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Linda Ebrey from Sussex. Yamaha C3

A keen amateur pianist for many years, I had always wanted a grand piano. My faithful old upright came with me every time I moved house, but it seemed that wherever I lived, my sitting room was never quite big enough to accommodate a larger instrument.  Then, two years ago, I realized with joy that there was finally enough space and money to buy a 6-ft grand. The piano that I eventually chose sounded wonderful in the large showroom, and I felt sure it would sound just as wonderful in my own home.   True, it seemed somewhat heavier to play than my familiar upright, but it sounded so wonderful that I happily wrote out my cheque and looked forward to a whole new experience in playing the piano.At first I was delighted with the sheer volume and resonance of my new piano.  My old, familiar pieces sounded quite different now, and much more thrilling.  They certainly sounded loud.  The neighbours were full of admiration, and little wonder; the ringing tones of my new piano were carrying straight through the dividing wall.  Undeterred, I began working up Rachmaninov preludes for hours every day, thrilled with the dramatic effect of the sounds I was producing and wondering how I had ever lived without this splendid new friend.

At first, I tried to ignore the sharp pain in my left elbow that appeared after some heavy practice of the prelude Op,23 No 5, with its alla marcia staccato left-hand octaves and repeated chords.  I played on and hoped that it would go away.  After all, what was the point of having a professional instrument if you couldn’t play your favourite pieces?  But I couldn’t ignore the fact that my hand, arm and neck muscles too were suffering, and soon I found myself making weekly appointments at a physiotherapy clinic.   My ears too were in trouble – why did they seem to ring as I practised the repeated right-hand figures of another Rachmaninov prelude, Op. 32 No. 12?  Why did my piano sound so loud?Perhaps all grand pianos were this heavy to play?  Yet I couldn’t remember having had any problem playing my piano teachers’ grands, or the ones I had practised on at college.  Perhaps I needed stronger arm muscles?  Perhaps my sitting room was too small for a sound designed for a concert hall?   Still I played on, taking longer and longer breaks between practice sessions in order to allow my body to recover.  But even the improvement produced by the weekly physiotherapy sessions was undone as soon as I started practising again.   One by one, the books of Rachmaninov were returned to the music cabinet – along with anything else that was just too painful to play. My aching hands, arms and shoulders slowly began to recover, but by now I was too afraid of the pain to return to my ‘big’ pieces.   Nor were all my problems solved by limiting myself to gentle Chopin nocturnes; these might be less painful to play, but they still sounded much too loud, even with the lid closed.  I bought some musicians’ earplugs, but these only had the effect of making me feel cut off from the music that I was playing.   I resigned myself to the possibility that my slim arms and shoulders were not made to play this particular piano, and that I would just have to enjoy it the best way I could – there were plenty of gentler pieces in the music cabinet after all, and I would just have to live without the Sturm und Drang.

Then, one morning in summer 2012, my piano technician John Thompson arrived to carry out his regular tuning.  Afterwards, as we talked music over a cup of coffee, he began talking about an exciting course that he had just attended, and how he had learnt a revolutionary new technique called Precision Touch Design, invented by David Stanwood.  John explained that this technique allows piano technicians to address playing difficulties such as mine with completely reliable results – something never achievable in the past.  I was amazed to learn from John that my playing problems were actually quite common.   He explained that precisely matching a piano’s touchweight and volume to its owner’s personal needs had always been something of a challenge for piano technicians, and that results had often not been what the customer had expected.  Now, thanks to this new technique, achieving dependable results every time was no longer a dream but a reality.  John would weigh each individual key, and using the revolutionary Precision Touch Design programme, would feed into his computer the data that he had obtained.   Using the analysis that the programme provided, he would then finely adjust the weight of each key to make my piano play perfectly evenly from top to bottom, requiring much less physical effort on my part.    He would also adjust the sound level, so that I would still be able to play ff  but this time without hurting my ears. Although I could hardly believe what I was hearing, I had known John a long time, and trusted his judgement and skill completely.   If he said he could perform this miracle, I felt sure he could.  We fixed a date to begin work.

Soon after that, my piano action disappeared for a week’s worth of serious transformation.   On the day that it returned, John reinstalled it, worked on it for a while, tuned the piano as usual, stood up – and indicated the piano stool.   “Your turn,” he said.    What I discovered when I sat down to play was so overwhelming that for several moments I struggled to find words to express my feelings.  I think I actually cried. My piano was softer, and more beautiful in tone.  It was easy to play.  I seemed to miss fewer notes, and the ornaments seemed to play themselves.   Over the next few days, I brought all my favourite music again, including the big pieces that had given me so many problems – and just played and played.So what has changed?    Quite simply, everything.   My piano feels like a completely different instrument, and with every piece that I play, I discover more things that it is now capable of doing.  It is lighter and easier to play, while not being in the least ‘flabby’.  I can still play ff when I need to,  but the piano has a new beauty of tone, and is never ringing or harsh to the ear, even in the higher range.  I can produce fast, repeated chords (e.g. Rachmaninov Op.23 No.5 and Chopin’s Polonaise Op.40 No.1, both formerly so tiring to play) using only the natural weight of my arms;  rapid runs in the left hand (e.g. the Chopin Etude Op.25 No 7) are now easier to play, and sound much clearer.  Fast, repeated notes can be played with amazing speed, and with no loss of clarity.  When the left hand has the melody, it has a singing quality, no longer dominating the right, but complementing it.  Ornaments can be played consistently and evenly, thanks to the perfect weighting of every note to match that of its neighbour, making for example the highly exposed appoggiaturas in Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1 play smoothly and consistently each time they occur.   Ornaments played allegro can be executed consistently and with ease. When playing double octaves, all four notes come out evenly, allowing me to concentrate on dynamics and expression, whereas before I had to put all my effort into simply producing the notes.   Quiet legato passages no longer hold any nasty surprises, such as a melody line being spoilt by notes failing to ‘come out’. When the end of a piece is marked perdendosi or morendo, I can take the sound away to nothing, and there is never any fear of the last note suddenly coming out too loud and ruining the effect.

