My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano

Posted by: Monica K.

My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/13/12 11:26 AM

I've been a long term reader of PW since I joined in 2005, and over the years I've gnashed my teeth with envy as I have read threads where posters describe their visits to various piano meccas.

Cunningham Piano is one of the most-often cited of such piano visits, and I really started drooling when I read Steve Cohen's recent thread about his visit to Rich's shop. In that thread I mentioned that I was going to be in Philly myself this summer and hoped to squeeze in a trip to see it in person.

Barely had the pixels dried on the computer screen when I received a PM from Rich, asking for the dates of my visit and volunteering to come pick me up and give me a personal tour. I was in the city on business (helping my hubby during the American Numismatic Association annual convention), so I had very little spare time, but I managed to break free from the coin show one afternoon to make the trek to Cunningham's.

Let me just echo what everybody else has ever said about a visit to Cunningham's: If you are anywhere in the vicinity and can free up the time to go, make it a high priority. Rich is an exceptionally gracious host; even though I was not shopping for a piano and I was not able to pinpoint an exact time of my visit due to the vagaries of the coin show customer traffic, he let me show up with literally only a few minutes' notice.

The first observation I will make about Cunningham Piano is that it is located in a spectacularly beautiful area of Philadelphia (Germantown), steeped in history and tradition. The gorgeous drive along the river to the place was itself worth the trip. The first thing my daughter and I noticed upon arriving at the storefront was the historical marker indicating that Louisa May Alcott had been born in a house that previously stood at that location. The walls are filled with memorabilia from the early days of Cunningham, way back in the 1800s:



On the short walk to the factory, we passed through the grounds of a very old church. I love old cemeteries, so I had to snap a quick photo:



The factory itself is amazing. Steve's thread has better photos than I took with my little point-and-shoot digital, so I won't include too many here. But it was highly informative to see pianos in various stages of the restoration process, and the level of care and craftsmanship involved in the projects was obvious.

One of the most interesting projects Rich has going on now is one of the tiniest grand pianos I've ever seen. It was a piano specially built for use on a train car, back in the heyday of luxurious train travel. It's only four feet long and only has 68 keys, but it's cute beyond belief. The owners are avid collectors of anything train-related, and this piano will be a star of their collection:



Another highlight of the factory was seeing the actual piano, along with bullet holes, that was used in the movie "Limitless," a movie that my family enjoyed greatly.

After we went through the factory, we returned to the main showroom building to sample the pianos. I was extremely self-conscious for several reasons: (a) I'm not nearly as good a player as most of the people who have passed through Rich's store, (b) including--most relevantly--the expert player who was giving the pianos on the first floor a solid workout while I was there, and (c) on our way to the store my daughter handed me her cup of ice cream to hold, and I somehow managed to get ice cream and chocolate syrup all over the front of my blouse, which hardly created a good impression.

But I had the second floor gallery of pianos all to myself, and it was a cornucopia of piano bliss. I played several Steinways, a Sauter upright (gorgeous piano, with candlestick holders), and a couple of Masons.



Particularly impressive was the new Cunningham grand. It's geared toward a lower price-point, so I was expecting it to perform like an entry-level piano. Was I mistaken! The bass on this piano is gorgeous: mellow and creamy in tone, but still managing to hold its own against the treble. The action was terrific; this piano was easy to play, and at 5'4" produced a sound comparable to a much longer piano. What's particularly impressive is that the Cunningham piano produces a sound this good at a highly reasonable price (I believe Rich said it goes for about $10,000). We get a lot of newbies asking for recommendations for a grand with a 10K budget, and now I know exactly what I'm going to recommend the next time I see one of those threads.

My favorite piano of the entire showroom was a restored Steinway B, a piano that only my sentimental attachment and loyalty to my little M&H A prevents me from saying that I'd gladly upgrade to. But it had such a beautiful singing tone, well balanced between treble and bass. heart

I also played a Bosie Imperial, simply because I had never done so before and wanted to be able to say that I had. Maybe because I had higher expectations for it, or because I was nervous about playing in the earshot of Rich's expert customers, I wasn't blown away by it--or at least as much I thought I would've been given the hefty price tag. I think I just prefer the lusher American sound with more harmonics.

