The experience of the PTG Convention and Institute is a unique one for each individual who attends the event. Here, some members share their experiences and reactions to this year’s convention.

Clarence Zeches, RPT, Atlanta GA Chapter:

Eric Schandall’s grand damper regulation class was especially good for me, as I knew I had grand dampers to install when I got back home. A couple of reminders for me were (1) using a cosmetic mirror or dentist mirror to show the backs of the dampers seated evenly on the strings, and (2) always keep the felt orientation in the same direction on all the dampers when cutting the bass damper felt. In setting the upstop rail, the damper pedal should (must) block against the rail.

Things I learned from Melanie Brooks in her action regulation class: When beginning an action rebuild, ask the client how the touch of the piano feels. If the client says the touch is OK, measure downweight/upweight and include those figures with your order for new parts. Send samples of the old parts so they can duplicate those figures with the new parts, if possible. If there needs to be a change in touch, explain what the customer didn’t like about the way the piano played, and they can attempt to make whatever changes are necessary to improve the action.

Even though I have been an RPT for many years, I spent a good bit of time in the competency playground, refreshing my ability to do certain repairs and regulation tasks. One big help was tying large bass strings, as this has always been a problem for me.

The 59th Annual PTG Convention

& Technical Institute

The Norfolk Institute Experience

Jim Kelly, Palmetto SC Chapter:

For me, the real turn-on-the-light class was David Andersen’s Making the Piano Sing. Not only was it a fun class, but I also picked up some excellent ideas to build on. Several things of note that I learned were the need to listen to the body to get into the zone, and how tech work is like the inner game of tennis. I find when I am in the zone, the clock stands still. What seems like an hour of intense focus is actually only a few minutes on the clock.

Please invite David back for more classes!

I also liked the time I was able to spend networking and meeting up with old friends, my long talk with Kirk Burgett about new things going on with Mason and Hamlin, learning about the piano transporter device, and talking with the Witters about their huge Piano Bible project. I finally got to meet and talk to Bill Shull. The trip to Williamsburg on Sunday was also outstanding.

Russell Hilderbrand, Washington DC Chapter:

This was my first PTG convention. My wife and I had an awesome time. I attended a lot of great classes and met some wonderful people. Did I mention that Piano Technicians Guild puts together an awesome choir? I was in awe when everyone started singing together. It could have not been rehearsed any better, and the organizers were able to do it on the fly. Amazing!  All I can say about the PTG’s ability to sing is, well… We are well tuned!


Nancy Salmon, RPT, Shenandoah VA Chapter:

I thought it was tremendous. It boosted my knowledge base, friendships and more. I took my two sons (ages 30 and 34), who have been working in my rebuilding shop. I considered it a full-immersion baptism. It would make or break their decision to go into the business.

Talking about pianos and how they work and how to make them better 24/7 with a group diverse in age, experience, emphasis, training, and lifestyle is an eye-opener and a pleasure.

Although we found the schedule grueling and at times overwhelming, we were also eager to glean every bit of information offered. This was a huge expense, both in dollars and time lost, for our small business that will pay off in confidence, diagnostics, efficiency, available resources, and techniques.

I think the convention is an invaluable resource for our isolated businesses.

Kudos, PTG!

Kathryn Holt, Arkansas Chapter:

As a rather new member of PTG, I have not attended many conventions. It can be hard to take the time out of my schedule to go to the convention, but I encourage anyone who is on the fence about whether to go or not to make the sacrifices necessary to make it happen. The convention benefited me greatly, mostly by the connections I made while I was there and also by the hands-on learning I received in the classes.

Connection was the most beneficial and enjoyable element of the convention. Not only was I able to reconnect with old friends, I was able to meet lots of new colleagues. I recently moved to North Carolina, and this convention put me in touch with many others from my area. I was also able to connect with professionals in areas of piano work that I am interested in. This is an especially great tool when just starting out, so I know who to call when I need help! I am amazed by how willing this community is to help others learn the trade. I had also attended the convention in Atlanta, and I was amazed by how many additional young people there were in Norfolk than were at the convention just two years ago.

The amount of information at the convention is incredible. Most of what I gained from classes was the practical use of the information provided, and the hands-on (or ears-on) experience. For example, in Don Mannino’s class, The Sound of Your Tuning, he had two pianos tuned differently: one that favored fifths and one that favored octaves. He asked us to listen and tell what the differences between the tunings were. The difference was significant! I had learned some about favoring octaves or fifths, but I never really understood how it actually makes the piano sound different, or why you would favor one over the other. Getting to hear the difference with two pianos right next to each other has made me realize the importance of the subject. Don also took some time to talk to us about the different types of clients who may like their pianos tuned a little differently.

I took a class by Kathy Smith, called Lifting Stuff. She told us that it is easy to find information online about how to lift safely, but she was able to relate the information to our work specifically. She gave many examples using piano parts, and let anyone come up at the end to try lifting a piano action while she critiqued our posture.

