Who wants to see pictures of my trip to Cunningham Piano?

Posted by: TwoSnowflakes

Who wants to see pictures of my trip to Cunningham Piano? - 12/07/12 06:00 PM

Thanks to furtwangler for encouraging me to go. It was a very interesting and elucidating experience, and greatly advanced my sense of what I'm looking for in a piano.

The first one is not exactly piano related, but a very important thing to know about Cunningham nonetheless:



The second one also isn't exactly piano-related, but a very important thing TO Cunningham.



Now, on to pianos. We walked through the workshop and got to see pianos in various states of repair and restoration. Here are a few of the pianos and people:

























And, finally, one Mr. P.J. Cunningham, Founder of This Organization:







Posted by: TwoSnowflakes

Re: Who wants to see pictures of my trip to Cunningham Piano? - 12/07/12 06:00 PM

On to photos of the Cunningham 178, which was the piano I came to find more about. Really a lovely piano; I admit I was not expecting it to be attractive, but it very much was.









Posted by: TwoSnowflakes

Re: Who wants to see pictures of my trip to Cunningham Piano? - 12/07/12 06:00 PM

Lastly, my testing of pianos was interrupted by a visit from someone who was apparently on assignment from the Finnish(?) Embassy, and she was trying out this particular Schimmel. I aborted by "Death by Sonatina" round on the various pianos and watched her play. Then I had to leave for a dentist appointment, which was a decidedly less pleasant experience.



Overall, I was quite pleased with the Cunningham piano. I am no great pianist, but I ultimately had some opinions about the various ways in which the different pianos felt and played. I was able to eliminate the 5'4" Cunningham 161, but it's hard to know if a higher end 5'4" piano would have pleased me more. That being said, the 5'10" Cunningham 178 was really very nice to play, and although I could absolutely tell the difference between it and something MUCH better than it, I was really happy. My fear was that everything would be so much better than the horrible spinnet I currently have that it would all sound terrific, but after a little while I could make some broad distinctions among them, and ultimately have some pretty firm opinions, too. Which was good.
Posted by: Acca

Re: Who wants to see pictures of my trip to Cunningham Piano? - 12/07/12 06:51 PM

That is a beautiful piano. Is it restored or new?

Can you articulate more the distinctions between the pianos? I too would love to know what to look out for. smile
Posted by: Minnesota Marty

Re: Who wants to see pictures of my trip to Cunningham Piano? - 12/07/12 06:56 PM

Hi TwoSnowflakes,

Thanks for the excellent photo essay. It's always fun to have a virtual tour of the great piano stores.
Posted by: TwoSnowflakes

Re: Who wants to see pictures of my trip to Cunningham Piano? - 12/08/12 12:26 AM

Quote:
That is a beautiful piano. Is it restored or new?

Can you articulate more the distinctions between the pianos? I too would love to know what to look out for.


The Cunningham was new. The pianos in the workshop were restorations of pianos that were not for sale. I also played a restored Baldwin and a Kawai in the group of potential reasonable choices, but there are no pictures of them. I didn't like either one that much, but both were eons better than what I have so it was initially hard to figure out that I did not like them enough to want to buy them.

But as for the actual distinctions, I think what surprised me most was how easy it was to feel the difference in responsiveness. I wasn't fighting it in the way I would fight with my old upright to move through faster notes without bringing up the assertiveness of the sound, whether or not such a change is warranted at that moment, if that makes any sense. Grace notes don't jump out because you don't have to dig in to get them in the first place. The keys don't bottom out on trills. Similar pressure makes similar sound no matter where you are on the keyboard. Things that I presume people who own nice pianos reasonably expect out of pretty much any piano worth bothering to play.

The better the piano got, the easier it was to shape the sound the way you wanted to, rather than having the sound being driven primarily by the note itself, if that makes any sense.

