Still tuning tunes
Marta Hansen, The Piano Gal, is still tuning (and customizing) after all these years.
Marta Hansen is pinching herself as The Piano Gal Shop approaches its 10th anniversary this November. Much has changed, and yet much remains the same since IB first featured the downtown Sun Prairie store as a startup in 2013.
Fueled by business growth, Hansen relocated the store in 2021 to larger space on Linnerud Drive, just around the corner from the original storefront. Her children also have blossomed — now ages 11 and 14 — demanding more of her time.
No longer the sole employee, four part-timers have been hired to handle the retail operation, freeing Hansen for more piano tuning, repairing, and upcycling of pianos of any type.
“Pianos are so complex,” Hansen states. “The only thing that really matters is on the inside, but people care about the outside. I know what a good price is, and I can flip a piano like people flip houses, but I am a piano technician first,” she says, emphasizing her primary role.
The store’s used piano sales have increased, while Hansen’s artistic side continues to repurpose consoles, uprights, and even grand pianos into bars, coffee tables, bookshelves, benches, convertible desks, a Murphy bed — the possibilities are endless (see website for photos). Some of her pieces are in homes as far away as California and Texas, thanks to the internet.The larger Piano Gal Shop now includes five studios available for music lessons, with 11 music teachers — independent contractors — renting the spaces. Its gift shop continues to offer guitars, ukuleles, sheet music, supplies, and music-related gifts and décor.
“I’ve expanded the offerings as I stepped back from teaching,” Hansen reports. “When I first opened, I was tuning maybe five pianos a week. That’s increased to about 14 and I also tune all the pianos for the Beaver Dam School District.”
Whether old or new, pianos are definitely “in,” Hansen insists. The problem, she relates, is that too often buyers feel overwhelmed at the thought of going into a high-end piano store. “They might buy a piano that’s more than what they need for $10,000, or they go on Craigslist and buy something cheap or ‘free’ that’s junk and will cost a lot to tune and fix. And they usually don’t learn this until they’ve already spent $400 to move it!”
A brand new, middle-of-the-road console piano can run around $5,000 to $6,000, she notes. A used piano from the Piano Gal might range from about $1,400 to about $3,800 on average, depending on the amount of work required. Each has been inspected, cleaned, tuned, refinished, or painted.
“I just sold a 4-year-old baby grand for $10,000, but it would have cost about $18,000 retail,” Hansen says. “This makes ownership of a quality instrument more affordable, which is so important.”
Piano prices include home delivery (within reason) through a partnership Hansen established with Gorilla Movers, another Sun Prairie business.
Inside the shop, newer pianos are often sold on consignment, while pianos between six and 30 years old can usually be transformed with neutral paint color, polished hardware, and sold as-is or at a customization price.
“I have the Sherwin-Williams color wheel here and I’ll do anything a client requests to match their decor, from color to upholstered bench seats,” Hansen adds.
Pianos older than 30 often age out, meaning the cost of repairs may surpass what it might cost to purchase new.
Sentimental value frequently drives customer decisions, she says. Transforming pianos into unique furniture or wall art is an option that “works great for those who want to keep a piano in the family and out of the landfill.”
The Piano Gal Shop
365 E. Linnerud Drive
Sun Prairie, WI 53590