Tuner Niko Versmessen talks about his fascinating job!

  • Acoustic piano
  • Maintenance

Pianos Maene has more than 20 specialised tuners who tune every piano to the right pitch. Whether in a concert hall or in your living room, our passionate technicians maintain the instruments with great care.

To give a better insight into this profession, we interviewed Niko Versmessen who has been working for our company for 22 years.

Niko versmessen, accordeur Bruxelles

How did you come to work for Pianos Maene?

By chance. I studied biology and was working as a laboratory technician when I saw a job offer for Pianos Maene in a newspaper. I have been an avid amateur pianist all my life, but I hardly knew what my instrument looked like from the inside. I had been looking for another job for some time and had already considered the option of becoming a piano tuner, but I didn't take the idea seriously because I couldn't imagine that it would ever fill my working days. This later turned out to be a huge misconception.

When I went to apply for the vacancy, there seemed to be only a few candidates in the running. It wasn't long before I was allowed to come and do some tests. The experience was positive. I was quickly able to get started and to my own surprise, I soon had the chance to tune in some of the most beautiful concert halls in the country.

It is remarkable to see how our job offers for piano tuners are getting more and more attention: dozens of people with a lot of passion and various diplomas come forward every time and dream of becoming a piano tuner at Pianos Maene.


Rencontre artistes accordeur

What is it like to meet well-known artists? Do they have special requirements?

No matter how famous and legendary a pianist is, they always turn out to be a human being like you and me, whom you can talk to like your neighbour. Apart from that, the contact varies according to their nature: some are not very communicative, others are eloquent; most are amiable, but you also come across some who are a bit gruff.

Many pianists are simply satisfied with the instrument as tuned, regulated and voiced, and have no need for adjustments. There is rarely any discussion about tuning, but there are personal preferences in terms of the adjustment of the action (the feeling of playing in the keys: rather light and direct or rather deeper and heavier) and voicing (the timbre: rather bright or rather round). Sound and feeling impressions are always difficult to put accurately into words, so I try to consult carefully to make sure I fully understand what someone is feeling or desiring. It helps if, as a piano tuner, you play the piano yourself. It sometimes happens that pianists request an adjustment that is not at all in line with what I feel, such as making certain notes softer or stronger, but I always accommodate them. Still, we cannot always slavishly follow what is asked, because some requested interventions have an irreversible impact on the instrument. For example, when someone asks for a very soft sound, I can only meet this to a limited extent because otherwise it will lose a piece of its powerful, dynamic potential permanently.



You tune in private homes and in concert halls. Is it a different job for you?

There are differences and similarities. During tuning or maintenance sessions I make little distinction. During each tuning session I actually try to take care of the instrument as if it were for a high-level recital. Every customer deserves an optimal performance. Furthermore, one should never underestimate the judgment of a client.

Private client visits are often more adventurous than concert tunings, because of the great diversity in all areas: instruments, people, environments, different cultures... Especially in Brussels, the job of a home piano tuner is one of the best jobs that allows you to discover a city and its people from the inside. I am welcomed with sympathy and respect.

Want to plan a tuning?


In some of the Brussels venues (Flagey, Bozar, La Monnaie) I am like in my second home. There are concerts all the time and very often a piano is involved. For any self-respecting concert hall, the norm is that a piano should be tuned at least before each concert, and preferably also before the rehearsals that precede it. This means that tuning takes place at any time of the day: sometimes the first rehearsals start at 9am and the instrument must be tuned beforehand. Most concerts start at 8pm and the instruments are still being tuned just beforehand. In some cases, a quick touch-up is requested during the break. Many people wonder if all this is really necessary or useful, as home pianos only need to be tuned a few times a year at most. This certainly makes sense, as a concert grand piano sometimes has to endure the hands of pianists, while we always want to ensure that every sound and every chord continues to sound perfectly pure. In addition, pianos are sometimes moved around and the lighting also has an effect on the temperature.

Working in concert halls is a welcome change from private work. Besides, there is always excitement and magic in the air. Just before the concert the pressure is on, this is the 'most exciting' moment. I quickly tune the last notes while nervous musicians are pacing backstage. In the meantime I can already hear the growing buzz of a few hundred impatient spectators who still stand in front of the closed doors for a few minutes until I give the signal to the hall attendants to indicate that I have finished my work.

Rencontre avec artistes salle de concert piano

Can you tell us about an intervention (a memory) that particularly marked you during one of your interviews in a concert hall?

It is difficult to choose a specific anecdote, so many special things have happened. For example, a concert in a castle where some members of the royal family were sitting in the front row. The organisers had forgotten to get a page turner so they asked me if I could do it. Fortunately I could read music quite fluently, although I found it embarrassing that my clothes were not suitable for a stage act.

Another time I was really pressed for time: just before a concert I had to get half a piano tuned... But then the pianist tapped me on the shoulder with a liberating message: he would play a contemporary work for which he used only four notes.


And in a private home?

Again: thousands of experiences, some of them sensational, some of them joyful and some of them annoying. But above all I like to share questions, comments and funny situations with colleagues. Like the Japanese lady who held a note in front of me at the door on which her husband had written: "please take off your shoes", or the mother who had asked for and obtained "cultural leave" for her son at school, so that he could see the tuner at work at home. Private customers also sometimes have strange wishes, like a young pianist who asked for a baroque tuning for his modern upright piano, and is still very happy with it.


Accorder, harmoniser un piano

Have you formed any special relationships with certain pianists?

For some concert pianists I've met on stage, I've been maintaining their piano at home for years now and I still contribute to their CD recordings. You get to know each other better not only personally but also professionally, so that you need fewer and fewer words to understand what they want. With foreign pianists I only meet when they are on tour in Belgium, this relationship is less obvious, but there are also some who still recognise me after years.


Marteaux piano

When you listen to a concert, can you not analyse all the sounds of the piano? Can you let yourself be carried away by the music alone?

When I listen to a concert with a piano that I've tuned myself, I tend to listen critically to make sure that no note starts to sound a bit off. Especially at the beginning of my career, I was always focused on that, now much less so. Some of the passion has eroded because concert life has almost become routine, but when music is close to my heart and is performed convincingly, I am always absorbed in it.

Out-of-tune piano sounds can sometimes be heard on CDs or in concerts. Since I have been a piano tuner, they catch my attention much more easily, even when I am not really paying attention. This was not the case before.


Is there a pianist/artist you dream of meeting?

Not really. Pianists give their best at what they are good at: playing the piano, and they delight me with that. I cherish the beautiful encounters I have had with many pianists.

Not really. Pianists give their best at what they are good at: playing the piano, and they delight me with that. I cherish the beautiful encounters I have had with many pianists.


Would you like to join our team of 20 professional tuners?

Send an e-mail to Tine Mannaert at tine.mannaerts@maene.be