Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk?

Posted by: Mark R.

Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/17/09 08:47 AM

Dear technicians,

As some of you may know, I recently bought an Ed. Seiler upright here in Pretoria. It was made in about 1922.

When I viewed and played the instrument at the piano builder's showroom, I was impressed by its large and singing sound, almost "glassy". It was the first time I bought a piano. The builder gave me a verbal 5-year guarantee (he undertook to bring a written version when he comes after about 8 weeks to tune), including the structure, i.e. pinblock, frame, soundboard, etc. - but not wear and tear. The builder / tuner was widely recommended to me. He is also used by the local university to tune their concert grands.

When I asked the builder/dealer/tech whether he foresaw any repairs required in the future, he said: "No, only annual tuning. The rest is fine."

Because of all these factors, and because I was a first-time buyer and more ignorant at that stage, I did not inspect the instrument to the finest detail. I also did not test the finer nuances of the action in soft play, which I realise I should have. I did notice some uneven notes, but thought that he would see to these when he comes for the tuning.

So I bought the piano for about US $ 2,500 - including a solid oak piano chair, delivery and first tuning.

After we played on the instrument for a week or two, we noticed that certain notes don't speak when playing softly. Others sounded twice.

I removed the action (I have good basic mechanical skills, so please don't chide me here, that's not the point) and saw that numerous butt return springs were broken. I told the tech about this, and he agreed to collect the action to replace these. However, the actual problem is sticky hinges. Even with the new springs, if I depress the key slowly, some hammers stay in the same position after the jack has been released. Some actually fall towards the string!

I already sensed some tension between myself and the tech, because:
... he originally delivered the wrong chair and was not very pleased when I came to collect the one I had originally chosen,
... he was not very amicable about replacing the butt springs.

So I rather decided to look into matters myself - at least those that I could confidently handle with my level of mechanical skill.

This may go against your grain as professional techs, but that was my call, and I stand by it. Not wanting to compare a piano to an engine, but I have done two engine overhauls, and refurbished a carburetor, and do many other small and large repairs by myself - so my hands are not entirely useless. If some of you find yourself irritated, feel free to close this thread - for the rest, please bear with me.

First of all I re-glued some loose panels in the removable section of the intrument housing.

Then I saw that the keys were not all level (varied by up to 1 mm), and the depth of movement also varied between about 9 and 10 mm. I moved some of the paper shims to achieve a much more even height and travel.

I then checked the hammer travel and found this to be 47 to 49 mm, which is OK according to an austrian tech I had contacted on a german piano forum), then checked the release distance from the string. These varied widely, from about 3 mm to 6 mm. In order to get the piano more playable, I then set them more equally, at about 4 mm (slightly less in the treble). This got the non-speaking notes to speak once again.

The unregulated and sticky action made me quite disappointed in the deal. I wanted to discuss this with the tech when he came for the tuning.

However, my biggest problem is that when the german forum asked me to take some pictures, I detected some cracks in both bridges: in the very treble section, but more seriously in the bass bridge. There may also be a crack in the pin-block, but I'm not sure.

I've discussed these problems in the german piano forum, and have received some (pretty unanimous) opinions, but I also wanted to hear your opinions, please.

I've made numerous photographs and uploaded them here. The english captions follow after the german ones. Beware, the photos are quite large, for quality purposes.

At the top right of the pictures is a magnifying glass for close-up viewing. Note: the high-quality version takes a while to load, so at first it looks fuzzy.

The most telling photos are nos. 14, 17, 25 to 33, 38, 44 to 51, 55 and 56.

Those of you who haven't walked away in anger, please be so kind as to give me your considered opinion on this instrument, especially the structural defects. As I mentioned, I have good mechanical skills, and if the tech doesn't want to co-operate, I would even be prepared to invest some time, money and effort into the action. But I need to know whether the structure is worth any effort at all, or whether I've essentially bought a wreck.

The crack in the soundboard is currently not causing any buzz or noises, as far as I can hear.

It's a real shame, because we bought the piano for its looks and pleasant sound...

Your german and austrian colleagues are quite unanimous that the structural defects are not trivial, and could well lead to the need for large repairs in the foreseeable future. They also found the general condition of the piano to be so poor that any self-respecting dealer/builder/tech should actually not have sold it to me in the first place. They have advised me to try and reverse the sale. This is causing me much grief.

Sorry for the long post, but I wanted to describe the situation as best I could.

Regards,
Mark
Posted by: Randy Karasik

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/17/09 08:57 AM

My instinct at this point is to agree with the German and Austrian technicians.

In English we have phrases to cover this:

1 - You got 'hosed', 'screwed', 'cheated'.
2 - 'If your piano was a horse, we would shoot it.'
3 - 'Buyer beware'

Next time, hire a technician to fully check out a piano before you buy it. Get all warranties in writing.

Sorry - that's the best I can offer you.
Posted by: Mark R.

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/17/09 09:23 AM

Hi Randy,

I hear you. However, would you go so far as to hire a technician when buying a piano from someone who is himself widely recommended around town, both as tuner and technician? I would have worried that he would be affronted by me, pitching up at his front door with one of his "rivals".

I felt that I really had no other option (and no real NEED for another option) but to trust his good reputation.

By the way, I haven't spoken to the seller about this yet, because I first want to try and get hold of the written guarantee.

Regards,
Mark
Posted by: Jeff Clef

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/17/09 10:46 AM

"I would have worried that he would be affronted by me, pitching up at his front door with one of his "rivals".

