In Memorium – Matt Wilkie

It is with sadness that I learned, after nearly a year’s delay, of the passing of one of my greatest business partners in New York – Matt Wilkie, of Huntington, Long Island, whose work you see throughout this website. I used Matt exclusively for my last 5 years in NY, for good reason. He was meticulous and a perfectionist (much like myself), always worked well with me, and I can never say enough about the finished product. Matt was “old school” – his hand-rubbed finishes imparting my ideal of beauty on wood (and like silk to the touch!) – but at the same time he was always improving his work with any worthy refinishing products and techniques that came to market. I like to think that Matt’s soul truly shines through in the depth, clarity, and beauty of his work, and with that in mind, I am proud to display that work here as a testament to Matt’s artistry. To his family, my deepest sympathies, and know that Matt’s legacy lives on here and in the many homes blessed with the presence of his work.
Bravo, Matt – from me you will always get a standing ovation!

Matt Wilkie 1963-2013 Rest in Peace, My Friend
Matt Wilkie
Rest in Peace, My Friend


A Huge, Big Hearty Shoutout of Love to my daughter, Beth Young, for all her work on this website – what would I have done without you, darling?

Thanks and Love to daughters Shana, Riv, and their families and to my wife, Vicki, for all your love, support, and understanding – Like it or not, you guys helped make me what I am today, in spite of myself!

Thanks to Jerry Gravina, RPT, for taking over the helm for me in NY, allowing me to make a graceful exit from my faithful clientele there -for whom I’m also grateful. Happy Sailing!

Thanks to Shane Owenby, for welcoming me to Asheville with the most open arms and the kindest of hearts – I’ll always be indebted to you!

To Mom & Dad – even though you’re both no longer with us in body, I thank you always for your enduring patience with me – at 13 years of age – watching our beloved 1911 O.W. Weurtz upright being scattered in carefully labelled pieces all over the playroom floor for months and months. You must have trusted that something good would come of it, for years later I noticed you both beaming when I brought you to see Dave Brubeck play on the Steinway I prepared for him…

And yes, I MUST also thank older bro Clayton – After all, this is all YOUR fault! If you hadn’t cursed so much at that old machine every time you sat down to try to play it, I probably wouldn’t have been so inspired to try to fix it!

What should I do if my piano is “really, most sincerely, dead?”

As First Officer Spock might say, “It’s [piano] Life, Jim, but not as we know it…”

If your piano technician has made the final determination to cut off life support for your piano, your beloved instrument may still find use through up-cycling, going “where no other piano has gone before,” as shown in this delightful reclamation of an old English upright my wife and I discovered a few years ago in a charming Scottish B&B.

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The old instrument now doubles as a combination wine rack and silverware drawer. I couldn’t resist the chance to sit down and play the spoons!

I’ve also seen old uprights converted into beautiful desks, and various case parts turned into other useful objets d’art… it does make me shed a tear or two to see the beautiful craftsmanship of yesteryear sent off to some landfill when some other use may be made of it. If you have such a lovely creature that you wish to dispose of, consider contacting local artists who might be delighted to up-cycle the remains.




Why should I use a Registered Piano Technician (RPT) to service my piano?

2012 RPT Logo Masterprint RPT-Emblemprintfinal

Why should I use a Registered Piano Technician (RPT)

to service my piano?


Let me begin to answer this by saying that there are many good and excellent technicians out there who aren’t affiliated with the Piano Technicians Guild (where RPT’s reside), though why they aren’t often puzzles me. I’ve heard and read many excuses for not joining the Guild, and may have even used some of them myself before I joined 25 years ago. Yet, all of these rejoinders seem to pale in comparison to the benefits of membership, even for those who wish to remain at the Associate level or, for one reason or another, don’t desire to take the challenging tests for the Craftsman (RPT) level. Possibly the biggest benefit might be that any member can take advantage of the local chapter meetings and gain knowledge, experience, and support from other fellow technicians.

What is the Piano Technician’s Guild?

The PTG was formed in 1957 when the American Society of Piano Technicians and the National Association of Piano Tuners merged to form a single organization.

From the Home Office in Kansas City:

“The Piano Technician’s Guild (PTG), the official organization of the Registered Piano Technician, is the world’s premier source of expertise in piano service and technology. The PTG has over 4,100 members throughout the U.S., Canada, and around the world…Registered Piano Technicians are professionals who have committed themselves to the continual pursuit of excellence, both in technical service and ethical conduct. Through affiliation with other technicians, manufacturers, suppliers and associations, RPT’s continue to enhance their knowledge and skills….A Registered Piano Technician® (RPT) has passed a series of rigorous examinations on maintenance, repair, and tuning of pianos.”

The Piano Technicians Guild has set the bar, the standard of excellence in our field. An RPT has met the Guild’s standard via their rigorous testing. Therefore, the RPT is your guarantee of excellence in the field of piano technology.

When I began servicing pianos at the age of 13, I had an aim to become the best that I could be in this field, and the PTG helped me to fulfill that goal. I’m still learning, having realized that this noble “pursuit of making harmony out of chaos” is never-ending.

