Meet John Hadfield, Piano Tuner

There are many faces you’ll often see around NECOM, people who help keep our amazing Conservatorium running like a well-oiled machine. One of those people you’ll see regularly is John Hadfield of John Hadfield Piano Tuning.

John makes sure the pianos around the building all sound beautiful, especially around the leadup to performances and events.

We recently sat down with John to find out more about what he does:

Explain like I’m 5, what do you do?

Most of my work is tuning pianos, although some repairs such as broken strings, slow centre pins, or annoying squeaks and rattles also take up some time.

Tuning is arranging the pitch of every string and every note until they are in harmony with each other. This is done by turning the tuning pins to either increase or decrease the tension until the correct pitch is reached. Determining when the correct pitch is reached can be done either by ear (aural tuning) or by software (ETD tuning). Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages, and I use a mix, depending upon the piano. If the piano is old and way out of tune then using software to help you get it back to correct pitch, which may or may not be concert pitch, is a great help. For good quality pianos in good shape and especially for concert tunings, I use my ears.

How did you become a piano tuner?

Back in 2005, I was looking for a career change, having worked in local government for 32 years. A chance comment made by a friend made me look into the possibility of retraining as a piano technician. Happily, this coincided with the decision by the Sydney Conservatorium of Music to run the course in 2006. After an exhaustive selection process, I was lucky enough to secure one of the six positions available. The course was extremely intense but well structured, and a year later I returned to Armidale to commence “Tuning the North West”.

How long have you been doing it?

It is now twelve and a half years since I started tuning, and I don’t regret it in the slightest.

How long have you been doing it?

The best part of the job is largely the people contact. I have found that most people who are keen to look after their pianos are nice. Then there are the really nice pianos that I am lucky enough to service, and of course, tuning for great artists is just a privilege.

How has technology changed/your job evolved since you started?

Things change slowly in the piano world, and a piano made 100 years ago still looks like a piano in pretty well every respect. Manufacturing has obviously changed though, with much work automated, and this accounts for the fact that pianos are relatively less expensive now than at any other period. Software for electronic tuning has evolved. The best software allows you to tailor it to mimic your own aural tuning, and that is a real bonus. Early software took a “one size fits all” approach, and when you look at the different sizes and types of pianos that is hardly ideal.

Where do you see the future of piano tuning heading?

The sad part of the industry is the lack of training opportunities for those wishing to enter the industry. There is no opportunity to undertake formal training in Australia, so intending entrants to the industry have four options.

1) Find someone who is willing to train them

2) Go overseas, to Japan, America or England

3) Do a correspondence course providing you can find a mentor

4) Teach yourself and ruin a lot of pianos in the process.

I am currently mentoring a person from Armidale who has made substantial progress towards completion of a correspondence course from America.

Finally, I would like to draw people’s attention to the existence of the Australian Piano Tuners and Technicians Association (APTTA). The member of APTTA are generally well trained and can be trusted to look after your piano. While there are a number of good tuners who, for various reasons are not members of APTTA, membership is a good starting point for finding a reputable tuner. To be a member a comprehensive accreditation test has to be passed, and over the past few years, I am aware of a number of tuners who have been in the industry for many years but have been refused membership.