"I felt that I really had no other option (and no real NEED for another option) but to trust his good reputation."


It is a sad story. I would stop messing with the action and the glueing of panels, get hold of the written guarantee, and try to reverse the sale amicably. If this fails, I can tell you we did have a member here who resolved such a case through our small claims court system... after a fair amount of time and trouble. She prevailed by presenting a written evaluation from another technician, that detailed the instrument's problems and the estimated cost to set them right, and showed that the seller had been advised of the problems, had agreed to fix them, and hadn't.

It was kind of a big deal for her; lots of anxiety and anger, uncertainty if the seller would comply with the court order. Now she plays a digital. I hope that your outcome is easier... but a broken bridge and pinblock is not an easy fix-up. A broken action can run up a few bucks of repairs, too.

I guess I could also say you could, in a perfectly nice way, have any used piano inspected by an independent tech employed by you, no matter who the seller was. If a seller doesn't want this (and it does happen), it's a red flag to shop elsewhere.

Good luck with it. It would be nice if you'd let us know the outcome.
Posted by: Mark R.

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/17/09 11:23 AM

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for the comments. I've already taken some legal advice on the matter. Unfortunately, our small claims court system is limited to claims of up to about US $ 1,000. So if push comes to shove, I would have to take this matter to a proper magistrate's court.

But I really would like to resolve it amicably. First step is to get hold of that written guarantee, without letting on that something is amiss...

And regarding your advice to stop messing around with the action: yes, ever since it's become clear to me that I want to return the instrument, I have indeed stopped messing around with the action. (I can, however, say with a clean conscience that even my layman's attempts have left the action in a much more playable and even state than when it was delivered.)

I'll keep you posted.

Regards,
Mark
Posted by: bitWrangler

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/17/09 11:45 AM

Not a tech, but I would think that while you seemed to be focused on the technical aspects of working on the piano yourself that the biggest potential downside of taking the action that you did is the potential that it would give the seller grounds to void at least part of your warranty (i.e. that since you messed with the action, that he honor the warranty regarding any defects in the action since some may have been caused by you're monkeying around with it). Not saying that's what he would do, but I think I would have either hired a tech to do the work or simply waited for the seller to address the issues. Again, not that I don't think you're technically capable, but simply a CYA move since it was newly bought.
Posted by: Mark R.

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/17/09 04:48 PM

Hello again,

Just to take up the last point: the expression "messing" was Jeff's, just as "monkeying" was bitWrangler's. Personally I neither agree with these words, nor appreciate them - I reiterate: nothing went wrong with the action when I worked on it, to the contrary - the piano is MORE playable than when I bought it. But then again, I'm the one asking for opinions here, and if you classify this as "messing" and "monkeying", I'll have to accept that.

It's debatable whether the action is included in the guarantee anyway. The guarantee covers structural items, not wear and tear items.

Oh, and sorry to say, I don't know what "CYA move" means.

By the way, I did mention the sticky action to the tech who sold me the instrument. He said that the new butt springs would probably fix the problem (which they didn't), and if the problem persisted, he would lubricate the action with "Ballistol", a type of gun-preserving oil. Is that what you would do? Leave it to the "oiling specialist"?

I wouldn't. Oiling is probably what caused the problem in the first place.

And what do you do with a seller who already becomes up-tight during your first complaint, while you actually have two or three more complaints? Go to a different tech, I hear you say?

Well, if I had employed a different tech to fix the problems, I would have had to pay. And frankly, I don't think that's fair either. I buy a piano that is presented to me as intact, and then have to have it fixed at my cost? Somehow I don't think so.

So, it's either the grumpy seller with his preserving oil, or a different tech at my cost. Read: between a rock and a hard place.

I hope that explains where my "messing" and "monkeying" came from.

But, with all due respect, all of that is really beside the point. This thread was actually meant as a request for you guys to judge the severity of the structural defects, according to the pictures. The cracks in the soundboard and bridges have absolutely nothing to do with my "messing" and "monkeying".

But sadly, I haven't actually seen much evaluation of the severity of those structural defects - except perhaps Randy likening the piano to a horse in serious need of euthanasia.

So what do I do if the tech maintains that the cracks are not life threatening? Do I have to accept that? Or are there some objective counter-arguments that I can bring into the discussion?

That's the type of info I was hoping for.

Perhaps I should have kept my original post much shorter, simply posted three or four pics without any background info, and simply asked opinions. But to me, that's bad netiquette... I believe it's good manners to give as much background as possible - but that doesn't seem to have worked in this thread.

Regards,
Mark
Posted by: Jeff Clef

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/17/09 05:48 PM

Didn't mean to offend you by saying "messing around with the action," Mark. I don't doubt you improved it; I was thinking of the issue of being able to return it, and how your adjustments might possibly complicate the picture. Again, best of luck with it.
Posted by: bitWrangler

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/17/09 06:12 PM

Originally Posted By: Mark R.
Hello again,

Just to take up the last point: the expression "messing" was Jeff's, just as "monkeying" was bitWrangler's. Personally I neither agree with these words, nor appreciate them - I reiterate: nothing went wrong with the action when I worked on it, to the contrary - the piano is MORE playable than when I bought it. But then again, I'm the one asking for opinions here, and if you classify this as "messing" and "monkeying", I'll have to accept that.


Sorry, also didn't mean to offend. I was simply opining that the seller may classify what you did as "messing" and "monkeying", and if he does, that he may use this against you in any warranty dispute. I am not a tech and from only your post I can in no way make any type of objective assessment of what you did with your piano.

