I waited at home today for the piano tuner (usually it’s my parents) and it certainly was intriguing to see a young chap at the door instead of an elderly/middle aged skilled artisan.
The long and short of my tuner’s life is that he started repairing his own piano as part of a hobby. And he never ever thought that he’ll be invited by Yamaha to be one of their independent piano tuning / repair contractor.
Opening the piano
I had wanted to observe how he (T) opens the piano but I missed it. T had already taken it apart in that short moment I saved my work on my laptop,
In sequence, the fallboard, i.e. the keyboard cover was removed, followed by the front panel and finally the mufflers or mute rail.
Of the three, only the mufflers had screws that needed to be unscrewed. It is this build that allows the speedy dismantling of the piano for maintenance, It is the product of two centuries of human collective refinement, let alone the thing that sits inside the piano.
My tuner doesn’t have perfect pitch
Curious, I asked T if he has perfect pitch as I thought it correlates to the tuner’s skill. He replied that not only does he not have perfect pitch, it is also unnecessary.
Perfect pitch is relevant to musicians as they are concerned only with the first 1 – 1.5 seconds when playing the piano, hence the advantage of perfect pitch. However, tuners are concerned about how long the pitch drags after playing the note.
Therefore, piano tuning requires a different set of skills. Furthermore, digital tuning has made it straightforward, compared to the past when tuning forks were used instead.
It looked effortless, indeed, as when he pressed on each key, the app on his handphone, or for that matter any phone or tablet, would translate the note into a visual representation on the screen.
The “signal”, represented visually by a black block scrolls along the x-axis on the screen. When a key is depressed, if the black block remains largely in the center of the screen, the string is tuned correctly.
When is a piano no longer viable
The piano in the house belongs to my wife. My own piano, on the other hand, was disposed of about 8 years ago with the renovation of my parents’ apartment.
There is a bit of regret, and perhaps I shouldn’t attempt to find out from my tuner if chucking my piano was justified, but I asked T anyway,
My tuner from years ago servicing my piano had said that the inside is severely damaged and servicing it will not save it. HOw do you know if a piano is beyond repair?
T asked me what my last tuner said exactly. Frankly, I didn’t know and simply quipped that the strings were rusty(?).
T replied that rusty strings aren’t really a problem as a piano can be restrung. For him to declare that a piano is no longer salvageable, he lists the following two damages that he has to see:
- Sound board has decayed
- Hammer has split
There are usually some other signs of a piano afflicted by humidity and dampness (piano damage is more often than not a result of a damp environment). These include sticky keys like in horror movies where there is the old piano in the corner of a dilapidated house. However, these problems can be rectified. For the two above, they can’t.
Well then, I guess I felt quite relieved in a way that I hadn’t wrongly thrown my piano away and that I did use it to pursue a scholarship in the Music Elective Program in secondary school. It wasn’t that my piano “died” laying there untouched and unloved.
On how my tuner learnt so much about the piano
As mentioned at the top, T started repairing his own piano as a hobby. By the time he had started tuning, he was already fairly adept at repairing pianos, which is a path quite unique to himself. Most tuners tune first, then learn how to repair. He was the reverse.
Perhaps when I next meet T half a year later I’ll probe in more detail as to how he then got pal-ly with a main contractor, who then engaged T to do repair work for him because “main con’s are all lazy : P.”
Subsequently, Yamaha got wind of T and his hobby and invited him for coffee and he has never looked back since. There is such a job/skill-based business and he is in it, in the grand economy of finance, technology etc of Singapore’s.
Less known career path
There used to be less than 100 piano tuners a decade or more back, Now there are about 200 and everyone sort of know everyone else. In between, there was apparently a crisis of some sorts as there were too many pianos for too few tuners and the projection was for 150 tuners, though the final tally was more like 200 at present.
There is only a limit to the number of pianos a tuner can handle daily before service quality declines, and service standards was the main reason for the expansion in the community of tuners.
Literally an apprenticeship. It wasn’t that if one wanted to join he can. Perhaps as an independent tuner maybe, but as a repair specialist, the gatekeepers are literally Yamaha, Kawai and Cristofori themselves. If you weren’t invited, you wouldn’t have easy access to spare parts for piano repair work.
tuning pin and hammer size standardized.
key width not standardised. filed down.
key lead expansion, casues the key to stick
40-45 years lifespan
Cristofori has the poorest piano. Spoils too easily.
Guy and his partner sort of know a handful (5) of tuners so was brought in.
Cristofori has 4 full time paid piano tuners
Europe uses size 1 tuning pins.