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#42408 - 03/15/07 08:07 PM Piano Rebuilding
tickler Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/14/07
Posts: 376
Loc: Chicagoland
To start, this is my first post. I joined when I found this forum as a result of shopping for a new piano. I'm still shopping.

I'm considering both new and used pianos, and am looking for a grand, in the 6' range. It'll replace my 60 year old inherited spinet.

I've seen lots of ads for reconditioned, restored, rebuilt pianos. It sure seems like sometimes everything(!) except the case is replaced.

Here's my question: When a piano has been so seriously restored, with lots of parts replaced, what assumptions can one make about the piano's longevity, how well it'll hold a tune, and things like that? Certainly I'll have it checked out by a technician, but is it worth considering pianos that old?

Thanks for your help.
Mary
_________________________
Music should strike fire from the heart of man, and bring tears from the eyes of woman. -- Beethoven
1911 Steinway A-II (2007 Rebuild)

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#42409 - 03/15/07 08:31 PM Re: Piano Rebuilding
FogVilleLad Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/02/05
Posts: 4680
Loc: San Francisco
The very first thing to do is to make certain that you know exactly which components were replaced, which were rebuilt, and which were adjusted. You might want to start writing down that info when you see a "rebuilt" listing.

On eBay, rebuilt often means "reconditioned." IMHO that means that components which people here on PW think should have been replaced were not. Sounboards are chief among those components.

There is no absolute answer to What should be replaced? Much depends on age and condition.

Buying used, especially if the instrument is more than 15 - 20 years old, is more complicated than buying new. That's *not* a reason not to buy, it's just a caution.

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#42410 - 03/16/07 05:18 AM Re: Piano Rebuilding
Marty in Minnesota Offline

Platinum Supporter until October 5 2014


Registered: 02/09/07
Posts: 1178
Loc: Minnesota
Mary,

To answer your question "but is it worth considering pianos that old?" - Certainly!

FogVilleLad is absolutely correct, you do need to learn the history of the work that has been done on the piano, and also find a tech you trust.

One of the things you didn't mention is your budget. And that would certainly provide us all with some information as the the quality of instrument you are shopping for. If you are interested in the six foot range, it indicates that you are an accomplished pianist who is looking for an instrument that is responsive and gratifying to play. That is indeed a big jump from a 60 Y/O spinet!

Might I make a suggestion? Don't rush at this point. I have no idea of your background but the more you know about the "workings" of a piano will be invaluable in your first assessment of an instrument. I would suggest that you obtain a copy of "The Piano Book" by Larry Fine. I am referring to the full edition as it contains a wealth of information on what you can look for in a used or new piano. The supplement will give you the update on pricing for new instruments, if you decide that you would prefer a brand-new piano. (there is a link from this site to amazon)

A bit of self-education now can help you choose an instrument that will provide joy for many years to come.

I wish you well on your quest. Shopping to find the right piano for you can be so much fun!

But, if you find a "beaten to death" Steinway, or pre-WW2 Mason & Hamlin, for $750.00-$2,500, you might very well consider it. I know this sounds crazy, but if it is intrusted to a master re-builder, and you are willing to put $25K into it, you will have an instrument that is virtually "new" and about $35K less than a showroom model. But, that is a major undertaking and you need to find the right shop to do the work. A master re-builder can produce an instrument that is voiced and regulated to your needs and tastes.

I do hope this has been helpful, and please, give us all a bit more info about where you are in your search. What new instruments have you played at this time?
_________________________
Marty in Minnesota

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#42411 - 03/16/07 04:19 PM Re: Piano Rebuilding
Colin Dunn Offline
Full Member

Registered: 12/11/05
Posts: 488
Loc: Arvada, CO
I had a 1920s-era, 7'11" Starr piano rebuilt recently. It took a year from start to finish, so getting a 'junker' of a piano and rebuilding is not the route to take for instant gratification. \:\) Though this didn't make sense from a resale perspective, I did this because I wouldn't easily find a good 8' art-case grand for $15K. Nine-footers in plain-Jane cases also generally command higher asking prices.

A totally rebuilt piano should have similar longevity as a new piano. If placed in a well-controlled environment, it should last at least 30 years before needing major restoration work again. All pianos will require ongoing maintenance (tunings, minor repairs), and I think this expense would be about the same with either a new or a comprehensively rebuilt piano.