Originally Posted By: Mark R.
Oh, and sorry to say, I don't know what "CYA move" means.


It means "Cover Your A** (your behind, your tush, etc)". Basically by not messing with the piano yourself, you prevent any scenarios like the above from having a chance of occurring (the seller blaming you for at least part of the problems).

Again, just perspectives from a customer standpoint. To relate it to something I have more knowledge of, if I had recently purchased a bicycle and I felt that the crank was binding on part of it's stroke, I could pull the cranks and inspect the bottom bracket for problems and rebuild it if necessary. However, I wouldn't since A) my expectation would be that the bicycle shouldn't have that problem and B) I don't want to be blamed for either causing or exacerbating the problem. But that's just me. Point being that it doesn't come down to an assessment of ones technical abilities, but simply one of assessing liability.
Posted by: Randy Karasik

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/17/09 10:21 PM

Originally Posted By: Mark R.
Hi Randy,

I hear you. However, would you go so far as to hire a technician when buying a piano from someone who is himself widely recommended around town, both as tuner and technician? I would have worried that he would be affronted by me, pitching up at his front door with one of his "rivals".

I felt that I really had no other option (and no real NEED for another option) but to trust his good reputation.

By the way, I haven't spoken to the seller about this yet, because I first want to try and get hold of the written guarantee.

Regards,
Mark


You should never feel as if you can't bring your own technician with you under any circumstances.

One time I lost a sale to a slimeball who simply told the customer that she'd be better off buying his Kimball instead of my Baldwin. I told him there is no way any Kimball is better than the Baldwin I was selling, and he simply said "that's a matter of opinion."

Fine. He didn't do what she paid him to do. He wasn't even a real technician anyway, but he didn't do an objective assessment of my piano. He simply glanced at it and told her how much prettier his piano was compared to mine.

Anyway, back to the subject. Just because another technician is selling a piano, doesn't mean that a second technician can't come in on your behalf and thoroughly check out the piano.

And yes, get that written guarantee NOW if you can, before the seller knows what's going on.

Posted by: Mark R.

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/18/09 02:27 AM

Hi Jeff, bW and Randy,

"Point being that it doesn't come down to an assessment of ones technical abilities, but simply one of assessing liability."

OK, point taken - thanks for the clarification.

What I find really difficult, is to get hold of an independent/objective and competent tech. I've visited the webpage of the South African Association of Professional Piano Tuners. I have visited one of them (when I was still looking for a piano), and he was either not competent or simply not interested to answer my questions about the instrument I was considering. Another tuner on the webpage has, according to an accompanist friend of mine, done more damage than good to her piano. His name also appears on some keys in my piano, so he's been "at it" in the past. At some point, I decided to go by personal recommendation and "business footprint". The tech that I ended up buying my piano from, was, as mentioned earlier, widely recommended, and works for various schools and even services the concert grands of our university.

Basically my question is:

To choose a piano, you need it assessed by a reliable tech with no vested interests.
But how do choose such a tech? Does such an animal exist at all? (Randy's Kimball-slimeball is a classic case in point!)

It's the combination of technical and social factors that's giving me grief. Even on this forum, I often read divergent opinions... And then the one "pro" gets all huffed-up, hot-under-the-collar with the other "pro". As a layman, how do I decide who is right and who isn't?

And if I leave everything to the "professionals", does that protect me from the slimeballs out there?

Regards,
Mark
Posted by: RPD

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/18/09 08:14 AM

Originally Posted By: Mark R.

To choose a piano, you need it assessed by a reliable tech with no vested interests.
But how do choose such a tech? Does such an animal exist at all? (Randy's Kimball-slimeball is a classic case in point!)



The short answer is "Yes". There are plenty of us who can easily distinguish our personal interests from those of our clients, and who regularily advise honestly on purchases.

I charge a good fee to appraise a piano, and I never, ever place myself into the matter, other than as an appraiser. I don't attempt to purchase the piano at discount that I'm appraising, and I never advocate for the sale of one of my own instruments against the appraisal piano. In other words, I don't cheat.

And, I would guess that the "slimeballs" are few and far between...you will find that the high percentage of those good folks who post here , for example, are ethical and honorable people.

I'm sorry for your loss on the purchase of your current piano, and I'm sure you will seek out, and obtain, a disinterested technician's opinion next time. With any luck, you'll find somebody who will help you find a wonderful piano!

RPD
Posted by: Randy Karasik

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/18/09 08:37 AM

If I have a similar piano for sale as that which I'm requested to assess, I will recuse myself from the job. If a potential buyer asks me if it's okay that they hire another tech to check out my piano I ALWAYS welcome them to do so.

But now I insist that they hire a QUALIFIED tech, and to make sure that person isn't going to try to sell them a piano.

I've had several local technicians check out pianos in my shop on behalf of the buyer. It's a good experience - to prep a good piano and offer it at a competitive price, to then have another technician confirm the value to the buyer.

In my case, it always works in my favor, if the technician is honest and capable.
Posted by: Silverwood Pianos

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/18/09 09:56 AM

Hi Mark,

Even though your photo album is listed as private I managed to sign into my Picasa account and leave you some comments on some of the photos you have supplied. Hope fully this will give you some help with your claims there…….

