When looking at buying an older piano I found this list very helpful in narrowing the field. Granted there is a lot more to buying a rebuild core than just picking a "good" brand, but given the hundreds (thousands?) of piano makers back in this period it made sense to me to both weed out the known lesser quality brands, and find out about some of the lesser known quality brands that might just be a great sleeper rebuild on a more modest budget. Also noted that this is one persons opinion and far from all inclusive, but for the most part it seems to align with most of the comments I'd read elsewhere. http://www.pianoworld.com/forum/ubbthrea...ite_id/1#import
Sorry for the length of the following list, but I found it also useful as a reference to re-order this info by rating rather than just alphabetically. Hope its useful to someone else too
Along with the ones you've mentioned I've also read several folks who had very good results with restorations on AB Chase in particular, and then maybe Conover and Vose.
KNABE, * * * * * Baltimore, the third of the big three (Steinway, Chickering and Knabe) and the only make the Steinway family feared, founded a generation before Steinway by pioneer piano maker William Knabe and Henry Gaehle, Knabe had a couple sons who kept it going. There's a story in Dolge's book about how Knabe risked his company on a promotional tour during the Civil War that paid off. Excellent grands and big uprights.
MASON & HAMLIN, * * * * * Haverhill, MA, began as a reed organ maker late in the 19th century, then made pianos without pinblocks (screw-stringers). They tried many innovations. Everyone knows them now as the great sleeper of them all, perhaps the best piano scales ever designed. All are worth restoring and rebuilding except the screw stringers which many tuners can't seem to tune.
STEINWAY & SONS, * * * * * New York, of course, but don't bother with the long keyed former player pianos unless you intend on restoring the player mechanisms too.
CHICKERING, * * * * Boston, The oldest American piano make, named for Jonas Chickering, one of the pioneer names in American piano building, this firm was at the top of its game when Steinway started in 1853, that same year the first big Chickering factory in Boston burned down and was replaced by the building out of which has been carved a few nice condominiums. Chickering stuck to straight stringing their grands well into the 1870's. The ones to look for are the overstrung kind. Made pianos in Boston into the 1920's (best by some opinions), others made in Rochester, NY. are just as good in my opinion. For a time they also toyed with metal action parts which never worked well. If you run into one of these figure on replacing the action or most of it, which in most instances is a good idea as newer actions have more adjustment advances.
IVERS & POND, * * * * Boston, similar to Hallet & Davis, best between about 1890 and 1925, the usual suspects. Feature a heavy overbuilt style shared with many other good Boston makes. Also made Poole. I find this somewhat humorous and some have suggested that these pianos have some association with water. Another piano make not associated with I & P was Waters, no kidding.
BALDWIN, * * * Cincinnati, the only major name not associated with a piano designer, still among the top tier, artist grands only, models are numerous, some discontinued, more often found models include the D, F, L and R.
CHASE, A. B. * * * Ohio, another sleeper, excellent parlor grands.
CONOVER, * * * Oregon, IL, the only real standouts here are the grands made between 1890 and 1929 after the designs of Frank Conover and Hobart Cable. The big grands can be turned into fairly interesting pianos.
CUNNINGHAM, * * * Philadelphia, yep, the same outfit Rich Gallisini works for, made their own pianos until 1981! The ones that are candidates for rebuilding are their large old uprights and parlor grands.
DECKER BROS., * * * started in New York, moved to Chicago, great pianos before 1915, especially their grands.
FISCHER, J & C, * * * New York and Buffalo, Charles Fischer was the designer, excellent grands and large uprights between 1890 and as late as 1932, made a lot of pianos so there should be plenty still out there.
HALLET & DAVIS, * * * Boston, another very old name, best pianos between 1885 and 1930 but choose carefully, best are large uprights and parlor grands.
KRAKAUER BROS., * * * New York, This was a maker who stayed in business by concentrating on a producing a smaller quantity of well made pianos. Their parlor grands are quite good.
LYON & HEALY, * * * Chicago, more of a retailer than a maker but their reputation for what they chose to put their name on still stands in good stead by many. Their output was sporadic, grands made during the 1920's were by Schulz (Chicago area) and good solid Packard (Indiana) made their uprights. They are still in business but confine themselves exclusively to the making and distribution of harps.
MEHLIN, * * * New York, Paul Mehlin was of the generation of old Englehardt Steinway and did as well quality wise without Steinway's ambition, excellent grand pianos from 1900-1925 or so, some prior to this have gaudy art cases.
MILLER, HENRY F., * * * Boston, named for the founder, a great pioneer piano maker who influenced both Mason & Hamlin and Ivers & Pond, and no doubt influenced their quality caliber and standing as musical instruments. Excellent results with grands going back as far as 1875 but not later than about 1925. Some have gaudy art cases.
SCHOMACKER, * * * Philadelphia, another sleeper, made some excellent parlor grands, they limped along through the Depression until 1941 before going under but their best products were probably made between 1900 and 1929. The only maker I know of that featured gold plated strings!
SOHMER, * * * New York, just down the street from Steinway and there were a lot of cross influences, founded by pioneer maker Hugo Sohmer, many art cases made too, lower production, emphasized quality.
