Paul Brown is arguably one of the most experienced and knowledgeable piano tuners in the Austin area.
With a B.A. in music education and 30+ years experience in piano tuning, you can feel confident your piano is in good hands when you call Paul to tune your piano.
"Paul has been tuning our piano for 3 years now. He is always prompt, professional and polite. His fee is reasonable. I highly recommend his services. Two Thumbs up." --Angie S. (4/1/16)
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Paul Brown Piano Tuning & Repair in Austin. Paul has done piano tuning in Austin for more than 30 years. If you're looking for musical repair in Austin metro, give Paul a call.
Like the Instrument he revives, this piano tuner struck discord in life until he found the right tune.
Muffled piano notes tiptoe down the orange-brown carpet of the darkened church hallway.
This door? No.
This door? No.
An ear pressed against the brown chapel door makes it clear: Stop here.
The door glides open, the music washes over the red-cushioned pews. The man at the keyboard glances up, smiles, keeps playing. Come in, he says.
Paul Brown is almost finished tuning the Kawai baby grand piano. He stops playing and delicately flicks dirt off the piano's hammers with a small brush.
The chapel's soft lights bounce off his glasses and brown-gray hair and beard. He again places his fingers on the keys, listening and tilting his head to one side.
Do questions disrupt him? No.
Does he mind having company? No.
Does he have perfect pitch? No.
Does he have stories? Oh, yes.
A tuning trip to the, ahem, brothel (more on this later).
A mouse skeleton under the keyboard (always look under there).
A piano stuffed with enough coins to fill a slot machine (hidden during a war between sisters).
Day after day, Brown climbs into his white 1982 Chrysler New Yorker, the dark maroon front seats so tattered that the stuffing is showing.
He prays, flips the starter switch and pushes the ignition button (the key doesn't work because the ignition switch rod is broken). He peers through the cracked windshield and leaves his Pflugerville driveway, the odometer's mileage clicking closer to 200,000 as he makes house calls across Central Texas.
He makes clients exclaim, "You've given me back my piano!"
Sometimes, he's a birthday present; sometimes a Christmas gift. He is announced by a little girl, "Mother, the tunist is here."
His stories flow as naturally as the notes he plays.
Pull up a chair and listen.
A road to better sound. Better yet, buckle up for an entertaining ride. It's a sunny Friday morning, and Brown is barreling south down Interstate 35, the long hood shimmying atop the New Yorker's roaring 8-cylinder engine.
The car's right visor is missing, with only its steel arm remaining.
The headliner (the soft fabric on the underside of the roof) is gone, exposing foam rubber. The air conditioner doesn't work, but chilly air whooshes through a partially open back window.
Brown's thoughts fly as fast as the traffic passing him. Every few seconds, his hands come off the steering wheel, wildly gesturing as though conducting an orchestra. A car zooms up on an entrance ramp, moving frightfully close to the boxed-in New Yorker.
"No place to go but fast-forward!" Brown exclaims. And the New Yorker growls into a higher gear, away from the merging car and closer to San Marcos, where musician Bryan Crowell awaits an examination of his 80-year-old upright piano.
Crowell, lead singer for the pop-rock band Fluffers Union, leads Brown through the house, past the Frank Zappa and Beatles posters and into his bedroom. A dark-brown upright piano stands in the corner.
Crowell, his long, brown hair tucked behind his ears, removes the piano's wooden covers with Brown's help. Death Machine, Crowell's black cat, pads around the pedals. Brown sits on the floor, a flashlight in his mouth, his hands on the strings as he inspects the piano's damaged bridge.
Crowell nods his appreciation when Brown repairs two clanking keys to make the piano sound better for rehearsals. He breaks into a grateful smile when Brown says he can return in two weeks to tune and repair the piano for $150.
Crowell didn't want bad news. He recalls another old piano he was fond of which several tuners advised him to trash, saying it wasn't worth more than firewood.
So this time, Crowell called Brown.
The self-described country doctor will tune any piano, no matter how badly out of pitch or how old. Brown tunes church pianos, bar pianos, school pianos, pianos in shacks, pianos in multimillion-dollar homes where a maid might answer the door.
Brown says he couldn't live like a University of Texas tuner he knows who services the same pianos again and again without human contact.
"Look at what I'd miss," Brown says. "I'd miss Bryan."
New life to old things
A piano is like a living thing, Brown says. It moves, it breathes, like the baby grand he's tuning on a Monday afternoon at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Southwest Austin.