For more on the Piano Technicians Guild, visit their site:

I’m looking to buy a new or used piano – Do you have any advice?


I’m looking to buy a new or used piano – Do you have any advice?


Yes –

When you find an instrument that appeals to you, whether it be new or used, PLEASE do yourself the biggest favor and have it professionally evaluated by a qualified technician.  Your purchase could be a major investment, and just like buying a car, you would want a trusted mechanic to check it out for any potential problems.  There are few things so heartbreaking to me in this business as showing up to tune someone’s attractive-looking “real find,” only to “really find” that this perdy little piano needs open-heart surgery. “Let the buyer beware!”  “If the deal seems to be too good to be true, it may very well be.”  “Better safe than sorry”….Ahem… Should I fill in the rest of this page with other clichés of warning?

On the bright side, locally, in the Asheville area, I can highly recommend The Piano Emporium. They sell both new and used, in just about anyone’s budget range, and back up what they sell with no-nonsense honesty, service, and integrity. The owner, Shane Owenby, is not merely an entrepreneur, but is also himself an RPT, and I’m proud to be affiliated with his company. Click here for their website:

I’ve been told my piano won’t hold a tuning – Is it dead yet?

bass end of pinblock showing veneer "shims" (to correct for poor fitting)

I’ve been told my piano won’t hold a tuning – Is it dead yet?

This is usually a far worse issue than a crack in a soundboard, but the piano may still be salvageable.

Pianos that won’t “hold a tuning” usually have loose tuning pins. Tuning pins are bedded in a multi-ply (usually maple or other hardwood) plank variously called a “pinblock” or “wrestplank.” When, through age, weathering, (or sometimes poor drilling technique), the wood is no longer able to hold the tuning pin snug while under the tension of the piano string, the pin will “let go,” causing the piano to go out of tune (often, rather abruptly).

Even this can be repaired, but as with defective soundboards, you will need to know if the cost of repair will outweigh the value of the instrument. Fortunately, as with soundboards, there are a variety of treatments – some more affordable than others – that may at least help prolong the life of a piano with this condition.

Again, don’t hesitate to call me for an evaluation appointment before disposal – you just might be pleasantly surprised!

(photo: faulty rebuild showing incorrectly fitted grand pinblock (tuning pins & casting removed) – veneer shims added to fill gaps between block and casting)


I’ve discovered that my piano has a cracked soundboard – Does this mean I need to throw it out?

I would say, in most cases, the answer is No.

In fact, in many cases, a crack or two in a soundboard may have little or no effect on the tone of the instrument. It really depends on the severity of the crack(s), how many there might be, and how much separation may have occurred from the ribs underneath the board. It is this separation of the soundboard from the ribs that may cause tonal problems, including buzzing and lack of tonal production.

I have witnessed many pianos where the soundboard is riddled with cracks, yet the instrument still retains its tonal integrity because the cracks have not caused rib separation. Still, the potential is often there for separation to occur because of the crack as well.

Regardless, even if a board has both cracks and separation, it can usually still be repaired. The question then becomes whether or not a particular piano is worth the cost of these repairs, and this would be best determined by a thorough evaluation. While it may be possible to perform some stop-gap measures (pun intended!), an evaluation may be helpful to determine if your piano is a good candidate for re-building.

Obviously, if the cost of repairs exceeds the value of the instrument (sentimental value aside), then yes, it may have outlived its usefulness. But if you’re in doubt, do call a qualified tech like myself to have it looked at, and never hesitate to call me for a second opinion, either! You might not have to wave a tearful goodbye to your old faithful piano.

(photo: Baldwin SF grand soundboard showing multiple cracks. Yet, even before repairing, this piano’s tone was still vibrant and had integrity enough to not need replacing. After repairs, the piano went on to work as a solid second instrument on the concert stage.)soundboard before repair - showing cracks

How often should I tune my piano?

How often should I tune my piano?

The short answer:  Twice yearly is generally recommended for most in-home

There are, however, other longer answers:

How often a piano gets tuned may depend on the degree of perfection you wish to maintain. How well a piano stays “in tune” may vary greatly from one instrument to the next, depending on quality of construction, quality of materials, quality of environment, and even the quality of the piano’s previous tuning! With so many variables, it may be difficult to nail down a precise schedule…

Even in the best of instruments, slight changes in tuning may begin to occur within days or even hours after being serviced. Most of the time, these will go unnoticed even to the most trained ears – but they do happen. This is why performance pianos need to be tended to before every concert (and sometimes at intermission!), even if concerts are lined up several days in a row.

Fortunately, the demands on in-home pianos are usually far less stringent.  Twice yearly tuning is the general recommendation based on the seasonal changes that happen during the course of a year. The extremes of indoor climate from summer to winter may have the most dramatic effect on tuning stability. For example, during the winter months, with the heat running, the moisture content in the wood of the piano will cause it to dry out, and generally cause the instrument to go flat, whereas in the summer that same wood will take in moisture and swell, actually causing the pitch to sharpen. For further info on this, see the page: “Why does my piano go out of tune?

