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Rob Greig

Quit your job, become a... piano tuner

By
Danielle Goldstein
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David Widdicombe, 48, technical services manager for Steinway & Sons

Do you need to be able to play a piano to tune one?

‘No, but as a technician you do have to know whether the notes are in tune or not. I play a little bit. I like to relax by playing a digital keyboard with headphones on, so no one has to hear my terrible playing.’

Why did you become a tuner?

‘I was a drummer and I didn’t want formal music training, so my dad suggested piano tuning, because I was also into fixing things. I went to the London College of Furniture to learn piano tuning and maintenance. Then, almost by accident, I talked to somebody who had left Steinway, so I applied for her job – and got it. That was in 1990.’

Have you worked on famous pianos?

‘In my first year, I went to do a tuning at the Barbican for Dave Brubeck; I loved jazz, so to be on stage tuning his piano and shaking his hand was terrifying and gobsmackingly amazing. I’ve tuned pianos for Edward Heath, the former prime minister, and we used to do a lot of work for Elton John.’

As a tuner, what essentials must you always have on you?

'Apart from tuning tools, probably Nurofen and earplugs. You need to play the notes quite hard for the tuning to be stable, so when you tune intensively it takes a lot of stamina and can leave you mentally drained. Also, a lot of our piano tuners use hearing protection because playing a piano at full blast for several hours a day can be quite damaging.’

Over the years, have you had a favourite piano?

‘Yes. As well as selling and restoring pianos, we have a hire fleet of ten or 15 concert grands. Model D is the full-sized concert piano and D958 for me was a particularly special one. I followed this piano around for many years – it had a lovely sound and still has a place in my heart. It was sold to a school in Wiltshire, so I still see it from time to time, and when I drive past that hall where the piano is, I always blow it a kiss.’ 

Hours: 40 per week

Starting salary: £12,000 pa

Qualifications: Not necessary

David Widdicombe is hosting a piano workshop at the French Institute’s It’s All About Piano! festival on March 19

Or why not become a yoga instructor?

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