Kauai, the northernmost of the Hawaiian islands, is where I learned how to tune pianos. It also happens to be the rainiest place on earth. This article will share anecdotes from my experiences in tropical paradise.
For two and a half years, I lived on the north shore of Kauai. I worked as a high school teacher, and also gave music lessons privately. My piano students kept asking if I knew anyone who could tune their piano. The only name I had was an older fellow named Mr. Rapozo. However, whenever my clients called him for a tune up, he would take one look at their piano, say “I am too old for this!” and turn around and leave without touching the instrument. After about three of my clients complained to me, a lightbulb went off in my head that I should learn how to tune pianos.
I signed up for the most prestigious correspondence course available from the Randy Potter School of Piano Technology and began learning my trade. Initially I just tuned pianos on the cheap for friends and eventually started tuning more professionally. When I was learning, my first few pianos took a whopping FOUR HOURS each. I remember it was a big breakthrough when I actually tried to book two pianos in one day.
Eventually I moved back to L.A., continued gaining experience and knowledge as a tuner, and began getting referrals from some very illustrious clients. My skills had clearly gotten to a level where even the most discerning clients were happy with my work. However, I still made it a point to fly back to Kauai every year to tune up the pianos on the island.
Typically I visit in March because that’s when the surf is best at my favorite spot called Tunnels. About a month before my trip, I start advertising in the local paper. I also contact all my previous clients. As the calls start coming in, I keep track of who needs a tune up. A few days before I leave I start packing up my tools, my surfboards, and my clothing. When I get to the airport I am carrying two 35 lb. tool bags, one on each arm, two surfboards, a carry-on suitcase, and a backpack with all my chargers, computer, ipad, and technology. If that sounds like a lot, it is.
When I get to the curb at the airport, I have someone from the local “island car” rental company pick me up. These are real junkers that go for about twenty bucks a day, cash. Sometimes, they may have a smashed side window, pink transmission fluid squirting out, and a stick to prop up the trunk. Usually the first day I don’t schedule any tunings as I need to get my logistics squared away.
As far as lodging goes I have a lot of good friends on the island. My accommodations range from couch surfing in a cliffside condo 100′ above the ocean, a brand new guest house on a giant property with horses and fruit trees, or my own bedroom in a house high up in the jungle. Regardless of where I stay it always feels like home.
On the last visit I tuned a whopping 35 pianos, averaging about three per day. Just juggling that many clients is a workout. I am typically typing away on the computer late into the night rearranging my calendar and confirming appointments. Because there are mountains in the middle of the island, and impassable cliffs on the west side, you have to drive all the way around to get to the other side. That means I have to be smart in scheduling my appointments. I will typically work one town each day. Waimea one day, Lihue another, Kapaa another, etc.
I try to get in a surf every day that I am there. I am usually in the water by 7:00 or 8:00AM, surf for about two or three hours then hit the road to do my tuning appointments. On a busy day I may start at 11:00 AM, and easily go till 8:00 or 9:00 PM, seeing three different clients. The pianos are often in pretty bad shape over in Hawaii due to the moisture so I will commonly install a humidity control system, clean the interior, fix some broken strings, and possibly do two full tunings to get in it pitch. Here is a fairly typical problem I often see.
On the way home, I stop at the local Foodland, get a giant sandwich with my Makai discount card, then fall asleep at my lodging for the night. The next morning I start all over again.