Did Kimball ever make good pianos?

Posted by: b3groover

Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 12/28/09 06:36 PM

Every Kimball I've tuned has been a hunk of junk. Bad tone, action falling apart, loose pins, pinblock cracking. Did Kimball ever make a decent piano?

My dad used to complain about Kimballs all the time and now I know why. I tuned one today and the pins were so loose I'm amazed I was able to actually get it in tune.
Posted by: Marty Flinn

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 12/28/09 07:52 PM

I have never heard these critcisms connected with Kimball. They had beautiful cabinets and were bullit-proof. The only criticsms I experienced were mediocre touch response and tone. There are a couple of very recent threads raving about the Vienese Edition grands. I have worked on and personally sold hundreds of Kimball grands and uprights from the mid 1970s until they closed out production.
Posted by: Bob

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 12/28/09 08:04 PM

I've seen many good Viennese Kimball grands. I wouldn't be so quick to stereotype a piano brand. Even the best makers make a few duds, but the percentage of duds for a maker of fine pianos is very low compared to total production - therefore they are known as high end piano makers. Kimball was an average maker of grand pianos in relation to other producers. They were capable of making decent grand pianos, but only 50% were decent, thus the average rating. The Whitney Brand by Kimball earns a 20% decent rating from me, so they are usually well below average build quality, although you can find a good one occasionally. There are other brands I would classify as a "hunk of junk", where maybe 5% of their production was any good.
Posted by: b3groover

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 12/28/09 09:34 PM

Argh, Whitney is the worst. I remember one of the first client tunings my dad and I did together was at a small private school with a Whitney spinet. My dad let me set the temperament with guidance and tune most of the piano but I was at a loss with the bass. My dad took over and finished the tuning and I'll never forget what he said.

"There. All done. Beautiful eh? Still sounds like a bunch of coat hangers clanging together."

smile


Marty I'm sure there are some nice Kimballs around but I've yet to find one.
Posted by: JDelmore

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 12/28/09 09:52 PM

Originally Posted By: b3groover
Argh, Whitney is the worst.


Eh...one word: Winter.

And I ain't talkin' about the season...:(
Posted by: Sam Casey

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 12/28/09 10:12 PM

I've tune zillions of them. One thing you can say: they are bulletproof. Leave 'em 20 years without tuning and those blocks are still tight, plywood board, laminated bridges still good. Jerk 'em up a half step or better and they will stay. With a bit of needling you can still eek out a passible tone.
Posted by: RPD

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 12/29/09 12:42 AM

I found a 9 foot (probably 8 1/2) Kimball grand, in original condition C-1920 (its on my wall, and I can't remember the specs as I write this! lol)

The owners tried to give it to me. I thought about it, and offered them $500. Plus it cost me about that again to move it to my shop. I'll rebuild it someday, and then I'll have a full sized. Its got tone that is stil unbelievable!!

My own experience with Kimball pianos has been mixed, like those above. But, I've generally found that the older the Kimball, the better I like it.

RPD
Posted by: wesquire

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 12/29/09 09:14 AM

The Kimball grand line was a lot like some car makers, try to get one built on Tuesday thru Thursday. The build quality was a real crap shoot.
On a good day they could be a very nice, low cost piano. The Viennese grands could be regulated and voiced to be very decent instruments.

The under 42" pianos were not as bad as Winter (or Grand) but were entering the low end of the scale.

The Artist consoles were great furniture and decent home pianos.

The Habig family really did care about building a good product.
Posted by: Silverwood Pianos

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 12/29/09 09:56 AM


I have not come across too many Kimball grand’s up this way but similar to the entire piano industry the older ones seem to be better built as compared to the newer ones.
I am quite sure that we could find good models and not-so-good models within the production history of all piano makers.
Posted by: w_scott_iv@yahoo

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 12/29/09 10:55 AM

Someone must have been selling Kimballs in my area in the 1920's because I have tuned many uprights from that time. They were quite good and are still very serviceable. I grew up w/a 1950's Kimball console which had a beautiful cabinet and was adequate as a living room piano. In my opinion, Kimballs from the 1970's on were very poor. My guess is that these are the pianos you're running into.
Posted by: wayne walker

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 12/29/09 11:10 AM

since we are talking about Kimball, I have a customer with a newer Kimball grand that I have been trying to locate the serial number. I have look everywhere but can't seem to find it . The piano is about 20-30 years old and about 5 1/2 ft.
Anyone know where the serial number is located?
Posted by: Dave Lotek

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 12/29/09 11:22 AM

As a young technician, I chromatically pitch raised a used Kimball Artist Console piano that had been neglected for many years. The plate snapped with a loud bang. The customer was floored.