I haven’t had the time to read through all of the posters and their comments, but for me this instrument was over-priced. Of course the obvious is that a second opinion would have been helpful to you. I understand the dilemma that you faced there……..someone with a reputation and you feel obligated to trust them. But I have to come back to the old adage of “caveat emptor” (buyer beware)…..when you purchase anything of substantial value or something that you are unfamiliar with. In the purchase of ANY mechanical device, boat, car, piano, they all need to be checked by someone of your choice.

Yes, you will most likely get the technician to argue that the cracked sounding board and bass bridgework are normal deterioration, but this type of aging causes the instrument to be of limited value if it has any value at all. Here in Vancouver,Canada a piano of this type would not have sold for even half of what you have paid.

I would wait to see what happens in 8 weeks and how the written guarantee is worded. This will assist you in your plan of response.

The only other thing I can think of is to see if you can return the instrument for a refund, or exchange for something more recent (newer) or in better condition.
Posted by: Mark R.

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/18/09 10:47 AM

Hi there,

To RPD:
I have no doubt that reputable techs exist. My trouble seems to be to recognise one of them. [EDIT: more correctly, my trouble seems to be to recognise the NOT so reputable ones...]

To Randy:
If you say that having an tech inspect your instruments actually works in your favour, does this mean that you sell an instrument for more than originally advertised? (This would question whether the tech was working in the best (financial) interest of the buyer?)

To Dan:

MANY thanks for taking the trouble to comment on some pictures. I'll go into the album immediately to have a look at your inputs.

If I can walk away from this episode without TOO much damage, I'll probably be looking for a newer instrument.

Although it's really a pity about this Seiler, as we were particularly drawn by its sound and its external appearance!

Kind regards to all, and enjoy your weekend!

Mark
Posted by: Mark R.

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/18/09 11:17 AM

Dear Dan,

Your comments to my pictures (some of them quite brutal, but that's the nature of the beast called "honesty") are of immense value, putting a perspective on what's severe and what's not so bad.

I would not have thought that the cracked apron is such a problem; neither would I have identified it as a possible cause for that dull bass note... but now that you've explained it, it makes sense.

Many thanks for the time and effort you took. If ever I should be in Vancouver, let me buy you a (few cases of) beer. Until that time, a sincere thank-you will have to suffice.

In addition, I'll try to "shop around" for a reliable, objective tech in the next week or two, and ask for an assessment, so that when my seller comes in about 6 weeks' time, I have a portfolio that's based not only on internet forums. [EDIT: nothing against forums, to the contrary! But the seller may argue the point that no-one has actually inspected the instrument "live".]

Regards,
Mark
Posted by: Jerry Groot RPT

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/18/09 08:42 PM

On a lighter note. I remember one time many years ago, when I was still acquiring pianos and fixing them for resale when I still had the time which I no longer do. A lady came by interested in the piano but wanted her technician to look at it. Fine says I however, I do have 2 other people interested in it and first come first serve. I mean, with no money down, you never know for sure if they are actually going to return or not. She called me about 2 hours later... 2 hours to late actually, having contacted her technician 45 miles away from here who told her "if Jerry Groot fixed that piano BUY IT you have nothing to worry about!" I still can't help but get that tingling feeling that you get when someone says something that nice about you. Unfortunately for her, the 2nd person that looked at it bought it. I still tune that piano today and it's still in good condition and that was about 15 to 20 years ago or so.
Posted by: RPD

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/18/09 08:49 PM

Jerry...

To wit; she should have done her homework and asked about your reputation BEFORE wasting her (and your) time in hesitating...if she had been prepared and asked her tech prior, she'd have a nice piano today.

RPD
Posted by: Jerry Groot RPT

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/18/09 10:06 PM

Thanks Rick. Even though that took place that long ago, it sure does make one realize how important a good reputation is doesn't it?
Posted by: Silverwood Pianos

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/19/09 11:48 AM



Hello Mark,

I have always thought that honesty is the best policy, and I have even lost customers over that fact. Because I am out of your area, it is relatively easy to be objective about what I viewed in the photos. They paint a pretty clear picture of what you have purchased.

The instrument is old; that has been taken into account for the aging sound board and other components. The biggest concern I had would be the broken, or breaking bass apron. By being cracked in the middle, like I stated, this begins to give the middle of the bass bridge a peak……..much like the roof of your home. Eventually the bass bridge will crack or break too. When this happens is anybody’s guess.

Sure this instrument can be used in this condition, BUT, from what you have stated here in this thread it seems that you were led to believe that this instrument was in good shape and tuning/ regular maintenance was the only requirement.

Well from what I can see, this is simply not the case.

I feel that this instrument should not have been sold for that price in that condition. In all honesty this should have been pointed out so than you could have made an informed decision.

Remember also that I am basing my values on the market I have experience with which is the market in Vancouver. This is a large city and the used equipment here does not retain its value like other parts of the country.

Not to worry about the beer…… thanks is good enough……………I’d be happy to read that you have managed an exchange…….( straight across, no funds exchanged except for moving and tuning maybe)……for a newer instrument or one in better condition.

Good luck,
Posted by: Marty Flinn

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/19/09 04:38 PM

Mark,
I have read the whole thread and here are my thoughts:

1. You did not buy from an ignorant private party. You bought from a professional piano person. This is a material fact in your favor. He had a responsibility to disclose material defects (malfeasance). He knew these defects or he was professionally neglegent (misfeasance). Either way, he should be held accountable. Professionals should be held to a higher standard than the general public in their representations.

2. A disclosure of the work you performed may or may not weaken your case. That you improved the instrument's performance will likely be immaterial to the fact that it is now in an altered state from how it was delivered.

