"More important than a list of credentials, I still love my work and continue to learn and find satisfaction in every instrument I do. It is my honor to breathe life into an old instrument and leave the world a little better than when I found it."
Ken Hannah, Inc., a small piano rebuilding company near Stillwater, Minnesota has been established for almost 30 years. Ken restores grand pianos for a variety of piano owners and players, be they professional musicians, teachers, students, amateur players or families. Hundreds of his restored instruments are found in churches, schools, colleges and homes across the country.
Ken has restored pianos built as early as 1860. His customers have sent instruments to the shop from as far away as Florida, California, Hawaii, Ohio, Montana and Colorado, as well as from our neighboring Midwestern states.
He has restored several historically important instruments. One is a piano formerly owned by the first Territorial Governor of Minnesota, Alexander Ramsey. This piano is now featured at the Alexander Ramsey House, a museum maintained by the Minnesota Historical Society. Ken also refurbished the piano of Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple, the first Episcopal Bishop in Minnesota. In 2006 Ken was contracted by St. Olaf College to refurbish the pianos of F. Melius Christiansen and his son Olaf Christiansen, the internationally renowned choral conductors. Both instruments are now on campus and enjoyed by students and visitors alike.
Nearly 30 years in the business confirms that the restoration of a piano is organic and complex; it is never the same job twice. There is truly no substitute for these many years of experience.
Working record of rebuilt instruments
This experience adds depth to his musical ear and provides him a rich palette by which to judge and compare his restored pianos. Ken is attuned to the spectrum of tone generated by a wide variety of piano models and manufacturers, which helps ensure each rebuilt piano reaches its potential.
After graduating from St Olaf in 1975, while teaching Junior and Senior High vocal music in southern Minnesota, Ken commuted to McPhail Center for the Arts in Minneapolis to study piano tuning. This course work set the career path he continues in today. After two years as a music teacher, Ken moved to Minneapolis to begin piano work.
Ken started work at Schmitt Music Co. in 1978 and in just a year won a promotion to manager of the piano rebuilding shop. As part of his training there, he was sent to Steinway & Sons in New York City to attend sessions on action work and regulation of Steinway pianos.
He left his management position in 1980 to open his own shop. A disciplined and focused worker, Ken wanted responsibility for each instrument in its entirety, accepting both the challenges and rewards of independent work.
Ken's participation in Aspen the past two summers is a testimony to the high quality of his work and the recognition he receives. Nearly 300 new Steinway & Sons pianos are shipped each summer to Aspen from Steinway in New York to be enjoyed by top soloists, teachers and students from all over the world. Such musicians are very discriminating about the condition and responsiveness of their instruments, and only accept the best.
Servicing this large number of new Steinway grand pianos is rare for a rebuilder. It provides Ken a benchmark that is invaluable to him as he returns to Minnesota to voice and regulate his restored instruments.
The Piano Technicians Guild, the official organization of the Registered Piano Technician, is the premiere source of expertise in piano service and technology. As a Registered Piano Technician and Craftsman member of the PTG, Ken has passed a series of rigorous examinations on the maintenance, repair, and tuning of pianos.
This professional certification guarantees the standard he sets for himself and his work.
After Ken's many years in the restoration business, and because of the high standard of his workmanship, he has earned a national reputation among his peers. As one of few rebuilders in the Midwest equipped to replace piano soundboards, he has several times been invited to present classes and teach seminars about piano restoration at both National and Regional conventions of the Piano Technicians Guild. Often he is asked by other technicians and piano sales companies to replace soundboards, a technical and difficult part of a complete piano restoration.
As one of his customers puts it, "every person I talked to about the work was planning to send the 'board' to Ken Hannah to be replaced. I decided that Ken Hannah must be the best person to do the entire rebuild."
Although the volume of his business has expanded over the years, Ken maintains a small shop with 1 or 2 employees. Rebuilding is a hands-on business and Ken's skill as a craftsman requires his constant attention and contact with each job. Ken has finely honed his woodworking skills and has a unique ingenuity for solving the engineering puzzles that present themselves.
Each instrument is not only under Ken's direction, but Ken himself performs the key elements of the rebuild.
Materials and parts for pianos are unique and the supply can be uneven, quality variable. Because Ken often services his own restored instruments over the years, can determine which parts consistently hold up and which suppliers reliably meet his standards. The highest quality parts will always be used.
Corners are never cut and only the best materials are used to restore each instrument.
Ken is an accomplished baritone and has done choral and solo work with Phillip Brunelle, The Plymouth Music Series, Magnum Chorum and the Valley Chamber Chorale. He directed the Matin Singers at Trinity Lutheran Church in Stillwater for 18 years and was the director of a chamber choir traveling 3 different times to Europe, destinations including England, Norway, Poland and Germany.
He counts among his highest honors the opportunity to direct the Mwatasi church choir in Tanzania in 2005 and 2006. He is currently artistic director of the Hannah Sacred Ensemble in Bayport, Minnesota. Choral music, singing and directing became a life long avocation.
As an active musician himself, he interacts with performing artists regularly. His artistic training and experience adds a dimension of musicality that a strictly technical person cannot bring to this work.