I called Kimball and spoke with Roger Wiesensteiner the plant manager. He said it was not my fault. They picked up the piano, rebuilt and returned it to the customer for free.

Integrity unheard of these days.
Posted by: Dan Casdorph

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 12/29/09 12:42 PM

The older Chicago ones were good quality, but time has taken its toll. The French Lickers were not so good.
Posted by: Marty Flinn

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 12/29/09 01:52 PM

Serial number on a plate inside the rim next to the front lid hinge. Also, embossed into the back side of the keybed underneath the instrument.
Posted by: UnrightTooner

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 12/30/09 06:29 AM

I also think the cabinets on Kimball are very nice and it is what I usually mention to a customer when they ask about their piano.

The Whitney spinet and the Kimball spinet are scaled differently. I prefer the scaling on the Whitney. The scaling is better than most other spinets in my opinion.

I have only tuned one Kimball upright larger than a console. It was a newer one and was very, very nice. I should have measured it. It may have been a 48 incher.

All that being said… One of the reasons I chose not to continue tuning pianos as a career in the 70’s was because of all the Kimballs I tuned for the store that I was affiliated with. No matter how carefully I tuned, the sound reminded me of a tin box falling down a set of stairs. They do look nice, though, and I still tune them. I have made a note to tighten down on the pressure bar when returning on a few of them.
Posted by: Bill Bremmer RPT

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 12/30/09 09:40 AM

Originally Posted By: b3groover
Every Kimball I've tuned has been a hunk of junk. Bad tone, action falling apart, loose pins, pinblock cracking. Did Kimball ever make a decent piano?

My dad used to complain about Kimballs all the time and now I know why. I tuned one today and the pins were so loose I'm amazed I was able to actually get it in tune.


I haven't had time to read all of the responses but I would never characterize Kimball pianos in general with the above description. In fact, I would say that nearly any brand of piano could have these problems but Kimball pianos have fewer of them than many other brands I have serviced.

I will gladly tune and service any Kimball piano. If it has service requirements, including loose tuning pins (which I have actually found to be quite rare), I will perform those service requirements.

You have the choice as a piano technician to either hate what you do or love what you do. As soon as you decide that you hate most or all of the pianos you are asked to service, it is time for you to find another line of work. You will never be satisfied. When you decide to actually do something about the poor condition of some of the pianos you encounter, you will develop a feeling of satisfaction for having done so and you will earn a living.

Going into someone's home hating the piano you are asked to service is completely the wrong attitude to have.
Posted by: RPD

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 12/30/09 10:34 AM

Originally Posted By: Bill Bremmer RPT

You have the choice as a piano technician to either hate what you do or love what you do. As soon as you decide that you hate most or all of the pianos you are asked to service, it is time for you to find another line of work. You will never be satisfied. When you decide to actually do something about the poor condition of some of the pianos you encounter, you will develop a feeling of satisfaction for having done so and you will earn a living.

Going into someone's home hating the piano you are asked to service is completely the wrong attitude to have.


Well said, Bill. Without reference to the OP or other commentators here, I too have noticed that there are some techs who adopt an elitist attitude with pianos...i.e. everything is "junk" if its not Steinway etc.

We are honored guests in homes, where clients are hoping for a better sounding piano. Often, I'm called in after another (very highly qualified) tech has told a customer their piano is "junk". Sometimes the client is in tears when they call. Its happened here too many times to be coincidence...obviously some techs feel they are being ethical by telling it like it "is"...the tough love approach, as it were.

