Steinway Master Tuner

A Steinway Master Tuner Calls Carlsbad Home

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Josef Oszuscik has tuned some of the finest pianos in the world for some of the best known celebrities and yearly is invited to Steinway headquarters in New York City to work with the Masters of the trade. Never having played the piano, rather the violin, seems an unorthodox approach for one to become a Master tuner, however, Josef reveals that playing a piano and tuning a piano are two completely different talents. Josef began tuning pianos in high school. His Father's friends were piano tuners, thus he was encouraged by him to learn from them. Josef began to develop a passion for fine-tuning, which has stayed with him to this very day. It has been his one and only lifelong career.

"Once I determined that I would continue piano tuning as a profession, I knew that i would have to go to New York to get the best training possible, and that of course was with Steinway. I did go to New York, rented an apartment and went to Steinway every day. I had a recommendation from a Steinway piano dealer from back home. I simply kept asking if I could become an apprentice. I think that my passion showed and they recognized it."

Josef goes on to say, I managed to befriend one of their finest tuners and stayed training with him for years. I would stay for long periods of time and thereafter return to California. I kept going back until one day it just hit me. I thought, I have this now and felt I had reached a professional level. I have been going back ever since to keep up with the new trends. I shall be going back on occasion in the coming years.

In conversation, we asked Josef to elaborate on some specifics.

Once trained, is there any reason to learn new techniques?

Not a whole lot of new knowledge, but of refining and being reminded of the fine art of tuning. Keep in mind that each piano is different. It comes from a different tree, it comes from different technicians who built the piano. Each has its own personality. There are approximately 230 or so odd strings each having a 200lb. tension to reach the right sound or pitch. Multiply that by 230 and you have 20 tons of energy and tension, which fluctuate with location, seasons, temperatures, etc. It goes out of tune not just because you are playing it, but also because of the extremes of temperatures that may surround it.

How did you get so involved with celebrities?

Once I got trained at Steinway, I got to be a certified concert tuner, which meant that my name would be given to artists who were using Steinway pianos, most of whom did. Elton John was one of the first celebrities. He had asked to hire me full time to keep his piano in tune.

Which are the most eccentric or memorable of the artists?

Victor Borge, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley were a few. Sinatra had a piano in his hotel bedroom as well, which allowed him to practice before he came down to perform. For the most part they were there and I always asked how well they liked my tuning.

Which was the easiest and which the most difficult to be around?

Jerry Lee Lewis was not easy to deal with, and very abusive to those around him. Here really abused his piano as well. James Taylor was the least arrogant of all. I did get to meet Elvis and he was always the gentleman.

Is the Steinway considered still to be the finest of the lot?

Definitely so. Everyone does try to copy them, even the slightest of changes. They continue to use the best materials and they have the best craftsmen. They never compromise on quality of materials. It simply does not happen.

Do the Japanese and Chinese pianos compare favorably?

The pianos made in China do not even come close. They are an assembly line product with cheap labor and cheap materials. The Japanese pianos are not of Steinway quality, but better than a Chinese brand. I would choose a Kawai, but Yamaha is also good. When choosing a piano, do not look at the brand name. Close your eyes and listen to the sound from the piano. Then find out which of the brand names within the store sounded best to you.

Realistically, how often should a piano be tuned?

That depends on several factors. The rule of thumb is once a year on average. If you move, it should be tuned. If you play a lot, it should be tuned more often. Pianos all are different and some need tuning more frequently. Seasons change, and depending on your location, that may affect its sound. There is no set rule. Some go out of tune often. Beyond that, there is more to it than just tuning. There is voicing, regulation, alignment, all of which must be addressed if you are tuning it properly, and not every tuner follows that regimen.

What is best avoided in the care of a fine piano?

Placing it next to a window, heat vents, air conditioning vents or too close to a door. Temperature changes really do affect its performance.

Will delayed tuning affect the life of a piano?

Over time the piano will settle into a spot wherein if you fail to tune it regularly it will go back to that spot and make it more difficult to tune.

When not out tuning, what is your favorite hobby?

I have run some 110 marathons, so I imagine that would count as a hobby of mine.

Josef Oszuscik can be reached at 760-815-1786