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The Piano Tuners' Guild is one of only a handful of such organizations left in America. It is a very tight and closed group. In the USA guilds are still an option-- this is a free country. And, those of us who love our freedom would fight to keep it that way. However; it is also a freedom in the USA to speak our mind on any issue and organization, which is what follows.
To give you a better understanding of what a guild is, let me give you part of a chapter from the book, The Middle East, by Sidney Nettleton Fisher. I am quoting from Chapter 11, The Byzantine Empire, page 142-143. You may wonder why I quote from such an unusual source. In the following quote you will learn of the first really powerful use of guilds by both government and tradesmen. Guilds existed before the era described below, but not on the grand scale of that in Constantinople.
We are talking about the era of about 900 AD. Perhaps you are tempted to think that modern commerce and the art of government regulation of the trades was not a reality until the Germanic white race came into prominence. I must remind you that the USA was still 800 years away when the following culture thrived, and our ancestors, the Angles, Goths, Vikings, and Saxons, were only advanced enough to slit each other's throats, throw a drinking party, and pig out on wild boar-- preferred raw.
Please note the advantages of the guild and the potential for the destruction of freedom. I quote:
TRADE in Byzantium:
Here is Sidney Nettleton Fisher:
I am sure that this will both shock and amuse you. You thought that the bureaucratic pile above us was a modern invention didn't you? Well, in other research I have done for other writing, I found that the mills of government ground precious fine as far back as 3000 BC in ancient Sumer, and it has been thus ever since. Now, we look at the use of guilds in Byzantium from the same book quoted above by Sidney Nettleton Fisher:
GUILDS in Byzantium:
Sidney Nettleton Fisher again:
Now, let us make some observations:
The last paragraph exactly describes the Piano Tuners' Guild. It is perhaps the only old world version of the guild mentality left in the modern world. Let us combine the above conditions in 900 AD and the present in the Piano Technician's Guild:
ONE: Guilds are very powerful
They determine who will prosper and who will not. They regulate themselves very secretly with a view to keeping the guild pure and conservative. By examinations, fees, and fines, they try to keep their numbers on the low side. This assures higher prices, and it aids control of the members.
This all makes for quality in workmanship and accountability of each member to the standards. It also makes for a great deal of mystery, and guild members are told to keep the customer in the dark about the technical aspects of the trade. The stone masons of the Middle Ages were 100% secret about the art of selecting stone and carving it. There are some very touchy aspects about stone carving for large buildings, and by keeping these totally secret, the stone masons were able to control the whole market and keep prices for their services high. The Masonic Lodge attached themselves to the stone masons long ago, and they sold the stone masons the notion that there was a need for a mystical spiritual Lodge to parallel the mystery of real stone working skills.
The guild gives their customers the sense that, if a merchant is not in the guild, he is no good, or he cannot be trusted. However; most customers of guild members know very well that they are paying for the guild mystique. The bumper bolts on a Rolls Royce are expensive mainly because of the hood ornament, right? How much is an item or a service really worth? Only the guild knows, and they are not about to tell the public. I recently quoted a price for re-covering key tops, only to find another Piano Tuner Guild tuner had quoted almost three times my quote. Now, the customer has to wonder if my quote means I do inferior work, or does it mean the PTG tuner is gouging?
Jaime called me to Bisbee, Arizona. Jaime owns a cabinet restoration shop. He had restored an old upright for a customer, and they called in a PTG technician for an estimate on restoring the music producing works. Then they called me for an estimate. I didn't know what had gone on before or what the other tuner estimated. I asked if they wanted perfection, or did they just want the thing to make good music. They just wanted music, so I quoted $250 and tamales :-) The PTG tuner quoted $1300. How is the customer supposed to figure that thing out? I did the piano, and they were delighted. The improvised bridge repair I did on that upright is in this book. Few PTG tuners would agree to use my method on an old klunker, even though it saved the folks a lot of money. They just wanted an old Victorian piano to go with the Bisbee mining town heritage, and they wanted enough music to come out of it to be presentable to guests. I got that and more out of the piano.
So, we see that when a guild controls the techniques of a trade, the customer has fewer choices and pays more money. I must admit here that I have heard some very delightful stories of PTG men who were compassionate and reasonable, but there is a problem with the difference in tuners.
The thing that makes guilds last, and remain both threatening and productive of quality goods and services, is exactly what the Piano Tuner's Guild does NOT have-- Government regulation. Byzantium's governing officials closely regulated the guilds, appointed their officers, and the quality of commerce and goods was maintained. Any merchant who dared to intrude into commercial life outside of the guild environment found that his customers didn't trust him, and the merchant could find himself in the dungeon for a stint, thus convincing him to join the guild upon release.