I'm with the folks who will try for improvement of pianos, providing there is at least a ray of hope. For this reason, I'm often found snapping replacement plastic elbows into place, or drilling bolts through delaminated pin blocks on uprights...customers know they have older, less optimal instruments, and they truly appreciate any artistry and assistance a good technician can bring to the discussion.

It is not without some great joy that I note that in recent years the PTG Journal has begun to feature technicians like Chuck Behm, who celebrates older historical/heirloom pianos...I truly believe the value of his work-saving these older pianos and encouraging others to take that approach as well-cannot be overstated!

We're honored guests in homes. Its not for us to discount the clients' pianos, any more than we would a dinner they had prepared for us. I love what I do, for the variety it provides. Personally, I'd go entirely out of my mind if all I did all day was tune Steinway grands!

I think Bill that your well stated sense of perspective on this comes from living in Madison...we're midwesterners too...and there are just lots of Kimballs, Cables, Whitneys, and even the occasional Conn piano. Like you, we've learned to celebrate our piano-lives for all the diversity provided!

RPD
Posted by: Bob

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 12/30/09 07:55 PM

Don't forget those Wurlitzer spinets as well, probably the most popular spinet ever made. Most had a very useable build quality and are still in service. Built in Dekalb Illinois in those days. I tune spinets by ear because I get better results that way - it's fun to get the best possible tuning out of a poor scale and the customer says "that piano never sounded so good".
Posted by: David Jenson

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 12/31/09 08:41 AM

Not every customer can afford a top-of-the-line piano, so we works with what we finds.
Posted by: drew_childs

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 12/31/09 08:48 PM

Does anyone know anything about the new Kimballs being built in Chicago? http://www.kimballpianousa.com/

Personally, I was a little surprised that someone picked up that particular name, though there is the historic Chicago connection...and those may have been the best years for the original company.

Has anyone seen/heard/played one?
Posted by: RPD

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 12/31/09 10:11 PM

I'm guessing you mean "sold" at the factory outlet...my understanding (correct me guys if I'm wrong) is that they are imported from Asia, no?

I've seen a few in the field of recent build, and they're pretty nice actually, for the money.

RPD
Posted by: Silverwood Pianos

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 01/01/10 08:59 AM

Originally Posted By: RPD

It is not without some great joy that I note that in recent years the PTG Journal has begun to feature technicians like Chuck Behm, who celebrates older historical/heirloom pianos...I truly believe the value of his work-saving these older pianos and encouraging others to take that approach as well-cannot be overstated!
RPD


Hey Rick,
Speaking of Chuck, there was an email series around in pdf format that shows the photos and story of Chuck receiving and restoring an old upright. A colleague in business who is a PTG member told me about this and I had a chance to see the photos when I was over at his place. I wondered if you had a chance to view this series yet. It is always interesting to see how someone else does the same work.,.....
Posted by: Olek

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 01/01/10 09:35 AM

There is a good way to avoid unwanted tunings which is to ask when the last one have been done.

I have very bad premisces about those spinets, but was surprized to find one which had a good enough tone recently

Very clear tone, sounding at first as a can full of nails, but in the end while too little low partials and density for my liking, I understood the kind of tone it had, was really Ok for some Jazz or church playing and not so difficult to tune than I expected.

not much "finesse" (heavily loaded soundboard and hard hammers) but the scaling was not that bad probably.

Lot of bang, and I guess thats what some customers are after on your market (as the Essex pianos or Baldwin studios)


No need to hate any piano, (I keep in mind that the piano is part of the family of the customer, it helps) but we have all our own limits.

