Long gone are the days when digital instruments were seen as cheap knockoffs of the real deal. Technology has progressed so far that even experts cannot categorically differentiate between sounds produced by the real instrument and their digital counterparts in a mix.
It is no different with the piano. Some high-end and even budget digital pianos can sound just as good as their acoustic counterparts. Digital pianos also have many advantages as well such as being much more compact and affordable while also requiring much less maintenance. In theory, it shouldn’t go out of tune either as the sound is produced using digital samples which do not degrade with time. However, in practice, can a digital piano go out of tune and if yes, what can you do about it? Let’s find out.
Can A Digital Piano Go Out Of Tune?
As alluded to earlier, the way a digital piano or any other digital instrument works is by storing each note in a digital format. An onboard sound engine then mixes and matches these samples based on the keys that are being pressed. Technically, these samples should sound the same throughout the operational lifetime of the instrument. However, a lot of digital processing is applied to these samples before they are sent out of the speakers or the output jacks. This is where things can sometimes go wrong leading to the digital piano sounding out of tune. The probability of this happening is much lower compared to the frequency with which an acoustic piano can go out of tune. Nevertheless, if your digital piano sounds out of tune then it could be for one of the following reasons.
Most digital pianos will come with the ability to apply a transpose. It is a very useful tool especially if you are still new to playing the piano. Sometimes, it can be possible that you or someone else has applied transpose and forgotten about it. If your piano sounds alright on its own but sounds out of tune when playing along with someone else or to a backing track of a certain key, it is the transpose that is causing the issue. The sound that will be produced will be in a different key to the actual keys you will be pressing. This might seem like a very silly oversight but you will be surprised to know that sometimes even seasoned musicians can make this blunder.
Most digital pianos/keyboards come with onboard effects. Check to see if any are active. If they are, then try disabling everything and see if it fixes the issue. Some effects can be taxing on the sound engine especially if it has limited processing power and this can lead to anomalies in the sound.
A Broken Pitch Bend Wheel
If the digital piano just sounds wrong on its own then there could be multiple reasons for that. One of them is a malfunctioning pitch bend wheel. This is an excellent tool found in some digital pianos and almost all keyboards that can help you add an extra flair to your music. As the name suggests, it modulates the pitch by making it slightly higher or lower. The crucial necessity here is that the wheel should return to a neutral position after you are done using it. If this doesn’t happen then the piano will always sound slightly out of tune.
To diagnose this, turn the pitch bend wheel. If it doesn’t have any effect on the sound then it means that it is broken and stuck at some value instead of coming down to zero. In most cases though, the pitch will change as you move the wheel up and down. If this is the case then it will take a bit more finesse to confirm if the wheel itself is the source of the problem. Try to find if a neutral position does exist. If it does and it isn’t at the natural resting position of the wheel, then that is what’s causing the piano or keyboard to go out of tune. Unfortunately, this isn’t something you can fix on your own. Take it to an authorized service center or get it is fixed by a qualified repair person. It should be fairly cheap to fix though.
The Speakers Or Output Jack
If it isn’t the previous two possibilities then it is time to check the speakers and the output jack. If the onboard speakers make it sound as if the piano is out of tune then try connecting the piano to an external sound system using the output jack. If it is no longer out of tune then the speaker or its connections are faulty. If it is the other way around with the onboard speakers sounding all right and it is the sound through the output jack that is out of tune then the output jack or one of its internal connectors is at fault. Again, you will need the help of qualified personnel to get this fixed. This too should be fairly inexpensive to get fixed.
Every digital piano or keyboard will come with onboard proprietary software that essentially connects everything and produces the necessary sound when you press a key. A glitch or bug in the software can introduce unnecessary changes in the sound and this too can make it sound out of tune. Usually, this can be fixed with a factory reset. Consult the manual to see how to do this. If the problem persists even after a reset, the issue could be quite serious.
Motherboard Or Sound Engine
If you have tried everything mentioned so far and you still haven’t found a fix then it could point to a serious hardware issue. The processor, one of the controllers, one of the thousands of electronic components, or the motherboard itself could be at fault. The sensors could be malfunctioning when they misinterpret the wrong key. You could be pressing a C and it might be interpreting it as a D. Such issues usually happen in extremely old or beaten up instruments. If it is still under warranty then get it fixed at an authorized service center. If not, get a quote on how much it will cost. If it is too much, then maybe it is time to buy a new digital piano or keyboard.
In most cases, you won’t run into any of these issues. Modern electronics are extremely reliable and durable. If somehow, you still end up with an out-of-tune digital piano or keyboard, hopefully, this guide will help you on how to look for a solution.