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MMD > Archives > November 1997 > 1997.11.26 > 10Prev  Next

Player Pianos as a Business
By John A. Tuttle

Hi All,

I suppose many of you expected I would write about this thread.

Since I know Andy Taylor pretty well (he originally asked the
question), we spent almost an hour yesterday chatting via ICQ
about getting started in the trade. Andy runs a CB business
in his home town and therefore I suggested he phase into the
player business at the same location utilizing the same basic
business techniques he already does for that business.

I also suggested that he focus a good amount of time on servicing
players as that end of my business accounts for about 50% of my
income. Regarding his question of 'how do you eat between
rebuilding jobs?', I suggested taking a healthy deposit of
between 30% and 50% up front. Andy already has lots of experience
in piano work having successfully rebuilt a number of different
units so that was not a concern. Which brings me to the main
point of this letter.

As Hal Davis pointed out in his response, one must be well
trained in piano repair/restoration to become a good player
technician. Like Hal, I too started out doing just the player
mechanism. But that all came to a screeching halt when a
technician I hired to rebuild the action of a Steck Dou-Art
tried to hide the fact that while in his care, the action
was completely soaked when a boiler burst in his basement.
Later, he admitted that he used a hair drier to dry the action
but permanent damage was done and eventually I ended up
replacing all the wippens, hammer shanks and flanges, keybed
felts and the hammers. Fortunately, the warpage in the keys
was 'repairable'. The whole unfortunate incident took more
than two years to undo. Why?? I needed training in piano
technology. So, I went to work for the Tusting Piano Co., in
Asbury Park, NJ. By the end of the year and a half of training
there, I had written two training programs in piano technology
for the US Government and the New Jersey State Government so
that I could qualify for On-the-Job assistance through the VA
and the now defunct CETA Program.

When I arrived at Tustings, only the owner, Frank Zavaglia, and
one other trainee were doing rebuilding work. When I left, after
being offered the managership of the company, there were six
qualified techs in-house. Why didn't I stay? That's a whole
other story. However, the point is, just as virtually every book
on rebuilding says, your first concern MUST be the piano because
the player mechanism only plays the piano and no matter how good
the rebuilding works on the player mechanism is, it will only
reflect the quality of the piano.

In closing, Hal went on to say:
"Although there are no other player technicians that I know of in the
area I would hate to have to make a living on working only on players."
As some of you might remember, as of Jan 1, 1997, I stopped working
on regular pianos and now work only on players. It has taken me
about 25 years to reach this goal and I couldn't be happier. The
differences between working on regular pianos and player pianos is,
for me, as different as night and day. I find working on regular
pianos very boring because they are very little challenge and
much to my delight and surprise, I find that now that I'm devoted to
players, my bottom line is going up. This is primarily due to the
fact that as a specialist, I can command a higher labor rate than
a piano tuner/technician. And to all who would consider this trade
as their sole means of subsistence I would say, it's a hard road
to hoe but ultimately more rewarding. That reminds me of one other
thing that I said to Andy that I'll pass along to all of you.

An older woman once told me that anytime you have two choices, take
the harder of the two for it will ultimately be more rewarding. I
think she was right.

John A. Tuttle

(Message sent Wed 26 Nov 1997, 14:11:02 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  as, Business, Pianos, Player

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