Simple members tuning statistics

We could start this Category by having each member responding three simple questions related to players of plucked instruments only (no clavichords, no fortepianos). It refers to normal use, not to exceptional tests or trials.

  1. How often do you tune your harpsichord or virginal?

  2. How long does it take you each time?

  3. What tuning/temperament(s) do you normally use?

I will collect the answers and keep the statistics updated by hand. Later when we are hundreds, thousands, harpsichillions we will try to automate .

Thanks for your collaboration!



  1. When it is the harpsichord I’m mostly using (I own two), I probably do a full tuning maybe about once every six weeks or so.

  2. If no global reference pitch change is required, probably about 25 minutes for my larger 61-note double.

  3. Much of the time, even for F. Couperin and Bach, I use a kind of improvised French ‘temperament ordinaire,’ starting with C-B (the naturals) in an approximation of 5th-comma meantone, using, I confess, PitchLab to get that locked-down quickly and accurately.

Mmmhhh we see already some difficulties Owen!
In spite of French academic querelles about the “best” regular meantone comma fraction, things were different for the irregular “temperament ordinaire”: it had different variants but all of them, demonstrably, were based on 1/4 comma meantone, not 1/5.
If you are actually tuning a circularised 1/5 comma meantone, this is what I have for a long time nicknamed “Homogeneous French Temperament” , mostly used after c.1750 and mostly in Italy rather than France. So, if you do not mind, I will enter this as your reply to question 3.

Thanks for your reply!


  1. Once a week or every 2nd week – depending mostly in weather changes or the number of hours I have been practicing.

    1. 8’8’4’ harpsichord: it takes 30 to 45 minutes.

    2. Mostly Kellner. If earlier music (e.g. Fitzwilliam): meantone.

    Stay healthy


1.a: virginals about 12 months (it is a kit-built instrument – not by me, and very stable)
1.b: harpsichord, roughly monthly, depends on weather

2.a: about 10 min., usually do some regulation while I am at it.
2.b: 20-40 min. depending on the instrument and me, broken up by rests between choirs.
61 notes double 8’+8’+4’.
Using Pitchlab-pro on an old android phone which has no SIM, not sure whether it has been updated over the wifi connection.
This was intended as a crutch until I could learn to tune by ear, about time I did so in case the phone breaks.

  1. both instruments – one of Brad Lehman’s temperaments (I think there may be more than 1).
    I occasionally experiment with others, but short of time at the moment. Plan to record so that I can examine the differences.

We are not having ‘difficulties. I was asked what I tune, and I described it accurately. And it works beautifully, or I wouldn’t use it. I am not using a circularized 1/5-comma meantone either. I am starting with 5th-comma meantone from C-B and then GRADUALLY widening my fifths as I approach the usual crossover around the G#-Eb rift, adjusting on the fly. I think, with respect, that you are being a bit pedantic here. I am doing what many did in the past, I am confident, despite the textbook definitions.

Now that I think of it, I shall rename my tuning practice. Instead of an ‘ordinaire’ starting with a clutch of 5th-commas on the naturals, let us just say that I tune in the same manner as what I believe to be the only explicit early reference to Bach’s own practice. That is to say, following (was it?) Forkel, I tune Bach’s tuning, which is all of the thirds a little bit wide, and all of the fifths a little bit narrow.


  1. When necessary. Probably two to six weeks, depending on weather changes in the house.

  2. 30 - 45 minutes.

  3. a) Flemish Double: Kirnberger III
    b) Italian: 1/4 comma Meantone

Depending on weather and instrument: When necessary I will tune every day, but roughly twice a week. Depending on repertoire I tune Meantone, Temperament Ordinaire, but usually Belder I. It takes me usually 15 minutes to tune a 5 octave double.
I can’t stand out of tune instruments, that’s why I probably tune relatively often. If you do that the time it takes gets less and less. And I ALWAYS tune the 4 ft. I find instruments without 4 ft (maybe Italians as an exception) very sad.

Dear Owen, your description of how you tune is exactly what in the literature is called circularised 1/5-comma meantone: you are free to differ.
And I do not believe I am not pedantic at all. If the difference between 1/4 and 1/5-comma meantone is not always too evident, the difference between their circularised versions is more noticeable, because the deviations of “bad thirds” is very different. (To the point that it is agreed that you can hardly play Bach on the “temperament ordinaire”, yet you can play all Bach on the temperament you tune). Thank your for your replies anyway!

CDV Claudio Di Veroli
April 5
We could start this Category by having each member responding three simple questions related to players of plucked instruments only (no clavichords, no fortepianos). It refers to normal use, not to exceptional tests or trials.

