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#2153106 - 09/18/13 03:53 PM Cost-benefit of piano modification
PianistOne111 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/19/06
Posts: 292
Loc: Utah
Once in a while I see someone with a piano modified in some way, like with a carbon fiber soundboard, or stone bridges, plastic actions, soundboard cutoffs, etc. and their pianos end up getting a huge improvement, and they often claim that their modified pianos are better than any other stock piano. This has led me to question:

Can a cheaper modified piano perform better than a more expensive stock piano?

I ask because as I pursue my various interests, I often come across "modding communities" that achieve high-end performance from cheaper products, or extreme performance from high-end products, by modifying them. I've seen this in computers (overclockers), cars (tuners), ...

so why not pianos? If you have modified your piano, what did it cost you, and what kind of results did you get?
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One111

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#2153120 - 09/18/13 04:06 PM Re: Cost-benefit of piano modification [Re: PianistOne111]
Steve Cohen Online   content
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Registered: 05/26/01
Posts: 10446
Loc: Maryland/DC/No. VA
aside from the cost/benefit issues there is another problem with this approach.

There are many modifications possible, some of which you pointed out. However the same modification made to two different pianos might well have detrimental effects on one, and benefits to another.

This is addressed at most factories with a "trial and error" approach. For example, Joe Pramberger had about 20 proto-types when he redesigned the original Young Chang 48" upright and created the Pramberger PE121.
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My postings, unless stated otherwise, are my personal opinions, not those of my clients.

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#2153145 - 09/18/13 04:36 PM Re: Cost-benefit of piano modification [Re: PianistOne111]
S. Phillips Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/15/07
Posts: 226
Loc: Forte Farm, Lexington, KY
There are too many variables. Size, scale, materials, etc will be very different with each example. If you are really trying to save money by buying a cheaper instrument and redesigning it in substantial ways, I don't think it is ever cost effective.

If you are taking a lower to mid range instrument and just replacing hammers or doing some minor change you might be ok cost wise. But if you are trying to take a small inexpensive piano and go to the trouble and cost of replacing the soundboard and bridges, and you are left with the inexpensive rim, lighter plate and bracing you won't be able to do that and beat the price of just buying a better piano. Many of the changes that you would want to make would be restricted by the cast iron plate. Rescaling might improve it or it might not if the scale design is a good one already for that size.

All of this might be interesting but you probably won't save any money.
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2 Steinway Os, Steinway B & C, C. Bechstein A
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#2153378 - 09/18/13 11:09 PM Re: Cost-benefit of piano modification [Re: PianistOne111]
Ed McMorrow, RPT Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/12
Posts: 1863
Loc: Seattle, WA USA
The modifications you listed such as stone bridges and carbon fiber soundboard have not reached any market success at all. The composite action parts definitely have.

As to your question of cost benefit comparison between expensive pianos and cheaper ones modified-I would answer with a very qualified and limited, yes.

I have extensive experience in evolving the design of pianos through my 30 plus years of rebuilding. I have developed a number of protocols that can be applied to pianos to increase their dynamic range, clarity, sustain, control, and probably of most value-durability.

Technology such as my patent pending Fully Tempered Duplex Scale, (you can search PW for a post about it), Hybrid wire scales, LightHammer Tone Regulation, are just some of the non-stock protocols.

Any soundboard replacement/modification would entail such a large amount of work so as to eliminate any cost advantage to a purchaser in most cases.

I have done several off-brand rebuild/redesigns for people who already own a particular piano and they want it to perform better than when it was new. Most of these were inherited pianos with sentimental value.

A couple have been large grands that to replace with a Steinway or M&H would cost at least $40-50K-so the owners thought the approximately $20K plus cost to replace/redesign soundboard and action represented real value.

Of course these clients were ones that have followed my work for years and knew they could trust me.

Your question properly answered would be a decent book full of material-so I hope this helps you glimpse a bit of the field.
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In a seemingly infinite universe-infinite human creativity is-seemingly possible

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#2153387 - 09/18/13 11:19 PM Re: Cost-benefit of piano modification [Re: PianistOne111]
musicpassion Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/30/12
Posts: 899
Loc: California, USA
If by cheaper you mean only one that can be had for less money, yes you can take that piano and achieve amazing results - perhaps with less money than more traditional routes.

But I don't think you can take a low end consumer piano, and with minor modifications make it into the type of piano you're talking about. The materials you're building on just aren't good enough. If you could get world class performance using a trashy rim and plate, wouldn't someone be doing just that?

The piano you start with would need to have the important attributes for a great piano, which Sally already mentioned: excellent (and strong) plate, strong rim, etc. These pianos basically started as very high level pianos, but over time the brand name has been degraded (Chickering and Knabe) or forgotten (many fit this category).