Not only was the convention wonderful, Norfolk is a beautiful town that I am glad to have visited. I plan to attend the convention next year for the whole week instead of just the weekend. There were many classes I wish I could have taken but were only offered on Thursday. Either way, I am happy that I was able to attend this year, and I look forward to the classes that will be presented at the next convention in St. Louis.

Women’s Forum on the Piano Tech Profession

(Ricki Klos, moderator)

Women’s Forum on the Piano Tech Profession

(Ricki Klos, moderator)

Joyce Meekins, RPT, Washington DC Chapter: Women’s Forum on the Piano Tech Profession (Ricki Klos, moderator)

Although women represent only 11% of PTG’s membership, their contribution to all aspects of PTG—from the PTG board, PTGF board, Institute, chapter presidents, Journal editors, examiners, and on—is far greater than their numbers would suggest. If we are so active in leadership roles, some may wonder, why then the need for a specific Women’s Forum? Quite simply, most of us welcome an occasion to come together in one place and talk and laugh while sharing stories and ideas. As moderator of the forum, Ricki posed questions, but much of the discussion flowed naturally from the 24 women and three men who attended. It was exciting to see how many younger women attended the forum, offering us all a chance to contrast their experiences with those that we who started in the ’70s have had. The topics we spoke about ranged from why we have a forum, to mentoring, to safety on the job. Above all, the class provided an opportunity for women of all ages and technical levels to meet face-to-face, thereby opening the door for future communication. Much has changed over the years, yet there are still times when women in PTG can use the support and advice of other women.

Daniel Minnick, RPT, Western Carolinas Chapter:

As a recipient of a PTGF scholarship to attend the Norfolk convention, it was everything I thought it was going to be, and more! Passing my tuning exam and becoming an RPT was definitely the highlight for me. Classes with world-class technicians were nothing short of inspiring! In what other place is it possible to meet so many fine, talented professionals in this field? My favorite class was Norbert Abel’s session on Abel hammers. It furthered my understanding as to how a hammer optimally functions and gave me a conceptual map of the hammer’s “arch of tension.” I am enthusiastically planning to attend the St. Louis convention next year!

Hannah Beckett, RPT, Central NC Chapter:

Our craft is continually growing and changing, and I like to think of myself as a perpetual student of piano technology. Happily, I do not find myself alone in this lifelong quest for knowledge! The Norfolk convention surrounded me with people from all walks of life and with varying degrees of experience, but everyone was unified by their purpose to strive towards excellence. It is not an easy thing to take time off work, travel to a different place, and sit in classes all day, but we do not do it because it is easy. “Striving” means to make great efforts to achieve something. Whether we went to take a class, teach a class, take an exam, or administer an exam, we were all there in an attempt to become the best technicians we can be.

It is truly inspiring to be a part of such a community! There is a certain thrill in being surrounded by teachers and students alike who cheer and celebrate with new RPTs, dedicate their time to teaching and providing feedback through workshops and examination reviews, and can kick back and enjoy the bluegrass band playing in the hall. I am a young technician, and I’m sure that with time and experience, the bright-eyed novelty of my trade will wane. However, I am exceedingly grateful to be in a community of technicians who not only encourage me to be the best technician I can be, but also inspire me to continually strive for excellence.

In Norfolk, Hannah completed her training to become a Certified Technical Examiner.

Sheffey Gregory, RPT, Atlanta GA Chapter:

Rick Butler’s class Bending Grand Damper Wires turned out to be one of my best classes. Rick had jigs and dampers for us to work with, one of the best handouts ever, and a detailed color brochure with excellent detail. The slides were also very good and easy to understand. The lecture portion was short, so there was plenty of time to bend wire, get corrected and do it again.

Brian Wilson, Knoxville TN Chapter:

The first thing I said to my wife when I arrived back home from Norfolk was that I never remember going to a conference where every class I attended seemed so focused on my individual needs. Before commenting, I must provide a little background. At 57 years old, I lead all the music in a medium-size church in upper East Tennessee. I have been tuning pianos to help supplement my income for the last 15 years. During this time I have received some mentoring and advice from tuners, but I have always dreaded taking the tuning exam due to a lack of confidence and full-time experience. Then I took the mock exam class under the direction of Mary and Mitch Keil. Within an hour and a half, this couple took away much of the anxiety I had, and they simplified what is needed to become a successful tuner. They broke down the testing of intervals, setting temperament, using a sliding rule as reference, etc. Not only did I leave the class a lot more confident about tuning and testing, but I came to realize that they (PTG instructors) not only have a tremendous passion for tuning, but also care for the individual regardless of what level he or she may be tuning at.

My trumpet instructor in college would often remind me of the quote, “It’s not practice that makes perfect, but perfect practice!” With the tools I received from this class, I will now be able to tune with much more confidence, putting into practice (the right way) practical tools that I learned in the mock tuning session. I wrote on my evaluation that every Associate should be required to take this class. Thank you, PTG!

I just got home from Norfolk after attending my first national PTG convention. Wow. Five straight days of intense learning, exam stress, camaraderie, and sleep deprivation.  It was fantastic.

