April 17, 2024

Gwynedd piano tuner to the stars celebrates 50 years in business

LockStock Porthmadog ; Lee Hanson of Lockstock and Ian Jones of Pianos Cymru. Picture Mandy Jones

A Gwynedd music business that has provided pianos for musical maestros from song-writing legend Burt Bacharach to slapstick comedian Norman Wisdom is celebrating over 50 years in business.

Pianos Cymru, based in Porthmadog, has also set up its instruments for Bryn Terfel, Shirley Bassey and Michael Ball and every year provides up to 20 pianos for the National Eisteddfod.

The business that began with a van and two pianos in the early 1970s has now swapped its 4,000 square foot warehouse for a unit on the Penamser trading estate and a 40-foot unit on the nearby new Lock Stock Self Storage park but is still going from strength to strength.

Every year its expert piano tuners bring over 1,000 pianos across Wales and England up to concert pitch and Ian Jones, who took over the business launched by his dad, Robin, said: “It’s amazing how many pianos you can get into a 3,200 cubic foot storage unit and it makes sense for us.

“We were using nearly a third of our previous warehouse as storage for pianos and all the paraphernalia that comes with moving and repairing them so the storage unit is proving an ideal replacement for us.”

It is now the hub for the business which has 24/7 access through the secure electronic gates of the storage park from where it shifts pianos to venues far and wide.

They include uprights, electric pianos, grand pianos – stored on their sides – and the mighty monster concert grand, nine and a half-feet long and weighing three-quarters of a ton, that is wheeled onto the National Eisteddfod stage every year.

Ian said: “We moved to smaller premises after selling the warehouse but we were always going to need somewhere to store pianos so it was like manna from heaven when Lock Stock opened just around the corner from us.

“We have a 40-foot unit and it’s a real asset for us and it’s so important to have 24/7 access which makes the storage park here in Porthmadog ideal for us as we are often moving pianos to and from venues at different times – we never leave a piano in the van overnight.”

Lock Stock Regional Manager Lee Hanson runs the site in Porthmadog along with others in Caernarfon, Bangor, Holyhead and Llandudno Junction and he said: “We have room for up to 160 storage units here and there has already been a really good response from customers.

“The site is filling up nicely and we’re offering all new customers 50 per cent off their first three months.

“Much of the demand is probably being driven by the property market which is very busy but we are also getting plenty of enquiries from small businesses and because this is a popular holiday area also from people who have caravans nearby.”

Pianos Cymru grew out of a Welsh bookshop, Siop Eifionydd, founded by Ian’s mum and dad, Robin and Rene, and an aunt in 1971 and they added acoustic guitars and small musical instruments to the items for sale.

Ian said: “Then an old lady from Pwllheli came in and asked if we sold pianos and my dad said he didn’t but he was sure he could get one so he spoke to a local piano tuner who put him in touch with a piano factory in London.

“He ended up going down there in a little van and managed to put two small brand new upright pianos in the back and before he left London he phoned my mum to say he was starting off on the long journey home.

“But Mum gave him some good news – the lady next door wanted one too so he brought back the pianos and sold both of them – he always says that’s the best journey he ever made.”

Pianos Cymru supplied pianos to their first Urdd Eisteddfod in 1982 and have been supplying the National Eisteddfod since Rhyl in 1985, sometimes taking as many as 30 pianos and delivering to various venues for the qualifying competitions as well as for the main stage.

They have also worked regularly for the Llangollen International Eisteddfod where they have provided pianos for Burt Bacharach, Michael Ball and others.

Ian, who took over the business from his father, a still sprightly 87, said: “Piano tuning is a real skill – there are over 8,000 moving parts in a piano – I was chosen to study at a specialist Piano Tuning College and did a three year apprenticeship in tuning and rebuilding pianos.

“I’ve been out on the road tuning pianos for over 40 years although now we have a younger piano-tuner doing a lot of my work, Gerwyn Murray, who is phenomenal and is out every day providing a service for our 3,000 tuning customers.

“We also have a fleet of hire pianos including that big concert piano and we provide them for weddings and other events – basically we deal with anything to do with pianos.

“There is a real skill in moving pianos as you can imagine – a lot of people buy them and find they can’t then move them. Even a small upright weighs two or three hundred pounds.”

Ian remembers having a long chat with the late great Bacharach at Llangollen who asked him all about the craft of piano tuning and also has fond memories of Norman Wisdom, best known for his slapstick comedy roles but a brilliant pianist as well.

He said: “One of the things I learned very early as a tuner was always to ask if the person wanted to try the piano so I asked Norman Wisdom and he said, ‘Do you know, no-one’s ever asked me that before.’

“He sat on the stool and he played ‘What Kind Of Fool Am I’, just him and me on stage in an empty theatre – a cherished memory.

“I was early for tuning with Burt Bacharach and he was just playing one hit after another that he’d written and when I started to tune he was such a gentleman – he was asking me questions about what I was doing.”

Lock Stock, which now operates 26 storage parks across North Wales and the border counties – a third site in Bangor will be the 27th when it opens in the spring – is the largest container-based storage company in the UK.

The business, founded in Denbigh in 1999, has more than 4,000 storage units providing over four million cubic feet of space at storage parks across North and Mid Wales and the border counties.

Their existing sites stretching from Holyhead and along the North Wales coast at Caernarfon, Bangor, Llandudno, Abergele and Rhyl, on the Dee at Flint, Saltney and Deeside and inland at Denbigh, Mold, Buckley, Wrexham and Newtown in Powys, and at Oswestry and Shrewsbury in Shropshire.

The company also specialise in the off-site hire of containers such which can be delivered by their specialist lorry, sizes range from 10-feet long up through 20-footers to 40-foot units, all eight feet high and eight feet wide, from 640 to 2,560 in cubic feet in volume.

For information about Lock Stock Self Storage including off-site container hire contact them on 01745 817178 or go to https://lockstock.biz/

For more on Pianos Cymru go to https://pianoscymru.com/