  1. How often do you tune your harpsichord or virginal?

Normally once a week or less.

  1. How long does it take you each time?

Less than 30 minutes.

  1. What tuning/temperament(s) do you normally use?

Depends on what I’m working on. I have a Giusti by John Phillips (in Canadian goose quill, which has made it a new instrument!), so mean tone is my go-to preference.

Dear Claudio,

I tune about once a month unless due to temperature/humidity condition the tuning has detoriated too much. And of course I occasionally correct a note of 2.

Tuning takes about 20 minutes for 2 x 8’ if I’m in a hurry.

Temperament is Valotti which is a compromise if you have to play with musicians used to equal temperament.

All the best,


I have a late Flemish style harpsichord with 2 x 8ft. It is not an exact copy of any specific historic instrument. The front jacks pluck to the left. It is normally very stable. The tuning pins are stiff, which slows down the tuning.

  1. Between two and four weeks unless there is a sudden change in the weather.

  2. About two hours if I start from scratch with a tuning fork.

  3. 1/5 coma from F to F#, then pure fifths for F# - C# - G# and F - Bflat - Eflat

  • David Bedlow
  1. My tuning frequency varies wildly, based on the weather, what I’m
    playing, how picky I’m feeling, and if anyone else has to hear it!
    Anywhere from daily to monthly.

  2. depends on the instrument. Usually under 20 minutes.

  3. Usually either a modified 1/6 comma meantone,straight 1/4 comma
    meantone, or one of the Neidhardts.

Touch up when needed (usually I adjust octaves and unisons, leaving alone the temperament as-is, if it’s still bearable).

A complete tuning is I stay more than a week without playing.

Not less than one hour for a complete retuning (2x8’, 1x4’, 61 notes).

I abandoned Vallotti, Kirnberger and Werckmeister, now I use Rameau (or, the flavour of Rameau which comes with Pitchlab pro and the TLA CTS-5 electronic tuner.
If playing suitable music, I like to tune 1/4 meantone which I love. But this is usually on the small italian.

Years ago I managed to find a good temperament, starting with a good 1/4 meantone and then tweaking to make it usable in most tonalities (not all, of course). It was going by instinct, not following nor taking note of any scheme, so I am not able to reproduce that. I am not nearly as fluent with tuning as I used to be. I remember the results were usually very satisfying to the ear.

  1. It all depends on the weather; usually once a week, ten days if the weather is unusually stable, with touchup in between.
  2. For three choirs (8’, 8’, 4’, 61 notes), 45 minutes with an electronic tuner, longer if I set the temperament by ear.
  3. I’ve mostly used the Barnes temperament shown to me ages ago by a teacher. I find it a very good general-purpose temperament–I’d rather play than tune! Recently, though, I’ve been looking at a lot of French music, so right now the instrument is in tempérament ordinaire (Rousseau).

My various plucked instruments (omitting my clavichord, square piano and organ) have different needs.

  1. An original 1755 Kirkman (with 2 x 8’). I keep this in a fully circulating temperament, very close to ET. It is very stable and only needs touching up once a month (ten minutes), mainly to get the unisons exactly together.

  2. An original Italian pentagonal spinetta (Florentine, c. 1600). I keep this in quarter-comma meantone. It never goes out of tune, except for the bottom C, which obtusely just won’t stay in tune for more than 24 hours. So I always check that note before starting to play. Tuning time: five minutes a year!

  3. A modern copy of the 1661 Couchet muselar (by John Phillips): I keep this basically in something close to quarter-comma meantone, but since I like its major thirds to have a little character, very slightly rolling, I prefer them to be very slightly wider than pure on this instrument. The resonances are different from in the Italian spinetta, in particular the length of time the resonance continues, and absolutely strict MT with absolute pure thirds doesn’t, in my opinion, sound quite as satisfying on it. But when tuned with the thirds very slightly wide, the intervals sound like meantone while the music is moving along, but when I pause on a chord the sound is quietly alive and “breathing”, not dead. On the Italian spinetta the effect is different, mainly I think because of the way the quarter-comma fifths sound on that instrument – not so much the pure thirds… The muselar is very stable. I tune it once every six months and to retune the whole thing carefully only takes about 15 minutes – only 45 strings!

  4. A modern two-manual instrument (by John Phillips) based on the Ruckers-Blanchet-Taskin in the Paris Musée de la musique. I keep this fairly close to equal temperament. It is normally stable (unless the weather is unstable) and the tuning needs touching up once a month (also about ten minutes). At the moment I’m progressing through The Well tempered Clavier on it, one prelude and fugue each day, and have reached G sharp minor in Book 1 since the beginning of the period when, here in Paris, we’re confined to our homes.

