Have you ever thought about a career in piano tuning? The 1988 Jobs rated almanac rated Piano Tuning as the second highest in a list of high-paying/low-stress jobs, ranking it above petroleum engineer and historian and just below actuary. In that year in the USA the average salary of a piano tuner was $43,600 a year… It should be noted that with the growing popularity of digital pianos, the trade isn’t quite what it was in 1988! And there’s certainly some stress that comes with piano tuning but that’s part of any job.
Large, densely-populated cities are gold mines for the piano tuner – Leeds seems to be a very good location. I’ve also heard that London is good place to work, if you can afford the living costs. You need to be willing to travel and prepare to work long hours if you are to earn a living. I’ve not found much piano tuning work in Manchester or Bradford yet – perhaps I need to promote myself more in those cities.
To become a piano tuner you’ll have to study a course in the subject. The only one I’m aware of that’s still running in the UK is the piano tuning and restoration course at Newark college. That is three years but it will give you a thorough grounding in the field and teach you most of what you need to know how the construction of the piano and how to regulate the action. A basic knowledge of music theory will certainly help in the early stages of learning, as will a musical ear and a love of music. If you play the piano you might progress quickly than those who don’t, but contrary to popular belief most people can become very good at piano tuning with a lot of practice – 10,000 hours is the oft touted figure.
You’ll have to accept that for the first one to three years working in the trade you won’t be earning very much money, as it takes a long time to build up a client base. Working in music shops; buying, restoring and selling second hand pianos, or teaching an instrument are possible part-time jobs that could sustain you through the hard times. If you live in a big city like Leeds it might be easier to find part-time employment. You’ll need some money coming in to buy the tools needed for the job. I must have spent at least £2000 on tools, parts and reading materials in my first three years on the job.
Hope that advice helps. If you do become a piano tuner please don’t work in Leeds until I retire as I don’t need more competition!