Ellsworth piano tuner has found his calling

By Sarah Nigbor
Posted 2/7/24

Not many people can say they know how to tune a piano, but rural Ellsworth resident Jeff Erickson can. His interest was piqued at a young age.

“When I was a kid, I was playing piano and …

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Ellsworth piano tuner has found his calling


Not many people can say they know how to tune a piano, but rural Ellsworth resident Jeff Erickson can. His interest was piqued at a young age.

“When I was a kid, I was playing piano and the tuners would come to our house to work on the piano. I watched three or four different tuners throughout the time I was a kid, and I was intrigued by it,” Erickson said. “One guy came from Montana and would go around tuning people’s pianos to make money for his trip. He sold me my first tools, like a tuning hammer and I kind of dinked around with it. I didn’t know how to pursue it at the time, because I was a kid.”

Erickson now owns and operates Jeff Erickson Piano Services, offering piano tuning, humidity control system installation, piano key top replacement, piano string replacement and minor repairs, including sticking keys, replacing broken parts, etc. He serves the Twin Cities metro area, which includes western Wisconsin.

Erickson’s love of music was sparked at a young age.

“As a kid I was plinking around on the piano and my mom suggested I take lessons,” Erickson said. “I was 7 when I started. Piano drew me in. I liked learning new things. I liked the stuff I was learning and I was also listening to classical music on public radio, MPR. My dad would make up stories about the music we were listening to and I think that drew me into classical music.”

Erickson started exploring the repertoire and realized he loved playing it.

“I got a sense of accomplishment and some pride that I could do it. The music and everything about it drew me in,” Erickson said.

He took piano lessons until he graduated high school before taking a few years off. He resumed lessons when he started college and earned a Bachelor of Science in music education from Crown College. He began his career as a music teacher in Onamia, Minn. He also taught in the Lino Lakes, Minn. area and ran a piano studio at a Catholic school in St. Paul.

Erickson moved to Arizona, where he and wife Leah lived for eight years before moving to Ellsworth to be closer to his parents. He taught general music at two schools in Phoenix and completed a master’s degree in music education from Arizona State University. Though he enjoyed teaching, those long ago conversations with the piano tuner were stuck in his head.

“I thought it sounded like a blast to tune pianos or fix pianos,” Erickson said. “I met a technician in Phoenix who had been it for 30 years and he was looking for someone to hire.”

Erickson attended the Piano Technician’s Academy in Mesa. While working on his master’s, someone fortuitously dumped a piano in the alley directly behind his house.

“I dragged it into our house and that was the piano I started learning tuning on,” he said.

A friend had taken a course from the Randy Potter School of Piano Technology and game him all the books, DVDs and tools.

“So I started learning it while I was teaching. The pandemic hit in 2020 and I had more time to think about why I was teaching and I started realizing it was time for me to move on,” Erickson said. “I taught one more year after the pandemic and started working for that other technician.”

The technician had him attend training for piano player installation, which was a unique opportunity. He also restrung an entire grand piano and worked on tuning pianos at two different music stores.

“I needed to practice tuning so that gave me a boost,” Erickson said.

He expected to work for that technician “forever,” but having young children and living away from family made him and his wife reconsider living in Arizona. They decided to move back to the Midwest in 2022. “I thought about going back to teaching, but I really like working on pianos,” Erickson said. “But I felt like when I taught lessons, my playing improved because of the different perspective of teaching it.”

Business is going well and continues to grow.

“I’ve been blessed to see how many people have actually called me for a tuning and how much good response there has been,” Erickson said. “We didn’t know but it turned out that many technicians have retired in the area and people are looking for somebody.”

He has tuned pianos for school districts, churches and individual residences. Each tuning takes him about 2-2 ½ hours.

“It is a good feeling and it’s very satisfying,” Erickson said. “It’s nice to be the first one to play the piano when it’s back in tune and know they are going to like their piano even more. That was my secret motivation for tuning, I wanted my piano to sound good too. I didn’t want to play when it didn’t sound good. They enjoy it so much more when it sounds right, when it feels right. I feel like I like helping out with schools and individuals with people who are playing their piano regularly, because I identify with them because that was me too.”

Erickson also performs minor repairs and can install humidity control systems that help a piano stay at the right humidity level, which prolongs the piano’s life.

“A lot of stuff I’m still learning and I’m trying to reach out to different technicians to build skills,” he said. “Eventually I would like to do the player pianos again, but I have to get some space ready in my barn.”

Erickson has also composed music and plans to continue doing so for publication someday. Though is loves classical music, he is intrigued by jazz. He particularly likes the improvisation aspect. He also plays piano for events, such as weddings, parties and the holidays.

Erickson can be reached at 651-249-5646, sallumberg@gmail.com or through the website at jeffericksonpianoservices.weebly.com

Piano tuning, music, Jeff Erickson Piano Services, Ellsworth, piano repair