Rob Fisher - Fisher Piano Service

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

 

My training and experience
My prices
Services 
Information for piano buyers
Frequently asked questions
Common piano myths
Hear interference beats
Contact me    
Piano Movers
Links 

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 with my wife, Lin.  Please don’t hesitate to call me with any questions you might have regarding any aspect of your piano care.  Barrington, Lake Zurich, Cary, Fox River Grove, Algonquin, Woodstock, Marengo, Elgin, Dundee

 

                              My training and experience                 

How did I get involved with piano tuning?  McHenry, Fox Lake, Johnsburg, Harvard, Huntley, Rockford, Belvedere, St. Charles, Geneva, Naperville

Schaumburg, Hoffman Estates, Elk Grove Village, Wauconda, Buffalo Grove, DesPlaines, Island Lake, Grayslake, Round Lake, Mundelein, Libertyville, Long Grove

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.   

 Chicago, West Chicago, Palatine, Streamwood, Bartlet, Havover Park, Roselle, North Chicago, Lake Bluff, Glencoe, Highland Park, Highwood, Lincolnshire, Wheeling

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                              My prices                     

 

My tunings typically cost $90 - $110, depending on how badly out of tune a piano is, and take from a 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.  People will often lump in 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. 

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Arlington Heights, Roling Meadows, Lake In The Hills, Carpentersville, Gurnee, Piano Teacher, Deerfield, Lake County, Kane County, Cook County, Lake Villa,

                                  Services                                                                

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 usually can be tuned, although they may require more work.  A truly untunable piano is relatively rare.  Don't allow your piano to be "condemned" without a second opinion! 

Repairs  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.

Cleaning  I clean both upright and grand pianos, as well as advising customers on what cleaning they can do themselves. 

Inspect pianos I will go to stores or homes and inspect pianos for client's possible purchase, 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 do keytop replacement on 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 than the average tuner can usually do by hand.

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.  

  Northbrook, Darien, Walworth,  Aurora, Carol Stream, Glendale Heights, Addison, Elmhurst, Mount Prospect, Illinois, Piano Store, Piano for sale, Pianist

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                                     Information For Piano Buyers

I have two pieces of advice to piano buyers.  If you take this advice, you won't go wrong.

 

Advice #1  Don't buy a piano without talking to a piano tuner first.  Tuners see all kinds of pianos and are familiar with the kinds of problems they get, brands to watch out for, etc.  Most tuners are more than happy to spend some time on the phone with you answering your questions. 

 

Advice #2  Read Larry Fine's The Piano Book .   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.  This is the best $15 you'll ever spend!  Order it online from Amazon.com and have it in a few days, or get it from your local library.                                                   

 

Brands  As a member of the Piano Technicians Guild I am not supposed to push one brand of piano over another, but here are a few links that will be very informative for new piano buyers. 

 

      Kawai USA             Yamaha            Steinway            Charles Walter Pianos       

                    

If you ask your friends and acquaintances who are involved in music what brands they prefer you will come across the same brand names again and again.  Don't buy any piano if you are not familiar with the brand.  Pianos can look beautiful and have very impressive sounding names but still be a poor instrument.  If there is a particular brand you are interested in, call a tuner (or better, more than one tuner) and he can give you some ideas based on his experience with that brand.  There is also a lot of information in the internet.  Piano brand names can be very deceptive.  For instance, a piano made in China will usually not have a name like Wang Ho or Xian Tsu, but an English or German name like Ridgefield or Krakengusietmier - and there often will be nothing (including the salesman!) to even hint that it was made in China.  This is not to say that the Chinese do not make any good pianos, only that names can be very deceptive.

