How It All Started

How It All Started

Hi, this is Clint Hughes. Thanks for visiting Grand American Piano. I’m often asked, “How did you get started restoring pianos?”

Clint Hughes, Owne
Clint Hughes, Owner,
Grand American Piano
      After high school, I moved to California to attend Musicians Institute and the Guitar Institute of Technology. Although my mind was full of grandiose ideas of changing the world with my music, my head and heart were overtaken by an even greater force; my stomach! I needed work!

I drew upon the only skills I had at the time and worked at various guitar shops. While working at Guitar Center in Hollywood, I was eating lunch at The Sunset Grill (yes, the Sunset Grill) and happened to look down Sunset Boulevard at a piano store called Strings, Etc. On a whim, I walked down and asked the owner, Bob Auletta, if he was hiring. Well, he was, and that was the start of a long employment and friendship.

Sunset Grill, Hollywood
Sunset Grill, Hollywood 
I was introduced to the fascinating world of pianos through Bob and began learning to play in my spare time. He also introduced me to Beethoven and in my spare time I taught myself parts of the “Appassionata” and “Waldstein” sonatas. While honing my skills on the different pianos in the store, I noticed that the restored pianos had the best tone, the best feel and a lot more visual appeal. I began to build an affinity for the old pianos and preferred them to the new.

Daniel Ene
Daniel Ene
Shortly after starting at the store, I hired a German tuner/technician named Daniel Ene. He had tuned pianos in Europe for a number of years before immigrating to the United States. I would watch, fascinated, as Daniel restrung pianos, hung hammers, glued damper felts, etc. He was always gracious enough not only to let me watch, but to show me his “trade secrets.” I don’t know if it is because of my Indian blood, but I’ve always felt most at-home working with my hands and seeing the fruits of my labor. I came to realize that piano restoration was what I needed to do.

For a few years, I sold new pianos. At that point in time, the process was fairly straightforward. If the customer’s budget was less than $10,000, I’d show them a Korean piano. If it was $10,000 to $20,000, I’d show them a Japanese piano. If it was over $20,000, I’d show them a hand-built piano.

Over time, management got frustrated with me because of my lack of enthusiasm for the “entry level” pianos. I had a hard time telling customers that a mass-produced Asian piano was “high quality.” Occasionally, (and I mean VERY occasionally) the store would restore a trade-in — a Steinway and Mason & Hamlin here, a Sohmer and Knabe there — and they were by far the easiest pianos to sell. Not only did they sound, play and look better than the new pianos, THEY WERE THE SAME PRICE OR LESS than the production-line pianos! My respect for the rebuilt piano grew.

After awhile, I knew I had to change my focus. My heart was geared toward the vintage, craftsmen-era pianos. I spent the next several years learning the art of piano restoration.

Well, a couple of decades have passed by since then. Bob has a very successful piano outlet in Oxnard, CA, Daniel is booked weeks in advance for his tunings, and, Lord willing, I’ll be restoring pianos for many years to come. I owe a great deal to Bob and Daniel for my formative years in the piano business.

Best Kept Secret in the Piano Industry

I feel that restored pianos are the best-kept secret in the piano world.

1898 Harrington Upright Piano
1898 Harrington Piano
There is a positive and a negative aspect to that. The negative is: many, many people are denied the privilege of a fully-restored piano by some dealers who keep the truth from them. The positive is: if everybody knew the secret that restored pianos sound better, look better, and feel better, then everybody would be rebuilders and I might be out of a job!

Piano restoration is such a great endeavor, there is nothing else I could or would want to do. I can’t wait to get back to work each and every day, and I hope all my customers benefit from my enthusiasm for grand American pianos.