Serving Marin since 1973

 

Christopher Ris ~ A 19th Century Craftsman with 21st Century Tools

 

“My father was Swiss, so I’m very detail oriented, and my mother was a perfectionist, so I always worry I could do a better job.”

Son of an acclaimed biologist father and a pediatrician mother who frequently made house calls, Christopher learned early on the value of meticulous methodology and exceptional customer care which has informed his long career as a piano technician and owner of a state of the art service and restoration shop.

 

” Music has always been a part of my life.”

As a toddler, Christopher was fascinated by music and loved Bach’s Goldberg Variations. One day, he tried to play the record himself and dropped and broke it. As his mother scolded him, he replied: “I am already punished – I can’t listen to Bach anymore.”

 

Christopher played piano during his childhood, and as a teenager became captivated by world music and its lush sonorities. He studied flamenco guitar, African drumming, and ultimately settled on North Indian classical music. In 1971, he moved to Marin County to begin studies with sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan.  His discerning ear was immediately noticed by the daughter of the conductor of New York’s Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, who convinced him to become a piano tuner/technician to support his music study.

After completing “Introduction to Piano Technology” at the SF Conservatory of Music, Christopher trained with the teacher for two years, and in 1974 began a six year apprenticeship with Leonard Jared in San Rafael.  It was Jared who impressed upon him the significance of the piano hammer, for it is this mallet of wood and compressed felt that is responsible for awakening whatever beauty resides in an individual piano.

Throughout this time Christopher pursued a performing career on the sarod; as a soloist, with the New Maihar Band, and as a primary accompanist to the world-renowned kathak dancer, Chitresh Das, his company, and Christopher’s wife Marni.

 

In 1981, he opened his own piano workshop and began to delve deeper into the complexities of piano mechanics and tonal production. He became absorbed in finding solutions to every problem affecting the performance of this instrument: What can be done to make an old piano sound better, sometimes even better than new? What are the best strings, the best hammers, the best action parts, the best wood for a soundboard, the optimum down pressure of the strings on the bridges? How can action parts be modified to optimize the sound and touch they provide?

In 1985, he was selected for Yamaha’s Expanded Service Seminar, and in 1990 Steinway invited him to New York for their factory training. He began to specialize in Steinway service and restoration and applied the techniques of concert grand preparation to all the pianos he encountered, convinced as was another of his mentors, Peter Wolford, that “Everybody deserves good piano service.”

In the same year Christopher joined the Piano Technicians’ Guild, and because of the high marks he earned on his Craftsman exam, was asked to become a tuning examiner for the Guild. Today, Ris Piano in San Rafael is a leading center for piano restoration and services, offering the most current technologies to optimize the performance of your instrument.

Newcomb Barger

 

Machinist, woodworker, shipwright, luthier and inventor (with 10 accepted claims for a patented sliding guitar voicing bar), Newcomb has been with Ris Piano since 1989. In the early 1980’s he was the production manager for the making of sixty reproductions of the Seeburg KT Special Nickelodeon which played as many as eleven different instruments from a paper roll. They were sold to collectors worldwide and one is currently in service on San Francisco’s Pier 39. His skill, knowledge and experience with all the materials that make up a piano have facilitated the meticulous repair and restoration of the hundreds of instruments and actions that have come through the shop.

He most recently participated in the building of the 136 foot brigantine Matthew Turner, an educational tall ship, specializing in building the booms, masts and bowsprit.