New Gig, part 2

More on Fox Music...

One of the best things about where i'm working is the people involved. I figure, these days, one would be hard-pressed to find a place of employment where some of the same folks have been around for 25 years. Not so at Fox, which is a third generation family business. Some of the people have been there longer than the current owner (a grandson).

Better than that, even, is the level of community involvement that the family has had over the years: Fox music was the first business in Charleston to make the daring move to integrate its sales team. (A black woman raise your children for you? Of course! Sell you a piano? Absolutely not!) When i first arrived on the scene the crew was busy constructing a trailer that housed multiple shower units and clothes washing facilities. When completed, it was shipped down to New Orleans for the use of people still living without the benefit of city services. The current owner is also involved with a bio-diesel cooperative around here, running his own fleet of trucks on the stuff. He's also on a committee to make Charleston more bike-friendly, and continues to live a more racially integrated life than most any other white person i see around here. To top all of that I suggested, after i'd gotten a chance to assess the piano shop situation, that, for the sake of the atmosphere, we go to using water-borne lacquers with HVLP spray rigs . The boss said "okay." And then, just seeing how far i could push it, i suggested that we could make the spray shop solar-powered. Another "okay." Wow.

Alright. Enough of that. Now, since i'm a firm believer in taking the bad with the good in order to get your teeth properly sunk into something, there is this small drawback: Fox is THE most disorganized place i've ever seen in all my born days. When i got there, the warehouse had no system to it--stuff was just piled helter skelter. Tools, mouse traps and old car tires were piled on more tools, real mice and...well, an actual car in one case. You had to move something to give yourself a place to stand so that you could pick the thing up that was lying on the thing that you were trying to figure out was the thing you needed--or, more than likely--not. And somewhere in all that mess was several hundred pianos.

We've straightened up a bit since then. Here's a picture of the warehouse:

Another early problem was the lack of real woodworking and finishing facilities. One day, early on, Alison and Conseula stopped by to see where i worked. I don't find many opportunities to say the word "grimaced" with utter confidence, but that's exactly what they did. Painfully. What i was calling the woodshop was more like a dust-covered cat-litter box. Unfortunately, i didn't take a "before", but here's where i've gotten it so far:

Alright. Well, that's enough. I have one more picture, so i might as well put it on here. I think it's pretty cool. Here's the deal: Pianos--excepting the parts that make the musical noise--are really just giant pieces of furniture. They're cabinets. That's where i come in: repairing little broken bits, re-creating, say, the broken leg of a hundred year old Steinway. When i started this job, though, i didn't even know you could take a piano apart. I figured they were just one big old piece. Well, not so. Now i can take out the keys (and all the stuff that goes along with them), pull off the pedals, remove the big chunk of cast metal that holds the strings. It's totally easy to have a piano entirely naked in just a few minutes. You ought to try it sometime.

So anyway, about that part that holds the strings: The plate is a big piece of cast iron. The strings are strung from one end of this plate to a large piece of wood on the other end called a pin block. The pins are what you use to tune it, right? So, this piece of wood, due to the enormous amount of strain on it, has to fit very, very precisely. If it doesn't, the piano, among other things, won't stay in tune.
The black piece laid across the plate is the old pin block. The pale one at the back is the one i'm currently making.

How much pressure, you ask? Well, around 180 lbs of pressure per string, with 230 strings. The total tension on the plate and pin block is somewhere around 20 tons!
After the pin block is shaped, then 230 holes (approx.)in very exact locations, must be drilled at a very exact angle (somewhere around 8 degrees, plus or minus nothing.) Fun Fun Fun!


The Mom said...

I'm just so impressed. I love what you've been learning. I've seen pianos taken apart somewhat, but not to that extent. I look forward to hearing how your pin block turned out - or is it finished now? I'm glad you're still enjoying your job. It does indeed sound ideal for you - and you for it.

b said...

Walter - that is so TOTALLY cool. Good for you!!! I should also like to add that I have shop envy. I will likely never have a shop like that, and granted it's where you work, but I imagine you can do all sorts of nifty stuff in there. I bet it smells great with all the wood shavings and such, too.

I'm sure the mice approve. You might have gotten rid of many of their hidey-spots, but this makes "hide & go seek" all the more challenging and fun for them. ha-ha. :)

- b, a true piddler of carpentry, but the granddaughter of a master carpenter who had quite a large work space, himself

ps. the finished piano in the earlier post is GOREGOUS, DAHLING!

pps. 20 tons!?!? that's damned impressive. are the upright pianos so svelt, as well?

Anonymous said...

so, you are being environmentally friendly, but aiding the petite bourgeoisie and new rich in conspicuous consumption? why are you not doing something to help the suppressed workers? this work sounds like nothing more than escapism

Quiche said...

Hi, Walt!
I've seen some of your woodworking and you would make an excellent luthier!

Do you still play the 5-string Banjo? I found two of your Reno and Smiley LP's- found them amongst Daddy's Jimmy Martin, Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, and Homer and Jethro LPs -ha!

If you don't mind, I wanted a little advice on banjos- what would you suggest as a good 5-string starter? My hubby James wants to learn.