Craig’s Pianos & Keyboards celebrating 41 yearsWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
When he was in junior high, Craig Whitaker tried to tune his parents’ piano.
“We had a piano that needed to be tuned, so I said, ‘Hey, I can do that,’” Whitaker said. “I did such a bad job, my parents had to call out a piano tuner to fix it. A few months later, I had an opportunity to tune a relative’s piano and did an equally poor job. My parents had to call out the same piano tuner to correct that tuning.”
From those humble, fumbling beginnings, the West Toledo native went on to become a registered piano technician and estimates he’s successfully tuned more than 40,000 pianos to date.
Whitaker opened Craig’s Pianos & Keyboards in 1971. The business, at 2902 Sylvania Ave., is the only full-service piano shop in the Toledo area. It offers new and used pianos, keyboards and organs as well as sheet music, lessons and tuning, restoration and repair services.
To celebrate more than 40 years in business, Craig’s will host a four-day sale Nov. 15-18, featuring up to 40 percent off all pianos. Sale hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 15-17 and 1-5 p.m. Nov. 18.
Whitaker said one of the reasons he’s lasted in business is because he surrounds himself with skilled staff.
“I’m smart enough to know I don’t know the stuff I don’t know,” Whitaker said. “So I find people who do those things better than I do.”
Whitaker majored in clarinet performance at the University of Toledo and then apprenticed under Rossford piano rebuilder Paul Stewart. He said he enjoys restoring and repairing pianos because it involves creativity and critical thinking skills.
“There’s a series of approximately 40 steps that happen in order to make a piano key sound correctly,” Whitaker said. “When that gets out of adjustment, there’s some figuring to do on what to do first and how that affects the second thing, which then adversely affects the third thing. So you have to think it through.
“Some of what I do, there aren’t any books to show you how. We’ve had pianos come in here that have been in three feet of water where the bottom half of the piano is unglued. It’s simply a matter of looking at the problem and analyzing it and trying to be creative in an approach. If you think about something long enough you usually come up with the solution.”
No two pianos are exactly alike, Whitaker said.
“That’s kind of the beauty of pianos, is that each piano is individual,” he said. “A manufacturer can produce two pianos of the same size, model, type, quality and color, sitting side by side, and they can both be completely different sounding.”
Steinway is his favorite brand for tone quality, Yamaha for quality of construction and European manufacturers for cabinetry, Whitaker said — but an elusive mix of aesthetic features will draw him to a certain piano.
“If I just want to sit down and play a piano, the piano has to speak to me,” Whitaker said.
Although he is intimately familiar with their innards, Whitaker plays piano only casually.
“You could equate me with a race car mechanic that drives casually in his home car, but knows how to soup up race cars,” Whitaker said. “I’m not a race car driver. I’m not a concert pianist. I play enough in order to get a sense of what the instrument sounds like and how it feels, but I am not proficient. I’m not a performer.”
Whitaker has been Toledo Symphony Orchestra’s (TSO) exclusive piano tuner and technician for more than 30 years.
“Nobody touches Toledo Symphony Orchestra pianos unless Craig assigns them,” said TSO General Manager Keith McWatters. “He’s always delivered. He’s a good guy to have on the team.”
Whitaker is on hand before each performance to adjust TSO’s pianos to the artist’s specifications. A collection of autographs from the professional musicians he’s tuned for fills two large binders at the shop.
“They are playing technical, difficult music and need an instrument that’s going to react,” McWatters said. “That’s what we call the action, how the piano responds to the fingers of the person trying to play. In a 9-foot grand that mechanism has to be absolutely flawless. If there’s any delay and you’ve got 10 fingers going 100 miles an hour and it doesn’t react, it’s like a bicycle race where one guy crashes and they all crash. There are so many variables in the inner workings of a piano.”
Whitaker also tunes all of Toledo School for the Arts’ (TSA) pianos and has demonstrated his work to TSA students who came to his shop for a field trip, said chorus and piano instructor Jamie Dauel.
“They really are one of the only true piano shops left in this area and they provide quality service and quality work,” Dauel said. “They are very good friends to the school and genuinely support education and participate in the education process. I can’t say enough good about them.”
Toledo Opera artistic administrator and chorus master Kevin Bylsma agreed.
“His work and service have been top-notch,” Bylsma said. “We’re always satisfied.”
For more information, visit the web site craigskeyboards.com.