Piano technicians depend on their ears for a living


During his early days on the Greenwich Village folk scene and continuing through his electric 1966 world tour, Bob Dylan was notorious for tuning his guitar on stage — sometimes taking as long as 20 minutes while his audience fidgeted in their seats. A piano technician would snicker at Mr. Dylan’s leisurely pace: “It’s only six strings, Bob! How about trying 250?”

A piano, after all, is a stringed instrument, just like a guitar, violin or cello. But any comparisons end there, as a piano is more complex than any engine in a Ferrari or any mechanism in a Rolex watch. Your typical modern piano has 230 to 250 strings — the number exceeds 88 because most keys use two or three strings each — with a combined tension of anywhere from 15 to 30 tons. There are thousands of steel, iron, ivory, wooden and felt parts — up to 7,000 in some grand pianos — that need tender loving care.

Here’s an interesting article profiling Barbara Renner, a piano technician who has tuned pianos for classical and jazz pianists, as well as Bruce Springsteen and The Who.

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