Gregory was born in Norfolk, Va., and raised in Atlanta. He joined the Army as a musician and was playing the tuba and electric bass as he neared retirement. He and his wife began thinking about moving to somewhere in Middle or East Tennessee, so they would be centrally located to their relatives.
“I told her when she found a job I would put my paperwork in,” he said. “She found a job in Chattanooga, so we moved here.”
He wanted a job after retirement that was related to music, but he wanted to be self-employed.
“One of my friends in the Army suggested piano tuning and it just happened that there were two guys where I was stationed that did piano tuning part time,” he said. “They kind of got me started. One was Army, one was Navy.”
He retired in 1995 with 20 years of service, but during the three years prior to his departure from the military, he learned the art of piano tuning. The more involved he became the more he enjoyed it.
“I’m just having a great time,” he said. “I went into the Army with the intention of staying for 20 years and I went in to play the tuba.”
The soldier and sailor who got him started in piano tuning also introduced Gregory to the Piano Technicians Guild.
“That has been a huge, huge plus for me because they do a lot of education,” he said.
He takes advantage of the education by attending annual conferences.
“I feel pretty comfortable where I’m at, but there are some really incredible piano technicians out there. That’s one of the reasons I attend these annual conferences. I learn stuff from them every time I go.”
Gregory said the field of piano technology is an unregulated trade. Therefore, the Piano Technicians Guild has its own standards of quality for piano technicians. The RPT rating is not meant to be a rating for someone to rebuild a piano. It only shows the technician is ready to handle normal piano service and repair. Only registered piano technicians can advertise with that title. The Piano Technicians Guild does allow associate members to advertise as “associate” members, even though associate members have not passed the exams.
He said there are three levels of piano service. There is basic tuning which mainly involves adjusting the piano wires to make the instrument sound good. Then there is historical tuning, meaning customers want their piano tuned the way Beethoven’s was so they can play his music and feel authentic. Then there is repair.
Gregory said the strangest request he has received was to evaluate a Yamaha grand piano burned in a fire.
“It was beyond rebuilding. It was just trashed on the inside,” he said. “I showed him everything that was wrong, what needed to be done and how much it would cost and for that amount of money, he could go out and buy a new Yamaha.”
About a week later, the customer who owned the Yamaha called Gregory at about nine in the evening. He told of a man who claimed he could fix the burned piano. He offered an even swap. The other man would exchange a Chickering piano for the burned-out Yamaha. The customer and his wife played the Chickering. It was made in the 1920s. It had a walnut case and played nice.
“My customer calls me up and says he wants to swap me even. What do I do?,” Gregory said. “I said for him to get it in writing.”
He added, “So, they swapped and my customer got the nice Chickering grand and this other fellow, as it turned out, all he wanted was what we call a P-S-O, which is a piano shaped object in his living room. As long as you didn’t try to play it, it was fine!”