Michael Sweeney turns lifetime love into fulltime career
By John Dallas Bowers, The Suburban and Wayne Times, Thursday, October 8, 1987
By any measure, Michael Sweeney has packaged a lot of experience into a 17 year musical career. Solo performer, chief sound technician for musical greats, piano refinisher and rebuilder, vice-president of one of Philadelphia's oldest piano stores.
He expects all this to stand him in good stead as he launches what for him has been the dream of a lifetime; his own piano business serving the greater Main Line/Delaware County area.
He is excited at the prospect. "I have loved pianos since I first took lessons at the age of four. In the early years, this affection took the form of studying, practicing and performing. Later, I realized that what I loved the most was the instrument itself."
It was that recognition which led to this new business venture and to his first goal: to widen his reputation as one of this area's gifted piano technicians and craftsmen.
The skills this 33 year old uses today were developed during his years of private apprenticeship with established area craftsmen in the mid 1970s and from his studies in Temple University's piano technology program. Such was his experience that he was named chief piano and sound technician for the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, NJ. It was here he worked with stars like Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Frankie Valie, Tony Orlando and others.
After a brief period refinishing and rebuilding instruments on his own, Sweeney joined Germantown's Cunningham Piano Company in 1979, ultimately becoming a vice president. He resigned earlier this year to pursue his own career.
Talk to Sweeney long enough, and anyone can learn quite a bit about the myths and realities of owning a piano. Take tuning, for instance. "Stories of instruments staying on pitch for years on end are just that, stories," he smiles. "With 20 tons of tension on the frame, it stands to reason a piano could not stay in balance without periodic tunings."
How often? "Some manufacturers, Steinway for one, recommend an adjustment three or four times a year. From my experience, however, a good tuning every six months should suffice for most home situations."
The risks to a neglected instrument are significant. "Left untouched for a year or longer, the pitch of a piano can drop to dangerous levels. If ignored, that 20 tons of tension can go out of balance and cause permanent structural damage. For an investment worth thousands of dollars, it's just not good sense."
Tuning is just the beginning, cautions Sweeney. "There are over 9,000 parts in a piano and while it's possible to get sound from the instrument with some of these out of adjustment, problems ignored now just get worse."
The alert owner can diagnose a number of potential difficulties. For example, keys at uneven heights can be detected by placing a ruler on top of them. By looking at the hammers inside the piano, one can make sure they're spaced properly and are hitting the strings squarely.
Some of the most significant signals a piano gives off are those which can be heard rather than seen. "Strike each key individually. Try to ignore the sound of the string being hit and concentrate on any extraneous noises: clicks, knocks, vibrations and buzzes. There shouldn't be any. If there are, a technician needs to determine the cause and seriousness of the problem."
For many families thinking of purchasing a piano, Sweeney says that there are many areas to consider. There are over 30 different manufacturers, each one has up to three different grades of pianos. Within each grade there is a choice of sizes, grands, baby grands, professional uprights, studio uprights, consoles and spinets. Within each of these categories, there is a variety of furniture styles, finishes and colors to choose from.
There is a dilemma Sweeney feels particularly well qualified to help with. "I've been involved in the purchasing, selling and refurbishing of pianos long enough to match potential buyers and the right instrument. It is a matter of knowing their projected use, their taste and their budget."
For some, Sweeney feels the best route might be a previously owned and properly reconditioned piano. Finding and working on such instruments is one of the major satisfactions in his life. "It involves a lot more than refinishing the case. It is getting those 9,000 parts to work the way they should. Years of neglect can make that a very difficult job."
Much of Sweeney's work comes from existing clients or referrals. Part of the service he offers customers is to help buyers locate and evaluate instruments.
Michael Sweeney can be reached by calling toll free: 844-PianoRestore (844-742-6673),
or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org