Old pianos are restored to preserve high-quality case woodworking, which is unavailable today even at exorbitant prices. Rebuilt pianos also supply more top-brand pianos to the market, as old Steinways, M&Hs, etc. are revived instead of being destroyed.
_________________________
Colin Dunn

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#42412 - 03/16/07 09:04 PM Re: Piano Rebuilding
M&HAAdriver Offline
Silver Expires April 2010

Silver member until April 2010

Registered: 01/21/05
Posts: 272
Loc: Centennial, Colorado
I, too, looked at rebuilt pianos. I just happened to play a new AA at a (now "my") dealer before I went on enough cross country trips.

I agree fully with FVL. The devil is in the details. "Renner hammers" is a favorite catch phrase, but buyer beware if you read that on eBay. What quality of strings? Most of us wouldn't know the difference. Rebuilding skill level? No accusation, just "buyer beware'.

Had I gotten just a little more serious about a rebuilt M&H, for instance from the pre-1930's which are said to be wonderful, I've at least learned this: if at all possible visit the rebuilder in his shop. See what's there. A lineup of Steinways and M&Hs waiting is a good sign of reputation. The best ones can afford to be picky.
_________________________
** Bob ** M&H AA 92809 **

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#42413 - 03/16/07 09:39 PM Re: Piano Rebuilding
tickler Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/14/07
Posts: 376
Loc: Chicagoland
More info about me:

I played for a few years as a teenager, then stopped for college, etc. and then started playing and taking lessons over 10 years ago.

Yes, I'm looking for a good quality piano that will inspire me. I hope never to buy another one. (Unless I win the lotto and have space for 2!) It's going to take a while to try out the various piano models, new & used, in the area, but I hope to buy one sometime near the end of this year. I started seriously looking about 1 month ago.

Budget?? That one's already exploded a couple of times. Right now I'm thinking about 25K, maybe as high as the mid-30s, depending on how some investments go.

I've already read through Larry Fine's book and the 2006-2007 supplement. Now I'm re-reading them.

Another general question:
The showrooms I"ve been in have varied a lot acoustically. I've seen the suggestion to close the piano lid to reduce the room's liveliness(is that the right word??). Are there other ways to evaluate the piano to get an idea of how it'll sound at home (wall-to-wall carpeting, drapes, plaster walls)?

As far as used pianos go, some more questions:

If I can visit the restorers workshop, what are some things to look for that would give me an idea of how good he is at this?

If I find a used piano that sounds and feels good to me, I want to have a good technician inspect it. How can I find a *good* technician? Is there some accredidation to watch for? Some specific quesitons to ask him when looking for one?

If everything, including the soundboard, has been replaced in an old piano, is it really an old-Steinway, or whatever the name is on the fallboard?

Assuming that the brand's tone hasn't changed significantly over time, should this restored piano have the same characteristics as a new one?


Thanks for all your help.
_________________________
Music should strike fire from the heart of man, and bring tears from the eyes of woman. -- Beethoven
1911 Steinway A-II (2007 Rebuild)

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#42414 - 03/16/07 10:05 PM Re: Piano Rebuilding
tickler Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/14/07
Posts: 376
Loc: Chicagoland
Ooops, I forgot! Here are the pianos I've auditioned so far:

Steinway: 9' and the new limited edition -- I loved the sound and the feel. But awfully expensive!
Boston & Essex, both about 6': Eh, ok, but nothing special. In some ways, sounded worse than my old spinet.
Baldwin Artist L1: Second in preference to the Steinway. I was disappointed in how quickly the tones decayed though.
Hamilton 6'2" -- louder than expected, the tones seemed muddied
Used Chickering (1926), about 6' -- Unrestored, but had a nice, responsive touch, very full and mellow sounding; sounded better than the Hamilton, It would be a close race between it and the brand new Baldwin Artist. Unfortunately I'm nowhere near ready to buy.
Pramberger -- A very weak bass, not very musical in the upper registers.
Kawai RX2 and RX3 -- The RX3 had plenty of oomph in the bass, but the RX2 didn't. Both had rather bright trebles. Both were very echo-y, I suspect as a result of the showroom (high ceiling, nothing to dampen the sound).

I *hope* to try out a new Yamaha and some restored pianos of various makes this weekend.

