Friday, December 18, 2009

The Piano Saga

One of the first big purchases I made after getting married was my very first piano of my own. As a piano teacher, I knew I'd need an instrument to teach on, and I really needed an instrument to practice on as well!

I did a lot of research and went out shopping a few times, and I eventually settled on a new Nordiska from an out-of-the way shop in a tiny south suburb. This shop was owned by Steve, a piano technician, and his wife. I had gotten a very strong endorsement from a trusted mentor-type, and I was pleased with my purchase. It included two free tunings and delivery. Nice!

I got this piano in the late Fall of 2007. Over the following Winter, I noticed a few problems. Actually, Erich was playing around a little bit, working his way through an adult beginning piano method book for fun. When he pressed one of the keys, I noticed it would trill a little bit. (I later learned this is called a "double blow.") I thought it was his untrained touch. But when it started double blowing when I played, and on more and more keys, I got concerned. It also happened all the time with my students. Fed up, I called Steve. He told me he would come look at it but that it was probably a problem with how it was being played. This excuse raised a red flag for me, since pianos are meant to be played softly as well as loud, and though I'm not a professional concert pianist, I think I have enough decent technique that it can't have been my fault. Moreover, this problem never happened in the shop when I played it for over half an hour!

So Steve came, adjusted a few keys but expressed reticence to tamper with the action too much since there would be sacrifices in sound or something. It was better for a little while, then got bad again. My desire to practice at home was squelched, and I had to apologize continually to my students when the piano would not behave for them.

Around April, the weather warmed up, the humidity increased, and the piano seemed to cure itself. Aha! We had a humidity problem! The following Fall, when it started happening again, I called Steve and asked about a Dampp-Chaser. He told me he'd love to sell me one and that it would definitely be good to have, but it's really expensive and I would be just as well off with a big humidifier from a hardware store. He was right! As long as we kept the humidity level above 45% or so, the piano would behave (for the most part). There were added benefits as well--no more shooting lightning bolts across the room or sinus discomfort from dryness. I really appreciated Steve's honesty about the humidifier!

As you know, we moved this past Summer. I had the piano moved by professionals and waited a few weeks for the piano to get used to its new environment. And then, I am embarrassed to say, I kept putting off getting it tuned. I couldn't decide who to call as I had already used my two free tunings, and I didn't want to continue using Steve since he was based so far away. So finally last week, unable to ignore the tuning problem any longer, I finally called the local tuner I had been recommended years ago and whose name I would give my students' parents. Art was able to come this morning.

He got going with the tuning, but after a while, he started muttering under his breath and called me over. There was a piece, a wooden strip called a "let-off something-or-other" (okay, not his exact words, but I'm not a piano technician) that was cracked. He discovered it because he couldn't understand why some of the keys were bouncing weirdly. He told me in his 30 years of working on pianos, he's never encountered this before. Well, I'm so glad my piano can be the first! He tried gluing it, but about 20 minutes later, I heard some frustrated muttering again. It was broken clean in half and he would have to fix it at his studio.

Turns out, he knows Steve (I can't imagine the Chicagoland piano technician crowd is that extensive) and understood the piano would still be under warranty. But he is taking it upon himself to fix the problem, figuring it would take weeks if I went through Steve. He removed the entire action (pretty much everything the between the keys and the strings) and will fix it up there, and bring it back here. Name that quote!

I explained to him a little bit of my history with this piano. He seemed very frustrated on my behalf. He said Steve should have been able to adjust it, and there is nothing wrong with the way I played it! He said no change of weather should alter the instrument that much. He's found the problem and is confident he'll be able to fix it but apologized that it might not be ready till Monday or Tuesday. No problem with me; I'm glad it's finally getting fixed!

Before I got a chance to ask, he told me on his way out that I will not have to pay for this--he's sending the bill to Steve!


Erich said...


Erich said...

I mean, "Grinch!"

Susan K said...

First of the impending TORRENT of comments, I'm sure!

anne said...

Yeah, here's more of the torrent! Grinch shoutout!

Sarah said...

Good for Art!

Cheryl said...

Well, shoot. I'm sorry about your problems with the Nordiska, seeing as how we recommended the shop. Maybe there's a significant difference in quality between their uprights and their grands . . .
Hoping your piano woes are over. I am not too happy right now with how our Nordiska is sounding after a few years . . . it has gotten quite brassy . . . I'm thinking we need to call a technician, but I don't think I'll call Steve either. He is too much of a Nordiska champion--he sold them, after all. I would like to hear from a disinterested third party: can we do something about the tone or voicing or whatever it is, or are we stuck with this sound for the duration?
I do like the action of our grand. No complaints there. And bottom line, it was in our price range. If only we could all afford Steinways or Yamahas or even Bostons . . . dream on.

Susan K said...

Oh Cheryl, I'd never think of blaming you guys! I still think I got a great deal on a new piano. Despite all this, I am happy with the instrument. And though my endorsement isn't worth a whole lot (compared to, say, Phil's), I like Art Shuter so far! Though he has yet to return with the action--so I'll have to get back to you on his work... :)