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#2018994 - 01/22/13 12:24 PM A Steinway Pronounced Dead
RestorerPhil Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/26/12
Posts: 212
Loc: Georgia, USA
The scenario

Church choir room piano
Steinway 45 from 1966
First time I tuned it: 1983 ( and it was bad then)

As I was tuning the piano yesterday, I told the music minister that I would send back a letter regarding possible major work on the piano. When I said that, I was actually thinking of restringing, new hammers, key bushings, damper & tail felt, etc. - a pretty thorough internal rebuild with the option offered to refinish (and maybe the option to break the other work down into two phases).

After I reviewed my customer card notations, then notations written on the piano top beam by other tuners, the reputation of Steinway uprights in general, and my own accumulated experience with them, I had to do a 180. Deep down I had to accept with consternation that a Steinway, a STEINWAY!, probably was not worth the rebuild in this situation: The key issue was that it would need a new sound board and that this would push the cost beyond practicality. On the 45 model, with its blocked-off, and fairly small sound board, and with its tenor end of the treble bridge so close to the bottom of the piano frame, I could not see attempting to doctor the board some way. In fact, I am not sure that even a new board in that design would have the richness of even a Yamaha P22, and surely not a new U-1, U-3, or a Walter 1500, or a Kawai K-5, K-8, etc.

The letter is going out, saying, with explanation of the details, "Regretfully, you should replace it."


Edited by RestorerPhil (01/22/13 06:12 PM)
Lavender Piano Services
Established 1977
Tuning, Concert Maintenance,
Rebuilding & Restoration

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#2019009 - 01/22/13 12:49 PM Re: A Steinway Pronounced Dead [Re: RestorerPhil]
Mark Cerisano, RPT Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/24/10
Posts: 2324
Loc: Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Their grands are amazing. I don't know why the uprights don't have the same reputation.
Mark Cerisano, RPT

#2019098 - 01/22/13 02:59 PM Re: A Steinway Pronounced Dead [Re: Mark Cerisano, RPT]
Dan Casdorph Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/20/09
Posts: 398
Loc: Morgantown, West Virginia
"Regrettfully, you should replace it."

I've seen this in new Steinway verticals.
Casdorph Piano Service
Morgantown, WV
All pianos are bald ones.

#2019100 - 01/22/13 03:01 PM Re: A Steinway Pronounced Dead [Re: Mark Cerisano, RPT]
pianolive Offline
Full Member

Registered: 09/09/11
Posts: 332
Loc: Europe
The K upright is a fine instrument.
Some manufacturers make very good uprights, like the Grotrian 124, but a lot cheaper than Steinway.
I don't think the Steinway uprights are not actually popular, they are well build, but compaired to others they seem to be overpriced. The brand name is simply not enough.

#2019120 - 01/22/13 03:35 PM Re: A Steinway Pronounced Dead [Re: RestorerPhil]
Gene Nelson Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/10/04
Posts: 1771
Loc: Old Hangtown California
I am in process of restoring a K. It is a solid instrument.
It will be customized however, new belly and there is an easy solution for the end of the tenor bridge - shortened the lowest 5 notes and changed to bi-chords. The new scale looks great on spreadsheet.
If all goes well it will get a new drop in WNG action.
Hybrid block from Ron Nossaman.
These old Steinway's are worth restoring in my opinion.
Convincing the customer is another story.
PTG Member

#2019122 - 01/22/13 03:36 PM Re: A Steinway Pronounced Dead [Re: RestorerPhil]
Craig Hair Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/03/11
Posts: 301
Loc: Holyoke, MA
I'm looking at a repro Steinway brochure from 1888. The extra fancy 56" upright sold for $1,500. That same money could buy a model C. I have six Steinway upr. in my storage space and I have not been able to give them away. Now, if I had six Steinway grands I'd have no problem. My point is, can you imagine the profit margin on the uprights, just to have that name? Pure genius.
Craig Hair
Hampshire Piano
Holyoke, MA


