Thierry Gonzalez returns to piano repair business without important tools
By Gary Kohatsu
Thierry Gonzalez is constantly apologizing for the condition of his Gardena warehouse, which is filled to capacity with pianos and parts of pianos in a variety of conditions.
“I’m so sorry for the mess,” he says, as if he thinks his warehouse garage should be immaculate. He has operated his piano repair, tuning and restoration business since the late 1990s.
“I just don’t have time to keep it clean,” he says. “I’m trying to do so much. I had to let my workers go because of the COVID virus. Now I’m a one-man band.”
These days, the 61-year-old Riverside man is picking up the pieces of his business without the use of some prime work tools.
Gonzales, who owns California Piano Services, is still reeling from a Feb. 21 theft of his piano tools, he says. Thieves broke into his work car and took a variety of tools, including specialized instruments designed for pianos, such as Steinway and Yamaha.
His loss of equipment is estimated at more than $15,000. Gonzalez says. The tools were not insured.
Two men are seen on surveillance video driving a dark-colored pickup truck into a strip of warehouses in the 1700 block of West 134th Street, Gardena.
“They went to the back where my business is,” Gonzalez says. “They went directly to my vehicle that has my tools. They had to know it was there. I believed they targeted those tools.”
Gonzalez says he realized his work gear was stolen when he stepped out of his business and saw his car with all the doors wide open.
“I was so much in shock that I didn’t even realize they also took my truck (a dark blue 1999 Toyota pickup, which has been modified to transport pianos to and from his customers).”
He called the police and also KTLA Channel 5 News.
VIDEO FOOTAGE OF CRIME
The surveillance video was provided by a neighboring business. Coincidental or not, the theft occurred after Gonzales had removed his own security camera.
He said he was in the process of installing a new camera system.
Gonzalez, who is the sole supporter of his family of seven (he has a wife and five kids — ages 1 to 15), made a plea on TV news for the return of his work tools. “Please return, no questions asked.”
Weeks have passed and Gonzalez believes his tools are long gone. East Los Angeles police did recover his work truck days after the theft, but at a price.
“Yeah, they found it but when I tried to pick it up, they gave me the wrong address,” Gonzalez says. “It turned out that it was the right place, but they were closed on Friday. So I had to wait more days.”
Gonzalez was reunited with his truck, but had to fork out money for the days it sat in storage.
He is thankful the old Toyota, of which he just installed a new engine, was neither vandalized nor stripped.
Despite his lack of work equipment, he still puts in long hours at his business. There are mouths to feed, bills to pay and customers to keep happy, he says.
Gonzalez has resorted to borrowing tools from colleagues in the business. And purchasing other instruments through online deals.
He set up a Go Fund Me page with the hope of raising $20,000.
“Yeah, I set that up so I can buy new ramps and tuning machine, but so far, only raise $350,” he says and shakes his head.
He explains that his first name is French, from his mother’s side of the family. His father is Spanish, who immigrated to Mexico decades ago.
Growing up in Mexico, Gonzalez taught himself to play the piano as a teenager and from ages 20 to 25, he performed at resorts and hotels.
“I was pretty good,” he says with a chuckle. “But I had to choose between playing the piano and going to work (on pianos). I chose working… maybe I should have stayed with playing.”
He learned the business trade as an employee of Yamaha pianos. Ultimately in the 1990s, Gonzalez went to work restringing pianos for Nunley Brothers Pianos, a highly-respected piano company in the north part of Gardena.
When they wanted to sell, he opted to buy the business.
“I worked for Nunley for three to five years,” Gonzalez says. “Then I bought the company from them and stayed here in Gardena.”
Dedicated to his craft, Gonzalez says that he never advertises his business, nor does he maintain a website. His clients are either repeat customers or come by referral.
He will travel as far as he needs to work with clients, from Santa Barbara to San Diego. And is willing to drive out-of-state on occasion, such as to Las Vegas.
His clientele is comprised of primarily schools, churches and consumers, mixed with professionals from Hollywood, the music industry and upscale customers, he says.
FOR THE LOVE OF PIANOS
A jovial man, Gonzalez values old-world craftsmanship and refinement. He does admit the parts he replaces are of higher quality than was available in centuries past.
There is a history behind the many pianos that he is repairing or restoring. Some of the instruments date back to the 1700s.
He is willing to give outsiders a tour of his work place as if it were a museum.
“I have (piano) hammers, you can see. This is a part borrowed from my friend,” Gonzalez says as he holds up various items in his warehouse. “I have all kinds of things. These are spacers and these are springs, all kinds of springs. I can’t afford everything now, it’s too much. Look at these… these are the jacks, the strings, look, look brand new keys and shanks… I made these legs for a piano I’m working on.”
His words come rapidly. He sifts through containers of small piano parts. Before he can finish explaining how various parts work, Gonzalez is off on a new thought.
“You see that piano over there? That’s the Lamborghini of pianos,” he says with a smile, pointing at a Grotrian-Steinweg, a maker of premium pianos. “Very expensive — $50,000 piano. The most expensive pianos are the easiest to sell. Because of the name. Everybody wants good sound. Professionals want it and so do people with money, just for ownership.”
Gonzalez says the piano repair field is a fading business. He ponders whether to move his California Pianos Services to a different location if only to stay ahead of the rental rates. First the pandemic, now the theft, he says his business will not be passed on to his children.
“They can learn the music and my oldest is a pretty good musician,” he says. “I don’t want them doing what I do.”
He surveys his garage of endless pianos.
“It’s a mess, I know. But it was organized,” he says. “I had everything in my car. Now, without it, I’m really affected.”
The Thierry Gonzalez family set up a GoFundMe page to help raise funds to replace the stolen work tools . Use the link:
Anyone with information regarding the theft is asked to contact Gardena police at 310-217-9600.