FREEPORT — As a piano player and a craftsman who also builds the stringed instruments, Rod Regier has always had a finely tuned sense of hearing.
Next month Regier’s work will be expressed visually on an episode of the television show “Handcrafted America.” For a man who spends most of his time in a workshop building old-fashioned wooden pianos, this presents a challenge.
“The crazy thing is, I don’t have a television in the house,” he said.
Regier, who is a former Freeport town councilor, owns R.J. Regier, a piano company based out of his South Freeport home. He’s played piano since he was a child and started working for a harpsichord maker in 1969. Harpsichords are plucked string instruments, while pianos are struck string instruments.
He began making pianos in the late ’70s, and “making instruments is about all I’ve done since 1978,” Regier said.
“Handcrafted America,” which is on the INSP channel, features artisans who make products using old-fashioned methods. Regier was approached in the spring about appearing on the show. His episode will air Nov. 25 at 9:30 p.m. Since he doesn’t own a TV, Regier said he plans to watch it at a friend’s house.
Pianos are important to Regier for many reasons. He said that while “a lot of preference is in our DNA,” the piano is a special instrument because it’s “central to the Western music world.”
Regier said he enjoys the sound made by pianos and the ability a musician has to control the instrument’s volume with the force of each keystroke.
“I like keyboard instruments where you can play multiple lines instead of one note at a time,” he said.
Regier said he doesn’t know what his life would be without pianos.
“They’re part of me,” he said.
Since 1978, Regier has made fewer than 100 pianos, but, he said, it takes more than a year to fashion one of the instruments – although he can make multiple pianos at once. Regier hopes to make at least 100 in his lifetime.
When building a piano, most of the time is spent waiting for glue and shellac to dry, which can take a couple of months, according to Regier.
“There’s a lot of waiting involved in making instruments,” he said.
The old-fashioned pianos Regier makes are made entirely from wood, except for the strings and pins, while modern pianos have cast iron frames. Regier gets wood for his instruments from all over the country and the world – including wood from trees grown in Freeport.
Regier said half of his pianos are sold to individuals and half are sold to institutions such as schools. Regier also repairs pianos, and rents them out for recordings and performances. His pianos have been played at Carnegie Hall in New York City four times, most recently Oct. 24.
“The point of these instruments is for good players to express great music,” he said.
“Handcrafted America” is hosted by Jill Wagner, who formerly hosted “Wipeout” on ABC. Wagner visited Regier in August to film the episode, but Regier said he was hesitant when first approached by the show’s producers. Now, however, he’s glad he agreed to appear on the show.
“I said yes to them to let a broader world know about these instruments, both the modern piano and the early piano,” he said.
Regier said although he doesn’t watch television, he found the behind-the-scenes process fascinating.
“I never gave any thought to what’s involved in television production, and it was interesting,” he said. “This place was full of people and stuff. The geek in me was interested in how everything was operating.”
Being in front of a camera was a new experience for Regier, and he said it showed him another world.
“I live by my ears,” he said. “Dealing with a visual medium was different.”
Freeport resident Rod Regier, who creates old-fashioned wood pianos, is having his craft featured on the television show Handcrafted America on Nov. 25.
Rod Regier, who makes pianos completely of wood, stands with wood from Freeport trees, which he will use to make an instrument.