We do not cherish more government regulation do we? So, the Piano Technician's Guild has a problem since they do not regulate existing members. It has NO higher authority over it. The collapse of quality and ethics in the American commercial scene has resulted in the PTG losing some of its old credibility. Its leaders are scrambling to correct this, but it has lost much of its respect among the average customer. Good PTG members suffer because there is no provision to discipline the idiots and crooks. Each guild member took a test long ago, but they may do lousy tunings today, and there is no way to discipline them.
The only way the PTG could get control back would be to ask the US Government to enter into the piano tuning world, as in the days of Byzantium, and regulate and license its members as it does with nearly every other trade. Given the conditions in the bureaucracy of the USA, it is too late, for our regulating heritage in Washington DC is corrupt beyond belief, and the PTG is far superior to that. Nor would we want more regulation, right?
I have had to follow many PTG tuners. Some are decent men who do good work, but I find that far too many are dons. They arrive looking like a fugitive from a Halloween party, smoke black cigars, or hustle the lady of the house. Some use affect of some sort, and the customer is either gullibly awed, frightened, or disgusted. Some PTG tuners love to make out that they are part of the mystique of "People Magazine" or the Broadway music circles. They will flip out the names of the famous people they have tuned for, not for credibility, but for the glory and power it gives them. I have heard all of the stories about "the tuner before you," and I say, "Keep it up, gentlemen. You make the customer delighted to see this flatlander arrive." Again, let me say that this is not what the PTG leaders desire, but they seem to have no way to correct it, or just don't give a fig.
Another sad state of affairs in the PTG is how many members run each other down. There is a tuner in a city in Michigan who has a bad word for every other Guild tuner in his area. He has all the work he can handle, so he is not hungry. He just thinks the sun rises, circles three times around his shoulders, and then it sets, and that is a good day. He is a good tuner too. Why does he need to run down all his fellow tuners? Hey, you tell ME. I can't figure it out. I was mentored by a Guild member, in Grand Rapids, who was a Guild tester and an exceptional man, and he could not figure out why the fellow mentioned above was such a jerk.
I also notice that a fair number of these undisciplined PTG tuners tune too fast, and they often leave the treble too high and the bass too low. Why? Answer: So that you won't catch them. If the treble is over stretched, too high, and if the bass is flat, you will probably not notice any errors in the tuning-- most of you that is. I have had to clean up piano after piano for a hit and run PTG tuner who had golf more on his mind than the customer's well being. He, and many PTG tuners, are arrogant, and belittle the customer and their piano. Some guild tuners don't even like pianos-- I kid you not-- and that is something I cannot understand. Many uninformed customers fall into line and say nothing if the tuning sounds off.
They assume that the tuner knew what he was doing. He did-- He knew how to rip them off for his next greens fees.
What is pitiful is to come to a customer for the first time. They had the PTG tuner a year ago, and he told them to haul their piano to the city dump. I open the piano, check it out, and find that the tuning pins are loose. It won't hold pitch for a year. I ask them if the tuner offered to treat the tuning pins. Answer: No. I suggest we try, and after treating the pins and tuning the piano, voile, it holds pitch just fine. "You PTG boys, keep it up," I say. Each of those customers decides two things: One: I can walk on water (which I use only figuratively), and; Two: PTG tuners are nothing special after all. The sad thing is, you derelicts make the good PTG member look terrible.
There are some good tuners out there who are PTG members. However; I am convinced that they would be good tuners if they had never joined the PTG. They are decent hard working men who have God-fearing ethics, and you can trust them, mister, not to flirt with your wife, and you can expect them to do good work for you. When they refer to Jesus Christ, it is not in blasphemy, and when they make a price estimate, they are trying to get close to the real value of the work.
I have followed several PTG tuners who have had very tender and considerate rapport with their customers. It is a delight to pick up where they leave off. The piano is well maintained, and it makes my work so much easier. I hope you don't think I am discarding all PTG tuners. I guess the real problem lies at the door of the Guild itself. They have lost control of their members, and they are only interested in making their next convention a great bash for the good old boys.
It is very true that the world will overlook ten good men and notice only the one jerk, right? But, when we are talking about an investment like a piano, it galls us to get ripped by that one jerk. You, their customer, have suffered at their hands, and others of us have to try to clean up after them. I must add this-- recently the Guild sent a lady to me to buy a book I have in my catalog. Also, I have had a number of Guild tuners send people to me to buy parts, which the tuner will install later. Perhaps we should be talking more to one another, the Guild and myself, to see how we can lift the level of service in our trade. I would be delighted to see this because I believe the jerks in the Guild should not be allowed to drag the Guild into the ditch. Perhaps there is hope for us all :-)
I have to admit that I can get a bit resentful when a Guild member accuses me of doing disservice to the Guild when I am keeping pianos alive by helping people do some repairs. Those customers almost all call a Guild technician after they have replaced the keytops or bridle straps. Tell me boys, what is good about telling a customer to haul a piano to the dump when they turn around and buy a digital piano from Japan? Who does that benefit. I am the FRIEND of the PTG. Since 1995 when we went on the Web, I estimate that I have saved about 3000 pianos from extinction so that YOU could tune them.