And another question: Do people ever buy un-restored pianos, then hire a piano restorer to fix them up? Would this be more/less expensive that buying an already-restored piano? Is there any way to tell with reasonable reliability that you'll like it once the restoration is done?
_________________________
Music should strike fire from the heart of man, and bring tears from the eyes of woman. -- Beethoven
1911 Steinway A-II (2007 Rebuild)

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#42415 - 03/16/07 11:39 PM Re: Piano Rebuilding
FogVilleLad Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/02/05
Posts: 4680
Loc: San Francisco
In addition to a tech's presale inspection, you could also ask for a rebuilder's client list and contact them.

Restorers face the same pressure as do dealers of new pianos, so I'd expect that it would be less expensive to buy an instrument that's already restored and sitting on the shop floor.

Your liking the Chickering while finding the Pramberger's treble not musical makes me think that there's a whole range of instruments to audition. Names such as Bohemia, Estonia, Charles Walter (the factory's in Elkhart), and Knabe by Samick would all be worth auditioning.

Fine calls the Charles Walter 190 an undiscovered gem. Designed by PW's Del Fandrich, its rib crowned soundboard has a bass cutoff which helps make the bass and mids clearer. Rib crowning places much less stress on sounboards, which will help that instrument to maintain its original tone much longer. It's finished with lacquer rather than polyester. Here's a link.

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#42416 - 03/17/07 12:00 AM Re: Piano Rebuilding
BDB Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 21666
Loc: Oakland
Do you have any evidence that the way a soundboard is crowned has an effect on its longevity? I do not think there is any proof one way or another. There are certainly pianos that have soundboards that function well even after 100 years, which is far too long to even compare whether there has been any degradation, or to know for certain how they were constructed.
_________________________
Semipro Tech

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#42417 - 03/17/07 02:14 AM Re: Piano Rebuilding
McLaughlin Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/24/07
Posts: 271
Loc: Ohio
 Quote:
Originally posted by tickler:

Another general question:
The showrooms I"ve been in have varied a lot acoustically. I've seen the suggestion to close the piano lid to reduce the room's liveliness(is that the right word??). Are there other ways to evaluate the piano to get an idea of how it'll sound at home (wall-to-wall carpeting, drapes, plaster walls)?

As far as used pianos go, some more questions:

If I can visit the restorers workshop, what are some things to look for that would give me an idea of how good he is at this?

If I find a used piano that sounds and feels good to me, I want to have a good technician inspect it. How can I find a *good* technician? Is there some accredidation to watch for? Some specific quesitons to ask him when looking for one?

If everything, including the soundboard, has been replaced in an old piano, is it really an old-Steinway, or whatever the name is on the fallboard?

Assuming that the brand's tone hasn't changed significantly over time, should this restored piano have the same characteristics as a new one?
[/b]
it seems that a well rebuilt piano is never going to be a new piano ... but it can be close, for worse or better. new action designs are common, for example.

dont close the lid IMO ... remove the music shelf and peer over, and get your head there with someone lese playing. get closer to the thing, not further (closing the lid)
_________________________
Brian Lucey - M&H BB 1930
the day job: Magic Garden Mastering
"the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the ecology" - unknown

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#42418 - 03/17/07 05:50 AM Re: Piano Rebuilding
Marty in Minnesota Offline

Platinum Supporter until October 5 2014


Registered: 02/09/07
Posts: 1178
Loc: Minnesota
Hi Mary,

It sounds like the Chickering has caught your ear, since you are comparing it to some fine, new pianos! It might be a gem in the rough and a Chick from that era can be a piano worth investing in.

Take the time to play any and all pianos, in all price ranges. That will help you identify what you like. Keep a note book! Select a couple of pieces, that are under your fingers (memorized) and that you truly love to play, and use those for your audition process. Bottom to top scales, at all volume levels are good, too.

Remove the music desk and play with the lid up! Then you can focus on the voice of the instrument and it will give you a better idea of what is coming from the instrument without being influenced by the room accoustics. When you find that your mind is being pulled to the beauty of the music you are playing, and you and the piano have joined in the performance, then you know you have found an instrument that is right for you. You should be allowed, at a good dealership, to spend as much time, on any piano, the time necessary for you to evaluate any piano.

As far as finding a tech goes, for an inspection of a piano, you can check out Piano Technicians Guild www.ptg.org and locate a Registered Piano Technician in your area. I use this as a referrence for an intitional inspection, and not as a recommendation for ongoing tuning/maintanence of a piano. But, in Chicago, you have a ton to choose from!

As far as buying a fine older instrument, and having it totally restored, this certainly is a possibility. (refer back to my first reply) There are a number of truly incredible master re-builders in the U.S., some are members of this group, some not. Having gone through this process recently, I might be of help in this decision. Please send me an email if you want some specifics.