Because I needed to get back to the convention center to help close up our table at the coin show, I wasn't able to stay as long I liked. Rich even graciously went out of his way to give us a ride back downtown.

In all, I had a great time. Even my daughter--who is not a pianist--found the tour highly interesting.

My thanks to Rich and his staff for making a drop-in who wasn't in the market feel like a valued guest and friend. It was great to meet Rich face-to-face after all these years on the forum. smile





Posted by: Rickster

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/13/12 11:45 AM

Excellent dissertation, and photos , Monica!

And, you are certainly more than just a long-term reader here on Piano World! You were the first to officially welcome me to Piano World many years ago, along with so many others. You are a highly regarded and well respected member here! smile

Rick
Posted by: Minnesota Marty

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/13/12 11:57 AM

Monica, I couldn't agree more.

I spent a day at Cunningham's and it truly was a WOW! experience. Unfortunately, Rich wasn't in town at the time and didn't get to meet him. His staff, however was extremely gracious, knew that I wasn't shopping, and I was just a piano tourist who wanted to see the store. I think I played most of everything in the store and had as much fun as you did.

My jaw dropped playing the Cunninghams and spent a lot of time playing both the verticals and the grands. I don't want to use the term "for the price" when talking about these pianos. They are flat-out, excellent pianos! Period.

Rich - Would you tell us more about the Pullman Car Mini? That would be fun!
Posted by: lilylady

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/13/12 02:41 PM

Ah, my wish is to visit Rich and Cunninghams, so I loved hearing/seeing about your visit.

Thanks for sharing, Monica.

BTW, how are you doing these days with your piano learning adventures?
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/13/12 02:44 PM

Thanks for asking, lilylady. smile I'm humming along, making slow but steady progress, and enjoying myself immensely in the process. I've got a huge stack of sheet music I'm hoping to learn someday and not enough hours in the day to do so.
Posted by: ando

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/13/12 02:53 PM

Looks like a great place to visit. We don't have stores like this in Australia.
Posted by: Rich Galassini

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/13/12 03:01 PM

Dear Monica,

I felt as if I already knew you when we finally met in person. I kind of already knew what you would enjoy most based on years of reading your posts and remembering your own search for a piano. I apologize that I had to walk away from you so often, but it gave you the opportunity to enjoy some pianos without interference - and I got some work done.

I had fun hanging out for the time we spent. By the way, both Monica and her daughter are totally wonderful people. They were exactly what I expected, very nice, open minded, piano nerds... well Monica is anyway. (I guess it takes one to know one). Her daughter was a fine young lady.

I am so pleased you had kind words for the New Cunningham, Monica. Frankly, we have worked very hard on this project and hearing positive feedback like this just makes my day.

I took several pictures with my phone, but most just didn't come out well. Here is Monica auditioning the New Cunningham:



I am so happy that we worked out the details of meeting, Monica. I look forward to another visit sometime in the "not so distant" future.

Posted by: Steve Cohen

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/13/12 03:57 PM

Hi Monica!

It's funny how our perspectives are so different. The things that stood out when I was there were the nice limousine Rich sent to pick me up; the great lunch, dinner, show, and hotel suite; the champaign and caviar; and that great gift bag with all that jewelry.

[Oh yea, the pianos were nice too.]
Posted by: EssBrace

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/13/12 04:36 PM

Originally Posted By: ando
Looks like a great place to visit. We don't have stores like this in Australia.


Nor in the UK, more's the pity!
Posted by: Steve Chandler

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/13/12 04:41 PM

Monica, you inspired me to add pictures to my post about visiting Allegro Pianos in Stamford, CT. As a long time member here I've heard great things about Cunningham Pianos in Philly, but have not had occasion to visit. Your post gave me a taste of the place and it was good. Thank you, if I ever find myself in Phlladelphia I will make a point of visiting Rich and company.
Posted by: Rich Galassini

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/13/12 05:16 PM

Originally Posted By: Minnesota Marty
Rich - Would you tell us more about the Pullman Car Mini? That would be fun!