One poor PTG fool wrote and told me that all my customers were ruining pianos. Like the engineer in New England who replaced his own key tops? Yawn. I had one fellow insert Geers plugs in his pin block himself. AND, he did it with the pin block IN the piano, and he inserted them from under the pin block. Now, a smart PTG technician should want to know how that was done. I was in awe of this fellow myself. On the other hand, I have customers occasionally whom I question and determine they are not up to the repair they want to do. I ask them to call a local PTG member to do the work. So there! :-)
In deference to the good PTG members who do good work and are not snob jerks, I am adding these suggestions on how to find a good PTG man or woman:
The Real People Count Most:
Now, who do I tune for? Mostly common folks, which is the same for the vast majority of PTG tuners. I have pulled up to a few concert grands and have been called back-- a couple of times to replace a PTG tuner! So what? Serve! That is the key word. Serve the customer, and charge enough to feed your family and pay your expenses. "Serve" is not the central theme of too many Guild members. Some piano tuners live by the motto, "Tune as fast as you can, keep the customer intimidated, and go play golf."
Let me tell you a story: In Nogales, Arizona lives a lovely Spanish family. They have a rather new Kimball which tends to have sticky keys during the Monsoon season. Well, their daughter who plays the piano has had to struggle with a dyslexic handicap for years, and it has left her very determined to win-- even a bit pushy. She is also mastering the piano in fast order. When the piano acts up, she calls on the phone and wants me there right now. Her father is a sweet Hispanic father, and he lets her pretty much have it her way. So, I go and fix the piano. The girl brings me glasses of iced drinks and chocolate all through the work, and when I leave she acts like I just saved her life. Now, that home is no concert hall, but it sure feels good to take care of a family like that. Also, grandma's tamales are exceptional, and she won't hear of me leaving without having some. I get a lot more satisfaction from such people than in listening to some concert master tell me what a wonder he is, while I am trying to tune the piano.
Why did I tell you these things about the Piano Technician's Guild? Answer: I want to help you get your money's worth. You can find good Guild tuners out there. But, don't only call a local piano store. Call a high school band teacher, or a piano teacher. Also, call a large church with a big music program. Shop around. The old Guild tuners are often the most reliable, but some younger men are entering the trade via good training programs. If they have taken Randy Potter's study course, that is a very good sign.
By the way, in case someone didn't understand, and for the record, I DO NOT want the government to regulate the piano tuning trade. All we need on your new grand piano is label on the key cover saying: "Key cover may fall on your fingers." Or, on the bench, "Do not sit here if your weigh more than 250 lbs, do not stand on the desk, do not pass GO, do not collect $200."
What we need in the piano tuning trade is the standard that says, Matthew 7:12 "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." Indeed, American commerce is deteriorating badly because the average businessman has no use for the ethic of the Carpenter of Nazareth. Many people who love Jesus on Sunday fail to recall that he made benches for his Daddy six days between Sabbaths, and I believe they were the best benches in Nazareth.
If your tuner is in the Piano Technician's Guild, and if he does good work for you, and if he treats you with respect, whatever you do, KEEP HIM-- treat him very well please. Those kind of professionals are getting to be hard to find.
LETTER FROM A GUILD MEMBER:
In all fairness I must admit that this item has been an offense to a lot of honest Guild members. I would only say that my E-Mail from all around the USA, and the UK, indicates that the Guilds, which may have once been useful, have lost control of the ethics issue. Many of the Guild men are virtual crooks and scalping artists. Nevertheless; I want to include a letter from a Guild member of long standing from California. I thought it only fair to let him say his bit here, and he may be right-- I hope he is.
Thanks to Ralph for the observation. I will be thinking about this, and I may modify my comments on this page if it seems right to do so.
By the way, if you are a Guild member who believes in service, and you really do like pianos, even runt Wurlitzers, SEND MAIL, and I will list you as a friend of our site for our customers.
YOU WANT TO PAY FOR A COURSE OF TRAINING
than using our took kits and study materials, or by being tutored by an old time
tuner who will apprentice you for several years, Randy Potter's course is the
only one I believe will result in you becoming a credit to the trade and highly
competent. It is expensive though. Randy is a bit of a Don, but I have been told
that he researched the profession for a very long time to make sure he included
every possible skill and technique in his course. That is of high value indeed.
I can live with a Type AAA if he gives service and gives money's worth.