What to wear? This is a fun­da­men­tal ques­tion of piano-tuning. As a piano tuner you will be in other people’s beau­ti­ful homes, walk­ing across their white car­pets, work­ing in their immac­u­late liv­ing rooms or stud­ies. They expect you to be smart, but, on occa­sion, you need to rum­mage about in the filth­i­est of instru­ments to extract bro­ken parts and repair them. You can either turn the dirty jobs down, take an over­all, or keep a large wardrobe of smart but old clothes.

Your first appoint­ment is at nine o’clock. (This leisurely start gives you a chance to answer emails and tele­phone mes­sages from the pre­vi­ous evening.) As you enter the hall of an ele­gant town­house, the smell of fresh cof­fee greets you. The good news doesn’t end there. The client has just bought a fif­teen year-old Yamaha upright piano: a fine instru­ment in good con­di­tion. You have been highly rec­om­mended by their piano teacher so you do not have to prove your­self. Clients who have not owned instru­ments before will stand around the piano and watch you work. They will ask how you became a piano tuner, when pianos were invented, and how they work. This is a great oppor­tu­nity to show off and a won­der­ful anti­dote to the highly skilled but some­what lonely tun­ing process. So, allow plenty of time.

Next stop: a con­verted barn a few miles out of town. You have to walk past a four-wheel drive BMW and a top of the range Mer­cedes to reach the door. As before, a new client, but this piano that has been bought on Ebay for fifty pounds. On first inspec­tion you reel off a well-rehearsed list of con­di­tions and pro­vi­sos: ‘When we spoke price on the phone you didn’t say there were six bro­ken ham­mer shanks. Do you realise that if I repair these, the oth­ers (clearly in a frag­ile state) will prob­a­bly break too? Because it is so far out of tune it may take a cou­ple of ses­sions to get it up to pitch,’ and so on. The sta­tus of the piano tuner swiftly goes from one that is up with the GP or fam­ily accoun­tant, right down to gen­eral dogs­body who earns money for old rope, and whose visit is an unwel­come irri­ta­tion that has to be slot­ted in between get­ting chil­dren to rid­ing lessons and shop­ping at Waitrose.

Because you did so much extra work on the Ebay piano, you eat your lunch as you drive to the local jazz venue. The band want the Stein­way tuned before they rehearse in the after­noon — and for you to call back before the gig in the evening to check and tidy. You work in the half light as road­ies clat­ter about with mike-stands and lad­ders, but you’ve tuned it a thou­sand times before and it is sec­ond nature, almost.

In the after­noon you visit an old client, a retired GP for whom you tune twice a year, as reg­u­lar as clock­work. He is par­tic­u­lar, and wants to dis­cuss any tiny prob­lem with the piano. But when you finally iron out any nig­gles, he is extremely appre­cia­tive and you leave feel­ing highly val­ued. Many tun­ings are on pianos for chil­dren learn­ing, but amongst adult musi­cians, Doc­tors, Uni­ver­sity lec­tur­ers and school teach­ers seem to rank high in number.

You head home to tele­phone mes­sages and emails. Piano tuners do not earn enough to employ sec­re­taries and the admin­is­tra­tive side of busi­ness stretches into the evening — an intru­sion that has been eased to an extent by the mobile phone and com­puter. Usu­ally, your work­ing day ends here as you set­tle in for din­ner with the fam­ily. But don’t for­get, you must return to check the Stein­way for the jazz.

The stage is cramped and you have to untan­gle the vocal mike-lead and the stage-light from the music desk before you can check the tun­ing. It has barely shifted. They could have man­aged with­out the extra visit, but you can always make some improve­ment. You spend ten min­utes on the top octave. Money for old rope, you won­der? No, money for peace of mind; peace of mind for the pianist who can feel con­fi­dent that the piano will not reflect badly on her play­ing. And for you, know­ing that if the pianist is happy, you will be asked again.