Everyone thought Daniel Ley's idea was crazy. "This is unheard of," he said. "People looked at me and said, 'You are nuts.'"
Ley is the owner of Ley Piano Co., a Tucson company that does piano repairs, tuning and restoration. After an idea sparked eight years ago, the company recently finished manufacturing its first piano.
"We're trying to do something that you would see someone do 100 years ago," said Ley.
Ley Piano Co. grew out of Walt's Piano Service, launched in 1973 by Walt Brown. Ley started working for Brown in 1988 and when Brown died, he left the company to Ley.
"Pianos are our life," said Ley. "I mean, I don't know how to say it. It's what we do, it's what we breathe."
When Ley proposed the idea of designing and building a piano, his employees were less than enthusiastic.
"They saw it as too overwhelming," he said.
With good reason.
Fewer than 10 companies in the U.S. still make pianos, said Shawn Bruce, marketing manager for the Piano Technicians Guild. Ley said at the turn of the century there were maybe 100 companies, but most have either closed down or moved overseas.
Most of the American manufacturers started out the same way Ley did, in a small piano shop.
"It's like the American dream," he said. "That's what we're trying to do, to bring the craftsmanship of building pianos back to the United States and show people that we can still do this."
Francisco Ley, a piano technician for Ley Piano Co., and Daniel's brother, worked on the company's first piano and said seeing the final product makes all the hard work worth it.
"People don't really grasp how much labor goes in to something like this," he said. "It's an instrument, but also it's a piece of furniture. It has to look beautiful and it also has to sound fantastic."
After two years of building and testing the piano, named Monserrat after the Leys' mother, Ley Piano Co. is working on two more pianos, which workers hope to have finished by the end of this year.
The Monserrat has been played by a few organizations in Tucson in order to get exposure for the company.
Julian Ackerley, director of the Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus, said the piano was used at the group's annual gala and was favorably received.
"We loved the fact that we were able to have this piano," he said. "It's a beautiful piano to look at, and it's a beautiful piano in its sound. It seemed high quality in every way."
Daniel Ley said what makes his pianos unique is that they're made with traditional methods of manufacturing that were used at the turn of the century by companies like Steinway & Sons. Ley and his piano technicians use materials like wood and lacquer on their pieces, which will help them stand the test of time.
"There are a few companies that are still using these methods, but of course their prices are just out of reach from the regular person," Ley said.
Ley said he spent around $200,000 building the first piano. But he's passionate about making his pianos accessible to middle-class families, so he decided to price it at $25,790. A Steinway & Sons piano of the same size costs about $70,000.
"I really believe in this," he said. "I think sometimes that's how it used to be in the old days - the No. 1 person who didn't get paid was the owner."
He said he understands that buying his piano, even at that price, is still a big purchase.
"For some people, that will be the most expensive thing they have in their home," he said. "We want them to be proud of what they have and, of course, for that product to be there for years to come."
Ley's goal is that within five years, his company can produce about 100 pianos a year, which he says is nothing compared to the rest of the piano market in the U.S.
"I would like to go ahead and enter the market," he said. "When someone is looking for a quality instrument at a sensible price, they can think of us."
After all the time and money put into this project, he said, he hopes the market will welcome the Ley Piano Co.
"This whole process has been financed by me," he said. "I'm putting everything on the line. It's everything we have."
Did you know
A grand piano has about 10,000 moving parts, said Shawn Bruce, marketing manager for the Piano Technicians Guild. An upright piano has 6,000 to 8,000, depending on who makes it and where it will be used.
Rikki Mitchell is a University of Arizona journalism student and a NASA Space Grant intern. Contact her at email@example.com or 434-4083.