But I have some strange feelings about some new pianos made here as for others made far from here, indeed ! (and I think for miself " they have bulls... in the ears or what ?")
Posted by: Jim Berna

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 01/01/10 11:39 PM

I have tuned quite a few Kimballs. The Whitney and the Kimbalette were nightmares to tune. The Kimballette would never stay in tune, even if you tuned it at A435! The piano always fought itself when you tuned it. Another problem was the brass jack springs! Given them 5-10 years and you had to replace them. The touch was as if you had to pound the piano to play it due to the angle of the keys and the action position! The sound left alot to be desired! The worst was the small Kimball La Petete baby grand, the key desk would bow from book weight! Thank heavens they quit building them!
Posted by: Bill Bremmer RPT

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 01/02/10 02:08 AM

Funny, I have tuned more than quite a few Kimball pianos but have never heard of a Kimbalette or a La Petete. I have also never encountered the above mentioned problems. Just before Christmas, I was called to a palatial home in an exclusive area to tune a Kimball La Petite grand. I had no problem at all with it and the lady of the house was gracious and tipped me generously over my usual fee. Thank heavens they built that piano! I loved it! The lady received a referral from the concert hall in her town where I have taken care of the Steinway Model D, having restrung it and replaced its action some 20 years ago. Nothing like loving all pianos you service!
Posted by: Sam Casey

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 01/02/10 10:48 AM

You have to hand it to Kimball for creativity: "Artist Console," (to paint the provebial lipstick-on-a-piano), or their "Consolette" for not quite a console. Or "Mezzo-thermoneal stablizer." That one always cracks me up for hype. The Gold Rope too. AND those partical board cases, and grand tops that weigh a ton. Their small grand actions are a bit bizarre with such dinky parts. Some of those old Kimball uprights had lovely oak cases with plaster "carving" on the front that would disolve in the stripping tank. Bummer. Also never liked their brass damper flanges. They are a pain.
Posted by: Silverwood Pianos

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 01/02/10 10:54 AM


Sam,
I had a Kimball player grand that had some type of plaster work on the tops of the legs. Like you stated it melted with the stripper, I caught this as I was stripping the legs and quickly washed them down with water to stop the process.
It seemed like it was plaster of Paris or something like that....not real plaster.

The unusual damper flanges in the older uprights is that what you are referring to?
Posted by: RPD

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 01/02/10 01:37 PM

I have two La Petite grands in my practice here...one in an upscale nursing facility, and one in a beautiful church. I regulated the action in the nursing home and repaired the piano after one of the staff rolled it too quickly and snapped off the leg (!)...and its a light weight, well playing piano. The La Petite in the church needs work...I'd rate them as "ok" instruments...but they really benefit from regulation, i.e. I find them less forgiving of excessive hammer stroke or friction...fwiw.

Dan, yes, I've seen the pictures I think...Chuck was kind enough after the PTG event in GR also to forward me some of his articles that I missed when my Journal subscription lapsed for a few months...:-)

RPD
Posted by: 88Key_PianoPlayer

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 01/02/10 02:22 PM

Wow! I'm amazed at the rave reviews I'm reading of the Kimball LaPetite grands! (well, unless I misunderstood :p) In my opinion, though, their tone generally leaves a LOT to be desired, ESPECIALLY in the bass! I'd rather hear a Baldwin Acrosonic than any LaPetites I've ever played. One particular one I played at a retirement home my grandma lived in at the time was absolutely NO MATCH for my 57" 1913 upright, in spite of its having completely worn hammers almost down to the molding (with grooves deeper than the thickness of the strings)! Now, if someone knows of a LaPetite with a bass that would run circles around a fully-rebuilt (INCLUDING new soundboard, and whatever else would be replaced when doing a rebuild that extensive) turn-of-the-19th-to-20th-century full-size upright, I'd like to know about it. smile
Posted by: RPD

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 01/02/10 02:49 PM

I'm not saying they're great pianos...I'm saying they can be quite acceptable in the right condition. But, they were budget instruments to be sure. I'm with Bill on this one though, in that approaching the instrument with a negative pre-conception is wrong from the service-to-the-customer point of view. And, in some rooms a small grand with limited range sounds pretty good...lots of wood on the floors, lots of open walls, some nice bass enhancing corners, and voila', a small grand can be quite nice. FWIW

RPD
Posted by: Bob

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 01/02/10 04:16 PM

The stores were not supposed to sell LaPetite grands - they were priced to get the customer in the store, where the salesman was supposed to convince the customer to buy a more expensive instrument. I remember them priced at $1999, then $2599, then $2999. The price might have hit $3999 before production ended, but I don't remember exactly. Given the price point, the quality is better than some.
Posted by: Sam Casey