So there it is.  Just as my piano has been born again, so in a very real sense, have I.   My playing technique is improving all the time, and I can give free rein to my true musicality, where before all my effort was concentrated in simply producing the notes.  For the second time in two years, I am telling friends that I have a new piano – only this time, it’s the piano that I always wished for.

Regards Linda Ebrey

Anne Campbell from Sussex. Samick SIG50

Hello John,

You can have no idea how much you have changed my life with the transformation of my piano.With  the huge difference in tone and and an even-ness in pressure, this has transformed my playing and feel as if I’m absolutely on top form once again. The legato passages really are legato, something which I have not found in any pianos for many years. I describe it as mellow and creamy – making long melodic phrases sound as they were meant to. Somehow, you have been able to retain the brightness which I loved in this piano, but now without the ‘edge’ which I found totally distracting.I am now playing Ravel and Debussy effortlessly,easily  finding all the colours required in the music while the lightness of touch has meant that acquiring a flawless technique is simply much easier. The articulation required for the Baroque Period is easier to achieve, giving a crisp clear  rendition with part playing being a joy, as there  are no ‘bumps’ in the runs and melody lines.As you know, my illnes which gives me muscle exhaustion, meant that I was able to play the piano for short bursts at a time, making rehearsal times very difficult for my fellow musicians who were always having to allow a massive amount of time while I had regular rest periods..  I now find that I am able to continue working for much longer stretches which is a great bonus.
I can only thank you again for all your work and attention to detail. As I said, my life has now been made so much easier with the huge changes you have made.

Kindest regards. Anne Campbell

Mr Langridge from Sussex. Bechstein with new WNG action and PTD design.

Dear John,

I am hugely delighted with the new action in the Bechstein. It has a a wonderfully responsive touch and is beautifully even across the whole keyboard and a pleasure to play. A former student who is now an advanced piano student at university came round the other day and played it and said it was the best action he’d ever played, (and he has a Steinway.) Thank you for all your work on the instrument which is of an exceptionally high standard and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this route for anyone who has a piano that needs attention.

best wishes John Langridge   Head of Music, Battle Abbey School

Mr Bob Andrews from Sussex. Steinway model M 1968

Dear John,

I want to put in writing to you the satisfaction I feel with the transformation of my Steinway M model piano since you applied the new technique regarding the action. It is so even and allows for a greatly improved performance. It was nearly as good as this when new!

Yours Sincerly
Bob Andrews. Head of Music ,Cleremont School

Mrs Sarah Jarvis. Steinway model O . 1901

To whom it may concern,

I am delighted with the work that John and his team have done on my Model O Steinway grand. It has transformed both the touch and tone , giving it far greater consistency than it has ever had. The team were keen to know that I was 100% happy with the result and I was hugely impressed by their skill and craftsmanship – they clearly have a passion for their work. Thank you Sussex Pianos!

Sarah Jarvis. Music Teacher. Brighton

Roger Naughton. Kawai CA-40

Dear John,

Just a short message to thank you and Alex for all the care you took on providing what I wanted from my piano. It is now absolutely lovely to play.

I am in no way a good pianist, for I know well, that good pianists can coax beautiful music from poor pianos but for us lesser mortals, a piano in really good condition is very helpful, I would say essential, to bring out what minor talent we may have!

Best wishes, Roger

Melanie Vere Nicoll. Steinway B

I had given up hope for ever playing my Steinway Grand Piano. It had been badly stored for years on its side and then left in an unheated house leaving it virtually unusable. After meeting John Thompson I decided to go ahead with a complete restoration of the instrument but really was not expecting the fantastic results. My piano is now as good as the other newer Steinway which I often play. In fact I prefer my rebuilt piano as it has a better touch. I cannot be more pleased with the result and recommend Sussex Pianos to anyone who wishes to bring their piano up to a very high standard.

Melanie Vere Nicoll  West Sussex

King Charles the Martyr church, Tunbridge Wells . Yamaha C3

Thank you for your very efficient work adjusting the action of our Yamaha grand piano, which is used for concerts and services.I was becoming reluctant to invite concert pianists anymore because the action had become so uneven. It has always been relatively heavy but the inconsistency was becoming a real problem. Your work has transformed the instrument, however, so that, as well as being beautifully even, it is altogether much lighter and easier to play. This has really helped the amateur players who use the piano and I expect our visiting professionals to be delighted with it.

Rupert Preston Bell Director of Music