3. Push for a complete return and refund, not repairs on this instrument. Another option might be an exchange of another instrument this seller might substitute, but only after a full survay from a third party and some kind of appraisal.
Posted by: Randy Karasik

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/20/09 09:05 AM

Originally Posted By: Mark R.



To Randy:
If you say that having an tech inspect your instruments actually works in your favour, does this mean that you sell an instrument for more than originally advertised? (This would question whether the tech was working in the best (financial) interest of the buyer?)



When a customer's own technician comes to my shop to check out a piano that I have for sale, he will confirm to the buyer that the piano is indeed a good value. That's what I mean that it works in my favor.

Only when the other technician is dishonest or unqualified, will the buyer be told otherwise.

There is no monetary advantage for the other technician to help me sell the piano. He/she is working for the buyer only, and not for me.

Does that answer the question?
Posted by: Jerry Groot RPT

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/20/09 10:46 AM

How often haven't you techs run across this? It happens to me almost every single time.

When I am hired to go out to appraise a piano in another persons home, or whereever it is other than a dealer, the seller will almost always will ask me what I think of the piano? What is it worth? Did you find any problems? What kind of shape is it in? Isn't it a great piano? It is in good shape you know. We took good care of it etc. That makes us uncomfortable. For those of you reading, don't do it. I am there in the best interests of the client that hired me and is paying me for my time not, the person who owns the piano. We really cannot answer these questions for you.

I learned many years ago that as soon as you open up your big mouth, maybe saying something like, well, the piano needs an awful lot of work their first response is, defensive; like what???!! What kind of work? It was never played!!! It's in great shape, can't you tell?! Which leads you somewhere we do not want to go. So, for the most part, I simply refuse to answer questions for the owner of the piano. It is not in our nor our clients best interest.
Posted by: Jeff Clef

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/20/09 11:44 AM

"...So, for the most part, I simply refuse to answer questions for the owner of the piano. It is not in our nor our clients best interest."

A smart policy, Jerry. I wonder how the owners of the piano under inspection handle the suspense. I guess I might say something like, "It's against our professional ethics to discuss the private business of one client with another person." In view of the "Junk We Find Inside Pianos" thread, they may not realize what a good thing it is for them that tuners don't talk. Some people out there are probably wondering why their ears are hot as a stove.
Posted by: bellspiano

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/20/09 06:01 PM

I agree completely, Jerry. I have found it works best for me to be clear about the ground rules from the start; otherwise the current owners always want to talk with me about their pianos. So I start out by saying something like, "Hello, I'm glad to meet you, today I will be looking at the piano on behalf of Joe Buyer. It will take about half an hour (or whatever), and then we will leave so I can give him my report. Thank you very much for being willing to let me have a look at the piano."

At the most recent inspection, even that wouldn't have helped, and I was most grateful for Joe Buyer, who zoomed in on the seller and purposely asked things like, "So what part of Maine does your family come from?" every time I began peering intently at something with a flashlight. Thank goodness the seller was distractable.
Posted by: Jerry Groot RPT

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/20/09 06:53 PM

Quote:
I wonder how the owners of the piano under inspection handle the suspense.


They don't which is why the hoover over us like bandits asking all sort of questions including, am I asking a fair price or should I have asked more? To which I reply something to what you mentioned. I am hired to inspect your piano for a client and cannot divuldge that information to anyone but them, sorry.

I was asked once or twice by the owner if they also paid me, if I would tell them on the spot what the piano was really worth. I flat our refused.
Posted by: Mark R.

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/21/09 03:07 AM

Hello all,

To Marty:
I will try to push for a complete refund (less, perhaps, moving fees and some type of "usage fee" - if the seller insists on a less-than-full refund). None of the other instruments that he had in his shop, appealed to us - and even if he has obtained another instrument in the meantime, I would be very hesitant to buy from him again.

To Randy:
Yes, question answered, thanks.

To all:
On Saturday I spoke to a friend who works at the local university. Although he does not lecture music, he is very actively involved in music, and knows the music lecturers and local performers well. He'll describe my situation to one or two of them and ask their advice, specifically to recommend a reliable tuner/tech to me, so that I can get an independent appraisal.

Regards,
Mark
Posted by: Mark R.

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/22/09 06:08 PM


Dear readers,

Dan, your assessment of the crack in the bass bridge apron prompted me to do some further thinking and enquiring. With the help of a tech from the German-Austrian piano forum, I’ve done some further measurements. What the Austrian tech described, is called “Saitendruck” (string pressure). It measures whether the bridge (actually, the soundboard) lifts the strings further away from the soundboard than what they are at the hitch pins (he compared it, in principle, to the bridge of a violin, which lifts the string from a straight line into its well-known shape).

Hence, what I did: I connected a piece of fishing line to the upper pin (agraffe pin?) of a string, guided it through the pins in the bass bridge, pulled it taught close to the hitch pin of the string, lowered the fishing line on to the bridge, and compared the height of the bridge to the height of the lower end of the string on the hitch-pin. I did this at the extreme low end, extreme high end, and close to the middle of the bass bridge. Well, Dan, it’s no wonder that the apron is starting to crack. At the low end, the “Saitendruck” is about 1 to 2 mm. In the middle, close to the crack in the apron, it’s closer to 3 mm. And at the top end, it’s actually negative! My fishing line actually stands clear of the bridge, by about 1 to 2 mm.

