Tips for the Efficient Tuner: Part 4

By Benjamin Sanchez posted 12-18-2017 18:30

Ok, the last two weeks of tips haven’t been the funnest, but this week’s tips are about something we all can do to improve our efficiency.

Tip 4: Move Your Mutes Efficiency

The late Charlie Huether, RPT, claimed that only 30% of the time we spend tuning is spent on tuning; the rest of the time is spent manipulating our tools. Most of the time we spend on tools is spent on the tuning lever and mutes. Translation: if we can move our tuning lever more efficiently (last week’s tips), and move our mutes more efficiently, then our 70% of tool time grows smaller, the tuning time grows bigger, the job time grows smaller, and our profits grow larger.

The most effective way of moving mutes that I’ve found, after experimenting with several different methods, is to mute off the two outer strings of a three string unison, tune the middle string, move the left mute to mute off the outer string of the next unison, tune the left string of the first unison, tune the center string of the second unison, move the mute, tune the right string of the first unison, tune the left string of the second unison, etc. If tuning down, simply reverse the process.

Some recommend tuning from the bottom up, and a recent discussion of this technique sparked a heated debate. I have no intention of sparking it again, but this is generally how I tune, after taking measurements with the ETD. That’s why this method of moving mutes works best for me.

Some say tune from the bottom up, left string, center string, right string. The problem with this method is that it requires moving a mute per every string. The “center, left, right” method requires moving two mutes once per six strings. Much more efficient, in my opinion.

What about using a temperament strip? What I say may spark another debate, but read it first. A temperament strip is an aural tuning tool. Most modern ETDs were designed with the idea that you’re going to tune from the bottom with it, unisons as you go. To spend extra time inserting a temperament strip, and pulling it out one loop at a time, is not the best use of your time. If you use an ETD, I’d encourage you to trust it enough to let it do its job, or at most only test the temperament section AT FIRST. When you’re done with the entire piano, go over and check everything, and make any corrections to the temperament and unisons as necessary.

For aural tuners, I’ve found that tuning the temperament with a strip mute is good, then I tune the unisons of the temperament octave. Then I favor Virgil Smith’s method of whole tone tuning from then on, using the “center, left, right” method described above. This has the benefit of being able to set and refine a good temperament (without having to retune all three strings), while being able to move as efficiently as possible while tuning the octaves.

Again, this is just what I’ve found to be the most effective way to move my mutes. If you’ve found a way you believe to be just as efficient, or more so, than feel free to share. The important thing to remember is that less time spent on tools is more time spent on tuning, and more money in your pocket. (Or, for those of you who don’t prefer to feel like greedy little misers, it’s more food on your family’s table.)



12-20-2017 15:25

Hi David,

Technically, you’re correct. Unless you can get your tuning time down to considerably less than an hour, you probably won’t be able to squeeze in another tuning. Here’s an illustration of what I’m taking about: let’s say you charge $125 a tuning. If it takes you one hour fifteen minutes, your hourly wage is effectively $100. If you can do the same quality tuning in one hour flat, then your wage is now $125 an hour. Now your time is worth $125 hour, and you should adjust the rest of your prices accordingly. That’s where the “more money” part comes from, since most technicians I know base their prices off of their tuning fee. 

Should you charge less if you can do it faster? That’s up to you. Prices are set in two ways: by the job and by the hour. If you charge by the hour, then yes, you should charge less. If you charge by the job, then I think you’ll find it common practice in our industry to keep your tuning fee the same. Maybe even raise it, and use that extra fifteen minutes to touch up the regulation, polish the pedals, etc. Make yourself the superhero technician you’ve always wanted to be. Or spend the extra time that you’ve saved calling clients, keeping records, spending time with family, etc. etc.

12-20-2017 14:16

It seems to me that in order for an efficient tuning method/sequence to put more money in your pocket, you'd have to decrease your time spent enough to fit in one more tuning appointment per day.  With driving time, that's at least another hour and a half.  I doubt any of these efficient tuning sequences save that much time!  Or do you charge more if it takes you less time?
--David Nereson, RPT