Some rebuilders specialize in or at least enjoy this process (some on this forum). If you find such a rebuilder, by all means play the pianos. You might find a one-of-a-kind gem. However it might be difficult to guess what the finished piano might sound like if you hired the work on a piano of your choice.
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#2153398 - 09/18/13 11:28 PM Re: Cost-benefit of piano modification [Re: Ed McMorrow, RPT]
musicpassion Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/30/12
Posts: 899
Loc: California, USA
Originally Posted By: Ed McMorrow, RPT
Any soundboard replacement/modification would entail such a large amount of work so as to eliminate any cost advantage to a purchaser in most cases.

I understand why you say this, and the price would be high. But say you were to take $35,000 and wanted to get the best piano possible for that money. Some excellent rebuild candidates can be had for almost free, and $35,000 can buy a lot of rebuilding. If you didn't need the case refinished I think you could get into a new soundboard. $35,000 doesn't go very far in the new piano market (at least when we're talking about artist level grands).

By the way, Ed, I hope I get to play one of your pianos someday. I favor pianos with smaller, lighter hammers as you often seem to advocate.
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#2153417 - 09/19/13 12:24 AM Re: Cost-benefit of piano modification [Re: PianistOne111]
Ed McMorrow, RPT Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/12
Posts: 1863
Loc: Seattle, WA USA
I would like to add one more point.

Pianos that have a casting made from harder metal than most other pianos are not good candidates for a re-design core. These harder castings make more metallic ringing in the capo bar section. This leaves most Yamaha's out of the picture. Also, the Baldwin SD-10 and SF-10 have hard metal termination inserts that cause the same problems. One probably could modify the Baldwins but that would cost extra. One can test the hardness of the capo bar by using a small file to cut a little between the sections of strings. The sound and feel will tell you once you have the experience of reshaping a capo bar on a plate made from soft metal.
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#2153464 - 09/19/13 02:37 AM Re: Cost-benefit of piano modification [Re: PianistOne111]
Withindale Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/09/11
Posts: 1918
Loc: Suffolk, England
Here's an idea.

In the tech forum there's a thread "replacing soundboard vs keeping in old piano" about the tension resonator in Mason & Hamlin pianos. Its function is to add rigidity to the frame and some one pointed out that you can achieve the same effect in different ways. For example you could use tensioning rods going from one side of the piano to another.

That could be a low cost way to achieve a dramatic change in the tone of an inexpensive grand piano. [Note: just a suggestion; be prepared to write off any piano used as a testbed]

You could also experiment with riblets and weights which are discussed in other posts in the archives.


Edited by Withindale (09/19/13 08:24 AM)
Edit Reason: added note
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#2153466 - 09/19/13 02:41 AM Re: Cost-benefit of piano modification [Re: PianistOne111]
BDB Online   content
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Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 21251
Loc: Oakland
The most cost-effective modification that one can make to a less expensive piano is careful regulating, tuning, and voicing. Everything else will probably cost more than buying the better piano in the first place. It needs to be done for all pianos, and the maintenance should not cost appreciably more for the less expensive piano. A piano well maintained will outperform even a better piano that is not maintained, eventually.
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#2153506 - 09/19/13 05:13 AM Re: Cost-benefit of piano modification [Re: PianistOne111]
joe80 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/30/09
Posts: 1079
Many rebuilders make changes to pianos as routine, so I'm sure that some of these changes you mention could be improvements. I think if you want to save money buying a piano, either buy one that has been rebuilt and is therefore in a lower price range than a new tier 1, or buy a consumer-grade piano that you are happy with.

I wouldn't see the point in spending, say, $20,000 buying a Brodmann (is that the price over there? I'm just guessing), and then spending another $20 - 30K having it fully modified and rebuilt. You may end up with a wonderful piano, it's true, but it seems a bit of a long way for a short cut, you know? A lot to spend to make a saving? You could find a Steinway (or something) that is complete, that you love, for the same price.

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#2153547 - 09/19/13 07:57 AM Re: Cost-benefit of piano modification [Re: PianistOne111]
Rickster Online   content


Registered: 03/25/06
Posts: 8390
Loc: Georgia, USA
Originally Posted By: BDB
The most cost-effective modification that one can make to a less expensive piano is careful regulating, tuning, and voicing. Everything else will probably cost more than buying the better piano in the first place. It needs to be done for all pianos, and the maintenance should not cost appreciably more for the less expensive piano. A piano well maintained will outperform even a better piano that is not maintained, eventually.

I'm in the early stages of learning about pianos, but this seems logical to me. It would be the least costly and do the most good...

Good points, BDB.

