Making Piano’s 12,000 Parts Equal a Whole


Making Piano’s 12,000 Parts Equal a Whole


Published: October 13, 1996

Near Lincoln Center, in the gaudy Liberty Warehouse (the one with a Statue of Liberty replica on the roof), is an unexpected bit of Old World craftsmanship. There, the artisans of Klavierhaus — German for keyboard house — patiently rebuild and restore the most prized pianos.

The business is run by two brothers, Gabor and Sujatri Reisinger, who made a name for themselves at a now-defunct piano restorer on the East Side. Along with 13 helpers, the Reisingers, Hungarian immigrants, restore 40 to 50 pianos a year. They also buy, restore and resell 25 to 30 pianos for themselves. Many are 50 to 100 years old, damaged by water leaks, humidity or the simple passage of time.

The brothers trace their interest to their godmother in Budapest who played the piano. ”We have loved that sound since childhood,” said Sujatri Reisinger, 40, a former engineering consultant. ”But I never imagined I would work on them. It is like a secret dream come true.”

Klavierhaus’s clients have included Kurt Masur, music director of the New York Philharmonic; Isaac Mizrahi, the fashion designer, and the orchestra for David Letterman’s ”Late Show.” The artisans are working on Frank Sinatra’s concert grand, a $110,000 powerhouse that has inexplicably gone out of tune.

Klavierhaus, near 64th and Broadway, is one of several such restorers in the New York area (another is A & C Piano Craft on West 52d Street). Many customers are teachers, students and performers from the Juilliard School or Lincoln Center, but the brothers have little repeat business. ”If a customer comes back, it means we’ve done something wrong,” Gabor Reisinger, 38, said.

The four-year-old Klavierhaus differs from manufacturers like Steinway and Yamaha. Its staff can build a piano from the ground up, as opposed to factory workers for who can only focus on a few aspects at a time.

Klavierhaus charges from $10,000 to $20,000 a piano, but a full restoration can take from three to six months. The work includes reshaping or duplicating the soundboard, the piece of wood, always spruce, that produces most of the sound; adjusting and restoring the keyboard, where most of the 12,000 parts are located, and restoring the case, often the most problematic, but not the most important, part.”

But if there is one thing that the brothers are lacking in the piano business, it’s this: neither one can play the instrument.

Sinatra’s Sick Piano

Set apart from the dozen or so pianos undergoing work at Klavierhaus is a nine-foot-long concert grand owned by Frank Sinatra. It came into the shop this summer for a full restoration that will take several more weeks.

The piano was built in 1968 by Bosendorfer, one of the elite piano makers. ”The piano does not hold a tune,” Sujatri Reisinger, co-owner of Klavierhaus, said succinctly. The main problem is a cracked pin block, a critical piece of laminated beechwood at the front of the piano. Once the pin block is restored, Klavierhaus will readjust the piano’s ”bearing,” the precise angle of piano strings that leads to optimal delivery of sound.



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