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 01/02/10 06:36 PM

Yes, Dan, the removable brass spring loaded flange that would crack at the screw. Pain to install. Seemed like the oak case, plaster carving and brass flanges ran togther. Plus 3/4 plate with that birds eye maple veneering on the top of the block that would crack and look terrible. Block would look like it was shot thru with cracks but be just fine.
Posted by: Mario Bruneau

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 01/06/10 12:04 AM

I find it so strange so many piano technicians have so much different opinions on Kimball pianos. What is wrong? The piano or the technicians? This case should be unanimous.
In my 35 years experience, I have yet to find a "decent" Kimball. Even one vienese edition I had to service for a music college was a "real" joke. The hammer rail completely split in half and cost the college $1000CAD in the 80s to fix! Must I give note to this community that Kimball's relation with Bosendörfer was because Kimball bought Bosendörfer because they where in a bad situation. Thank god, Yamaha bought it (Bosendörfer) recently. I think it is a good match.

So, Kimball is one of the worst piano ever. I never suggested any clients of mine to purchase one. Stay away from them I would tell them.

And guest what? Will I invest the same amount of work on a bad piano has on a good one? No. Why? Because I will work harder on the bad piano to make it sound at its best. It can take two hours to tune it but it will be 100% of its capabilities. As I wrote earlier on this post, I'm passionate about pianos and would never compromise because the piano is a piece of junk. When I finish with it, it will behave.

Come on guys! A bad piano IS a bad piano. If we piano tuner-tech can not make the difference, who will? How can any customer have faith in you as a tech if you can't make any difference between a good and a bad piano? How good will that be for your client? Do you think you are helping your client by "being polite"? People hire us because we are *specialists*, they din't invite us to a cocktail party! They have to rely on someone no? They have faith in you, respect that.

I don't think it is *honest* for any technician to *pretend* the client's piano is *ok* when it is crap. I have only one word = HONESTY
I have a big passion tuning piano and servicing them and I LOVE pianos because I'm a pianist but I ate a bad piano, why not?
The sophisticated lady to whom you tell her piano is *ok* when it is not, do you really think she will believe you when you tell her when *another* piano is very good even if it is? People are not that dum. Stop treating your clients like if they where children or retarded, it is not respectful for them.

Sorry but I (will) stand by my opinion no matter how bad you write back to me and I know you will.
Posted by: James Scott

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 01/07/10 10:13 PM

I'm am in agreement with Mario in that sometimes a bad piano IS a bad piano. Like any other produce in any other market you have to call a spade a "spade". However, I also agree with Bob Bremmer in that if you approach any servicing with the idea that the piano is crap you'll never service your customer the way you ought to. It's up to the technician to give it the best work they can. The customer is expecting that. And unless they're really into this stuff, most people don't really have any clue as to how good (or bad) their piano is, especially if it's like an old family heirloom or something, and they are expecting that when a tuner comes into service it then they're going to get it back to sounding like it belongs on the concert stage. If their piano is less than great then you should give them reasonable expectations about what the final results should be. Customers will be much more cool with that than a tech who gives it only a half-assed job and makes them feel like they're being jipped.

I'm only an amatuer in this area but I know that in customer service you're paid to give the best service to your customer that you can. They're expecting you to offer it regardless of how good their hardware is.
Posted by: James Scott

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 01/07/10 10:29 PM

RPD,

In a post in this thread on 12/30 you'd mentioned Cable in with Whitney, kimball, etc. I know that it's not super great, but I thought that Cable made a very decent instrument in their day. I've got a 5' from 1929 and it seems very sound. Has anybody had an experience with this brand from that pre-depression age, and can they give me any honest opinions of them (not that RPD's is wrong or dishonest)? I just have no other experiences to go by.

