Founder Of The Antique Piano Shop, Inc.
People are always asking me how I got involved in this type of unusual business. Actually, it happened by chance more than anything else. It all started when I was a child growing up in the small rural Quaker community of Friendsville, Tennessee. In my youth I was deemed as a 'child prodigy' because of my natural ability to play the piano. My parents tell the story of me, at the tender age of 3 years old, climbing up to the old upright piano one day and picking out the song "Jesus Loves Me" after coming home from Vacation Bible School. As long as I can remember, I have been playing the piano, and I never really thought of it as being something out of the ordinary until I got a bit older. All through elementary school I was entertaining at various functions, and even had the honor of performing for our Governor at the State Capitol. I was blessed with perfect pitch, and I had the ability to sit down and play just about anything I heard! By the time I was 10 years old, I was taking advanced college courses in piano performance. There was no doubt that I would become a concert pianist and composer one day.
Coming from humble means, our family wasn't able to afford to buy a better piano than the one we happened to have. In my early 'teens, I found an old tuning hammer and took the old piano apart to see what I could do with it. I managed to repair broken hammers with 'tinker toys', and was able to tune the piano by ear, making a substantial improvement! I sold that first piano for $200 before I was 14 years old, and used the money to buy a watch and another piano in need of repair. I subsequently sold that second piano for $500, and that is how it all began!
When I turned 18 years old, I established my first piano tuning and repair business called Vintage Piano Works in my Tennessee home town. I did tuning and servicing for several of the piano stores in our area, under the guidance and training of some old-timers that had spent their life in the piano business. I learned tuning and rebuilding first hand from these craftsmen who were glad to pass their craft down to the next generation. These mentors have since passed on, but I am keeping their memories alive in my work.
When I was 20 years old, I was invited to participate as a specialized craftsman at the Dollywood Fall Harvest Celebration in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Although Dollywood is a theme park, they have a very serious Arts & Crafts preservation community known as 'Craftsman's Valley'. Here you will find blacksmiths, wood carvers, carriage & wagon makers, leather smiths, glass blowers, etc., all demonstrating their craft in order to educate and promote awareness and preservation. That fall we sold every piano we had, and we were invited to remain as a permanent shop in Craftsman's Valley. I was the youngest craftsman in Dollywood history to open a permanent shop there!
Some of my fondest memories were those days at Dollywood. I ran the shop with my parents, then retired, along with a couple of other piano craftsmen who were long time friends of the family. We dressed in 19th Century attire, and did live restoration demonstrations on site while people watched and asked questions. It was then that I discovered my true passion for promoting restoration and preservation of these antique instruments. Each day, hundreds of people would walk through our shop and observe us rebuilding and tuning pianos, player pianos, organs, etc., while we gave talks and demonstrations about various parts of the rebuilding process. We remained at Dollywood for well over a decade, serving clients all over the country who met us in Craftsman's Valley.
In the mid 1990's, the internet was becoming more and more popular. It seemed like everyone was getting their own website. We launched our first website, and we had no idea how it would change everything! Soon we started getting dozens of calls every day, as well as more emails than we could count from people all over the country. Our business doubled - then tripled - soon, the business had become far too large for our small facility at Dollywood.
In 2002, we entered into negotiations to open a large retail store and workshop at the Historic Grove Arcade in Asheville, NC. This was during the final stages of the Grove Arcade's long renovation, and it was almost a year before we were able to move into our new space. Here we continued our live on-site restoration demonstrations, and our business continued to grow. It wasn't long before we were in need of an even larger facility!
In 2006 we secured a prime retail space at Phipps Plaza Mall in Atlanta. We were set up under spiral staircases with crystal chandeliers, and our neighbors were stores such as Tiffany & Co., Gucci, Versace, and Armani. It was commonplace to see celebrities walking by looking at our pianos - what an experience that was! 2006 and 2007 were record sales years, and it looked like the future could only continue to get better!
In late 2007, we learned that an old and established piano factory was for sale near Memphis. This seemed like a perfect way for us to increase production and keep on top of quality control, etc., as the business continued to grow. With the owners nearing retirement, my family was able to purchase the old factory. With my father now deceased, my elderly mother and oldest brother moved with me to West Tennessee to run the new factory. After weeks of renovation and cleaning, we were finally able to start production with a fairly large crew. At first things seemed to run smoothly, but before long I realized that I was not truly happy with such a large endeavor. I missed the days at Dollywood when I had more of a 'hands on' role in the piano restoration work - I was now finding myself sitting in an office most of the time doing paperwork and answering the telephone. The sheer volume of the business we were getting was overwhelming!
Then it happened. The recession hit. In 2008, almost overnight, customers began to be unable to pay their balances, new business slowed to a trickle, and the world completely changed. At the time, we didn't realize the significance of the economic downturn, but it was obvious that something had drastically changed and for the first time in our history, the business was screeching to a halt. In the summer of 2008, the corporation had to file for chapter 11 reorganization in hopes that we could get through the recession and recover after things turned around. This was the single most difficult thing I ever had to do in my entire life.
A few weeks later, my family sold the Vintage Piano Shop Corporation to an accomplished piano technician who had the knowledge and experience to pull the company through the devastating economic downturn.
After a much needed rest and hiatus, I decided to continue to follow my passion and fulfill a long time dream of mine which was the creation of this website. My first and foremost desire is to promote the restoration and preservation of antique pianos and related instruments. Much of my life has been spent studying and collecting information, catalogs and ephemera about 19th and early 20th Century makers. My two hands have been involved in hundreds of rare and historical piano & organ restoration projects over the years. My goal is to take my experience and knowledge and share it with my clients so that these irreplaceable instruments will not be lost forever.
With help from a handful of amazing craftsmen and artisans that have been instrumental in our success over the years, and we are now restoring instruments on a smaller, more personal scale with an emphasis on customer satisfaction and individual attention. We are trying to recreate, as best we can, the days where we met every client face to face with a handshake - the days before the internet made nameless, faceless interactions commonplace. We continue to serve customers from all across the United States, Canada, Europe and Asia.
This website is my ever evolving contribution to those who love these instruments. My colleagues and I have spent countless hours archiving, scanning, collecting and posting photos and information here so that this information can be shared and people can get a real sense of the piano as it was in society over a century ago. The gratification from sharing this information with the world is priceless to me; gratification far greater than money or profit could ever give.
"Being a professional pianist is what got me so involved with piano restoration and preservation - it is my life. I approach these vintage instruments from a pianists' point of view first, and from a technical point of view second. I have personally sat down and played Beethoven Piano Sonatas on a restored Pre-Civil War square grand piano. I got chills down my back because of the experience, knowing I was hearing the music the way Beethoven's audience heard it first hand. I have played Chopin and Schumann on restored turn-of-the-century uprights and grands, from which the power and warmth was incredibly moving. I know there are those of you who share this passion and love of these antique instruments and their music. This website is for you."
-Michael Stinnett, Founder
Antique Piano Shop, Inc.
Email Michael At: [email protected]