STIEFF, CHAS. M., * * * Baltimore, the other Knabe, and quite old too, went under the year I was born (1951), fairly good pianos from 1890 on, stick to grands only for best results.
WEBER & CO., * * * New York, founded by Albert Weber, whose grands rival the best of their period going back into the 1870's but no later than 1932. Albert Weber was a very talented and ambitious man who pitted his skills against Steinway and lost, virtually working himself to an early death. He left a wonderful legacy as some of his great grand pianos are still out there waiting to live and play again.
BENT, GEO. P., * * Chicago & Louisville, an important piano designer, some of his best work bears his name, most have the name CROWN. Avoid anything but parlor grands (usual size for these is 5'5" to 5'7") and nothing made after 1928.
CROWN, see BENT.
BLASIUS & SONS, * * Philadelphia, better reputation than Behning or Bjur, more standard action geometries, nice parlor grands and huge uprights are best candidates.
BOARDMAN & GRAY, * * Albany, NY, the standouts here are the huge uprights made around the turn of the last century (1890-1910).
BRIGGS, CHARLES C., * * Boston, an important piano designer, only parlor grands bearing his full name.
DAVIS, GEO. H., * * Boston, one of the principals of Hallet & Davis and a pioneer piano designer. A few grands bear his name, most are pre-1900.
DOLL, JACOB & SON., * * New York, another important designer, made grands in the 1920's that are acceptable for rebuilding.
ESTEY, * * New York, prime years are between about 1890 and 1925 with many nice parlor grands made.
HARDMAN, * * New York, another pioneer maker was Hugh Hardman, some are under Hardman & Peck, best are the usual suspects; big uprights and grands, some tell me that their products between about 1901 and the outbreak of WWI (1914) are better than the rest.
HAZELTON BROS., * * New York, an artisan family with high standards, their best products are uprights and parlor grands, after about 1890 but before 1920. Some of the gaudiest art cases were made by these folks.
JEWETT, * * Boston, in its various incarnations, based on the pioneer piano makers Wade Jewett and George Allen, the one's to look for are after about 1895, a Steinert by any other name, see STEINERT
KURTZMANN, * * Buffalo, NY, 1900-1925 is the best period.
BRAMBACH, * New York, a Kohler & Campbell precursor, mostly grands. Those that are too small or with odd action geometries must be excluded.
SCHULZ, OTTO, * * Chicago, made organs as well as pianos but was known for good workmanship, made grands for Lyon & Healy.
STECK, GEO. & CO., * * New York, founded by George Steck, best era is 1900-1929.
STEINERT, * * Boston, but started in Athens, Georgia! was sort of to Boston what Lyon & Healy was to Chicago, Onofrio to Denver or Sherman Clay to the West Coast (Cunningham in Philadelphia made their own); each had pianos made for them and put their name on them. But Steinerts, particularly their parlor grands from just after the end of World War I until Steinway made them stop making them, are sort of special, when and if you can find them.
VOSE & SONS, * * Boston, founded by James W. Vose. One finds some very striking modernistic cabinetry on some of these pianos, prefiguring Danish modern. They can be made into much more than they were when new if you choose the right one, grands only, as early as 1890 but no later than about 1925.
CABLE, HOBART M., * Indiana, only a few sturdy grands from the late 20's qualify.
CHRISTMAN, * New York, some people out there like these, nice parlor grands and larger are occasionally found.
LESTER, * Philadelphia, a vary large company that made a wide variety of pianos of various quality, made a few military pianos for service in the Far East, I've heard of parlor grands made during the 1920's producing surprising results.
McPHAIL, * Boston, another Kohler & Campbell precursor, good huge uprights.
BEHNING, New York, a Kohler & Campbell precursor, mostly big uprights but a few parlor grands may be out there, forget about their baby grands.
BJUR BROS., New York, aother Kohler & Campbell precursor, same cautions as for Behning.
EVERETT, Boston, not by any means all are worthwhile, some rebuilders have rebuilt small grands (not babies) to display their craft rather than how good the original piano was and only those made between 1900 and 1925 should be considered.
HADDORFF, Rockford, IL, made a lot of pianos under a score of stencil names, choose carefully, before about 1925, what I like about them is they were controlled during their formative period by a quality maker.
JANSSEN, Elkhart, IN, included for educational purposes only, the precursor to the present Charles R. Walter, but not with as good a reputation (though I still haven't seen or played any Walters), there is sort of a well constructed but limited musical capability with these. They tend to hold up pretty well, which probably accounts for their longevity as a company, but I wouldn't consider them as real good rebuild candidates. I've never run into a Janssen grand, don't think they ever made any.
KOHLER & CAMPBELL, New York and North Carolina, one of the first piano conglomerates (1896), choose VERY carefully.
MATHUSHEK, New Haven, CT, founded by a pioneer maker Frederick Mathushek. A true innovator in the manufacturing of pianos, some like the big uprights and the few grands that exist are often uncommon designs.
PACKARD, Indiana, made good solid strong uprights, best years 1900-1925.
SCHAAF, ADAM, Chicago, some think these are good.