Thanks,
James
Posted by: Bob

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 01/07/10 10:44 PM

Pre Depression pianos from many makers were better than their efforts in the 50's to 80's. Aeolian bought up many good names and quality suffered in some of those starting about 1960. Post depression, it depends who made the Cable = Aeolian built Cables were not as good as Cable made Cables. I like Everett made Cables the best.
Posted by: James Scott

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 01/08/10 01:02 AM

Bob,

Mine is from The Cable Company, Chicago, from the late 20's. I've seen Hobart M Cable, Conover Cable, and Cable & Sons though. As I understand, Aeolian bought them in the mid 30's along with several others and ran them all into the ground.

Thanks for your input,
James
Posted by: Plowboy

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 01/08/10 12:30 PM

Originally Posted By: Dan Casdorph
The older Chicago ones were good quality, but time has taken its toll. The French Lickers were not so good.


Hey, buddy! My sister worked for Kimball there finishing cabinets, so watch it. smile
Posted by: Terry Benge

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 01/10/10 04:25 PM

Like you, I have seen some junk Kimballs. However, working for a Kimball dealer from 1974-1988 I encountered some very stable units as well. The dealer sold around 80 pianos per year before a fire destroyed his business. I still service alot of those pianos today. I was at the factory several times for seminars. Kimball never claimed to be the best piano, just the best piano for the money.
Posted by: b3groover

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 01/26/10 04:13 AM

Sorry it has taken me awhile to get back to this topic.

For the record, I never insult my clients by telling them their piano is crap. I don't care who they are or what they paid for the piano or how bad it is. Especially now... the economy in Michigan is at an all-time low, unemployment is at an all-time high. I am grateful for every piano I tune.

If they ask, I will tell them what the issues are from a purely technical point of view or if they don't ask I will point out any blatant, pressing repairs that should be made. But I never say "This piano is junk!" And I never judge a piano until I get it apart, inspect it and begin to tune it. If the piano truly is junk, I will tell them the objective issues that are wrong with the piano, not subjective issues such as tone.

I started this thread because I have honestly never tuned a Kimball that sounded very good and I remember my dad jokingly complaining about them as well. I thought perhaps other technicians would share their experiences with them.

Just last week I tuned a late 60s / early 70s 6' Kimball grand for a church. I've tuned it before over a year ago and considering the heat isn't always on and it is used every week multiple times a week, the tuning had held pretty well. It was only about 10 cents flat. The overall tone of the piano is pretty good but it has a lot of false beats in the strings. Did I complain to the pastor? Of course not. I tuned the piano and fixed two keys that were not working for free because they are good clients. And then I played a bit for them, got paid, had a nice conversation, and went on my way.

I take each piano on a case by case basis. Most of my clientèle are hobbyist or have small children who are just beginning to play. It does't really matter how good or bad the piano is in those instances. But I recently had a new client who was purchasing a used piano and had to decide between two consoles. After hearing her play and learning her background, I steered her towards the more expensive option because I knew she'd be happier in the long run. And so far so good.

We deal with what we get! I hope to get a good sounding Kimball one of these days! smile
Posted by: Olek

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 01/26/10 04:19 AM

Originally Posted By: b3groover


Most of my clientèle are hobbyist or have small children who are just beginning to play. It does't really matter how good or bad the piano is in those instances.


After seen how many of the low grade pianos un regulated and badly voicied are sold after a few years because the childs did not progress, I begin to relate the 2 facts.

I suggest that children, most probably, hear better than us, aniway the one who have a good ear is more annoyed to be obliged to play on a harsh sounding piano than the one that knows how to play a little and can imagine music in his head.
Posted by: b3groover

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 01/28/10 01:43 AM

Today I tuned a Jansenn console.

Wow.

The client was so nice. I felt bad telling her that the pinblock was shot. You could see the cracks from the TOP of the pinblock. And some of the main vertical supports were pulling away from the rest of the frame.

It was fun to tune, let me tell you. smile
Posted by: Brewski50

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 08/01/12 09:31 PM

I have a 1900-era Kimball, style 8, beautiful carving in oak. I 'm considering restoring--any thoughts would be appreciated.
Posted by: Loren D

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 08/02/12 06:42 AM

I've worked on a bunch of old Kimball uprights that are still sounding and playing well. I have to say, I never really don't mind Kimball. I keep them in perspective for what they are: a home piano for the average every day piano owner. Yes, I've had some bad ones, but I'd be hard pressed to name a brand that I didn't have issues with from time to time.