Of course, I'm coming back to this after over 20 years of not playing, so while all the expression is there, the technicality is most certainly not. I abandoned a favorite sonata I used to love and stuck with a much simpler piece that I could reliably play on various pianos without too much attention to it so I could concentrate on the sound and whether or not I could modulate the shape of it more easily/enjoyably or not. Not a whole lot there, but enough to get a reasonable sense of it.

The 5'4" lacked a sensitivity and range that was easily coming out of the 5'10", which meant that more effort was required with lower payoff in expression, but neither held a candle to several other pianos that were there. Not that they were intending to compete with it (one of them was more than 15 times the price), but I felt like I wanted to know where the outer limit was, at least with respect to something my own very low skill level could elicit. And even I could tell. The smoothness of it, and the evenness across the keys was remarkable on the really terrific pianos. And there was some inevitable variation in the pianos that were on the lower end that I could hear, and when I played, could really feel. Now, my guess is, the better you get, the more those differences become relevant. That while I could note and appreciate differences, after a certain point, those differences were not going to be terribly problematic for me, but would be for someone of a higher skill level.

So my aim was to sort of identify a floor of sensitivity and responsiveness and evenness, below which I would prefer not to drop, so that the piano I get is something I will enjoy for a long time to come without wishing I'd just sprung for something better rather than letting the fact that pretty much anything is better than my crappy upright push everything into the category of "omg, a dramatic improvement!" Which is difficult to do. I could easily make a mistake here simply by virtue of lack of skill and lack of experience with anything reasonably tolerable, and regret it later when I'm again frustrated with an instrument that isn't doing what I want it to. But assuming I do manage to figure that out, to identify, among those that really have a sufficient amount of sensitivity and range, ones that have a tone and sound that I like and can see enjoying the sound I can make from it.

I'm going to go try out a few more pianos and see whether or not going up in price not $100,000 but perhaps only $5,000 or 10,000 really changes things. Cunningham was hobbled a bit by a lack of stock in pianos that could be reasonably grouped with the 178, so all I could really do was make sure I liked it, and then just test the outer limits once you jump up to crazyland in a Bosendorfer. If I can add some pianos just above the head of the Cunningham, I can probably start figuring out where my sweet spot is for a piano. At some point the improvements relative to the price increase is going to level out and I'll simply be...overpaying. The trick is making sure you are not underestimating where that line is because of course you might simply mistake it for being out of your skill level or too difficult/frustrating to play or learn when you just don't have an instrument that's good enough. I know that was ultimately what drove me to give up piano all those years ago. I really thought that certain types of expression or phrasing were unmasterable by me. Turns out my piano sucks. Now it would be a logical fallacy to take that to mean that if it sucked, I did not, because I may still ALSO suck, but since it sucked worse than me I was not able to determine what I could have reasonably hoped to improve on, I guess is the take-home lesson here, heh.

So, long story only slight less long, I was pleasantly surprised to find I had opinions, and I could tell. That certain pianos made me want to work hard and lose myself in the exercise of it and would be a real tangibly positive addition to my life. Heck, as bad as my current piano is, I still can sit down and play for an hour or two and while it's frustrating in most regards and in 20 years I have never seriously tried to get better because there's little satisfaction in the endeavor as a whole, there are moments when I love it, and I just wish I had a better piano so that those moments weren't so fleeting. And then make even more of them by wanting to work hard at finally improving my skills.

Perfect 40th birthday gift to myself.
Posted by: Acca

Re: Who wants to see pictures of my trip to Cunningham Piano? - 12/08/12 02:16 AM

Originally Posted By: TwoSnowflakes

The trick is making sure you are not underestimating where that line is because of course you might simply mistake it for being out of your skill level or too difficult/frustrating to play or learn when you just don't have an instrument that's good enough. I know that was ultimately what drove me to give up piano all those years ago. I really thought that certain types of expression or phrasing were unmasterable by me. Turns out my piano sucks.


