Restoring Greatness: Forty-two-year Steinway Veteran Eddie Carrasco Is A Restoration Wizard
Twelve thousand. That’s how many parts—ballpark—make up a Steinway & Sons piano.
One hundred sixty. That’s how many years Steinway & Sons has been making pianos, with each year’s technology, materials, and processes evolving to reflect new advances in piano manufacturing.
Start doing the math, and pretty soon it’s clear: the skills and knowledge required to be able to restore a Steinway & Sons piano are vast. There is only one right way to restore a Steinway piano—any introduction of imitation parts or faulty workmanship, and the authenticity (and value) of the instrument is irrevocably eroded. Thus, a Steinway & Sons restoration technician must understand every facet of piano making and how it has changed over the years. The technician becomes a factory in miniature—able to address restoration of each one of those twelve thousand parts, from sweeping lid to elegant foot pedal. As a poet who grew up not far from the Steinway & Sons factory once wrote: “I am large. I contain multitudes.” ~Walt Whitman.
Enter Eddie Carrasco; when it comes to Steinway pianos, Eddie contains multitudes indeed. Forty-two years ago, he walked through the doors of the Steinway & Sons factory, and he’s been walking through those doors ever since. Today, he is one of the most respected and revered restoration specialists in the factory, and one of the few people in the world who know how to take a Steinway piano of any vintage and model and restore it to its original glory. As such, he holds the venerable Steinway & Sons legacy in the palms of his capable hands.
When Eddie looks out the window of the factory in Astoria, he sees something pretty special: PS141, the public school he attended more than fifty years ago. Back then, Eddie was a newcomer to America, having arrived from coastal Ecuador as a young teenager with his family. They were looking for opportunity. Eddie’s sister came to the United States first, at age eighteen. “I don’t know where she got the courage,” he says. After she found a job and a place to live, she sent for the rest of her family, and the Carrascos arrived in New York in the summer of 1966.
“I was thirteen years and seven months old,” he says. “That’s what it says on my passport.” The adjustment must have been challenging for a young South American man who suddenly finds himself a resident of one of the biggest cities in the United States. But Eddie quickly found a focus in developing the hands-on crafting skills that would become his life’s work. “I like to tinker. I’ve always liked to tinker,” he says. “When I was a little boy, my mother worked as a seamstress. If her sewing machine broke down, I’d fix it—sometimes filing a nail into the shape of a tiny screwdriver to make the repair. I’ve always liked to fiddle around with things like that.”
It was an interest that would serve him well; when Eddie finished school, he immediately started looking for work. An older man who lived in his neighborhood worked at Steinway & Sons, and he suggested Eddie try the factory—it was just around the corner, after all, and it offered the promise of steady, hands-on work.
“My first job was in the shipping department,” Eddie remembers, “and I was lucky, because the people I worked with were very attentive and open to providing new opportunities.” It wasn’t long before his skill as a problem-solver came to the attention of his supervisors. One foreman, in particular, took note. “I want to put you inside the piano,” he told Eddie.
And from there Eddie has never looked back. He has since worked nearly every department in the factory—from wood cutting to finishing—with each new position teaching him more about what goes on “inside the piano.” Duane Olko, Grand Finishing Foreman, is one of the people who has seen first-hand what Eddie can do. “I think he is the most talented woodworking craftsman and all-around piano-knowledgeable technician throughout the plant,” Olko says simply. “He’s infinitely prideful and caring about sustaining Steinway’s lead in the industry.”
No Room For Error
By 1986, when a job opened up in the company’s renowned Restoration Department, Eddie was a natural fit. Bill Youse, Director of Technical Services and Special Projects, remembers hand-selecting Eddie for the position.
“When I was put in charge of Restoration, the first person I brought with me was Eddie,” Youse says. “There are only a handful of people who can do Steinway restoration. Eddie was my number one choice. He is the most well-rounded technician in the factory.”
(And Youse would know, incidentally. He is himself a forty-year Steinway veteran. “Yes, we go way back,” he says, laughing. “Eddie has two or three years on me, but for forty years now we have worked side by side at the factory, usually no more than twenty feet apart. We grew up in this place together.”)
Work in the Restoration Department is demanding. It takes six months to restore a piano, and the factory restores about two hundred instruments a year, with the average age of each instrument around 75 years. And the stakes are high: a fifty year old Steinway piano commands a price more than nine times its original cost. Thus, there is absolutely no room for error.
With Eddie, there’s no worry. He recently helped restore the White House Steinway, a Steinway from the Motown Museum that had been played by many of the Motown legends, and a Steinway used on American Idol. His passion for Steinway & Sons grows stronger each day, he says. “I think we are making great pianos. I truly believe that. I’ve seen these pianos from the inside out, and I know the quality of both the instrument and the workmanship. The pianos get better and better, every year. I am very, very proud to be a part of this company.”
Those around him are hoping he’ll be a part of the company for as long as possible. “Now and then he threatens to retire, and I guess after forty-two years I can’t blame him,” Youse says. “But I dread the day. He’s one of the good ones.”