Staying In Tune

Phenoyd Ezra is a second-generation piano finisher who is accustomed to unusual requests.

“Right now I have a piano that is being done in an Escalade riptide,” says Ezra, referring to polishing a piano to resemble a particular paint finish of Cadillac’s luxury SUV. Past projects have included customizing pianos in shades of canary yellow and tomato red.

Taught the trade as a teenager by his father, Ezra works to restore the finish and sound quality of old pianos. In 1997 he started Classic Woods by Phenoyd. While his father specialized in refinishing only, he made sure that his son learned the more technical aspects of repairing pianos.

The Van Nuys, California-based business generates about $400,000 a year and employs a staff of six. Ezra says he limits the number of pianos he works on at any one time because a typical stay in his shop is about two months. The pianos that come in are typically between 65 to 100 years old.

“The piano accommodates and expresses more individual tastes than any other instrument. The passion you can translate through a piano is beautiful,” says Ezra, 47.

A languishing piano can deteriorate over time if it’s not regularly tuned. Ezra’s expertise lies in handcrafting, re-stringing, and re-hammering. He refers to his trade as “old-world skills.”

“There’s nothing high-tech about this,” he says. “It’s amazing when I see [people] take time out of their schedules to see how I stain or sand a piano. They seem to be amazed that people still know how to work with their hands in this high-tech society.”

Older pianos maintain their value, which is why people turn to Ezra. Although he’s been around pianos most of his life, he says the running joke is that he doesn’t tickle the ivories.

“After spending 14 to 15 hours a day working, I just don’t go home and practice like I should.”

For those looking to purchase a piano, Ezra offers the following tips:

  1. Always buy a piano in the condition you want it in. Don’t buy one in disrepair unless it’s a must-have antique, because it will cost thousands in labor and parts to upgrade.
  2. Do your research. Determine the materials used in the piano’s construction. Action parts, the moveable parts inside a piano, perform best when made of wood.
  3. Consider having a tuner come out and inspect the piano you want to purchase.
  4. Avoid pianos found at the Salvation Army or Goodwill. This may indicate they were in such poor condition that they were given away as a write-off.