Remember those old Marantz spinets made in the 70's-80's? They had a bunch of different names: Grand, Kinkaid, Marantz, etc. I know some techs complain about them too. There are a bunch of them around here from a high profile dealer (now out of business) who sold a ton of them. Really not bad pianos as far as spinets go.
Posted by: Ryan Hassell

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 08/02/12 08:26 AM

I agree Loren! I service several Kimball Consoles. They all have a great tone and very rarely break strings during a pitch raise. I guess I may be a little sentimental though, when I told my parents I wanted to learn to play the piano when I was twelve, the only piano they could afford was a Kimball. Most of the Kimballs I service are consoles from the 1980s. We only have one music store here in these parts. It has been in existence since the 1940's. I can tell what they were selling by what pianos are around here. In the 40'-50's they sold Wurlitzers, in the 60's Story and Clarks, in the 80's Kimballs, in the 90's Baldwins. Since the market for new pianos is very little around here now, they don't even keep new pianos in stock anymore. Kind of sad.
Posted by: Bill Bremmer RPT

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 08/02/12 09:18 AM

The Kimball factory gave me one of the best opportunities I ever had up to that time in 1982 to do a training session at their Factory in Indiana. Sure, there were some problems with workmanship and materials in a few of their pianos but by now, any of those failed instruments have mostly been discarded. I will gladly work on any Kimball piano at any time.

I believe they are examples of good quality, American craftsmanship that were available to the public at an affordable price. Many of them will be worth restoration at some point as will be some of the other pianos which technicians have loved to hate over the years such as Acrosonics. Kimballs have the most solid pinblocks and crack proof soundboards that were ever made. With new hammers and re-scaling, what were once considered the bane of piano technicians could become true gems of American piano building tradition.

Today, technicians can make good money replacing the rubber grommets on the spinet models and have happy customers. If you prefer to only work on Steinways, fine, good luck to you finding an exclusively Steinway and other fine grand clientele. If you don't live in an area where that would be possible, you would have to move there to get it, then good luck with the competition to get it once you do!

Recently, I tuned for the second time in six months a Kimball console piano that had been among the very last of those built (1996) and was purchased as a used instrument from a the original owner. When I went to appraise it, I found an instrument in perfect condition, inside and out. It did not even need cleaning inside and the case looked brand new. It needed only a pitch raise of about 30 cents.

I did that pitch raise when the customer got the piano. The tuning pins were as firm as they could be and the action was in perfect regulation. A few weeks ago, I tuned it again and it was still up to pitch as I expected. The family has been quite delighted with their purchase that they had made at a very favorable price.

The man owned a fine guitar which I tuned for him and also wrote down the specs. He was delighted with the way it sounded and the daughter remarked as he played, "That sounds really good, Dad!".

The last thing I would ever consider would be to move to some large city and try to compete in a rat race such as that just so I could only service fine quality grands. I get enough of them here in any case but somehow, what I can do for ordinary pianos is more gratifying to me and my clients. Perhaps it is because I see the value in these instruments whereas other technicians have left their clients feeling something negative about the piano which is a part of their home and family and probably always will be.
Posted by: Del

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 08/02/12 12:32 PM

Originally Posted By: RPD
I found a 9 foot (probably 8 1/2) Kimball grand, in original condition C-1920 (its on my wall, and I can't remember the specs as I write this! lol)

The owners tried to give it to me. I thought about it, and offered them $500. Plus it cost me about that again to move it to my shop. I'll rebuild it someday, and then I'll have a full sized. Its got tone that is stil unbelievable!!

My own experience with Kimball pianos has been mixed, like those above. But, I've generally found that the older the Kimball, the better I like it.

I rebuilt one of these for a small high school way out in the middle of nowhere. They didn’t have the budget for a new concert grand of any variety and, besides, the piano had been a donation from a well-known local “benefactor.” They were pretty much stuck with it.