To top it all, there’s an inscription on the lower side of the bass bridge: “4.11.69 Rep.” – Rep probably stands for “Reparatur”, i.e. repair. This probably means that the bass bridge was already replaced 40 years ago, which would also explain the brass plaque of the 1960’s instrument dealer / tech that’s attached to the frame in the bass string section. So, the instrument is 87 years old, but it appears the half-dead bass bridge actually is only 40 years old. I would guess that the bridge was replaced, but the root cause of the problem (bridge sagging on its high end) has not been addressed.

What a learning curve! (At a price, but I’ll try to sort that out in due course.)

Again, my special thanks to Dan in Canada.

Methinks whenever I go to purchase a piano in future, I’ll take along a flashlight and some fishing line...

Regards,
Mark
Posted by: Mark R.

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/23/09 03:44 AM

Hello again,

For those interested, I've uploaded the corresponding photos into my picasa album (the last five pictures are new). The album is now public, so anyone should be able to comment, should he/she wish.

Effectively, the difference in "Saitendruck" (string pressure / string height?) between the mid-section and the high end of the bass bridge is about 4 to 5 mm, as I judge it. The high end is actually pulling the strings towards the rear of the piano.

Regards,
Mark
Posted by: jpscoey

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/23/09 08:15 AM

Originally Posted By: Mark R.
For those interested, I've uploaded the corresponding photos into my picasa album.



Mark, what exactly do you type in the 'search' box on picasa to find your photos?

(you could maybe include a link?).

Also, in the UK, what you refer to as "saitendruck" is known as 'Down-bearing'.

(I don't know if it's got a different name in the US).

.
Posted by: Mark R.

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/23/09 09:15 AM

Hi John,

In the first post of this thread, the album was linked (within the text). But in the meantime, I've changed the album from "authorisation-keyed" to "public", so that anyone can comment on the pictures, not only those with google or picasa accounts.

My apologies for not posting the public link in my post above - so, here it is:
Click here for the Seiler pictures.

[EDIT: hovering over a picture should display the caption, if all goes well.]
[EDIT 2: it seems that even in a public album, one has to sign in to leave a comment. Sorry about that - if you don't have a picasa account please comment in this thread.]

Kind regards across the Atlantic,
Mark
P.S.: thanks for the translation. Down-bearing makes perfect sense, once you know the term.
Posted by: jpscoey

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/23/09 06:16 PM

'
Hi there Mark, thanks for posting that link.

I've now had chance to look at your photos, and I would have to say that,

unfortunately, I'm in agreement with most of the 'negative' comments previously mentioned.

Judging from the pictures, this piano reminds me of many that I've encountered over the years,

and, from exeperience, my opinion is that not only was it hugely overpriced, but, in reality,

is probably worth nothing at all.

It's in the sort of condition that you see people giving away to folks who can't afford to

fork out for a piano (hard-up community centres/church halls etc).


For starters, the action obviously wasn't even 'dusted-down', let alone regulated.

You can see this from the mis-alignment of the dampers/ uneven key 'levelling' etc etc.....

the list goes on.

The biggest problems are with the bridge and soundboard, though - and the pinblock could

also be a worry..... it's not easy to say for sure whether that's split/cracked, because

it has a (what looks like) walnut veneer covering the actual block.

With a change in temperature/humidity, these splits could literally 'go' at any given minute.

If (or, rather when) that happens, the piano will become an instant write-off.

I also hate to say it, but -for the purposes of the guarantee- you should probably not have

got involved with 'home repairs' - although I agree that ANYTHING you may have done to

the action will have had NO effect on the condition of the soundboard/bridge.


I really feel for you here, and wish you all the best of luck getting this sorted out.


Please keep us informed how you go on? - and leave the piano as it is for now!

Regards,

John.
.
Posted by: Mark R.

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 09/29/09 08:00 AM

Dear all,

To Randy, Jeff and RPD, I have some more feedback, as concerns working through/with "professionals" and choosing the right "professional" for an independent appraisal.

In search of an independent tech who could provide me with an assessment of the damage, I contacted a member of the South African Association of Professional Piano Tuners - I presume he is the chairman, as he was obviously strongly involved in the design and content of the Association's website. Let's call him Charles.

It was an "interesting" phone conversation, to say the least.

First off, when I told Charles my story, he started chiding (frankly: lecturing) me, as to why I should have worked through the Association. In his words, Association members automatically get the green light as trustworthy sellers and competent techs - and I suppose non-members get the red light? It took two or three attempts to explain to him that I actually hadn't bought from some backyard dealer or fly-by-nighter. When I gave some background and he finally inferred who I was talking about, only then did he back off, and said that the tech who sold me the piano does, in fact, have a good reputation and much experience. (Fancy that!) For reasons only known to himself, he declined to join the Association when he was offered membership. (Perhaps all is not rosy in the Association?)

Charles said that, given my tech's good reputation and experience, this instrument should never have been sold in this condition. He suspects that the tech, who is getting on in years, neglected to give it a proper inspection.

So far so good.

I then asked Charles for the names of one or two Association members who could appraise my piano. Lo and behold, the first name that he gave me, is a tuner who has himself worked on my piano previously (left his insignia on a key), and whom I have been warned against,
... by a well-known local accompanist,
... by my seller himself, and most recently,
... by a piano professor from the local university, who said that this tech is blind, which limits his ability to appraise and repair structural damage. (Notwithstanding his excellent tuning abilities.)

