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.
While I’m primarily a Sheffield piano tuner, I occasionally sell pianos (usually ones in the £500 – £1000 range – perfect for upgrades). I’m particularly drawn to ‘Chappell’ and ‘Challen’ pianos from the early to mid 20th century, as they tend to age significantly well and keep their tone. In an ideal world I would have a workshop set up to do repairs on both the action as well as more aesthetic improvements (polishing and refinishing pianos), but I live in a small flat without a garage so this isn’t practical at present.
Sometimes I receive an enquiry from someone who wishes to sell a piano, but would like to book a piano tuner beforehand. This is an excellent idea as it allows me to look over the action/mechanism and give it a worthy assessment. Minor TLC can be performed if the customer is pushed for time, and more extensive repairs can be done (my fee for repairs is £20 per hour).
If you would like me to use my contacts in the piano trade to speed up your sale, I charge a commission of 10-20% of the sale (depending on the value of the piano). I am often in contact with people who wish to upgrade their piano and have got in the habit of saving their details for when the perfect piano comes along.
The last time I did significant restoration work before selling a piano (i.e. not the usual repair work undertaken in a customer’s home) was when I still lived with my parents in 2012. They had the room for me to set up a mini workshop and on my time off I would take in free pianos found on Freecycle and restore them to the best of my ability. It was a great learning experience coinciding with my time studying piano tuning and repairs at college, away from Sheffield. I would recommend every aspiring piano tuner and tech to do this while learning their trade, nothing quite compares to throwing yourself in at the deep end this way. This was before I had gathered a sizeable set of tools, so jobs such as re-stringing were especially challenging, forcing me to think outside the box and use household items such as screwdrivers to make a neat coil. Once you have been a piano tuner for several years, you will become quicker at your job, partly through experience and partly due to the useful piano tools that are able to be purchased on the market today.
Here we have a gorgeous 1966 Chappell upright piano up for sale in Totley, Sheffield. It’s going for £580 (including a vintage piano stool that can also be used for storing sheet music). It was tuned to A440 (concert pitch) and serviced by me on 14/07/21. Collection only.
Beautiful warm British tone. The keys (and key bushings), action, wrest plank, bridge, frame, soundboard and strings are all in a condition I would consider exemplary, with the piano being unused for many years and therefore showing only light wear at all points of friction. The notes work as they should and are regulated to their proper specifications (correct key height, key dip, hammer blow distance, set off, checking distance) making it a joy to play. This piano is perfect for someone looking to upgrade.
If interested please contact me on 07542667040 to discuss or drop me an email at email@example.com