Early bio History of St. Louis Piano History

Early History of St. Louis piano history
By James Grebe
I began in the piano business after graduating from Harris Jr. College, a division of Harris Teachers College in June of 1962. I had secured apprentice employment with Piano Service Associates (PSA), a wholly owned subsidiary of Aeolian Co. of MO. At P.S.A., I worked and was taught by Ed Stevens, Ed Summers and finally Gene Kracke. At that time, it was not fashionable to be taught tuning, as it was feared that as soon as you could tune you would leave. In early 1963 I was transferred downtown to 1004 Olive at the main store and got further training in new piano preparation and touch up work. Back then, pay was laughable at $1.25 per hour.
Later in the spring, I made arrangements to be taught piano tuning by Clarence Trump, who owned PianoLand on Clayton Rd, the successor to the Kieselhorst Piano Co. Clarence had begun his employment with Kieselhorst as a floor sweeper and wound up, in the end, owning the company. I attended sessions on Tuesday and Thursday nights\s and Saturdays in the afternoon. I was able to book private tunings in the evenings and on Saturdays to supplement my Aeolian pay after about 6 months. At that time Charles Tice was being retired from tuning at the symphony and Ed Summers had taken over. Aeolian, at that time was the main place for piano rebuilding, along with being the Steinway dealer and many top notch pianos came through for the magic of Ed Summers, Ed Stevens, and Gene Kracke’s expertise. By 1967 I longed for greater pay and was offered a job with Ludwig Music House for greater pay. Though not the quality image of Aeolian I prospered in my knowledge and workload. In 1968, Ludwig bought Aeolian and became Ludwig –Aeolian, and Gene Kracke, Ed Summers and Ed Stevens all left to set up their own shops and businesses and piano rebuilding by the “big” stores ceased. The Japanese and Korean export pianos had begun to make their mark.
Ed Stevens began having his own apprentice’s like Bill Reichert, Jr. Bill had already had a great beginning with his Father, Bill, Sr., one of the top tuner technicians in the area for many years. Also taught by Ed Stevens was Tom Adams, a top notch quality rebuilder. Except for Bill Sr, none of the other top technicians belonged to the PTG as in past years it was mainly a social opportunity rather than a strict professional organization to further piano service quality.
By 1972 the lure of greater pay led me to leave Ludwig-Aeolian and I joined forces with Vince Hand , a used piano merchant in Webster Groves who dabbled in rebuilt pianos. My job was to rebuild his pianos. At that time in 1972 or 1973 the PTG convention was at the Sheraton-Jefferson Hotel and we attended to meet with Gordon Laughead a piano builder at the time and we took a trip to visit his factory as well as to tour the Charles Walter factory who had just bought the Janssen piano Co. I joined the PTG at that time and was given the tests by Ed Oventrop and Bill Reichert, Sr. Hand began to sell both brands of pianos.
Toward the end of the year I began to grow weary of just rebuilding and left to begin in earnest my own service company. I also was able to sell a few Gordon Laughead pianos on my own also. In the intervening years I got caught up in woodworking and began piano case repair and bench rebuilding to piano bench construction. Then I got into making caster cups for pianos and into writing instruments. Along the way came theatre pipe organs and doing histories on St. Louis theatre. Due to eye problems, and not being able to drive at night, I dropped out of the PTG in around 2002 but I have remained on good terms with my friends in ht St. Louis PTG.
On tips for Associate members, I offer this advice. Choose an area or two that you can become immersed in, whether it be historical temperaments, becoming an expert in particular repairs or particular pianos. One of the things I keep track of is piano scales. Start making a journal for the scales of the various pianos you come across. The way I keep track is by name, model, size, type, what note the treble begins and the number of wound strings in the treble . For instance a Yamaha P-22 would be Yam 45, D#3- 2. A Steinway M grand would be B2- 2. If you are into digital tuning keep track of the Stretch number or FAC numbers or the number you ascribe to that particular piano on and keep a master list. With computers it is an easy task to keep all sorts of important files at your beck and call. You would be surprised what similarities you can find in the various instruments by just keep track of certain things. If you would like to see a complete show of all my services and how I treat them, my website is www.grebepiano.com

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