Keep us posted on your quest and let the fun begin!
_________________________
Marty in Minnesota

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#42419 - 03/17/07 01:51 PM Re: Piano Rebuilding
FogVilleLad Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/02/05
Posts: 4680
Loc: San Francisco
tickler asked
 Quote:
If everything, including the soundboard, has been replaced in an old piano, is it really an old-Steinway, or whatever the name is on the fallboard?
Your question goes to the heart of the rebuilding. You must decide whether you want a piano rebuilt or restored.

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#42420 - 03/17/07 05:54 PM Re: Piano Rebuilding
pianoloverus Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19465
Loc: New York City
I do not agree with those who have recommended playing with the the lid up *unless* that is the way you expect to play the piano in your home.

Many people with limited space play their piano in their home with the lid down and folded back along the hinge. That is why Larry Fine recommends testing it that way in the showroom. Of course you can try it in the showroom with the lid up also, but if you will probably play it with the lid down in your home why not listen to it that way in the showroom?

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#42421 - 03/17/07 09:04 PM Re: Piano Rebuilding
Marty in Minnesota Offline

Platinum Supporter until October 5 2014


Registered: 02/09/07
Posts: 1178
Loc: Minnesota
 Quote:
Originally posted by pianoloverus:
I do not agree with those who have recommended playing with the the lid up *unless* that is the way you expect to play the piano in your home.

Many people with limited space play their piano in their home with the lid down and folded back along the hinge. That is why Larry Fine recommends testing it that way in the showroom. Of course you can try it in the showroom with the lid up also, but if you will probably play it with the lid down in your home why not listen to it that way in the showroom? [/b]
I have given this reply much thought, and I still stand by my suggestion of "lid up."

I have yet to be in a showroom, that is approx. 15x20', with an 8-10' ceiling, wall to wall carpeted, windows draped, and with furniture other than pianos in a row.

Does it not make sense to listen to the direct, primary sound/voice of the instrument? How you play at home is a personal choice and you can always put the lid down in the store. As well you should in listening to the piano!

My reply, to Mary, was about trying to assess a piano in a showroom, with very different acoustics from a standard home, and how to make an evaluation. IMHO, lid up, music desk down or removed, is the way to make an evaluation, to not be influenced by the acoustics of the room, to find the instrument that is right for you.
_________________________
Marty in Minnesota

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#42422 - 03/21/07 09:33 PM Re: Piano Rebuilding
tickler Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/14/07
Posts: 376
Loc: Chicagoland
Here's an update.

I've played a few more pianos.
August Forster 190 -- smooth as silk. A light touch that I really liked. I felt like I played better on this one :-) But it almost seemed like I had to play a fff to get an f out of it in the bass. The other pianos (same place) didn't have the problem.
Several Bechsteins, both new and used. After the Forster, the touch felt heavy. To my ear, the bass was muddy. This surprised me because the pianos ranged in size from 6' to 7'.
Petrof -- as light a touch as the Forster, maybe too light. A nice clean bass.
A used Steinway, about 7'. Typical Steinway touch and sound. Beautiful, but out of the budget and too big.
Then I played the Forster, a Bechstein and the Petrof in quick succession. I still can't decide the Forster or Petrof, but definitely liked them better than the Bechstein.

It was a good learning experience. And a lot of fun!
_________________________
Music should strike fire from the heart of man, and bring tears from the eyes of woman. -- Beethoven
1911 Steinway A-II (2007 Rebuild)

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#42423 - 03/21/07 11:49 PM Re: Piano Rebuilding
FogVilleLad Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/02/05
Posts: 4680
Loc: San Francisco
Glad to learn that the auditioning is enjoyable for you. Noting what you like and don't like about each instrument is a fine idea.

In a perfect world, pianos would be auditioned on two or three different days. We often react differently on different days.

Please continue posting.

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#42424 - 03/29/07 12:00 AM Re: Piano Rebuilding
tickler Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/14/07
Posts: 376
Loc: Chicagoland
I've finally had a chance to try out a few more pianos. So here's what I've found:

I played the Charles Walter grands, both the 6'4 and 5'9. I liked the 5'9 better than the 6'4. They sounded nice, but they lacked something. I really don't know what. I really, really wanted to like these, too. I'll certainly go back and them again.