If I seem slow, I simply must be stopped

#2019161 - 01/22/13 04:50 PM Re: A Steinway Pronounced Dead [Re: RestorerPhil]
Chris Leslie Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/01/11
Posts: 1053
Loc: Canberra, ACT, Australia
I think you probably are proposing to over-service this instrument and then pricing yourself out of a job and the life that the instrument deserves.
Chris Leslie
Piano technician

#2019271 - 01/22/13 07:46 PM Re: A Steinway Pronounced Dead [Re: Chris Leslie]
RestorerPhil Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/26/12
Posts: 212
Loc: Georgia, USA
I actually thought about suggesting less work, but then I reminded myself that this piano has been poor in tone and has been terrible to tune for the entire thirty years since I first "met" it. In other words, it must be one of those pianos that, as Dan Casdorph was indicating, could have been condemned even when it was new.

I think that the fast action and light hammers in the Steinway uprights can exaggerate the poor tone that comes from lack of down bearing. In this case you have a Steinway that sounds like a Kimball studio - the ones with the laminated boards - except it doesn't have the volume of one of those Kimballs.

It's a shame to see the great construction details and excellent materials in a fine brand name piano, and yet realize that its sound is no better than the Baldwin entry-level spinet that the same church has in another room in the church complex. New hammers? Sure, they could spend a $1K and more for that and still have a poor sound. New Strings? Well, yes, they would help a little. Re-design the tenor bridge and put in a new board? Well, of course, then it might really be a great piano. (It would be better to put that sort of effort into a K model, for sure!) The cost, however? It would be more than a new Walter 1500, more than a Yamaha U-3, and could approach the cost of a Mason & Hamlin 50. The music minister mentioned electronic keyboards in our conversation that day, so does that portend them spending big bucks on the Steinway?

This isn't a condemnation of all Steinway uprights (even though I have rarely seen a newer one that lived up to the deserved reputation of the grands), but this one model 45 has really been a dog. The other Steinway uprights which I have rebuilt came out well, even with no serious redesign or sound board replacement, but they were much older models and were larger.
Lavender Piano Services
Established 1977
Tuning, Concert Maintenance,
Rebuilding & Restoration

#2019507 - 01/23/13 08:36 AM Steinway May Rise from the Dead! [Re: Chris Leslie]
RestorerPhil Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/26/12
Posts: 212
Loc: Georgia, USA
Okay, OKAY! So I am vacillating a bit. Maybe some Aussie Angst is getting the best of me, Chris.

My new approach to the church hinges on this paragraph from my letter:

The work below is the first stage of a two-part plan to restore the piano. This work list will make some difference in sound. This first work is needed, regardless of whether you ever do phase two. The second phase would yield a dramatic change in tone and volume.

Basically, the overall letter tells them:
The replacement cost of a new Steinway 1098 Walnut which pianobuyer.com says is $27,600, the cost of the first repair phase, and the rough range of the total as a percentage of new cost (so as to allow for price changes, should that second phase be slow in coming.) The ultimate need for string and soundboard work is emphasized and left for phase two. They are free to decide to do it all at once, of course.

This may not raise this Steinway studio from the dead, but it leaves the choice of resurrection in their hands without making unrealistic promises. The only down side is that I have to deal with its tuning in the meantime.

Oh well, it's a livin'! Ain't it? (And dealing with ornery pianos is part of it.)
Lavender Piano Services
Established 1977
Tuning, Concert Maintenance,
Rebuilding & Restoration

#2019938 - 01/23/13 09:23 PM Re: Steinway May Rise from the Dead! [Re: RestorerPhil]
BDB Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 23433
Loc: Oakland
Without being able to visit this particular Steinway, all I can say is that the design has proved satisfactory for many owners. That being the case, the biggest variable in Steinways is almost always the hammer voicing. Steinway hammers generally need to be voiced up, and different techniques for doing that can give a lot of different results.
Semipro Tech


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