Where are They Going?

Today, I tuned a piano at a mansion. Before I got to the door, I looked up the appoinment, and there was a note that said “Recommended new strings and pins, pins loose.”

Now, maybe because I am having a cash flow problem right now (Single income, homeschooling four kids), I felt a little arrogant and thought to myself “If these people are not going to take care of this instrument when they (appear to) have so much money, I am just going to drop them as customers because, one, they don’t care about their piano, or two, they don’t trust me.”

As I was tuning this piano, I started having different feelings. I was starting to feel sad for this piano, because if these people don’t rebuild the piano, it will probably end up in the dump. I spoke to the owner about the future of her piano and she seemed uninterested. “Oh well, my kids will probably take it after we’re gone. They’ll probably just junk it and get a new one.”

How are we, as a society of piano technicians, supposed to educate people? How are we to get the word out that $10,000 to rebuild this awesome instrument, will result in a better instrument than a new Yamaha U1 at less cost? And in 50 years, this instrument will still be around and the Yamaha will be toast. Of course, these are just my opinions and we won’t really know for sure until 50 years have passed. But from the current condition of 50 year old Yamahas, compared with some 100 year old uprights, that is where I make my judgement.

Also, wealthy people will think nothing of buying a luxurious sports cars at $50,000+, only to have it rust away in 15 years and be worth little, whereas, a rebuilt piano will hold its value for years to come, and also produce beautiful music, add beauty to a room, and exist as a work of art in its own right. These same people will hem and haw and try to squeeze piano rebuilders to get the lowest price possible from a piano technician who may not be a savvy businessperson. This kind of predatory activity is what pushes technicians out of the rebuilding business. I’ve seen too many shops go bankrupt.

There are so many reasons to rebuild old pianos, someday I will write an article describing them all. But the main reason is that, a part of our history is being bull-dozed off tractor trailers into city dumps as we speak. A rebuilding friend of mine burnt FORTY pianos this summer at his cottage in the country because they were taking up too much space in his workshop! This is musical genocide and very few people are taking notice. I know this is not a world issue relating to poverty or economics (there may be a connection here) but it still makes me very sad to think that the only things left to remind us of a different time, a time when people joined together in song around the piano, a time when the whole of society recognized the value of consistent effort and had all their kids take piano lessons, a simpler time when pianists transposed in realtime by ear instead of by a button, are disappearing forever. To look at an old piano and imagine its better days is like looking at our own future. Where are these pianos going? Where are we going? Shouldn’t somebody care?

So, if you have an old piano. Do me a favour and get a qualified technician to look at it and give you a realistic opinion of its potential. Then if you can afford it, and it has potential, have it rebuilt properly. You will end up with an exceptional musical instrument that will not be thrown out. It will not be thrown out because it will have value. At least for another 100 years anyway.

Evaluating FREE Used Pianos

There’s good news and bad news.

The bad news first. Pianos are going out of style. Due to the exceptional quality and workmanship in the early 20th century, and the huge proliferation of the instrument, there are perhaps hundreds of thousands of old pianos in the world that are not being used, sitting in people’s basements, waiting for the dump. Add to that, the fact that the demand for pianos has dropped, competing with video games and digital pianos. It’s hard to imagine that at one time, the lowly piano was the King of the home entertainment world.

The good news is, many of these pianos are still good instruments, and with some time and knowledge, you can pick up a good instrument for cheap. How does FREE sound? Go ahead and check it out. Go to kijiji.com or craigslist.com in your city and look up “free piano”. You’ll see what I mean.

Why are these pianos being given away? Surely they must be garbage, right? Remember what your dad said? “There’s no such thing as a free lunch, son.” Well, your dad was right. Except in this situation, you get your free piano (less moving and tuning and minor repairs) by spending your time looking at many different pianos, armed with knowledge, until you find that special piano, the one that will make an awesome instrument that the owner doesn’t want anymore.

Why would someone give away a piano with value? Well, there are a few reasons for this:

1) They don’t know the value of it. It may have been given to them by a relative who passed away. They’ve kept it for a while for sentimental reasons, but now they want a new flat screen T.V., right where the piano is!

2) They have to sell it fast. There is a small demand for pianos, and a huge supply. I tell people who call me about selling their piano, that if they need to sell it fast, like in less than four months, I suggest advertising it for free on kijiji or craigslist.

I created this checklist for my customers so they could evaluate their own pianos and see if there is any value in them. You can use it to find out if a piano for sale has any value and may be worth picking up for a dime, or enlisting the services of a qualified piano technician (Go to ptg.org and click on “Find a Technician”).

I hope you find the list helpful. I wrote it so anyone could use it. No need to know anything about pianos. It will help you increase the chances of finding that diamond in the rough, but will not eliminate the possibility of buying a dud. Make sure to get it checked out by a qualified technician to be sure.

Click the link below to view the document.
Used Piano Check List – Revised 2014

Becoming a Piano Technician, and Why We Need You!

Many people ask me what they need to do to become a piano technician. I jokingly say sometimes “Just call yourself a Piano Technician!”

I wish this sad but true fact was not so true. I have had students come to my home for lessons, not take any of my advice, and not practice, and then go out and tell people they are piano technicians and that they were trained by me!

The proper question should be, “How can I become a good Piano Technician?”

Notice I did not say “Great”. That is because the world needs more good technicians. We have a lot of great technicians, taking care of concert instruments, doing fantastic rebuilding work, etc. The problem is, these technicians, all too often, price themselves out of the average piano owner’s budget, or reduce their availability so much that average piano owner’s have to wait weeks to get an appointment for a piano tuning.

That’s where you come in. If you are interested in learning this trade, here are a couple of tips and requirements that will improve your chance of success.

1. Being a formally trained pianist helps greatly, but being a musician is very important. Knowledge of the basic theory of intervals is important.
2. Mechanical aptitude. Many times you will have to figure out how to repair something that you have not been trained to do. A mechanical mind will help.
3. Realistic knowledge of skills. This goes with number 2. When you do not know how to do something, or do something well, it is very important for your reputation to know that and defer to another experienced technician. This will make you more respected in the eyes of your customer and other technicians.
4. Enjoy working with people
5. Self learner.
6. Organized.
7. Punctual.
8. Pleasant and polite.
9. Clean appearance.

Some of these things are not critical, but the more you can reduce the number of reasons someone might not want you as a piano technician, the better.

Stay tuned to my blog for other posts on how to become a piano technician, or if you have any questions, drop me an email and I would be happy to answer them.

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