Hi Marty,

I cannot tell you much about this piano specifically because I am not working directly with the family, but these types of instruments were made for a variety of reasons. Long distance trains were the normal mode of luxury transportation before WW II. Dining cars and club cars were decked out with luxury appointments, including entertainment. A few companies made "Tom Thumb" uprights and very small baby grands for this purpose.

Another reason to make very small instruments was for shipping to remote locations. The piano in Casablanca of "Play it again, Sam." fame was a Tom Thumb upright. Few small grands went to remote locations because reassembly required more know how. The uprights were exceedingly more popular.

Lastly, although huge ocean liners had normal sized pianos, many privately owned yachts had pianos onboard in the early 20th c. and some of those were Lilliputian sized baby grands.

I do not consider myself an authority on this subject. I just have had the pleasure of bumping into a few of these instruments over time.

Thanks for asking,
Posted by: Minnesota Marty

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/13/12 05:21 PM

Thanks Rich - Do you know who built the one you are working on and are the replacement parts available or is it all custom work?
Posted by: Rich Galassini

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/13/12 05:26 PM

Originally Posted By: Minnesota Marty
Thanks Rich - Do you know who built the one you are working on and are the replacement parts available or is it all custom work?


Oh sure Marty. This is a piano made by Lester, right here in Philly. At the time they made some very respectable pianos that held up well against the best makers of the time.

Some parts must be custom made but that is no problem. We are looking forward to a beautiful, if diminuative, final product. wink
Posted by: Rudy99golf

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/13/12 08:25 PM

Great post!

Very enlightening!

If ever I visit Philly, for sure I will pay a visit to Rich.
Posted by: rocket88

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/13/12 09:54 PM

My son and I visited there several years ago and everything posted here about Cunningham is true...an amazing place, and a VERY gracious host.
Posted by: RickG1

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/13/12 10:00 PM

Rich was very kind to me when I visited the store a few years ago. It is amazing the quality and quantity of pianos at the store. I hope to get back again as my daughter is living in Narberth after living in Haverford.
Posted by: Piano*Dad

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/13/12 10:26 PM

Originally Posted By: EssBrace
Originally Posted By: ando
Looks like a great place to visit. We don't have stores like this in Australia.


Nor in the UK, more's the pity!



Hmmm.

Hurstwood Farm Pianos
Posted by: Piano*Dad

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/13/12 10:27 PM

Originally Posted By: rocket88
My son and I visited there several years ago and everything posted here about Cunningham is true...an amazing place, and a VERY gracious host.


I have visited in the past, and look forward to future trips.

Monica,

Did they have a big Mason CC in stock?
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/14/12 09:14 AM

Not that I recall seeing... though I did play one of their BB's.
Posted by: Harry-in-PA

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/15/12 04:59 AM

I regret that I have not visited Cunningham Piano in Philly, but I fell in love with a Bl├╝thner at Allegro Pianos in Stamford.

I am confident that they are both amazing piano showrooms, and I am glad that they are both present here on Piano World.
Posted by: Strings & Wood

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/15/12 11:57 AM

Quote:
My favorite piano of the entire showroom was a restored Steinway B, a piano that only my sentimental attachment and loyalty to my little M&H A prevents me from saying that I'd gladly upgrade to. But it had such a beautiful singing tone, well balanced between treble and bass.


Is this piano creeping into your thoughts now that you are home?

Thanks for the Cunningham review.
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/15/12 05:02 PM

LOL. No, I am quite monogamous in my romances, either human or piano. grin Plus, now that I'm retired and have no income, it's not very practical to contemplate plunking down many thousands of dollars just to upgrade a piano that I'm really very happy with. Let's just say my hubby was quite relieved to hear that I wasn't bowled over by the Bosie Imperial.
Posted by: Rich Galassini

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/16/12 06:35 AM

Originally Posted By: RickG1
Rich was very kind to me when I visited the store a few years ago. It is amazing the quality and quantity of pianos at the store. I hope to get back again as my daughter is living in Narberth after living in Haverford.


Well I found this photo of your visit Rick. I appreciate the fact that got right to work finishing a piano for us!

