Piano tuner keeping perfect pitch
Digital instruments sell, but Evan Tublitz is a throwback in a trade where sound in king.
By Paul Grondahl
Published 9:57 pm, Tuesday, March 26, 2013
In our noisy, shrill world, Evan Tublitz is on a mission: to bring a little more harmony, a little less discordance. One piano at a time. He is a registered piano technician.
Tublitz (pronounced TWO-blitz) is unyielding in his commitment to quality in an era in which cheapo digital tuning devices can be bought on Amazon and YouTube features quickie tutorials on piano tuning.
Instead, Tublitz speaks of Steinways and Baldwins and Ibachs as if they possess souls deep in the grain of their spruce soundboards. He will spend day after day drawing out the roundest, richest sound while "voicing" a piano.
"I can make a piano sound two sizes larger than it is," he said. "It's all about taking the time. I'm willing to put in the work the manufacturer won't do."
He has worked with numerous concert pianists, including Earl Wild, Ruth Laredo, Andre Watts and Chick Corea. Corea once had a 9-foot-6-inch Bosendorfer Imperial concert grand flown in before he played the Syracuse Jazz Festival. Tublitz was summoned.
"The action is kind of glunky," Corea said.
Tublitz went to work. But he had limited time before Corea's concert.
"I can only do what I can do," he told the jazz great as he packed up his tools. "It takes a lot of time to get great sound."
There are 88 keys on a piano. Each key has 18 different adjustments. The time it takes to get the sound just right adds up.
Tublitz is 56 and has been tuning, repairing, restoring and selling pianos for 35 years. He was born and raised in South Orange, N.J. He was a music major at Bennington College, but dropped out in his sophomore year due to financial hardship. He became a piano technician's apprentice. He is a skilled pianist, but downplays his ability.
He worked in the 1970s and '80s as staff technician at Hamilton College and Colgate University. He is a former president of the regional chapter of the Piano Technicians Guild. He was a local Yamaha dealer, but his piano store in Latham went out of business after his divorce in 1999. For the past decade he's operated the Used Piano Center in Mechanicville, where he sells instruments he has restored.
At work, he carries a small satchel of tools and supplies — tuning hammer, tuning felt, capstan tool, felt, mutes, an alcohol lamp to heat and bend wood — and an Old World sensibility.
"I'm saddened by how much the quality has gone down in pianos," he said. "I saw the trend with Baldwin. They started cheapening their pianos and then went bankrupt. A mass-produced piano is not a great piano."
His exacting standards have drawn jabs on the Internet, as well as the loyalty of some of the best pianists in the Capital Region.
"Evan is better than anybody," said jazz pianist Lee Shaw. "I've had many pianos tuned by other people and he is by far the best. He has deep knowledge and really loves what he does."
At home, Shaw plays a Yamaha C3 grand purchased in the early 1980s. Tublitz might spend as much as five hours during a session to keep the instrument sounding its best. "He wants things done the right way," Shaw said. "It offends his heart to cut corners."
"He's one of the best around, and he goes beyond technical tuning to make a piano sound its very best," said concert pianist Findlay Cockrell, a retired University at Albany music professor. He met Tublitz two decades ago when he tuned the grand piano in the UAlbany Recital Hall.
Since then, Cockrell has bought two pianos from Tublitz, including a Steinway made in Hamburg, Germany, that Cockrell has at his California home. Cockrell owns five pianos, including a New York Steinway grand at his home in Albany and a used Knight that Tublitz sold him which Cockrell shipped to his vacation home in Barbados.
Tublitz has the patter and delivery of a stand-up comic. He hopped from piano to piano in his shop and demonstrated the gorgeous sound and stunning sustain of an Ibach and Steinways he has in the shop — used models that cost more than a luxury car.
After Tublitz worked on the concert grand piano, Cossu, wearing red jester's shoes, came on stage for a sound check.
"You think the piano's in tune?" Cossu asked.
"Yes," Tublitz said.
Cossu shuffled off, without touching a key.
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