In days of old, tuners used to sign their name and write the tuning dates inside the piano, usually on the back of the keys where it was unseen by the owner. Occasionally, there might be the added comment, "Raised pitch." or "C = 522", or even, "C = 517"!
These notes, written in classic piano tuner's scribble, can take some deciphering but they are a reliable record of the piano's service history. Early in my career I used to tune a piano that had a complete list of tuning dates since the piano was new in about 1912, up until the 1930s. The tuning interval was generally every four months - with a few six-month gaps here and there. There was writing on nearly every key!
By way of contrast, a particular customer prepared for my arrival by taking the parts off the piano himself, and, just for my benefit, had written an A4 size sign which read: "NOTICE TO THE PIANO TUNER, DO NOT WRITE ON MY PIANO". A previous tuner had signed his name in it and was never asked to tune it again! The customer was a fascinating character - a very good pianist, full of amazing stories from the 1940s and 50s. He bought his piano in Bristol during the war, the day after an air raid!
Anyway, he was both proud and very fond of his piano, and wanted to keep it in as immaculate a condition as possible. There was no need for him to worry about my signing his piano - I have signed or initialled only about 5 pianos during my entire career - his, was not one of them!
While repairing a George Rogers piano a year or so ago, I found, on the underside of one of the keys, the hand-written words 'Glazebrook Pianos'. Now, I don't know if there is a family link, but there were Glazebrooks involved at Steinways! Whoever wrote on the underside of the key was very coy about what he was writing - only a tuner with reason to lift out that particular key would ever see it. Why bother?
The writing in some of these old pianos, does give them a social setting and a hint of the community history that goes with it. These scribbles on the inside of a piano, are authentic written records of the relationships built up between tuners, their clients and their pianos.
© Steve Burden
© Steve Burden