First person: Piano man

CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Jim Tulett has restored and tuned pianos for 35 years.

Jim Tulett, 70, spends more than half of his time at his Clovis home in a shop restoring pianos, music tinkling in the background. On this day it was cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

Tulett also tunes pianos.

N.Y. to N.M.: I moved to Clovis from Buffalo, N.Y., after visiting my daughter and her husband, who was stationed at Cannon Air Force Base. We (he and wife Ada) looked through the town, what there was of it, and liked it. I went to a music store and just started talking to the guy, and he told me there was only one piano-tuner here and that he was getting old. And I wasn’t happy in my current job as a butcher, so we made the move.

Accidental career: I’ve been working on pianos for 35 years, since 1973. After I got out of the Navy, I took a piano-tuning class just to be able to tune my own piano really, and it just kind of went on from there.

A music man: I was a bass player for the musicians’ union in Buffalo. I played with a lot of different people. I’ve been a musician all my life.

Getting started: I became an apprentice for a guy who would buy old and broken pianos, fix them up and sell them. He had a constant flow of pianos in and out. I learned a lot from him.

Old school: Nothing beats the school of hard knocks. When I think I’ve just about seen everything, something new comes along. Every day is an adventure. You never know what you’ll be called on to do.

Strangest request: A man and his wife saw a piano that was turned into a table at a thrift store. So he looked around for a piano that was in bad enough shape that it could never be restored. But he couldn’t find one. So he called me and I found one. He wanted a glass top, so the inside of the piano had to be perfect. And they have that table in their house.

Musical fingerprints: Every piano is different. It’s not like a guitar where you can go down to the shop to buy new strings. You have to send the brass strings off to the maker so they can measure and make you a replica set.

It’s all in the approach: You have to have a lot of patience. It’s tedious work. There are 88 keys on a piano. If I have to change the hammers, I have to do it 88 times.

Oldest patient: I’ve been working on a 134-year-old piano for eight years. The owner who asked me to fix it disappeared so it went in a corner for a long time until I got another buyer for it.

— Compiled by CNJ staff writer Liliana Castillo