That's exactly where I'm coming from too! Only I'm starting from a dinky digital piano instead of an upright. grin
I'm only an intermediate at best but how can you learn to be better if your instrument doesn't even have the right touch or capabilities? Hence my focus on getting a genuine grand piano keyboard. Only thing is, I want a silent option so I can travel the long road of practicing to get better without being turfed from my neighborhood... wink

Anyway thanks for the writeup, that was insightful! smile
Posted by: Steve Cohen

Re: Who wants to see pictures of my trip to Cunningham Piano? - 12/08/12 09:12 AM

Hey Rich.

That Steinway O looks familiar. Is it.....
Posted by: TwoSnowflakes

Re: Who wants to see pictures of my trip to Cunningham Piano? - 12/08/12 12:46 PM

Ha! It must be. When I joked, "I'll take it," I'm pretty sure "Steve Cohen" is the guy Rich said I'd have to take it from! So I'm guessing that you and he must be one and the same.

I believe that's also your keyboard and action in the picture below it, the gentleman in the middle is who was working on it, and the last picture is a closeup of the soundboard.
Posted by: Chopinlover49

Re: Who wants to see pictures of my trip to Cunningham Piano? - 12/08/12 12:46 PM

I really enjoyed your pictures. I went to Cunningham's last August myself, but forgot my camera. Rich has a wonderful selection of pianos and I also tried the Cunningham models. Very nice pianos at that price point, but I ended up purchasing a slightly-used Mason-Hamlin BB from Rich instead. I also was quite taken by his Mason-Hamlin AA in mahogany and almost purchased it before seeing the BB. I have posted about this previously. Funny story, actually. I think Cunningham's is a wonderful place to look for THE ONE. Great people, too.
Posted by: Rich Galassini

Re: Who wants to see pictures of my trip to Cunningham Piano? - 12/08/12 04:05 PM

Originally Posted By: Steve Cohen
Hey Rich.

That Steinway O looks familiar. Is it.....


I ain't tellin'. wink
Posted by: Steve Cohen

Re: Who wants to see pictures of my trip to Cunningham Piano? - 12/08/12 05:04 PM

Originally Posted By: TwoSnowflakes
Ha! It must be. When I joked, "I'll take it," I'm pretty sure "Steve Cohen" is the guy Rich said I'd have to take it from! So I'm guessing that you and he must be one and the same.

I believe that's also your keyboard and action in the picture below it, the gentleman in the middle is who was working on it, and the last picture is a closeup of the soundboard.


Ah Ha!! I think I should get royalties on the pictures!
Posted by: Rich Galassini

Re: Who wants to see pictures of my trip to Cunningham Piano? - 12/08/12 06:30 PM

Originally Posted By: TwoSnowflakes
Ha! It must be. When I joked, "I'll take it," I'm pretty sure "Steve Cohen" is the guy Rich said I'd have to take it from! So I'm guessing that you and he must be one and the same.

I believe that's also your keyboard and action in the picture below it, the gentleman in the middle is who was working on it, and the last picture is a closeup of the soundboard.


Dear TwoSnowflakes,

Please don't mention the gaping hole in the soundboard of Steve's piano. We plan on patching it with a little duct tape before he sees it. wink
Posted by: Steve Cohen

Re: Who wants to see pictures of my trip to Cunningham Piano? - 12/08/12 08:33 PM

Originally Posted By: Rich Galassini
Originally Posted By: TwoSnowflakes
Ha! It must be. When I joked, "I'll take it," I'm pretty sure "Steve Cohen" is the guy Rich said I'd have to take it from! So I'm guessing that you and he must be one and the same.

I believe that's also your keyboard and action in the picture below it, the gentleman in the middle is who was working on it, and the last picture is a closeup of the soundboard.