So, this serves to illustrate my predicament. All of these people are, to some extent, professionals, even the non-member tech who sold me the piano, is acknowledged within the Association as competent.

In summary:
1) First Charles lectures me for not working through the Association.
2) Only when Charles realises who the seller is, does he change his tune (excuse the pun).
3) Then, Charles recommends one of his colleagues, but I've already been warned by various people not to use this tech!

I wonder whether the Association, like Charles put it, is really there to protect the consumer?

To add to my confusion, Charles said that a sticky action (centre pins) is no big deal, they must just be lubricated. (While the Austrian tech says that this is nonsense, the only way to fix it properly is to clean/ream the bushes and re-pin.) When I asked him about oil going sticky in due course, he said that he uses silicone lubricant, which doesn't "draw dust".

The one says "do", the other says "don't", the one says "use this tech", the other says "don't"...

Can you start to understand my massive confusion and frustration?

Abovementioned piano professor has now kindly put me in touch with a Steinway tech who services the university's concert grands - based in Cape Town, but currently here in Pretoria. I'll try to arrange that he appraises my piano.

Regards (with a reeling head),
Mark
Posted by: Mark R.

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 10/02/09 10:37 AM

Dear all,

Said Steinway tech visited me today and had a look at the piano. By the way, he studied not only at Steinway Hamburg, but also in the states, and is a RPT.

I'll get a written report later, but in the meantime, his impressions were as follows:

1) The crack in the soundboard is obviously not good, but not really critical, as it ends before the first rib and that rib is still firmly glued to the board. If it starts to buzz, one could fill/stabilise it with epoxy.
2) The cracks in the bass bridge are bad. The sound is slowly starting to deteriorate because of them. The bridge should be re-capped.
3) The action is not regulated well, hammers are misaligned.
4) The hammers have been re-felted before. He recognises the workmanship of a certain tech (and also the machine with which it was done). In the process, the heads were not made long enough, so in order to keep the rise (is this the right expression?) correct, the cushion of the hammer rest was made thicker. This means that the fulcrum of the hammers is to far away from the strings. The shanks are angled to steeply - hence the fact that some hammers actually fall towards the strings when played softly.
5) The action is sticky and should receive new centre-pins.
6) Damping is "patchwork". Some have been renewed, most are stained, some bent. Some dampers hardly lift off the string.
7) Down-bearing is not such a critical problem according to him. More so if it becomes too large, because this could break the bass bridge or apron completely away from the soundboard. As long as the soundboard has settled into a stable form (which it has, according to him), and the sound is still good, especially at the breaks (which it is), then this is OK.
8 ) The bushings (correct word?) of the keys should be replaced.
9) The general sound is good and solid. He sees no problems here.
10) General impression: the outside has been nicely restored, the inside is (I quote) "shoddy workmanship from top to bottom".
11) He said that if I can reverse the deal, I should. If not, I should insist that the above items (especially bass bridge and action) are repaired to the satisfaction of an independent tech.

He took almost an hour's time to look at various items with me and answer my questions, also pertaining to the fact that practically all tuners in Pretoria are blind...

What a shame that he is based in Cape Town. But he is in Pretoria regularly to work on the university's concert grands.

Then came a slight sales pitch. He has an August Förster (about 50 years old) in his workshop, that he has restored. Well, perhaps I can have a look if I'm in Cape Town over Christmas...

So much for today - now I'll have to gather my wits about me and confront my seller.

Kind regards,
Mark
Posted by: Monica K.

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 10/02/09 10:56 AM

Good luck, Mark. What a horrible situation. I hope you are able to get your money back. Let us know how the conversation went.
Posted by: Silverwood Pianos

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 10/02/09 11:29 AM

Hello Mark,

Just back in here, and have read through your recent postings. I can see that you have learned the wisdom of going out of your local area to gather opinions about this instrument; an instrument that was presented to you with the claim that it was in good condition, both inside and out.

Every tech that views the pictures, or inspects the instrument, will have slightly differing viewpoint on certain components of this instrument. What you need to do is sift through the information now and find the “common points” shared by more than one opinion you have received. When you have a variety of techs from different locations sharing a common view of certain repairs or deterioration, this will go a long way to bolster your claim.

As far as the sales pitch goes, I too would offer you an instrument in better condition. The motivation for this would be primarily to assist in correcting a bad situation, but secondly to make a sale too….;)

The fellow who offered you the Forster? Call him back and ask him what he would give you in trade for the one you have now. That will get you closer to the real value of what you have (the real value for your area is what I meant)

cheers,
Posted by: Mark R.

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 10/02/09 11:47 AM

Hi there,

Monica, thanks for the support.

Dan, for a starting point, the Steinway tech actually asked me what I paid for the Ed Seiler, and said that had the instrument been in an acceptable condition, this would be a fair price - actually quite a good one.

What you're suggesting is a roundabout way to find out the real value of my piano in its current (more or less desolate) condition?

Well, that should be easy enough - when he calls me to get my e-mail address for sending me the written report, I'll slip in the "trade-in value" question - let's see what he says!

Oh boy, I really need to sort this out, it's making me physically sick (my nerves always work on my guts - literally).

Anyway, time for the weekend (it's 17h45 here).

Cheers,
Mark
P.S.: Dan (and everyone): just like Kawais are often said to have quite a bright timbre, and Bösendorfer more softly-singing, are August Försters known for any specific tonal qualities?
Posted by: Mark R.

