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Monday, 22 September 2014

Memoirs of an Apprentice Piano Tuner #1

At the start of my apprenticeship - back in 1973, pianos were still being made in the UK. In those early days I was bewildered by the sheer number of piano names. When the older apprentices talked about these obscure and odd-sounding names, it was almost like listening to a foreign language. Strange how quickly one makes sense of these things and it was not long before I could at least understand what the conversations were about!

There was an unofficial rating system of the pianos in the shop - rated by the accumulated experience of young apprentices! From memory, the order from the preferred to the unfavoured was something like: Welmar,  Knight, Kemble, Monnington & Weston, Eavestaffe, Barrett & Robinson, Zender, Bentley. (This order might be disputed by others.)  

I do not remember seeing new European pianos in the shop other than the Zimmerman - but down in the workshop among the apprentices, these were not liked at all. 

The nearest piano factory to where I lived was Bentley's at Stroud. We occasionally passed it while en route to Cheltenham on the A46 but because the Bentley pianos of the 70s were not that great, their factory at Woodchester never particularly captured my interest.

Our workshop was beneath the grand Georgian streets of Bath. We sometimes referred to it as the crypt. The workshop itself had plenty of daylight - about half the area of roof/ceiling was of glass which was likely to leak when the weather was bad. On summer afternoons, while still working, we would gently cook in the sun's heat which was magnified through the glass.

The warehouse/store next to the workshop had no natural light at all and was poorly lit, dusty and full of old pianos in for storage or repair. The air was thick with the smell of bone glue, piano felt and dust - a unique blend of aromas which belongs only in piano workshops.

On my very first day, I was given a job cleaning action parts. The foreman was an older local guy who talked with the broadest accent I'd ever heard. He asked me a question which even in my extreme effort to be polite I could not decipher, so I had to say "Pardon?" A little annoyed, he looked at me suspiciously and said very slowly and clearly, "So you think you've got good ears then!" I gave the only answer a young boy who wanted to be a piano tuner could give: "Yes!"  


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