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How I came to be a piano tuner:

I began the process of learning to tune pianos in about 1974 (when I was 20 years of age) by closely observing Arthur Helfer, the tuner at the Emanon Jazz Club and Golden Triangle Coffee House where I played jazz piano. Incidentally, Art also expertly serviced the air conditioners and freezers at the clubs; he was a self-motivated learner, which I admired and sought to emulate. He let me feel the torque of the tuning hammer on the tuning pins of the George Frederick Stein grand piano at the club and listen for the waves and beats between the unison strings. Arthur had learned tuning by working with Louie Nunn (not the former governor of Kentucky who coincidentally had the same name), a tuner technician who had rebuilt the Steinway B at Lou Lausche's recording studio in Finneytown - a great instrument that many Cincinnati jazz pianists have played. As I apparently had a natural gift for easily hearing the minute harmonic emanations from the strings, he recommended the book Scientific Piano Tuning and Servicing by Alfred H. Howe. This was my introduction to the art of piano tuning.

I obtained a tuning hammer, tuning fork, muting wedges and felt muting strips from a tuners' supply house and began to try to tune pianos for friends. It was a lot harder than I had thought and was very frustrating. It was not a simple matter of hearing the strings "in tune"; it wasn't the simple "My - Dog - Has - Fleas" of tuning a ukulele or guitar - there are about 230 strings that have to be stably tuned with one another. It wasn't a simple matter of musical talent. The science, theory and procedures would be learned over many years.

In 1976 I began a 3-year period of full-time employment and apprenticeship at The Player Piano Shop in Cincinnati. At that time there were four other full-time employees, each of whom had spent nearly 30 years at the recently closed Baldwin piano factory in Cincinnati. Bill Dobbs installed hammers and regulated actions, Lloyd Reinhardt installed new pin blocks, soundboards and bridges, Frank Roden was a master case refinisher, and Charlie "Skippy" Barton strung and "chipped" pianos. The staff tuner was Ed Kelly (no relation to me). Harry Garrison, the owner and proprietor, was and is "The World's Foremost Restorer of Player Pianos" and he won't hesitate to tell you so. He has been invited to lecture at the Smithsonian Institution on the subject.

My first duties as an apprentice and gopher included tearing down upright and grand pianos in preparation for their restoration. (I also picked up starched shirts from the Chinese laundry on East McMillan and carried cases of bottled water to Harry's residence above the shop.) I removed the actions and keys, unstrung the pianos, gauging and recording the thicknesses of the wires, removed the bass strings for later factory duplication, and removed all hardware to be sent to the platers. If the instrument was a player piano or reproducing piano, I disassembled those components from the case, labeled and stored them. I made notes, sketches and drawings, as needed.

Things were bustling in the shop at that time and George "Snooks" Wakeman, the late great piano mover, was in and out with his crew several times a week. During that time I saw and disassembled all manner of great, run-of-the-mill and exotic Steinway, Bechstein, Mason & Hamlin, Knabe, Wurlitzer and Baldwin grands, to name a few. I also became proficient in player piano servicing and certain aspects of player restoration. I had lots of opportunity to practice tuning there. I wasn't often extremely satisfied with my results but I didn't get many complaints either. Every once in a while I hit on a pretty good tuning (that met my personal standard) but wasn't consistent. I ended my full-time employment at The Player Piano Shop in 1979 at which time I began studies in musical composition at the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music. I still do occasional work for Harry to this day.

Through the years I have kept my eyes and ears open for good advice and tips from experienced tuners. I sought the advice of Ben McKlveen, a respected veteran Cincinnati technician, when I rebuilt a DeKalb baby grand in 1981. In Pensacola, FL, between 1983 and 1986 I tuned and serviced players for Reynalds Music House. I spent a period of several months tuning in the Krefting Piano shop in Ludlow, KY in the late-1980s where my skills became somewhat more refined when I was introduced to a new temperament procedure. I have experimented with different procedures and have become confident now that my tunings are of a consistently high quality. I have benefitted from the published writings of technicians such as Arthur Reblitz and from the association with other local tuners. I received a lesson and coaching from a tuner from Ashland, KY, who will be known as "Old Man" Moxley (per Harry Garrison) who passed on some techniques that he had learned from the tuner for pianist Jan Ignace Paderewski. (My mother saw him perform at Cincinnati Music Hall in the 1920s.) I have found very enlightened essays on the internet that have helped me to continually improve my technique in setting the pins to insure that the tuning will last for a reasonable period of time.

The perception of intonation:

I recognize that different listeners have different abilities to hear and that their tolerances for what sounds out of tune may vary widely. For instance, there are those piano owners for whom a piano that is horribly out of tune by all objective measures sounds OK. This presents a torturous situation for the aurally sensitive pianist who has to play it for 4 hours. But even a piano that is slightly out of tune doesn't have the same sweet quality of one that is properly tuned. I believe that the average listener, even one who is not paying rapt attention to the music, can sense that it is more pleasant to listen to a piano that is in tune. When the unison strings are wildly out of tune and various registers - high or low - of the piano are variously and randomly flat or sharp, such as one would find in most pianos that have been neglected for years, the sound is sour and most unpleasant to the ear and nervous system. Chords and intervals sound ugly. The listeners may not know what is wrong but they definitely will not enjoy the music as much as they would were the piano in tune.

When a fine piano is properly in tune, the beauty of its sound reminds me of the stillness of pond or lake that has not even the slightest ripple. The resonant sound of the hammer-struck strings sparkles and sings as it projects from the instrument and fills the room. Even randomly played notes and clusters sound beautiful on a freshly and correctly tuned piano. When unisons are slightly out of tune I can hear a hissing sound that interferes with the calmness; there is a perceptible "wobble" in the sound that I can hear and feel and this compounds the more strings there are that are out of tune.

Please call 513-604-9889 right now for a tuning and I will make your piano sound beautiful.