Piano Tuning

By Carl-Johan Forss

This is a collegiate text for tuning including a historical overview, tuning theory, practical piano tuning exercises, 11 different temperament sequences with the benefits and drawbacks of each, interval checks, octaves, and unisons. The author also covers general tuning versus concert tunings, hybrid pianos, room climate, service plans, hearing, how sound is transmitted, room acoustics, inharmonicity, and string calculation. If I were a college student today studying piano technology, this is where I would start for piano tuning. Coupled with all of this are exercises for the student, clean charts and diagrams that clearly explain intervals, and sample empty spreadsheets for students to develop their own temperament sequences and log their piano tunings. Logging the piano tuning date, make/models, relative humidity, additional work, and time spent is essential for showing timing, knowledge, and experience. It shows tangible progress for the student, and I encourage all students of the trade to do this.

If you are an experienced technician who wants to get into aural tuning, this book, coupled with On Pitch, will change how you experience tuning. For aural tuners exploring new tuning sequences, this book can be eye opening. I have personally been able to enhance my tuning by “playing” with the difference sequences using the knowledge I have as an aural tuner. You have many paths to get to a finely tuned piano. This book offers many ways to get there.


Tuning: Containing The Perfection of Eighteenth-Century Temperament

The Lost Art of Nineteenth-Century Temperament and

The Science of Equal Temperament Complete With Instructions for Aural and Electronic Tuning

By Owen H. Jorgensen

I had the pleasure of finding this book in my college’s library. I loved the book so much and kept it for so long that I was charged with a severe fine and my alumni book rental rights were revoked. This is essentially the Unabridged Oxford Dictionary of checks, historical temperaments, and modern temperaments. This book, research, and Jorgensen’s work, to my understanding, were incorporated into the Sanderson Accu-Tuner - which for all intents and purposes is the original and father of the modern ETD. I believe it was Jorgensen who said, “If you want to learn how to tune, tune through history.” This book is a vast 768 pages with its own instructions on how to use the book. That being said, I still use the sections I have copied today to instruct my students. I use it as a reference book now, but while learning tuning sequences and memorizing all the checks for intervals and octaves, this book was essential.

Experienced technicians will find that experimenting with historical temperaments is quite ear-opening. Tuning a non-equal temperament with unique interval distances really refines the process of thinking and listening. It isn’t practical to do this while working in-home or on a concert piano, but it is excellent for practicing and enhancing one’s skill set. We can all tune a temperament without thinking in our sleep. Let’s stretch some other mental muscles to enrich our core skills. 


Was this article helpful? Read more of Greg's required reads on the Repair and Regulation pages.

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