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 10/05/09 04:58 AM

Dear all,

Just a matter of clarification:

If a bridge is re-capped, and the soundboard has settled over the years (but is essentially stable), is the new bridge (cap) made and adjusted in such a way that the down-bearing is corrected, without altering the soundboard? To what specification is the down-bearing then typically set? If I understood the tech (who inspected my piano) correctly, he would rout the old cap off, but leave the base and apron on the soundboard, then make a new cap that has a suitable profile to set the down-bearing to about 1-2 mm (about 1/16 inch).

I just want to clarify this point, in case the seller of my piano should insist on repairing it, rather than taking it back.

Regards,
Mark
Posted by: jpscoey

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 10/05/09 06:05 AM

[quote=Mark R.]...the Steinway tech actually asked me what I paid for the Ed Seiler,

and said that had the instrument been in an acceptable condition,

this would be a fair price - actually quite a good one.[quote]


Mark, I suspect the reason he said this is because it would probably cost this or more

to carry out the neccessary work.

Did he say what he would charge you for this work? (if it were practical for him to do it).

If not, why not ask him?

Good luck.
.
Posted by: Silverwood Pianos

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 10/08/09 12:08 PM



Hello Mark,

From what I have seen the instrument does not have the kind of value you paid for it. For $2500.00 you can do better……… Oh sure if all of the repairs noted were done that price would be a good deal as your Steinway tech mentioned. The trouble with that statement is this:

Setting aside the condition of the sounding board for a moment, to complete all of the work I have seen on those photos, the broken bass apron and bridge cap,( might as well put a new bass string set on, why keep the old ones) the complete regulation required and all of the center pins replaced in the hammer butt flange, the whippen flange, and perhaps some of the jack flanges too( you might as well do them all as the action is now apart) removing the hammer set and calculating the correct bore distance,( you might as well install a new set)….from my shop a conservative estimate would add another 4K to the instruments’ price.

Then STILL you are left with a deteriorating sounding board that is beginning to break behind the treble bridge end. So why spend 4K or more on an instrument that has a structure in this condition? This is parallel to having a sports car that blows considerable smoke when you start it up. Well you don’t rebuild the transmission in that one, nor do you paint the thing, because one day the motor will blow up and then you are left with a car that doesn’t run with a brand new tranny installed. What value would it be then?

Don’t get me wrong here, this instrument you have can still be played for a long time in this condition, but with a sound board like that you do not pour dollar after dollar into this project. Find another instrument that does not have a breaking sounding board and put monies into that one.

Because of the condition of the sounding board and bridge, this instrument has limited value……. you play this instrument “as it is”. There are LOTS of pianos around this area with bridges and sound boards in this condition. I tell people to play them like they are until the instrument is not functional any longer and then look for something else. I do let pianos like this go to certain people….single mom, single dad, no money, but with children who want to learn music…I let them go for a few hundred dollars……sometimes even nothing…………………just enough to cover the moving costs and a quick look to see that everything works…. BUT they are informed that these pianos are NOT GOOD INSTRUMENTS and this is written on the invoice if there happens to be one……. I just donated one to a church that needed one for the missionary work done there……..

Don’t know too much about the August Förster instruments, they were an 80’s and 90’s thing around here…Czech Republic, or Poland I believe, but not sure. I haven’t heard many complaints about them so that is a good thing I guess. Maybe someone else has another opinion or more complete info on that one.
cheers,
Posted by: Mark R.

Re: Your opinion, please! Have I bought junk? - 12/01/09 11:14 AM

Hello,

After contacting the seller via e-mail late in October, and waiting a long time for a response, I finally called him about a week ago, asking for that warranty and the first tuning. He came today, and I started a conversation where I explained the things that I had come across, the independent assessments from the Steinway tech. and the various builders on the internet forums. At first, he was quite offish, but I always returned to one point: he had sold me the piano with the understanding that it was "essentially intact" and "good for many more years" - and the condition of the bass bridge is in blatant violation of such an understanding.

He has now agreed to collect the piano and do some repairs, free of charge. As both he and I will be travelling during December and January, this will only happen during February.

The repairs will consist of
1) Bass bridge: de-string, rout off old bridge cap, make and fit new bridge cap, re-string. He says the dead note is definitely a string, not the bridge. We'll see.
2) Action: replacing damaged dampers and springs, aligning hammers, fixing sticky centers (not re-centering, but presumably lubricating), regulating.
3) Possibly soundboard: rather than filling the crack with epoxy, as the Steinway-tech suggested, he would go the "traditional" route. Here I'm only familiar with the German term: "spanen", i.e. to widen the crack into a groove and glue a shim or wedge into the cut, then cut the glued piece off on a level with the surrounding soundboard. I'm not sure whether he'll actually do this - he seemed to think the crack is not critical.

He also said that I should visit his workshop, as he has recently got some instruments in, amongst others a Rönisch from the same time. If I like one of them, he'd be happy to take back the Seiler in exchange. If not, he'd do the repairs.

So I'll visit him on Saturday to look at those pianos.

Seeing that he offered to make good the defects, I felt that it's only reasonable to give him a chance to do so. Hence, I didn't insist on his reversing the sale.

I'm thinking, however, to make a list of the repairs that we discussed today, putting it on paper, and signing it off together with him, so that we have this as a recorded agreement. Also, I'm considering to have the repairs inspected by an independent tech. before I take the Seiler back. I would hope that this keeps his repair work on the straight and narrow.

So, that's the current state of affairs in a nutshell - feel free to comment or advise if you wish.

Regards,
Mark