British Columbia·Still Standing

Restoring pianos to their former glory, one piece at a time  

If you have a Steinway or Bechstein that doesn’t sound like it used to — Story and Company Pianos can fix it for you.

From Steinways to Bechsteins, rebuilding pianos is a labour of love for Mike Story

Mike Story plays on a Bechstein rosewood grand piano that he recently restored, while his wife Jane Story looks on. (Jennifer Chen)

In the centre of Mike Story's workshop sits a small grand piano that has been taken apart. Only the black wood frame remains intact.

Story points to the parts lying underneath on the floor and on a nearby workbench — pieces from a 1929 Bechstein belonging to Miles Black, a prominent jazz pianist in Vancouver.

"It's quite rewarding," he said about the restoration work.

"You take something that looked and sounded horrible to something that looks and sounds great."

He's seen many pianos come and go as part of his work rebuilding and restoring the instruments through his business Story and Company Pianos. 

“I have to duplicate this and it has to fit the plate perfectly.” Mike Story slides the pin block (where the tuning pins are housed) into the metal plate to check the fit. He spends hours getting it just right to make sure the piano sounds its best. (Jennifer Chen)

Learning on the job

He was "very naive" when he started in the business, Story said with a laugh.

He didn't know how to tune a piano when he began, but his partner, Scott Harker, had some experience.

"I had started messing with pianos in my garage," he said.

Story and Harker came up with the idea to open a shop and scraped together $10,000 each.

They found a man in Washington state who sold them 56 pianos, and the pair took the instruments back 14 at a time, Story recalled. They worked on the pianos and learned as they went.

In 1991, they opened a shop at Hastings Street and Boundary Road in Vancouver and, later, moved to a larger location on Terminal Avenue.

"I think I had 70 pianos when we moved," Story said.

These piano hammers have to be replaced as part of rebuilding the keyboard. (Jennifer Chen)

Piano parties

Top quality pianos would come through the shop, and when they were finished, the shop would celebrate.

"We would throw a party — usually with the owners in mind to come down and hear the piano being played by really good players," he said.

That's where Story met well-known musicians like Miles Black, Michael Kaeshammer and Dal Richards.

"One of the main reasons I started this business is just getting close to piano players," said Story, who started playing the piano when he was 28.

"It's not an easy business."

In 2002, he moved to Anmore and built a workshop in his home to continue his work.

Mike and Jane Story show off the Bechstein grand piano that Mike recently rebuilt, as part of his business Story and Company Pianos. (Jennifer Chen)

Music runs in the family

Jane Story has watched her husband make it through some of the tough times.

Even after all these years, she said, her husband is still passionate about giving pianos a new life.

"It's so inspiring to see his constant enthusiasm," Jane Story said.

Discarded piano parts have found a new place in Mike Story's home. Here, piano legs make up part of the bannister. (Jennifer Chen)

Although their two grown sons haven't shown an interest in carrying on the business, they are both quite musical.

"It's a lot to do with [their father] Mike," she said.

"We always have music surrounding us."

Music certainly runs in the family — Story's brother Jerry is a jazz pianist.

Story rebuilds the pianos one key at a time. (Jennifer Chen/CBC)

Upstairs in the workshop, Story was working on rebuilding the hammers and keyboard for the Bechstein piano, one key at a time.

The piano will probably be finished in about three or four months, he said.

Although the work may be slowing down, Story doesn't see it coming to an end any time soon.

"I'm just going to keep doing what I love until I can't do it," he said.

"They're making new pianos all the time, so there are a lot of pianos out there that are going to need attention."

Still Standing is a series about the small businesses in the Lower Mainland that have managed to stay open despite the challenges. Listen every second Tuesday on CBC Radio, The Early Edition.

If you have a suggestion for a store or business in the Lower Mainland that's been around for awhile and provides a specialized service, or has an unusual survival story, please email earlyed@cbc.ca

About the Author

Jennifer Chen worked as a radio producer at CBC Vancouver for 14 years. She is relocating to Ottawa and recovering from her road trip.