Piano rentals are an important part of our business: it is a service not taken lightly by Oliver Esmonde-White and his fellow technicians. They even ride their reputation on it as one of the best providers of this service around.
We field requests of this kind on a regular basis from show promoters and venue managers. Once they contact us, we establish their needs by asking them about the type of performance staged; this enables us to propose an instrument that is not only amenable to the performer’s tastes and presenter’s budget, but suitable to the musical context and venue. Given its experience, the personnel can readily assess all kinds of situations. They are open to discuss all these matters with clients at their workplace, where an array of models can be tested out.
Once an agreement is reached and a contract is signed, a piano must first be fine tuned in our workshop.
“The work is really never ending.” according to Mr. Esmonde-White, “because you have to go through a routine before every new use.” On average it takes about three hours to get a piano ready for performance. But all instruments do require more in-depth maintenance every six months or so, and some 46 operations are involved over a three day period. All working parts (keys, hammers, pedals etc.) are carefully examined and regulated to bring up the instrument to the highest standards.
As exacting as this work is, it is to some degree a frustrating one. As Mr. Esmonde-White notes: “Some areas of piano technology have actually regressed in the last 30 years, one example is the increased instability of the materials used. The centre pins, for instance, are fitted with cashmere, but that fabric’s quality has been compromised, apparently because of American regulations regarding chemicals used in the felting process. This is a common subject of discussion in piano workshops, and we can complain all we want about it, but the only thing for us left to do is to do better with what we have… for now!”
Returning to the standard preparation, the three-hour session, the first stage involves fine tuning of the mechanisms, a task that takes about an hour. Next is the verification of the pedal system that requires no more than half an hour. This is done because keys can some time produce unwanted noises when they are pressed down or released, so they have to be adjusted in such a way to suppress these and make them sit right. Finally, voicing is carefully checked and then tuning.
Once completed, the instrument is ready for delivery. Loading starts by first taking off the legs and raising it to its side using a special device called a tilter. In order to move the instrument out of the workshop, Piano EW has a particular edge here, because it is the only one in North America that owns a KLAVIER-ROLLERTM (see illustration). This fully automated robotic device enables us to move instruments more quickly and efficiently to the freight elevator and our truck parked at the inside dock of the office building we are located in.
Depending on weather conditions, like in Winter, we take extra precautions. One of these is to overlay a plastic film over the piano cover. This is done for example when we are obliged to load it the night before for either an early morning delivery or a trip out of town. The reason for this is not just one of added protection, but also a means to preserve the moisture within it. What’s more our truck is both climate controlled and heated, as need be.
Upon arrival, the same process is repeated, in reverse order. It is important to note that a piano need not be retuned after arrival (a persistent myth in the trade that must be done away with once and for all!). However, if it is to be used to any extent beforehand (a rehearsal or practice session), or will stay at the same location for a number of days, it will be retuned each time before a performance. If a recording is to take place, we have for rent a selection of high end piano specific microphones installed on support bars (see illustration).