Key To Success


Piano man, 69, is still moved by music

Feb. 4, 2006 Updated Aug. 21, 2013 1:17 p.m.

By NICK HARDER / The Orange County Register

PIANO MAN: Layton Rawlins has been moving, fixing and selling pianos for over two decades.

Barely 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighing no more than 160 pounds, 69-year-old Layton Rawlins is anything but the picture of your typical piano mover. Yet there he was, carefully pushing a large, black piano up the three steps to my house.

By himself.

"I do this because I enjoy it," he said, a twinkle in his blue eyes. "In fact, I'm in better shape now than I was when I was 49."

Rawlins has been moving pianos into peoples' homes for more than two decades. Consider that pianos weigh 400 to 900 pounds.

He does this even though he doesn't have to. He could easily just sit at a desk selling or renting pianos at Rawlins Piano Co. in Laguna Niguel, which he owns with his wife, Betty. Or he could stay in his workshop fixing them or getting them ready to sell or rent. His son, Ray, and daughter, Toni, also work in the family business.

"But I really enjoy going into peoples' homes with a piano," Layton said.

Layton didn't start out playing the piano. When he was old enough, he took up the saxophone. Later, he played in big bands. It was only when he took a job as a piano salesman that he branched out musically.

To some homeowners, owning a piano is just owning a piece of beautiful furniture. Got a large area in your formal living room? Why not put a piano there? So what if nobody in the family plays; it will look good there. Just think of all the family photos you can frame and put on top of it.

For most people, though, owning or renting a piano is part of a desire to play it, Layton has observed.

"When I go into a home to counsel someone about what type of piano they should have and where it should go," Layton said, "one of the first things I ask is, 'Where will it go?'

"This isn't just a matter of having enough space; it's also important to know who's going to play it and whether there are windows involved."

If a young son or daughter is going to play - and practice regularly - some homeowners place the piano in a back room. If it is for an adult or mainly for display, it usually goes in a living or family room.

"You want to be careful of placement of any piano near windows in a home," Layton said. "If there's too much exposure, the piano will go out of tune quickly" because of heating and cooling from exposure to sunlight.

There are cosmetic considerations, as well, in placement.

"You don't put an upright piano with its back to windows," he said. "People walking by your home and seeing the open back of a vertical piano through your windows is not something you want. You may want to consider a grand or baby grand piano in those areas."

For years, piano purchases and rentals were in a steep slide. Consider that before television and radio, pianos were the center of home entertainment.

Piano sales peaked at 364,545 in 1909, according to the "Bluebook of Pianos." By 1996, that had shrunk to 84,356. In recent years, though, sales have rebounded. Total piano sales, including digital and electronic player pianos, totaled more than 200,000 in 2004, according to Music Trades Magazine.

One reason piano sales have rebounded, Toni Rawlins suggested, is that studies a few years ago showed that young students did much better at their schoolwork if they also were learning to play a musical instrument, particularly a piano.

"From an educational standpoint, it really made a lot of parents go out and buy a piano," Toni said.

The type of piano that homeowners have been purchasing or renting has also changed over the years, somewhat influenced by everything from the size of a home to loan interest rates, Layton said.

"Lately, for us, we've been putting more upright pianos in homes, especially in places like Ladera Ranch or other new communities," Layton said. "Many of the homes are smaller, and an upright is the only thing that works."

At the same time, with a number of much larger homes being built, there's still a demand for the larger grand and baby grand pianos, he added. Lower interest rates have made it possible for people to buy a more expensive piano.

The difference between a grand and a baby grand has to do with the measurement from the tail - that's the rounded portion of a piano - to the keys. The longer measurements are a type of grand, the shorter a baby grand.

How expensive are pianos?

"A good upright starts around $3,200," Layton said. "A good-quality grand piano could cost $10,000 to $30,000."

Does it matter whether a piano is located on carpet or hardwood flooring?

"You get a somewhat different tone with each," Layton said, "but both are OK."

With a piano on carpeting, you're going to get a "softer" tone. On hardwood flooring, the tone and sound will be more forthcoming, larger and fuller.

"Either way, you're going to enjoy it," Layton said with a smile.

Rawlins Piano Co.

28052 Camino Capistrano, Suite 112

Laguna Niguel

(949) 493-2537

Tips on piano placement

• Keep it away from direct sunlight and out of the path of an air conditioning or heating outlet.

• Monitor the humidity in the area and make sure it stays at a steady range between 45 percent to 65 percent.

• Position the piano away from an uninsulated outside wall, to prevent temperature extremes.CHAS METIVIER, THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

Contact the writer: Write: Nick Harder, c/o Home & Garden, The Orange County Register, P.O. Box 11626, Santa Ana, CA 92711 Call: (714) 796-7769 E-mail:

Layton Rawlins passed away in February of 2015. He is greatly missed by his family!