  5. My main go-to instrument, a two-manual modern copy of Dumont 1707 (by John Phillips). This needs a touch-up tuning about once a month, assuming I’m only playing solo repertoire on it, and this usually requires less than ten minutes. If I’m playing with other musicians and I need to make sure it’s at a precise fixed pitch, then I tune again from scratch; the two 8’ registers can be done in 20 minutes; add five minutes for the 4’. But otherwise I let the instrument decide what its pitch is, and (with a transposing keyboard) that seems to be about 390 in the lower position, 412 in the upper position. So be it. The instrument decides, not me.

As for the temperaments: at the risk of being branded for heresy, I don’t tune to any specific historical temperament in general, although I can do that if I need to, on specific occasions. Tuning to pre-conceived systems seems as artificial as “painting by numbers”. I absolutely can’t imagine Bach or d’Anglebert or Couperin sitting down at their harpsichords each week and saying “Oh, I have to tune in Rameau’s temperament” (or Werckmeister’s, or Sorge’s, or Mersenne’s). Yet they undoubtedly did tune, and tuned correctly and well.

Most of the systems of temperament that we fetishize today are derived from thoughtful theorists (or thoughtful practitioners who were theorizing). However, there are also many other non-specific tuning instructions from the 17th and 18th centuries that are not mathematically precise yet nevertheless do have a method to them. They show that most practical players of the time did not get out their theory books about tuning in order to tune. Does this mean often the harpsichords were not very well tuned? Probably. Does it mean the temperaments were variable from week to week? Probably. But I think that if we’re going to fetishize something it shouldn’t be any systems used for tuning but rather the methods that can lead to results that are both desirable and practical.

Using such practical methods results in the harpsichord being “in tune” but not necessarily in a mathematically precise way that can be reproduced exactly from day to day (as we need to do nowadays, of course, when making a recording, for example). I certainly don’t wish to discourage anyone from tuning any or many of the well-known historical temperaments that we all talk about, derived from 17th- and 18th-century theoretical sources. Yet once we’ve learned how to do about eight of them, we should be in a position to tune well in various ways, for different repertoires, without using them as a crutch and without trying to reproduce them exactly on a day-to-day basis. Surely this is closer to the practice of musicians in the 17th and 18th centuries?

My approach to tuning is therefore different from what is normally suggested. If anyone wants to try a different yet highly methodical approach that works well for day-to-day tuning, I’ll be happy to describe it in detail. It’s very easy.

@Davitt, Please do describe it. It can only add to our store of knowledge and technique!

1.) I’m tuning whenever needed. It varies depending on the humidity (temperatures are stable here at home except in mid-summer). Like Pieter Jan I hate out-of-tune instruments.
One set of instruments is in a house where the heating is kept low. When we’re there, I usually crank the heat up and wait for a day. Typically the harpsichord (Zell) needs a full go, the fortepiano is just back to fine.
The clavichords definitely only need a summer tuning and a winter tuning, so, twice a year (and occasional local tweaks but rarely)
The Viennese fortepianos usually stay ok for weeks, and in principle also only need two tunings a year, but if I work on them, they tend to go out of tune a little more easily; the 1805 Broadwood needs daily attention when I’m working on it.

2.) Depending on how far “off” the basic pitch is, a French double would take around 20- 25 minutes. Smaller instruments considerably less, the 5 1/2 triple-strung Broadwood around 50 minutes to an hour, depending on how tired I am. Viennese pianos have the quirk that they change a lot while one is tuning, if one has to adjust the overall pitch more than moderately, so I’ve adapted a circular touch-up system which can take me an hour or more (but then everything stands like a house).

3.) You need a category for “home-spun” (and control your urge to argue while collecting data :slight_smile: ) I mean, it’s only 12 semitones, how difficult can it be to find some customized solutions-that-cannot-be-named-by-historically accurate names?
For 18th-c baroque practicing I’m usually tuning a tweaked Werk-III version I took over from my dad long ago (and tweaked some more). For French music I’m often using solutions similar to what Owen does; more or less 1/4’ meantone on the naturals and some (more or less smart; one does find out very quickly) stretches or compressions across the sharps. For recording the big Couperin B-minor Ordre from book 2 last month I used something else French from my iPhone, though, but that’s an exception. Virginals, early Flemish harpsichord, and split-key Italian harpsichord: meantone.

  1. I tune roughly every 2 months. My instrument lives in a climate controlled room with a 2 degree temperature swing and 3 percent humidity variance.
  2. Tuning takes approximately 60 minutes…2-8’s, 1-4
  3. Vallotti

Thank you Davitt for sharing your always-useful insights and experience.