Dear TwoSnowflakes,

Please don't mention the gaping hole in the soundboard of Steve's piano. We plan on patching it with a little duct tape before he sees it. wink


You could at least use wood putty. That's what we used for our customers smile
Posted by: wouter79

Re: Who wants to see pictures of my trip to Cunningham Piano? - 12/10/12 01:41 PM

Thanks, nice pics!
Posted by: Steve Chandler

Re: Who wants to see pictures of my trip to Cunningham Piano? - 12/10/12 04:15 PM

Originally Posted By: TwoSnowflakes

I'm going to go try out a few more pianos and see whether or not going up in price not $100,000 but perhaps only $5,000 or 10,000 really changes things. Cunningham was hobbled a bit by a lack of stock in pianos that could be reasonably grouped with the 178, so all I could really do was make sure I liked it, and then just test the outer limits once you jump up to crazyland in a Bosendorfer. If I can add some pianos just above the head of the Cunningham, I can probably start figuring out where my sweet spot is for a piano.

So what does a Cunningham 178 go for? If I was to guess I'd say between $15K and $20K, but no one's actually said. If I'm right then a little up the scale would be the Kawai RX-2 or RX-3 or Yamaha C2 or C3. You might also consider a Mason & Hamlin A or really any M&H except maybe the B (5'4"). Along with the M&H there's the Estonia 168 and I'm sure there's a Schimmel or Vogel in your price range.

There's much more to consider and the problem becomes one of for just a bit more you can get XYZ and when does that stop? It stops when the piano stops you and you connect with it. This is what's meant by finding the one. The piano that you can't live without is the one. Good luck.
Posted by: wouter79

Re: Who wants to see pictures of my trip to Cunningham Piano? - 12/10/12 04:25 PM

I don't really believe in "the one" but what you need to find out is the total range of possibilities and the price range for it. That holds both for the sound and the action. In my search I played 100k+ pianos, and in fact I can recommend it just to get a feel for what's possible in the end. Not that you are going to buy it but to get your priorities straight and get a good ear and feel for the concessions you are making on the smaller grands.
Posted by: Furtwangler

Re: Who wants to see pictures of my trip to Cunningham Piano? - 12/10/12 05:47 PM

Originally Posted By: Steve Chandler
Originally Posted By: TwoSnowflakes

I'm going to go try out a few more pianos and see whether or not going up in price not $100,000 but perhaps only $5,000 or 10,000 really changes things. Cunningham was hobbled a bit by a lack of stock in pianos that could be reasonably grouped with the 178, so all I could really do was make sure I liked it, and then just test the outer limits once you jump up to crazyland in a Bosendorfer. If I can add some pianos just above the head of the Cunningham, I can probably start figuring out where my sweet spot is for a piano.

So what does a Cunningham 178 go for? If I was to guess I'd say between $15K and $20K, but no one's actually said. If I'm right then a little up the scale would be the Kawai RX-2 or RX-3 or Yamaha C2 or C3. You might also consider a Mason & Hamlin A or really any M&H except maybe the B (5'4"). Along with the M&H there's the Estonia 168 and I'm sure there's a Schimmel or Vogel in your price range.

There's much more to consider and the problem becomes one of for just a bit more you can get XYZ and when does that stop? It stops when the piano stops you and you connect with it. This is what's meant by finding the one. The piano that you can't live without is the one. Good luck.



I will chime in here since I was the one who recommended that the OP go to see Cunningham.

He said his budget was under $20k. It either is or it isn't. Given that it is - he will not find a better piano than a Cunningham 178 in the mid-teens. Period. In my very humble opinion, of course.

You have suggested some nice pianos as alternatives here.

The only piano that you have suggested that is even remotely close in price to the Cunningham 178 would be the Kawai RX2 - which happens to be a piano that I recommend to my friends all the time. It is, however, currently about 50% more than a Cunningham 178 unless I am vastly mistaken.

The current "street price" for a new Yamaha C2 is about mid-$20s. A new Yamaha C3 is roughly double the price of the Cunningham.

A Mason & Hamlin A????

An Estonia 168????

A Schimmel or a Vogel???? A Schimmel in the mid-teens??? Show me - I'm a buyer!

Now the criteria and price range/budget are getting out of control. If that is what he wants to do - so be it. But the initial assumption has changed dramatically.

As you are probably aware, my friend Rich Galassini sells all but the new Kawai and Yamaha brands. I am sure that the OP is in good hands, regardless of the outcome of his search.