As an aural tuner, John tunes pianos by ear.

Steinway, Yamaha, Bechstein, Bosendorfer, & Baldwin factories all use aural tuners exclusively.

Studying with the Greats

John Geist has been tuning and repairing pianos since 1974 and has studied under some of the greatest piano tuners of all time:
“Back in 1979, when the great feisty technician SHELDON SMITH was still around, I accepted a piano tuning of a Steinway O for a mutual recital pianist friend of both of us.  Sheldon and I happened to cross each other’s paths in front of Sather Tower on the UC Berkeley campus and he pointed out that that piano client was his and had been his for many years.  In a sweat, I listened to his narrative;  “There I was, John, trying to set the temperment thinking, ‘wait a minute, what’s going on here?’ Then Earl (the client) told me you had just tuned it.”  (gulp)  “It was a gorgeous tuning, John.”  (whew!)

“I got started tuning in 1974 first studying with DON MORTON, founder of PACIFIC PIANO SUPPLY and a former National President of the Piano Technician’s Guild.  Stronger lessons came from blind piano tuner BOB MCCLURE who convinced me that louder is not better for your ears, the piano or your ability to tune well.  For a while, I was employed by JIM DONALDSON, the author of PIANO REBUILDER’S HAND BOOK OF TREBLE STRING TENSIONS.  New ideas on piano restoration and tuning approaches to the extreme bass and treble were his special gift to me.  Indeed, there were many other generous tuners who shared a wealth of important ideas including MARK SCHECTER, RANDY JENSEN, and SID STONE.

“But the most amazing lesson occurred  in a most embarrassing way.  Again. As a composer, I was hosted in a retreat in west Marin County in a beautiful custom designed home.  In the massive living room of this home sat a nice Yamaha G3.  To the rear of the living room was positioned a small loft high up with a bed to nap on that opened out over the living room.  There I was, napping away when I distinctly heard the Yamaha being tuned.  I looked down and there sat a prominent tuner RICHARD HARRIS from the San Francisco Chapter of the Piano Technician’s Guild.  Too embarrassed to announce my presence, I felt trapped and guilty about listening to another tuner’s work.  But I listened to the entire performance and what a tuner!  He finished an exquisite tuning in about an hour and tuned very softly except for his test blow which also seemed of medium volume.  Listening to his technique, it seemed more like he was squeezing the string tension into pitch position rather than moving it into place with little jerking motions.
“Gradually over the years, as I began to copy his technique, I realized that tuning softly discourages other unwanted sympathetic vibrations and beats from interfering with your perception of the true pitch.  And jerking the pitch accurately but once just slightly sharp a few beats per second and smoothly squeezing it down into position with a few ever smaller sharp-flat jockeys is a far more accurate and efficient way to approach the pitch center. The challenge is to do all of this from just one soft sustained strike and to finish before the the sound decays beyond usable perception.  A staccato test blow follows and then a soft check of the result sustained for no more that 2 seconds. Let go. Silence.  Begin the next note.”

The Early Days

In the early days, John would bike to tunings far and wide, up and down the hills of Berkeley and beyond. Now, John is again biking (sometimes in combo with bus or train) to tunings when it’s feasible to do so, or traveling by Prius when a car is required. It’s a deep and growing commitment to his health and the environment, as well as a love of being on his bike that drives this choice.

Award-winning Classical Composer

John is also an award-winning composer who has received two Bay Area Critic Circle Awards, a Nonesuch National Commission Award, and been a California Arts Council Artist in Residence.  He has been commissioned to create work for the Kronos Quartet, Margaret Jerkins Dance Co., Chanticleer, and the Berkeley Repertory Theatre among many others.  He is also Artistic Director of and Composer for Chaucer Theatre.  Commissions are custom fitted to each patron’s request.

Call 415-491-0818 now!

John and daughter Jerrilee
John and daughter Jerrilee
John with his wife Becky Parker Geist
John with his wife Becky