Tuning pianos involves some heavy science and art. In other words, Reyburn Pocket RCT has absolutely no relation to that simple guitar tuner you’ve got in your gig bag. It’s a US$900 powerhouse of visual tuning:

Reyburn Cyber Tuner / Pocket RCT, for PocketPC (Windows Mobile)

This is probably old news if you’re a piano tuner (either this or the Mac/Windows laptop version), but I saw it this weekend while I was staying at my parents’ house and a tuner came over to adjust our Baldwin grand. The tuner was more than happy to show it to me. You can’t tell in this screenshot, but the UI pulses like some sort of alien eye as you near the pitch. The software was able to guess that the piano was a grand of more than six feet just by listening to the harmonic content of the sound (already impressed); it can compensate tuning for the size of the piano. The system uses aural tuning, meaning it looks not only at the fundamental but directly samples and matches partials, which is the way tuners are trained to work.

The tuner was especially pleased by two features: first, that you can keep records of tunings of different pianos, giving the tuner virtual “medical records” of the way a piano has held its tuning over time. (That helps diagnose how the piano itself behaves, and how it responds to the environment.) She was also happy that she could perform extremely accurate overtuning that would anticipate how the tuning would settle over time; because of the enormous sensitivity of pianos, they don’t hold their initial tuning exactly.

I know a couple of musicologist friends who would love playing around with this, particularly the 57 historical tunings from Owen Jorgensen. Now you can finally play the Well-Tempered Clavier on a piano that’s actually well-tempered. For those learning to tune professionally, the software even includes exams, but it sounded as though pros could comfortably use the technology to augment rather than replace their existing craft and experience.

We have at least a couple of pro tuners reading CDM, so I’d love to hear what you think of this. Maybe some of you think this new-fangled tech is useless; I don’t know.

Updated: Via comments, Veritune is a formidable competitor to this product. The concept is the same, but Veritune has a real-time spectral display, multiple simultaneous partials, far more notes measured (76 vs. 6), note switching for all notes, no required measurement step, and other features. It’s also available in an integrated, rugged hardware unit as well as for your existing PocketPC, and Veritune claims it’s easier to use. Anyone who’s used one or the other, let us know what you think. Thanks to Carl Lumma, formerly of Keyboard Magazine.

  • http://lumma.org/microwave Carl Lumma

    Verituner Pocket is much more powerful house for the same amount of money.

    -C.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Thanks for the tip, Carl! Yes, looking at the comparison chart they have, and it indeed looks impressive.

    Now I just have to get you on for an occasional guest spot. ;)

  • http://lumma.org/microwave Carl Lumma

    There's a lot behind the scenes that makes it better, too. It's the only tuner (human or otherwise) that can turn out great unisons. A friend of mine who's a pro tuner gets better unisons with it than any other tuner I've been able to hire. He wears earplugs to save his ears (tuning pianos for a living can wreck your nerves/hearing).

    Some folks don't like the idea of a machine doing it. But if computers can beat us at chess, why can't they tune a piano?

    Note- neither of us are affiliated with Verituner.

    -Carl

  • Kevin Park

    I personally use tunelab on my pocket pc when I'm tuning by machine. I think all these tuning programs are fine (I've used cybertuner and the sanderson accutuner as well) and personally chose tunelab because of its lower price (piano tuning is not a means to great wealth). It's critical with all these programs that the tuner continues to do aural checks as they are progressing through the piano. These programs can help make a good tuner even better but can't make a bad tuner good. I can't see myself tuning unisons with a machine though. I really have to "hear" a unison into tune. The key to a good unison in my opinion is stability – how well the unison stays in tune after some hard blows. Using hard test blows to set the note and to make sure it's not moving is critical (hence the earplugs), and something a lot of tuners are lazy about (myself included sometimes). That being said, I was not a fan of these programs for a while and now use tunelab regularly. I tune a lot of pianos at studios and it's nice to be able to tune it exactly the same each time. The historical temperaments are cool too. I once tuned a piano in well temperament (this is before I got the machine) for someone who wanted it to play a lot of Bach on. I got a call back in 3 days to put it back in equal temperament. I guess we're all used to equal temperament now, even for a piece like the well-tempered clavier.

  • http://lumma.org/microwave Carl Lumma

    Kevin wrote…

    ""I personally use tunelab on my pocket pc when I'm tuning by machine. I think all these tuning programs are fine (I've used cybertuner and the sanderson accutuner as well) … It's critical with all these programs that the tuner continues to do aural checks as they are progressing through the piano. These programs can help make a good tuner even better but can’t make a bad tuner good.

    ""

    Maybe we should take this to the forums, but while this has long been the case for electronic tuners, it simply isn't the case with the Verituner. Aural checks just aren't needed in the vast majority of cases. You can tune the strings chromatically up the instrument and get better unisons than any pro tuner can do in the timeframe of a typical house call (let alone in-between sets). Piano tuning is now just a solved problem.

    -Carl

  • Mark Stivers

    I have been a professional tuner for 23 years.

    I've used the Accu-Tuner and Tunelab.

    As anyone who has tried to tune a piano knows, the main difficulty in tuning is not hearing the right pitch — it's making a stable adjustment. It takes years to learn that. As Kevin Park wrote above, the overriding goal in tuning is stability.

    I have never heard a tuner compliment another on his great ears — the compliment is always on the great hammer technique.

  • Timothy Pottorff

    The Verituner leaves the other electronic tuners in the dust….don't waste your time or your breath talking about any of the others…I have seen and heard the results of all of them….THE VERITUNER RULES!!! You can even listen to your MP3 player while you tune with the Verituner….your ears are not necessary. This thing is amazing.