Next I tried a Mason & Hamlin. Love at first, uh, note? Really, these grands sounds to my ears the way a piano's supposed to sound. It was incredibly easy to get from ppp to fff on it, very responsive. My only mistake was in playing the 6'4 model. Both the A and AA were wonderful, but now I have to figure out if I really, truly have room for the 6'4.

Played a concert grand Bosendorfer! No intent to buy, but wanted to play what some consider the best. An awesome piano!

I played a Seiler. It was a beautifully crafted piano with inlays. A very smooth action, a sweet middle-of-the-road sound. But I liked the M&H better.

I tried a Vogel. To me, it sounded muffled. But I really like the little bird logo given the name :-)

Then I tried a used Steinway. Refinished and refurbished, originally made in 1921. The dynamics sounded like a typical Steinway; it took effort for me to get pp out of it. But the action was smoother than I remember the new ones being. Passages that are always rough on my piano were solid and flowing on this piano. As recommended, I played it chromatically and the tone, sustain and volume seemed consistent across all octaves.

Now, I'm 90% sure I'm going to get a M&H. But I'm going to make myself continue trying out the other shops in the area and also revisit some of the ones that I played early in my search.

With each piano that I audition, I'm learning more about what I like and don't like in a piano.
_________________________
Music should strike fire from the heart of man, and bring tears from the eyes of woman. -- Beethoven
1911 Steinway A-II (2007 Rebuild)

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#42425 - 03/29/07 12:14 AM Re: Piano Rebuilding
FogVilleLad Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/02/05
Posts: 4680
Loc: San Francisco
Those M&H's have a big fan club here.

Glad you could play the Steiny chromatically. That's a good way to help yourself pay close attention to an instrument. Hope you'll also have a chance to try a good vintage M&H. Their tone would be easy to like, long term.

The Charles Walters are well designed and are constructed with quality materials and components, but they don't seem to have any particular feature which really jumps out at people. Almost all pianos deserve a second audition. I think that the CW's tend to reward - "require" may be a better word - second and third auditions. That evenness across the compass that you noted in the Steiny should be there in spades and the bass notes should have a clarity which belies their size. (The longer-than-normal backscale helps.)

Glad that you're giving yourself time to audition a number of pianos. You will certainly find the one that's right for you.

BTW Laurentyan also noted a limitation in the August Foerster's dynamic range in his post near the bottom of the page in this thread.

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#42426 - 03/30/07 09:26 PM Re: Piano Rebuilding
tickler Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/14/07
Posts: 376
Loc: Chicagoland
I stopped at the Steinway store yesterday. Since I'd recently played a restored Steinway, for sale by a private party, I wanted to compare it to the new ones.

I discovered that the restored one I played a few days did NOT sound ilke either the new Steinways at the store, or restored Steinways there. The first one was a lot louder (brighter?), even though I played it in a home setting rather than a huge showroom. I had found it difficult to get really soft tones out of the first one -- not so with the new Steinways. The new ones had a similar -- not too heavy, not too ilght -- touch, but I could easily get them to go from ppp to fff.

I also played a couple of used Steinways at the store: a M (5'7) from 1932 and a L (5'10) from 1927. I felt that the tone, touch, volume, etc. of these two were just as good as one the new ones. I actually preferred the smaller of them.
_________________________
Music should strike fire from the heart of man, and bring tears from the eyes of woman. -- Beethoven
1911 Steinway A-II (2007 Rebuild)

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#42427 - 03/30/07 09:34 PM Re: Piano Rebuilding
FogVilleLad Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/02/05
Posts: 4680
Loc: San Francisco
Tone, touch, appearance - then price. To your ears, your fingers, your eyes and your budget. And all of that when playing or listening to the music that you prefer. That's the whole thing.

If the decision is made after making multiple auditions, you will have done as well as anyone ever can do.

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#42428 - 03/30/07 11:06 PM Re: Piano Rebuilding
pianobuff Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/09/06
Posts: 1580
Loc: Pacific Northwest
Mary,

Just want to say I'm really enjoying your posts.

I feel like I'm shopping with you!

It is so much fun trying out different pianos. It is nice to see you are taking your time and enjoying the process.

Try to find an Estonia 190, just for fun I would like to hear what you think of that one compared to the Petrof... If you can remember what the Petrof felt and sounded like. What size Petrof did you play?

One thing about rebuilt versus new is the warranty. New pianos will have a better warranty, I believe, than buying a rebuild even if the rebuild is from a retailer.
_________________________
Private Piano Teacher,
member MTNA and Piano Basics Foundation

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