This month marks the 10 year anniversary of my piano tuning “career”, when I enrolled on my piano tuning and repair course back in August 2011.
What made me decide to become a piano tuner? Long, long ago back I was a youth not long out of school, deciding what I wanted to do as a job, I was watching my own piano being tuned and serviced by another Sheffield piano tuner. I was interested in his technique and had questions about how he learned such a unique skill. I knew I wasn’t the archetypal piano man, but I’d always had a good ear for music and the moving mechanical parts interested me. At the time I wasn’t doing very much apart from reading books and listening to music, but the clock was ticking and I knew I should learn a profitable skill as soon as possible to avoid drifting. I thought piano tuning be a nice way to earn a comfortable living doing something moderately enjoyable and that not too many other people could do.
Was becoming a piano tuner a good decision? It depends on the day you ask me. The work itself is rewarding, but building a clientele in a declining industry has been a long, difficult slog and the battle is not yet won. Some weeks the money is very good, but suddenly there’s a drop off and it’s not always easy to predict when and why. I think it would have been a more satisfying job in the 1980s or earlier when pianos were ubiquitous and taken more seriously. However, there are signs of a piano revival which is nice to see.
What I hadn’t anticipated was how expensive piano parts would be to have in stock. I generally like to have back up action parts with me to avoid any second visits to the customers home and have been successful in this regard. But the sheer number of felts, hammers, springs, flanges, screws, glues, files, bridle tapes, strings, jacks, wippens, key coverings that I need to have in the car has taken years to build up. Unfortunately there isn’t an ‘industry standard’ for each part, as each piano is a different size and many are built in different countries and by different brands.
If you’re a piano buyer who is feeling patriotic, you might want to look at this piano made by the sadly-defunct British manufacturer, Knight (1936 – 2003) one of the finest companies to ever grace Her Majesty’s shores. Likewise, if you’re not so fussy about where your piano was made, but would like a great-sounding piano that fits in your new house or flat, this measures in at 112 cm in height, 140 cm in length and 56 cm in depth and matches bigger high end pianos in tone – so depending on your budget, it would be a much better choice than the run-of-the-mill console or spinet piano if you’re pushed for space.
One of the things that impresses me the most about this piano is the bass tone. It’s easily as powerful as the Yamaha U1 which is 9 cm taller – this is thanks in part to the bass strings on the K10 being overstrung at a greater angle than is typically found on a 112 cm piano, making them much cleaner and more resonant. Speaking as a piano tuner, I’ve found that the overtones are more consistent and you don’t get the weird harmonics that are found on smaller bass strings (which is a relief). The middle and treble are similarly mellow in tone, though can be made brighter with a little voicing work by the piano tuner if you so wish. Those who complain that Yamaha and Kawai pianos are too sharp/bright would do well to look at the K10 and other Knight pianos if they want something warmer and more mellow sounding.
Over the course my piano tuning career I’ve never seen a Knight piano that didn’t leave a positive impression on me, and I’ve tuned many of them in my travels in Sheffield and beyond. The soundboard, frame and action are all made of top quality parts which allow them to last a lot longer than the average upright so they typically need very little in the way of maintenance. This also makes them very resistant to changes in humidity and in being moved, giving you a greater bang for your buck as far as paying for piano tuning goes.
Here’s a nice sticker that I often see on Knight pianos (and other pianos built in the UK):
Where to buy them? Alan King’s Piano and Violin shop on London Road in Sheffield would be the best place to try first, as he has always been a fan of Knight pianos and I still see some in stock from time to time. Another place to try is the piano centre on Chapel Lane, Rotherham – a shop I’ve only been to once but are known to have a wide-selection of different brands in stock. A favourite piano shop of mine is the Piano Man in Leeds, but I haven’t seen this particular piano in there – although the pianos they do sell are all of a consistently high calibre.
As always, if you’re unsure of the piano your buying and would like me to come and inspect it, I charge a £20 call out fee to inspect and evaluate a piano in Sheffield, and £25 if it’s outside Sheffield. Outside of my daily work as a piano tuner I also have experience in piano repairs, restoration and selling, which can be helpful to you as a buyer if you’re unsure of a piano’s condition. Never be afraid to ask for help!