This is why so many clients notice in mid-winter or mid-summer that their pianos “suddenly seemed to go out of tune.” I personally find that tuning at these two extremes seems to work best and last the longest, though I know some techs prefer to recommend tuning in Spring and Fall. It’s not a bad thing to tune 4 times a year, either… and yet I’ve seen some instruments that may hold their own fairly well over the course of a whole year.

My main advice to clients is not to let the piano go through more than one winter without tuning, otherwise the instrument will likely need a “pitch raise” to bring it back to the correct pitch, and this would be in addition to tuning (see “Pitch Raise” under “Definitions” on the Services page).

For those who aren’t “tone-deaf,” my best advice is to listen to and trust your own ears – the best time to tune is when you (or your teacher) can’t stand to hear or sit down at the instrument, or it doesn’t bring you the joy it should when you do. For those who are “tone-deaf,” follow the twice yearly advice, and your piano should be just fine.



Why does my piano go out of tune?


Why does your piano go out of tune?

The short answer for the main cause in two words:   HUMIDITY CHANGE.

The longer explanation of why this is so:

Even though the heavy cast plate in the piano (usually an iron/steel alloy) is designed to bear the brunt of the thousands of pounds of tension from all the strings, the majority of the remaining components in the modern piano are still made of WOOD.

All the strings pass over WOODEN bridges, which in turn are attached to – and transfer the sound to – a WOODEN sound board, much like a larger version of the top of a guitar. Add to this the fact that the tuning pins (which tighten and loosen the strings for the correct pitch) are set into a multi-ply HARDWOOD block variously named a “pinblock” or “wrestplank.” To top it all off, everything is tied down into a WOOD case, be it grand or upright.

Now imagine in your home what may happen to your kitchen cabinets, doors, window sashes, and hardwood floors throughout the seasons. As time goes by, you may notice things like doors sticking in the summer, or cracks opening between the floorboards in winter. These, of course, are all due to – you guessed it – HUMIDITY CHANGES.

Depending on the area in which you live, those changes can be dramatic or almost non-existent. There are areas in the U.S. that can remain relatively dry throughout the year, and others consistently humid. In these areas, good quality pianos can generally stand in tune longer than elsewhere. The majority of the country, however, is subject to seasonal changes, and these changes can have a dramatic effect on tuning stability.

Wood draws in moisture from the air in a humid summer, causing it to expand (making those doors stick), and this moisture gets evaporated out of the wood as relative humidity goes down in the winter months. Add home heating to this already dry air, and the drying effect is compounded (opening spaces in the floorboards).

Since the majority of a piano is made of wood products, it is, of course, going to behave in a similar fashion. Even though most piano manufacturers go to great lengths to procure the highest select woods, and go to great pains to age, dry and season them, it doesn’t change the basic structure: it’s still WOOD, and each piece may respond to humidity changes differently.

Soundboards – and to a lesser degree, pinblocks – will expand and contract, sometimes even with the slightest humidity change, and it is this shrinking and swelling throughout the seasons that will cause your piano to eventually “go out of tune.”


My recommendations to clients:

Of course, the BEST solution for better tuning stability would be to put the instrument into as much of a climate controlled environment as possible. Keeping the air moisture level between 40-60% is optimal. If you can’t afford a whole-house humidity control system, there are other steps you can take to at least minimize the extreme changes:

When possible, devote your piano to a small(ish) room that can be closed off. Purchase a room de-humidifier suitable for the room size that will keep the moisture down during the summer (air conditioning will help as well). Also purchase a HUMIDIFIER to ADD moisture during the dry winter months. Some forced-air heating systems can have humidification added to them – but shop around for the one that works best. Again, if you can keep the room humidity to between 40-60%, you’ll be doing the best for your piano.

The next best thing would be to purchase a piano humidity control system, which actually attaches to the piano itself. This can be a useful solution in many situations, though you should always consult a reputable technician to determine if this will meet your needs (*yes, we sell and install these!).

Can’t afford any of these options?  Here’s more you can do simply to help:

Always place the piano on an interior wall or in an interior room, away from all heating apparatus (ducts, baseboards, radiators, fireplaces, etc., which tend to be on outside walls).

Keep the piano as far away from open windows in summer as is practicable.

Keep your heat DOWN as much as possible during the winter. The lower the heat, the less dry your house (and your piano) will be. Remember, as the saying goes: “It’s not the HEAT, it’s the HUMIDITY!”

If you have a wood stove, keep a kettle full of water on it.

If possible, in winter keep a lot of houseplants (yes, HOUSEPLANTS!) nicely watered in the same room NEAR (never ON!) the piano. Your piano (and perhaps your health) will love you for it!


Finally, if you can do none of the above, realize that you will simply need to have your piano tuned much more frequently than otherwise would be normal (twice yearly is the norm, more often as needed).

Article by C.L. Young ©2012