RPT stands for Registered Piano Technician. This designation is awarded by the Piano Technicians Guild (PTG), an organization which sets standards for the profession and provides ongoing education in the field.

From the PTG's What is a Registered Piano Technician (RPT)? page:

To attain the RPT classification, a PTG member must pass three examinations. A written exam tests basic knowledge of piano design, tuning theory, repair techniques and various other topics relevant to piano technology. Two separate practical, hands-on exams test tuning and technical skills. The practical exams are administered by panels of RPTs under the leadership of examiners trained and certified in standardized exam procedures. Exam procedures are designed to comply with standards of objectivity mandated by US anti-trust legislation, thus assuring that exams are fair and equivalent regardless of where or by whom they are administered.

On the tuning exam the candidate must match as closely as possible a "master tuning" created by a panel of examiners who have agreed - after painstaking experimentation and analysis - on an optimal tuning for the test piano. The exam is scored by using extremely sensitive electronic equipment to measure the deviation of the candidate's tuning from the standard thus established. Candidates who use electronic tuning devices in their work must nevertheless demonstrate their ability to tune by ear, unaided by electronics.

The technical exam requires the candidate to demonstrate professional-level skills in assembling a grand and a vertical piano action (the mechanical component of the piano) and in making all the complicated adjustments (called "regulation") so that they function properly. The candidate must also demonstrate facility in various common repairs involving wood, cloth, felt, piano wire and other materials commonly used in pianos.

All the procedures on these exams must be completed in prescribed time periods - thus demonstrating the fluency required of a professional.

Typically, a piano in a home should be tuned at least twice a year, to counter the effects of seasonal humidity changes.

For a new piano, manufacturers recommend 3 or 4 tunings in the first year. This compensates for the natural stretching of new strings, and helps stabilize the tuning.

Humidity changes

A piano's strings press down on a bridge, attached to a soundboard. The soundboard is arched, and resists the pressure of the strings. In the dry winter air, the soundboard dries and its arch flattens, allowing the strings to relax—and the pitch goes flat. In the humid summer air, the soundboard absorbs moisture and swells, pushing up against the strings—and the pitch goes sharp.

The soundboard is more flexible in some areas than others. So humidity changes affect the pitch in some areas of the keyboard more than others. This causes the piano to sound out of tune with itself, in addition to simply being sharp or flat overall.

Humidity is the single biggest reason for an out-of-tune piano. A humidity control system installed in the piano can greatly reduce the effects of humidity changes.

Temperature changes

Piano strings are made of steel and copper. Metal expands when heated and shrinks when cooled. When the strings warm up, the pitch goes flat; when they cool down, the pitch goes sharp. This happens very quickly—direct sunlight on strings can change pitch in minutes. The back-and-forth of frequent temperature changes will leave individual strings out of tune.

Use

Your piano is there to be used! But over time, piano playing will eventually knock some strings out of tune. This is not as big a factor as humidity or temperature, though. Very loud, hard playing will affect tuning more, especially when done with the damper (sustain) pedal depressed.

Ideally, tune near the midpoints of the seasonal humidity cycle, when it's not too wet or too dry. Late spring and late fall are best, somewhere around Memorial Day and Thanksgiving. Another way to think of it: tune a month after the heating system comes on in the fall, and a month after turning it off in the spring.

Tuning a piano string also affects other strings nearby. Raising a string's pitch makes its neighbor strings go slightly flat; lowering its pitch sends its neighbors sharp. If the piano is not too far out of tune, these effects will cancel each other out, or can be compensated for while tuning. But if the piano needs a big change in pitch, it's impossible to end up with a fine, accurate tuning in one pass through the strings.

Pitch correction is a rapid pre-tuning of the piano to bring all the strings reasonably close to their target pitch. Then the piano is ready for fine tuning. It's not uncommon for a piano to need a pitch correction, especially in the humid summer or dry winter. Occasionally, a piano that hasn't been tuned in many years may need two pitch corrections, to minimize the risk of string breakage.

Quiet helps! I play each note very loudly when tuning, to insure that the strings will stay put. But I'm actually listening to the quiet wavering sounds as the note dies away. Background noise can make these sounds difficult to hear. The worst noises for a tuner are:

  • White noise, such as a vacuum cleaner
  • Talking nearby
  • Other music from TV, radio, or video game

Noise is sometimes unavoidable, especially when children are around. I understand and can work with background noise if necessary.

It depends… I'll generally need to see the piano to quote an exact price. Contact me and I'll be happy to give you an idea of the typical price range for your job.

The cost of a tuning depends on how far out of tune the piano is. The base tuning price is for a single fine tuning pass through all the strings, plus a final touchup at the end. If a preliminary tuning pass is needed for , there is an additional charge.

The cost of most other services is based on time and materials. Estimates are free.

Plan on two hours for a tuning appointment, just in case. 1½ hours is more typical.

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A piano should be placed to avoid drafts, sunlight, and sources of heat or cold. In the old days before homes were insulated, outside walls were often colder/hotter/draftier than interior walls. This isn't usually the case today. But watch out for:

  • Drafts from doors or windows
  • Sunlight falling directly on the piano
  • Nearby heat sources such as a hot air duct, radiator, or wood stove
  • Cold air from a duct or air conditioner blowing on the piano
  • Locate your piano to avoid direct sunlight as well as excessive temperature and humidity changes.
  • To avoid scratching, always remove dust first with a damp cloth or feather duster before wiping with a dry cloth.
  • Never place drinks, plants, etc. on the finish.
  • Avoid placing vinyl or rubber in contact with the piano.
  • Make sure that piano lamps, etc. have a felt-padded base.
  • Avoid touching piano strings with fingers or damp cloths.
  • Delicate parts inside your piano should be cleaned only by your technician.
  • Use polish sparingly, if at all.
  • Avoid aerosol products.
  • Read labels carefully, and avoid any product containing silicone.
  • Before playing, always wash your hands to prevent staining the sides and tops of the keys.

Read more in this excellent article on Basic Finish Care from the Piano Technicians Guild.