"I'm listening to this piano," he explains, finishing a Mormon hymn and smoothly segueing into his own composition,
"Angels Led Me Home."
The song's title mirrors Brown's spiritual journey -- one that led him through grief and anger and back to the Mormon faith, which he embraced in college.
He's lost in the music and is surprised his lips are moving. "Were they?"
He gathers his tools and walks to a classroom where a small upright piano awaits him.
This is an atypical day for the 51-year-old father of eight sons --four grown and four at home, ages 6 to 15 -- who prefers chatting in someone's living room as he works. With his hand resting on a green hymnal, Brown retraces the path he followed to Central Texas and a piano-tuning career.
Brown was 32, broke and reeling from a divorce when he moved alone to Austin in 1982. The child-prodigy organist who received a music education degree from Brigham Young University worked at an Austin convenience store and twice was robbed at gunpoint. He grudgingly threw newspapers to make extra money, but the route profited him in an unexpected way: His future wife, Kasi, had a newspaper route at the American-Statesman's same North Austin branch.
In 1986, after four years of marriage, he and Kasi, a Baptist, became members of a Mormon church in Austin. Although estranged from his parents, who raised him Lutheran in Rochester, Minn., Brown felt himself healing.
It marked a dramatic change for Brown, who insisted on being excommunicated from the Salt Lake City Mormon church he and his first wife, his high school sweetheart, had belonged to for 14 years. Brown, who believed he was too liberal for that church, became an Episcopalian. Deep down, though, he missed the Mormon church. Ultimately, he found the courage to ask for his membership to be restored and start the long road back to the church closest to his heart.
Back on his true spiritual path, Brown began buying old pianos, rebuilding them in the garage and selling them. While Kasi worked as a grocery store office manager, Brown taught himself to tune and repair pianos.
He advertised he would work on English and square grand pianos, notoriously difficult to tune because of their configurations. His tuning business slowly grew, but four years ago, Brown was doubting himself.
Then a couple called from South Austin. The old upright they bought for $25 was in bad shape. The woman said Kasi had promised her that Paul would fix the piano for $60. Brown took the job. He opened the piano and tried to be professional, but the woman saw the truth in his eyes. The piano was a mess. She said she understood if he couldn't fix it, but he'd have to stop now because $60 was all she had.
Brown studied her face and said he'd repair her piano. He knelt at the piano's pedals, praying for help. When he was done, after three intense hours, the woman sat down and began to play, filling the house with old gospel music. She turned to her husband and said, "I really have a piano."
Then she started weeping.
And Brown thought, "Am I doing the right thing? I think so."
Brown, who has relative pitch, says a piano tuner with perfect pitch would live like a savant, the imperfect world never living up to his or her expectations.
Brown starts tuning sessions with a meter, using it to set a piano's temperament to one middle octave. From there, he tunes by ear, octave by octave up and down the keyboard, using mutes -- slender rubber wedges with metal handles -- between each set of three strings to isolate pitches and tune the strings to the middle one.
He remembers once accidentally leaving his four mutes at someone's house. The next day, at his next appointment, he and his customer briefly talked and she walked upstairs to give him privacy.
In a mortifying split second, Brown realized he didn't have his mutes. He tried to make his own, but they were too inflexible to fit between the strings. He silently prayed, "God, if I only had one good mute."
He opened his eyes and saw one swinging in front of his nose, held by the woman standing on the stairs. She said, "Excuse me, Mr. Brown, could you use this? I found it in a piano nine years ago."
That Sunday, Brown told the story in church. The next week, at the Pflugerville H-E-B, a couple from his church told him they wanted to give him their old Chrysler New Yorker, replacing his Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme with its odometer reading of 400,000.
Brown, weary of plugging the engine's water leaks with putty and popsicle sticks, was overwhelmed.
Brown's eyes sparkle with laughter as he tells the story. He glances at the piano he's temporarily forgotten and chuckles at his verbosity. "Too bad I have nothing to say!"
Suddenly, he pivots back to the keyboard. Smiling, he launches into Chopin's "Waltz in C-sharp Minor" and the brothel story.
It's Halloween a few years back, and Brown gets a call from a young woman needing a piano tuned. He drives to the residential address in an exclusive Austin neighborhood. An attractive woman answers the door, and Brown steps into a magnificent three-story house, admiring the sunken living room, jukebox and big-screen TV. And sign-in desk.
Running a holiday sale or weekly special? Definitely promote it here to get customers excited about getting a sweet deal.