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Associated Press
Brigham Larson listens closely while using a tuning lever to tune a customer's grand piano at their home.

PROVO — Piano technician Brigham Larson takes a seat behind a shining black Estonia grand piano and goes to work tuning the regal instrument.

With 88 keys attached to 220 strings, each needing to be tuned individually, it's a slow, deliberate process.

Using tuning software and a well-trained ear, Larson listens closely to each note, making slight adjustments with a tuning lever.

After seven appointments, wrapping up this last one at a client's home in Cedar Hills, Larson has played, examined and adjusted 1,540 notes in one day..

"When I first started, it drove me crazy," said the experienced piano technician, who now has about 10,000 tunings under his belt.

Larson, who owns Brigham Larson Pianos in Pleasant Grove, has 1,500 clients in Utah who own a variety of pianos.

"I've worked on everything from 100-year-old abused porch pianos to this piano here … which costs a lot more than my truck," Larson said, referring to the Estonia grand piano he tuned in Cedar Hills.

A fine instrument priced at close to $50,000, Larson compares it to working on a Mercedes-Benz.

"You've got to know what you're doing, especially for a piano like that," he said, remembering how terrified he was the first time he worked on a client's high-end piano.

Larson takes pleasure in every instrument he works on, even the old and well-used, as each has its own characteristics and sound.

With pedals that squeak and creak, keys that clank and stick, broken strings and broken hammers, the piano may only need a few hours with Larson before it's back in playable condition.

He has even had customers cry with joy after he's worked all day on a family heirloom, a piano that once belonged to someone's grandmother, and got it playing like new.

"I get satisfaction resurrecting those old pianos," said Larson, a musician who began playing piano at age 6 and working on the instruments at age 17.

"I was always very musical but also very mechanical. Pianos are the perfect marriage of the two," he said.

After moving into a 700-square-foot apartment shortly after marrying his wife, Karmel, 11 years ago, Larson had soon collected several pianos that were under repairs in their small living space.

"It was crowded, but I was supportive because it was a fun adventure," said Karmel Larson, who remembered squeezing past pianos in the hallway, with other instruments filling the living room and kitchen.

"Brigham would work on the pianos at our kitchen table, and our piano shop was what limited space was left on the floor," she said.

It wasn't until their most recent home was full of 23 pianos — 12 in the garage and the rest inside the house — that Karmel Larson convinced her husband to find some commercial space.

Since opening his shop, Brigham Larson Pianos, in 2010, the business has taken off.

"He just took flight because he had the space and resources," Karmel said, adding she's happy to have cut back to just two pianos at home.

Larson's workshop is full of instruments, including brand-new pianos for sale and others in different stages of repair.

With much more room to work in, he can do everything from simple key replacements to complicated tasks like replacing pin blocks and complete restringing.

Only a few of the pianos in the shop belong to customers, though. The majority have been bought by or given to Larson, who will fix them for resale.

Going through a thorough checklist for each instrument can take between 25 and 30 hours, and once complete he can sell a piano for as much as $2,000. Some of the instruments, however, could never be sold.

This includes the "Banana Piana," a bright-yellow piano that Larson picked up for free and spent a short time repairing.

"It was really a good instrument, but I can't sell a yellow piano," Larson said with a smile.

So the "Banana Piana," like many of his projects that are too far gone cosmetically to sell, Larson gave it to a musician in need. He also runs a charity called Gathering Pianos.

"I don't have the heart to throw a piano away," Larson said, looking around his crowded workshop. "The charity fills the gap when I just can't sell it.."

So once again Larson goes about making people cry — with joy — by giving pianos to musical families and schools that can't afford one of their own..

Larson takes pleasure in giving back to the community that has given him the opportunity to support his family doing something he loves.

It's also a community that Larson guesses is home to about 100,000 pianos that might be in need of a whole lot of tuning.

"I don't think I could do this for a living in many places," he said.