Posted by: Rickster

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/16/12 07:52 AM

Well, I see that I'm not the only member here with lots of glowing white hair. smile

Nice photo, Rich. It's nice to see what other members here look like.

Rick
Posted by: Minnesota Marty

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/16/12 01:36 PM

I usually do not reveal what lurks under my "Pianer Plunker" BB cap.
Posted by: Roger Ransom

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/16/12 01:55 PM

I had the same impression of the Bosie Imperial when I had the opportunity to try one.

It was certainly beautifully constructed and assembled but in the end it was just another piano with a sound you either like or not.
Posted by: Derulux

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/18/12 12:11 AM

What a wonderful and semi-accurate post! I must say, ever since I first visited Rich back in 2006, I have had nothing but good things to say. Whenever anyone asks me about buying a piano, I typically point them to Rich first. Though I'm sure not enough people ask me for Rich's liking.. wink

I will say, however, that you must not have taken the trip through North Philly to get there.. like their own website says: "Do NOT depend on a GPS system." laugh
Posted by: Rich Galassini

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/18/12 08:42 AM

Originally Posted By: Derulux
I will say, however, that you must not have taken the trip through North Philly to get there.. like their own website says: "Do NOT depend on a GPS system."


This is true Derulux. From Center City Philly one can take a route along the river (Up Kelly Drive) and drive past nothing but beauty, which is the fastest way... or one can sit at lights all the way up Broad St. through North Philadelphia and see nothing beautiful, which is the shortest way by mileage.

The Broad St. route is actually shorter, but it has lights at every block (not well timed I might add) and brings you right through Philly's worst area.

So if you are coming from Center City, follow our directions on our website. wink
Posted by: Jeff Clef

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/18/12 10:34 AM

I always enjoy your posts, Monica, and especially this one. It seems to me that you write in a voice about forty years younger than than the age of your physical body--- now that I see your photo, I can see that spritely young personality twinkling through your expression. That is the age that counts. And no, I'm not asking.

What you said about gnashing was clearly figurative--- but watch it, dear. I've been seeing quite a lot of a handsome young dentist recently--- no, if only it were--- and he has cautioned me about gnashing, and grinding too. Let's just say it's expensive.

Cunningham's introduction of an upright that was half piano and half computer struck me as a brilliant idea--- with the screen built right into the music desk--- and I've wondered how it has fared in the marketplace. Such a device could save the piano, if it could be fashioned with enough adaptability to meet the pace with which digital devices evolve (compared to the slower evolution and longer lifespan of the piano with which they are paired). It could have the power to beguile the young away from their PlayStations. I wonder if it would take a partnership with one of the big makers to have the resources to float such a venture. Yet, Kawai has not even seen that it is worth its while to market their existing half-and-half adaptation of the K3 in the US, though it's available in some other countries; I can't even think of the name they call it, just now. Maybe someone like Roland, who is pretty well along with the music/computer aspect yet has no competing acoustic piano product, would be the sort of partner.

A lady such as yourself need not depend on the impression her blouse makes, to beguile or to be perceived at her proper value. Piano store owners have kids, too, and they have their share of mishaps. If it came down to it, as long as the ice cream and chocolate sauce stayed on your blouse and out of their pianos, I think they'd be happy enough to see it there (or overlook it there), and happy enough that you brought your daughter. And I would also say, don't be so sure your musical voice is not worthwhile. There will always be people who can out-play us.

When I was 16 years old, my mom took me into the voting booth and we cast the ballot together in a state-wide election. What a contraption that mechanical voting machine was! And do you know, over the years since, I have never failed to vote in but one election. When parents think their kids don't take these things in, my mind goes back to the occasion.

Thanks for your wonderful post, Monica.
Posted by: apple*

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/18/12 11:14 AM

I am really glad you got to visit Monica.
Posted by: Derulux

Re: My long-awaited trip to Cunningham Piano - 08/18/12 11:43 AM

Originally Posted By: Rich Galassini
The Broad St. route is actually shorter, but it has lights at every block (not well timed I might add)

I think this is understated! laugh