The Piano Technicians Guild is a Status Quo that Needs to Change

Posted: September 29, 2011 in Piano

800px-Grand_piano_tuner[Ed. Kent Moore is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter of the Piano Technicians Guild]


The Piano Technicians Guild is an organization which serves the interests of the public and piano technicians by providing training in piano tuning, regulation and basic technical proficiencies. It also lends the title of Registered Piano Technician to any member who can pass a certification test on tuning and technical abilities.

Charters for regional chapters are granted by the national organization. Five Registered Piano Technicians can petition the national organization to form a chapter. Members who have not yet passed the test to become registered are named as Associates and are permitted to advertise their association with the PTG using that title.

The Piano Technicians Guild does not provide certifications for piano builders,  designers, restorers,  refinishers, or other specialties within the craft of piano manufacturing and restoration. Their noble efforts have long been clouded by controversy over their leadership, organizational inefficiencies and fundamental limitations.

History of the PTG

The first attempts to form a national organization for piano tuners was in 1893 and later in 1904.  It was not until 1910 that a successful effort was realized.  The American Guild of Piano Tuners held its first meeting in June of that year. The organization grew to a membership of 2,000.  By 1920 the name was changed to the National Association of Piano Tuners (NAPT) but membership declined during the Depression.  In 1941 a few members of the NAPT broke off to form the American Society of Piano Tuners-Technicians (ASPT), an organization which operated until 1957. In that year, the NAPT and ASPT agreed to merge. The new organization was named The Piano Technicians Guild. The organization became official in July 10, 1958 at its first convention. [ Source ]

One of the primary and high-minded motivations used to justify the creation of a union of interested piano tuners, is stated in Article II, Section 2 of the NAPT’s Constitution.

SEC. • 2. To Protect the interests of the Piano owning public from the
false claims of fakers, pretenders, and charlatans as to their ability to
Tune, or Service the Piano, and provide for a Qualified Tuner a Registered
Piano Service Certificate of membership for public inspection signifying a
Qualified Tuner member, and Rebuilder of Pianos, bearing the imprint of the
Seal of this Association. [ Source ]

Piano tuners of that age organized around a suspicious allegation directed towards their competitors. In order to prove one’s innocence and integrity, one need only acquiesce to the power of the organization and submit to the rigors of their testing procedures in order to escape guilt by non-association. That stigma remains in effect today by implication. If you are a registered member of the organization, you are held in good standing. If you do not belong, you just might be a “faker, pretender” or “charlatan” with no real ability to tune or service a piano.

That begs the question, who ensures the integrity of the organization? The PTG is self-regulated.  It is through the power of organization that the PTG asserts itself as the judge of quality, and the judge of its own abilities to act as judge.

Organizational Inefficiencies

As you might expect, the PTG generates a fair amount of controversy among non-member piano technicians. The frustrations of non-members are never recorded in the minutes of organizational meetings. No public account is given by those who believe they were mistreated by the organization, or those who feel the testing procedures failed to be a fair and accurate test of their abilities.

The PTG is however effective in lessening the presence of “fakers, pretenders and charlatans”, but only to degree. No organization can improve the integrity of a member. Those undesirables who are intent on making false claims, misrepresentations, or conducting business unethically will do so with impunity.  The PTG seeks to protect the integrity of the craft by placing a lock on the door. But what criminal will let a lock deter him? And if the PTG should place iron bars on the doorway, the criminal would gladly learn to use a blow torch in order to gain entry into the warehouse where the riches are stored.

The PTG Chapters exist because of the dedication of a small core group of men and women who adhere to the high standards  set forth by the organization.  Organizations are not comprised solely of brilliant men. Their strength comes primarily from numbers, and those numbers rely heavily on the membership of men and women of average ability.

Associate members have less involvement in the administrative functions of each Chapter, and enjoy their association with little requirement for participation.  It is more difficult for unethical men and women to operate outside the organization, but it is also more difficult for non-members of exceptional skill and merit to operate a business.  Unethical men and women, who are willing to at least become an Associate, can still act as pretenders. The good of the many outweighs the good of the one, but as it applies to the PTG, there are many exceptional tuners and technicians who simply refuse to join the organization.  Such is the nature of artisans. The brilliant mind must tolerate the average mind the same way honest men and women must tolerate the pretenders and charlatans. Understandably, the NAPT had no inclination to tolerate the dishonest craftsman.  Likewise, the Gifted and Talented segment of the piano tuning industry must either tolerate their lesser peers, or fend off suspicions about their integrity from non-participation.

While the members are able to leverage the reputation of the organization into a “selling point” in their business, you might expect that the prices for their services are a bit higher too. Today’s  “pretenders and charlatans” gain easy access to the public by under-cutting the prices of more qualified technicians.  Regrettably, the “discount” oriented consumer is easy prey. He who pays for quality only cries once.

The rising dues for PTG membership and higher testing fees help create a barrier for entry into the organization. The PTG becomes a more exclusive club as a result. The clear advantage is gained by those tuners who operate on a full-time basis. (Many tuners pursue the craft on a part-time basis only.) Does an increase in fees help deter the presence of pretenders and charlatans in the marketplace? Are part-time tuners less inclined to be honest stewards of the trade?

Although the PTG is committed to education as one of their core values, the quality of the instruction is inconsistent and can sometimes be out-dated. The profession of teaching has its own certification process, and it should suffice just to say that piano tuners are not often good teachers. A full analysis would report that some piano tuners are terrible teachers.

The PTG is also a social organization. Social organizations can become cliquish, and such is most often the case in clubs and associations where a small number of the members perform the greater number of necessary administrative tasks.

I hope you agree that organizations that form in order to keep certain undesirable people out, create more problems than they are able to correct. The PTG does some good work. It also creates some undesirable conditions which affect all piano tuners. Shall we then create yet another organization to eliminate the undesirable condition the PTG creates? That thinking is circuitous, but it also isolates the fundamental problem with the PTG – its exclusivity.

Organizational leaders tend to become so dedicated to the purposes and administrative necessities of their respective organizations that their thinking becomes counter-intuitive.  Such is the case with the PTG.

The PTG could better achieve its goals by making membership into the organization easier.  Dues and fees should be lowered so as to leave no interested party unable to participate. The number of professional certification titles should be expanded to encourage improved quality within the many specializations that are evident in the trade. The title of Registered Piano Technician should be stratified to include different degrees of accomplishment and merit, a method used by licensed ham radio operators. All classes should be taught by certified teachers, and all curricula should be first approved by a National Board with credentials in the teaching profession.

This is a short list of suggestions which is not entirely original: these ideas have been offered before. The talent must be present in the PTG organization in order to realize the needed improvements.  The history of the Piano Technicians Guild reveals that its foundation is based on efforts to exclude certain undesirable competitors. In its zeal to do good, it creates many problems because of its own limitations and the limitations inherent in any organziation.

The Piano Technicians Guild must acknowledge its failings if it is to meet the demands of more discriminating craftsmen. Before improvements can gain ground, the failings of the status quo must be revealed. Such is the unfortunate method by which change is adopted.

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