Bill Miller learned how to take a piano apart at age 3. Today he operates Bill Miller Piano Warehouse, carrying on his family’s piano repair business.
Forget Billy Joel — Tulsa has its own piano man, and this one makes pianos play again.
A third-generation piano repairman of German descent, Bill Miller is following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps running Bill Miller Piano Warehouse, which sells and services pianos of all ages and types.
When he was only 3, Miller learned how to take a piano apart.
“My job was to learn how to tighten the screws,” Miller says. “When I was 9, the Ford Motor Company came to our school. They heard I could work with pianos, and they blindfolded me and told me if I could take (a piano) apart, put it back together and play a song on it, they’d give me a four-year scholarship.”
Miller successfully completed the task and played “Tea for Two.”
The scholarship remained unused, however, as it is German tradition for the firstborn to carry on the family work. Instead Miller enlisted in the Navy, serving as a SEAL in the Korean War. His years in the service would change his life forever.
“In 1956, we were in the China Sea and a big wave slammed me against the bulkhead,” Miller says. “My feet were entangled in the ladder. I had a broken back, broken fibula, broken sacrum and three broken ribs. They took me to a hospital in Japan and put me in a cast from my shoulders to the bottom of my legs.”
Though doctors said he would never walk again, Miller proved them wrong, working for over a year to be medically released. But his challenges continued when he returned home.
“(The injuries) affected my career because no one wanted to hire me because I had a problem,” Miller says.
He was able to find work at a Safeway and eventually got a job with American Airlines using skills he learned in the Navy. He continued to work on pianos throughout this time and in approximately 1970 he finally took over his family business.
Fast forward to 2013. What’s business like now?
“The biggest challenge we have is finding the right wood to match the original wood in the piano,” he says. “Old wood is hard to find, especially if it has been affected by water damage or fire. It’s a dying trade, so it’s hard finding the kind of material it takes to put (a piano) back together.”
His favorite part of the job, however, involves the work of the piano itself — music. Growing up as a piano player has made his work especially poignant.
“We bring in pianos that have been ruined in tornadoes and hurricanes and fix them,” he says. “They’re completely destroyed, and when they’re done, we can play a song on them.”