Rick
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#2153675 - 09/19/13 11:07 AM Re: Cost-benefit of piano modification [Re: BDB]
Ed McMorrow, RPT Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/12
Posts: 1863
Loc: Seattle, WA USA
BDB,
The topic includes "modification". Regulation is not that.

If you know how to perform LightHammer Tone Regulation that might be called a modification but the older great pianos had lighter hammers so you are really returning to original specifications in some sense.
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#2153833 - 09/19/13 02:33 PM Re: Cost-benefit of piano modification [Re: PianistOne111]
joe80 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/30/09
Posts: 1079
Ed, to some piano owners, that would be considered modification. Whilst most posters on this board would consider it routine maintenance, there are those who just don't realise that these things need done to a piano in order for it to function well.

But yeah, I think the OP means radical modifications, basically buying a cheap piano as a 'core' and then having it rebuilt with premium parts and design. I think Ron Overs in Australia does something like this, when he rebuilds. I'm not entirely sure, but I've noticed he has some older Kawai pianos that he's made changes to. I would need to go and read all about it, and hear the pianos, but even then I wouldn't fully understand because my subject is playing pianos, not building or servicing pianos.

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#2156277 - 09/23/13 04:50 PM Re: Cost-benefit of piano modification [Re: PianistOne111]
PianistOne111 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/19/06
Posts: 292
Loc: Utah
OK thanks for the replies, especially Ed. You've given me lots of things to look into. I'm glad there is such a variety and abundance of things going on in the piano world, which I hope will drive innovation in the piano industry.
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One111

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#2156366 - 09/23/13 06:46 PM Re: Cost-benefit of piano modification [Re: PianistOne111]
Dave B Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/01/11
Posts: 1890
Loc: Philadelphia area
Very similar to auto add-on. You very rarely get back what you put into it and the pool of potential buyers is greatly reduced.

I'm curious to know what modifications your considering?

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#2156529 - 09/23/13 11:31 PM Re: Cost-benefit of piano modification [Re: PianistOne111]
Supply Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/11/06
Posts: 3919
Loc: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
Originally Posted By: PianistOne111
Can a cheaper modified piano perform better than a more expensive stock piano?
Yes.
Darrell Fandrich has made a livelihood out of taking new stock instruments, modifying them and replacing many components with high quality parts, essentially super-charging the pianos.
His pianos get rave reviews.
Fandrich & Sons
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#2156863 - 09/24/13 01:54 PM Re: Cost-benefit of piano modification [Re: Dave B]
PianistOne111 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/19/06
Posts: 292
Loc: Utah
Originally Posted By: Dave B
I'm curious to know what modifications your considering?

Nothing in particular. I'm just exploring my options on how to get the best piano for the money.
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One111

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#2156905 - 09/24/13 03:42 PM Re: Cost-benefit of piano modification [Re: PianistOne111]
dcb Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/15/10
Posts: 199
I had very similar thoughts when I was buying my grand piano. The high end pianos were so nice but super expensive. I talked to some people about the idea of buying a used mid grade piano and putting some money into it to upgrade it. I would ask questions like how much money would it take to make a $20k Kawai RX sound like a $35k Shigeru Kawai. Most of the answers I got were along the lines of why would you want to or it would cost more than the difference between the two and you still wouldn't get the result you were looking for.

It sort of makes sense now that I think about it in retrospect. You can buy a Honda Civic for $20k and spending $10k on upgrades isn't going to make the car drive like a $60k Mercedes. It would, however produce a really nice and expensive Civic that you would lose a bundle on if you went to sell it.

My conclusion to the challenge of how to get the most out of your money, for me...was to:

1. buy a good quality used piano that was fairly new or or had been rebuilt
2. buy a used piano with a great name on it for two reasons (a) usually indicated good quality and (b) if I ever wanted to sell it, I wouldn't lose any money)
3. Find a good piano tech to work with. They often times know of people selling good pianos and they can take a look at the used pianos you find on your own. I paid my tech abut $125 to look at a used piano and it was the best $125 I spent. Saved me a bundle because I ended up not buying the piano that I thought was a great deal, but would need a lot of work. Also, it is amazing what a good piano tech can do if you have $1000+ to spend...(voicing/ regulation).
4. Play a lot of pianos and figure out what you like in tone and action. Then, play even more pianos.
5. If you don't care about the casework, you can save a lot of money by buying a great instrument that doesn't look so great.
6. Be patient. The more time you have to look for the right piano, the better. It may take a year or more to find the right used piano

That was my experience, but maybe others have other good opinions as well.

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#2157090 - 09/24/13 09:00 PM Re: Cost-benefit of piano modification [Re: dcb]
Ed McMorrow, RPT Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/09/12
Posts: 1863
Loc: Seattle, WA USA
dcb,
Great post! Great advice!
Thanks.
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