I have been playing the piano since third grade, and doing piano work since 1978, when I was hired at the Baldwin Piano & Organ Co. factory in Cincinnati, bending grand piano rims around the gluing press. Later I again worked for Baldwin as the Cincinnati area service co-ordinator. For 10 years I was one of two full-time piano technicians at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music (CCM). There we spent about a third of our time preparing concert instruments for recitals and concerts. Going back to the same few pianos to keep the tuning, regulation and voicing in top shape day after day teaches a kind of patience and self-criticism available nowhere else.
Besides learning to do rock-stable tunings at CCM, I also learned the craft of action rebuilding--replacing the hammers, refurbishing keys and wippens, and regulating and voicing in circles of refinement until the piano was not only playable again, but musically responsive, even beautiful.
During this time I went away to one-week seminars at the Steinway factory in New York to complete the four sessions of the C F Theodore Steinway Technical Academy. There 3-5 piano technicians spend a week with an instructor learning Steinway's methods of tuning, regulation, damper installation and concert preparation. Not in some ivory tower, but from the people who do the work daily on the factory floor or in the concert hall.
Also during this time I took the action from a World War I-era Hamburg Steinway B to David Stanwood's shop on Martha's Vineyard to learn his proprietary method of action balancing. I am now a Certified Installer of Stanwood's Precision Touch Design. His method corrects the action leverage ratio, and the hammer weights and key front weights are brought within a 0.1 gram tolerance. This results in a very even and predictable touch for the piano, and makes note-to-note evenness of the voicing much easier.
After leaving CCM, and a stint as the piano technician at Northern Kentucky University, I am again self-employed, to be able to put into practice the refinements I have spent the past several years learning.
Among these is another exciting development in precision action rebuilding-Wessel Nickel and Gross (WNG) piano parts. These have been developed by the people who now make Mason & Hamlin pianos, and who also make PianoDisc player systems. Their hammer shanks are made from carbon fiber composites--think golf clubs or fishing rods. This gives a very predictable weight and stiffness, much more so than with wooden shanks. Another of their big developments is a molded wippen with adjustable heel. This makes getting the action leverage ratio just right a very predictable process. They have also developed the parts and methods to achieve very reliable checking, enabling very quick repetition and no bobbling hammers. With the choice of hammer heads from different high-quality makers now available, getting an action, even an ill-designed one, to perform predictably and musically involves much less guesswork. In November 2011 I spent a week at the Mason & Hamlin factory learning their methods of choosing and installing WNG parts, and am certified as an installer.
So, I have applied all this learning to my own piano, a 1936 Baldwin 5'6" model B. I set the deadline of my birthday to complete the restoration, and show what can be accomplished with these processes, even on a smaller piano. On a day in late May, a few years ago, around 75 people came for a Piano Party, and for 4 straight hours, one after another, my friends played the piano while others listened, ate, drank and visited!