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Photo by Diane Cox
Doug Bullock sits next to an antique organ being refurbished in his shop in Alton.
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Photo by Diane Cox
An 1860s Gem Roller organ that is being rebuilt by Doug Bullock, owner of Piano World Enterprises in Alton.
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Photo by Diane Cox
Doug Bullock stands next to a player piano he’s rebuilding in his shop at 1126 Milton Road.
ALTON — Every piano tells a story and every organ has its own personality.
Alton’s piano man, Doug Bullock, has spent the last 40 years telling the tales of music through the rebuilding, repairing and tuning of antique instruments.
“I planned for this to be a hobby, but I found out that I can make a living with it,” Bullock said. “It can take six months to a year to rebuild a piano, player piano or organ and do it the right way.”
Bullock began tuning pianos at the age of 12 for his church, which couldn’t afford to have it professionally done. Now as the owner of Dallas Pipe Organ Service and Piano World Enterprises, Bullock attributes his expertise to the person who literally wrote the book on piano maintenance, repair, tuning and rebuilding.
“Through my time at Baylor University, I was fortunate to learn under the best, Dr. Joyce Jones,” Bullock said. “I assisted the piano technician, Danny Boone, with regulation and restoration of the music school pianos. I also began assisting the Baylor organ technician with his tuning and maintenance of the numerous Baylor instruments. I left Baylor with more than 10 years of experience tuning and repairing. Since that time, I’ve learned more through trial and challenges. My mission is to restore these instruments to as close as their original condition as possible.”
Bullock is working on more than two dozen projects, ranging from tuning to a complete rebuild. His worn hands show the result of four decades of small detail work with wood and metal pieces.
“There are more than 10,000 pieces to a grand piano and I touch every one of them,” Bullock said. “It’s amazing how technology has advanced over the years and how it helps me today. You can use a phone app to tune a piano these days. I have used the app, but I end up using it for about the first dozen keys and then I go back to pitch forks and tuning by ear and hand.”
Piano repair and restoration is something Bullock fears is a dying art and is considering taking students to learn the skills needed to continue his work after he retires.
“Tell me how someone is going to be able to tune or refurbish an MP3 player 10 years from now,” Bullock said. “You don’t fix those, you throw them away and get a new one. You don’t do that with a 100-year-old antique piano. You don’t just throw grandma’s prized possession away and get a new one.”
Bullock has a part-time employee who is learning at his side, but he fears that without a post-high school institution offering a program in the field, piano and organs may be at risk to become a thing of the past.
Along with continued education and reference to keep his skills sharp, Bullock said regular maintenance will keep a piano in good condition to be passed along from generation to generation.
“After the economy took a dive in 2008, it was hard to find people who were willing to invest in their pianos anymore,” Bullock said. “The cost was not practical. Most people are under the misconception that it’s too costly to have the work done. A person should have their piano tuned twice a year. The best time is in the spring and in the fall before any major weather changes. The weather is what affects the sound of a piano. It’s the heat and cold expanding and contract the strings and wood that makes it out of tune. It’s more affordable than people may think. It can also allow a good tuner to catch a small problem before it’s a big problem.”
Anyone interested in piano, player piano, and organ tuning; repair, refurbishments or a rebuild can contact Bullock at (314) 772-6676 to make an appointment and receive an appraisal. Piano World Enterprises and Dallas Pipe Organ Service is located at 1126 Milton Road in Alton.
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