I fell in love with the piano around 1990, when I was in college, but only in January 2015 did I realize that I wanted to become a piano technician. At age 45 it was a bit of a late start, but I like to say that when I’m 80, I can tell people I have 35 years of experience.

I arrived in Norfolk a day before classes started so that I could observe a master tuning done by three legends, Atsundo Aikawa, Dan Levitan and Bill Bremmer. It was a real privilege to watch them work. They finished in about three hours. I could’ve watched all day.

The highlight of the convention for me was becoming an RPT. I took both technical and tuning exams on successive days, which I definitely do not recommend. After I passed the tuning exam, my examiners accompanied me downstairs, where I got my “New RPT” ribbon, and Jack Stebbins announced in his powerful voice, “We have a new RPT!”

On the same day that I became an RPT, I had the opportunity to help administer a tuning exam. It was fascinating—and much less stressful—to see the process from the other side. I enjoyed that so much that the next day, I volunteered to help give a technical exam, which was equally fascinating.

And the classes! It seems almost too good to be true that some of the world’s best technicians were there just to share their vast knowledge with people like me. Since I’m still pretty new, some things went over my head, so I took lots of notes so that I could look up unfamiliar things later. But there were two particularly memorable things I heard in classes that anyone can understand:

“However you decide to fix that problem is how you define yourself as a piano technician.” – from John Parham’s class, Things All Piano Technicians Should Know.

“Pay attention. Focus on the task at hand, not on your doubt mechanism.” – from David Andersen’s class, How to Make a Piano Sing.

And then there were the concerts, the exhibit hall, the competency playground, and Steve Brady’s inspiring and moving speech at the Golden Hammer banquet. Everything combined to make the convention an overwhelmingly positive experience.

I am a better technician now than I was before the convention. Thank you so much to everyone who helped make it happen. I’m already looking forward to St. Louis.

My Norfolk Experience

By Scott Murphy, RPT

New York City Chapter

"Tonight’s recipient of the Golden Hammer received his piano technology training from Brigham Young University, was editor of the Pianos Technicians Journal, has been awarded the Member of Note, and inducted into the Hall of Fame…. Oh wait, that’s my bio.

Tonight’s recipient of the Golden Hammer joined the Piano technicians Guild in 1973 (Much older than me).  After completing piano technology training, he became a Registered Piano Technician and began his career as a piano technician in the Phoenix area. He later moved and became the head piano technician at a major university. While there, in addition to tuning for nearly 5,000 concerts, he also completed both bachelor and master of arts degrees in music.

His service to the Piano Technicians Guild is noteworthy. He has served as president of two of the local chapters in which he resided, has been president of his regional conference, and a PTG regional vice president. He served as a member of the Institute committee for three years, one of which he was the Institute director for the annual convention.

He is a master teacher, and his classes are always in high demand at our regional and annual conventions. He has perpetuated our craft by mentoring and training a number of piano technicians over the past 30 years, 19 of which have become RPTs. Most recently, he served five years as head piano technician for the Aspen Music Festival and School.

He is a gifted author. The Piano Technicians Guild published his first book, A Piano Technician’s Guide to Field Repairs, in 1999. The second edition appeared in 2008. Portions of his Master’s thesis on Brahms’ pianos and piano music have appeared in three different publications. He has also published articles in Piano & Keyboard magazine. His latest work, Under the Lid: The Art and Craft of the Concert Piano Technician, was published in 2008.

You see, tonight’s recipient of the Golden Hammer did receive his piano technology training at Brigham Young University. He was the Editor of the Piano Technicians Journal from 1995 to 2000. He was awarded the Member of Note in 1996. He was inducted into the PTG Hall of Fame in 2012. And tonight, we present him our highest honor.

The recipient of the 2016 Golden Hammer is...

Steve Brady.

 2016 Award Winners

 presented by:
Rick  Baldassin,  RPT,
John Granholm, RPT,
and Keith Kopp, RPT

Ed Sutton, RPT, and
 Jack Stebbins, RPT,
Hall of Fame

John Parham, RPT
Jack Greenfield Award

Fred Sturm, RPT
Member of Note

Kathy Smith, RPT
Member of Note

Kathy Smith, RPT
Member of Note

Joyce Meekins, RPT
Member of Note

The Golden Hammer
Award Winner...
presented by:
Rick  Baldassin, RPT

 Convention Wrap-Up

Tanya Gabrelian at
the Kawai concert.


Norfolk friendships.


Atsundo Aikawa and
Ty Uphoff discuss
exam results.


The Institute team:
Douglas Laing, Kurt Weissman, Lisa Weller, Ashley Turner, Cy Shuster.


Quick show of hands...
Who is having a good time?



A dispute over tuning techniques is decided by
a fruit-flavored duel.


Joshua Spurlock and
Hannah Beckett celebrate
his becoming an RPT.


PTG past presidents
Marshall Hawkins
and Jim Birch.


Attendees enjoyed a
river cruise on the
American Rover.


Meet us in St. Louis...
The musical.


The exhibit hall
grand opening.


See you next year...

July 12 - 15, 2017 • St Louis, MO