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MMD > Archives > May 2006 > 2006.05.24 > 05Prev  Next

Painting a Piano
By John A. Tuttle

Hi All,  I've said this before, but it bears repeating.  When you're
in a trade of any kind, people are bound to ask you to do things that
might offend your sensibilities.  At that point in time, you have a
choice.  You can try to change their mind, you can do what they ask,
you can leave, or you can tell them to find someone else.

What the owner of an instrument elects to do with or to that instrument
is really up to them.  I'm pretty certain there are those who would
find the paintings on a Victorian Steinway garish.  Others might find
Liberace's mirrored piano totally outrageous.  And Elton John has
obviously had some fine craftsmen and artists do bizarre things to his
pianos.  In each of the above instances, was the value of the piano
diminished?  Was it's quality impaired?

One man's trash has been another man's treasure for as long as man has
been collecting things.  It's also a fact that what one person may find
ugly, another will find beautiful.  The most fascinating characteristic
of man is his diverse tastes.  They have no limits or boundaries.  Why
on earth should pianos be sacrosanct?

In my personal experience, people with money do the strangest things.
But they are only strange to me because I can't envision spending my
hard-earned money on something that seems frivolous or ridiculous.
However, the rich are almost always the workingman's most cherished
customers.  I'll relate just two stories which should help put
everything into perspective.

The first customer was the wife of a multi-millionaire who made his
millions selling rocks and dirt.  The ground floor of their waterfront
property was without a doubt the gaudiest space I have ever seen.
It almost defies explanation, but imagine bright red velvet and gold
walls, five inch red flokati rugs from Greece, and white and gold
Italian marble everywhere.

In the garage was a plain 1920's player piano in bad shape, but the
wife had a vision.  Six months and $9000 later (in the 1970's, that
was a lot of money), the white piano with gold decals of wood nymphs,
black lights and multi-colored florescent hammers, a frequency
sensitive color organ, all visible through the 1/4" etched glass front
panels, played her favorite song, "Second Hand Rose".  What did you
expect?  Gershwin?  Of course, I had no way of knowing that she was
dying of cancer until her husband called me three years later to thank
me for bringing so much joy to her final years.

The next story is a bit longer, but equally valid.  It involves
a well-known family in New Jersey that has made over a billion dollars
building relatively low cost housing for seniors.  They had (and may
still have) three pianos.  One of the two grand pianos, a 7' Queen Ann
Chickering that I had totally rebuilt to showroom quality, was put in
the terrarium of their multi-million dollar estate overlooking a
beautiful river.  Naturally, I warned them of the dangers of the
humidity and installed a heating system which I told them would be of
little value.

Two years later, the strings were so rusty that they started breaking
and the action was so swollen that it was like playing through mud.
The veneer was beginning to lift at the edges and the brass parts were
turning green.  They were unconcerned!  They paid me $18,000 to rebuild
it again, and it went right back into the terrarium.

A year later, I quit working for them when they called me at 9:00 P.M.
on Christmas Eve and said, "You have to come up here right now and tune
the piano for a Christmas party we're having tomorrow."  I declined and
gave them the number of another tuner.  (I can't repeat what the owner
said to me.  It wouldn't be allowed here.)

The point is, what a person does to their own instrument is really none
of my business.  What they do to me is a whole other story.

So, you want to paint a piano?  Have a ball!  Paint it green with pink
polka-dots.  I don't care, it's your piano.  But don't dare tell me
what I "have" to do -- I'll tell you to get lost!

John A Tuttle
Brick, New Jersey, USA

(Message sent Wed 24 May 2006, 09:15:47 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  Painting, Piano

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