Machesney Park, Loves Park, Boone County, Piano tuning, Piano Service, Piano Teachers Association, School District, Piano Mover, Piano moving,

Dealing with dealers   If you walk into a piano store and pretend you are walking into a used car dealership you'll be on the track.  Piano salesman often use the same sales and pressure tactics that car dealers use.  Never pay sticker price.  If you are willing to walk, they will usually deal.  Like car salesman, piano salesman know that if you walk out the door you will probably not come back.  If you are buying a new piano, go to two or more dealers selling the same brand.  Decide which model and finish you want - THEN shop for price.  When the salesmen know you're comparing identical pianos at more than one dealership they will know they've got to deal if they want a sale, and you will know you got the best price you could get. 

Sycamore, Dekalb, Hampshire, Genoa, Richmond, Spring Grove, Orchestra, Instrument Repair, Musician, Musical, Keytops, How to, Music teacher,

"College sales"  Occasionally you will hear of piano sales that are held at local colleges.  One of the oldest principles of marketing is to try and get your name or association associated with respected institutions, thus making you or your cause appear more respectable.  Although a few of the pianos at such sales may be from the college, most are simply trucked in from the store running the sale.  This event is perfect for the old "we can only give you this price today" trick that car dealer's are so fond of.   Nonsense - they can give you any price they want any day.  The sales event, being usually held for one, or at most two days, puts the buyer in the weaker position of not being able to think over an offer and coming back, and so buyers are often pressured into buying something they may - and often do - regret.

 

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                                   Buying used pianos

Follow the advice given in the section above.  The same general principles of new piano buying apply to used piano buying.  The best place to start looking for used pianos is in the classified section of your local paper.  Piano stores also sell used pianos.  It is also wise to go to at least one piano store in order to get a sense of price ranges for pianos in various conditions. 

 

Don't immediately reject pianos with "problems."

Very often people will not consider buying a piano with sticking keys, pedal problems, or other obvious issues, thinking the piano is "broken."  More often than not, these problems are relatively easy and inexpensive to fix.  In some cases, these problems will actually drive down the value of a piano, making it a real "buy."  The trick is to know what problems are mere problems, and what problems are PROBLEMS.  The best way to differentiate between the two is to . . . 

 

Get any used piano inspected by a piano tuner.

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 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.

 

Never believe what people tell you about their pianos.  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.  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. 

 

Please, get any used piano you want to buy inspected by a tuner. 

 

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                                  Frequently asked questions

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 tension 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.

       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’ll 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.  The problem is that the humidity you put into one side of the soundboard comes right out the other!  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 humdistats to turn them on and off.  Plugging one of these in without the humidistat 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.  (This is usually only a problem with grands.)   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.  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. 

 

I know I'll catch a lot of flack for this, but I this "your piano must be tuned every six months whether it's being played or not" line is just a way of trying to drum up business by scaring people into thinking their piano will die if they don't get it tuned religiously.  The older it is, the more problems you can get when it comes time to raise the pitch.  Other than the occasional breaking string – which may or may not have had anything to do with it being flat (and there's no way of knowing) - the vast majority of pianos that are not played can easily go for 3 or 4 years between tunings without any problems. 

 

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                               Common Piano Myths

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.  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 starts to 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 beatshe 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 the 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.

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                                    Interference beats - What do piano tuners actually listen for?
 
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.

 

                                Piano movers

If you are looking for a mover to move your piano, find a professional piano mover.  If you call the average moving company and ask if they move pianos, they will most likely say "yes."  If you ask them if they know how to move pianos, they will also most likely say "yes."  There isn't a tuner in the world that couldn't tell you story after story of pianos damaged by regular moving companies.  The easiest way to find a local piano mover is to call your local piano store.  They will either have a moving service themselves, or will be able to refer you to one.

Fugahwee Movers   (pianos and antiques) - Wonder Lake, McHenry County, IL    815-728-0892   

                              Contact me

E-mail      fisherpiano@ameritech.net

Phone     815-455-2940   

                                  Links

Piano Technicians Guild  - PTG info, educational and informational links, technical info, images, industry contacts

Piano World - A site with many links for piano information of all kinds 

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