He keeps Frankfort's pianos in tune

KRISTIE HAMON

The State Journal

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - With electric pianos becoming more and more common, piano tuning may seem like a thing of the past,

but those acoustic pianos in use at churches and homes still need a good tuning every now and then.

Piano owners in Frankfort don't have to look too far to find an experienced tuner.

George Stokes has been tuning pianos since he was in high school and said he has tuned thousands over the years.

Stokes, who is completely blind, attended the Kentucky School for the Blind, where he learned the trade of tuning pianos.

He graduated in 1964.

He began working at a Baldwin store in Louisville during his sophomore year, where he regularly tuned pianos.

Though he doesn't tune quite as many as he used to, Stokes continues to work on pianos for people and businesses in and around

Frankfort.

"We stay about as busy as we really want to be," he said. "Now we try to stay within 50 miles or so of Frankfort."

Back in the day, though, he said he tuned about 400 to 500 pianos a year.

"I've done a lot," Stokes said. "Met a lot of really interesting people."

Additionally, Stokes said he has had the opportunity to tune pianos for several celebrities who toured in the Louisville and

Owensboro areas.

Before shows and in between sets, Stokes said he's tuned pianos for stars like Dolly Parton and Liberace and would work out

deals with the artists where he would tune their pianos in exchange for tickets to the show.

With sight or without, tuning a piano is no simple task. Stokes said tuning pianos is like doing a jigsaw puzzle.

He said there are nearly 250 strings inside a piano that must be adjusted to make sound come from 88 keys.

Tuning a piano that's been tuned regularly takes about 45 minutes but if it hasn't been tuned regularly, Stokes said it could

take up to two hours.

But what Stokes said he truly enjoys about the profession is meeting new people.

"I'm a people person," he said. "I love to work with people."

He said not all those he has met have been the friendliest though.

"You meet people in all walks of life," Stokes said. "Every artist is not the most friendly or congenial to work with."

Stokes recalled a difficult situation in which Aaron Jones, 29, a concert pianist he has done recording for, was set to perform

on TV, and Stokes faced extreme time restraints from the news channel to tune its piano in time for the show and replace a

broken string, which are "quite a job" to replace, he said.

Stokes has also recently worked with Jones to produce a demo CD.

And though a grand piano sits in Stokes' living room, he himself doesn't play the piano.

"I know too many good pianists to say I play even," he said.

But in addition to doing recording, Stokes said several years ago he was an emcee and drummer in a band in Owensboro where

they played parties, concerts and picnics.

Piano tuning hasn't been Stokes' only career path, though. He is retired after working 43 years in the vending business.

He worked the vending program at the Capitol Plaza Tower and Capitol Annex snack bar.

Though he is retired, and has slowed down in the tuning business some, Stokes said he would still be tuning where there's

a piano owner in need.

"I've really enjoyed it," he said.