It had its quirks—the most significant being a roughly 3/8th inch gap between the top of the pinblock and the bottom of the plate tuning pin panel (easily fixed when fitting the new pinblock)—but overall not a bad piano. It surprised more than a few skeptics with its action performance and its tone. It didn’t rank up there among the best concert grands ever built but it was a way long distance from the worst. And this was back before I’d started doing much of any redesign work on pianos like this. Looking back I’ve wondered what the piano would have sounded like with a few simple scale changes and a couple of modifications to the soundboard. Add in a set of WN&G wippens and shanks along with some Ronsen/Weikert (or Abel “Natural-felt/medium) hammers and you’ll have a quite nice piano. You’ll be sorry you waited so long.

I agree, though, in general the older the Kimball, the better. I’ve encountered more than a few quite nice old Kimball uprights and grands.. And, as someone else has already mentioned, their Viennese Edition grands could also be quite nice. They were the sleeper bargains of the day; with just a little careful prep work they could compete with much more expensive pianos. And they are still decent pianos, they seem to age well given even a modicum of attention.

ddf
Posted by: OperaTenor

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 08/02/12 12:39 PM

IMO, pre-Depression era Kimball's were generally well-made. After that, not so much, but certainly not the worst.

Winter spinet, with the aluminum plate and particle board soundboard(or was it plywood?). Need I say more?
Posted by: Loren D

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 08/02/12 03:26 PM

I'll tell you though, when it comes to spinets, those 40's-50's Wurlitzer and Acrosonics have incredibly good tone for pianos that size.
Posted by: OperaTenor

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 08/02/12 04:33 PM

Originally Posted By: Loren D
I'll tell you though, when it comes to spinets, those 40's-50's Wurlitzer and Acrosonics have incredibly good tone for pianos that size.


I agree.
Posted by: That Guy

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 08/02/12 04:51 PM

Quote:
I'll tell you though, when it comes to spinets, those 40's-50's Wurlitzer and Acrosonics have incredibly good tone for pianos that size.


I agree!

I'll weigh in on the Kimball thing: Many times I compare pianos to cars when a customer asks what I think of their piano. I'm going to show my age here but I would compare a Kimball to a Ford Pinto or Chevy Chevette. Some were pretty decent and got good gas mileage but if you expected it to drive like a Cadillac, forget it. It is what it is. As long as people keep that in mind we're okay.
Posted by: Del

Re: Did Kimball ever make good pianos? - 08/03/12 02:52 PM

Originally Posted By: 88Key_PianoPlayer
Wow! I'm amazed at the rave reviews I'm reading of the Kimball LaPetite grands! (well, unless I misunderstood :p) In my opinion, though, their tone generally leaves a LOT to be desired, ESPECIALLY in the bass! I'd rather hear a Baldwin Acrosonic than any LaPetites I've ever played. One particular one I played at a retirement home my grandma lived in at the time was absolutely NO MATCH for my 57" 1913 upright, in spite of its having completely worn hammers almost down to the molding (with grooves deeper than the thickness of the strings)! Now, if someone knows of a LaPetite with a bass that would run circles around a fully-rebuilt (INCLUDING new soundboard, and whatever else would be replaced when doing a rebuild that extensive) turn-of-the-19th-to-20th-century full-size upright, I'd like to know about it. smile

Fortunately not everyone judges the worth of a piano by the criteria you use. Different people look for different things in many of the products they buy and use. And these criteria evolve and change of the years and decades just as our society changes and evolves.

There are reasons why the large 57” upright piano faded into oblivion and not all of them have anything to do with music. Those things were/are huge! They dominate the visual space wherever they are located. Yes, they can have a big, strong bass but the tone quality of the lowest few notes in the bass are not that important to all musicians. At least it is not so important as to sacrifice the aesthetic balance of the room just to satisfy the ear on those rare occasions when it is called on.

The Kimball La Petite grand was not, by any measure, the world’s greatest example of the piano maker’s art. Yet it filled a definite need at the time. I once rebuilt the action in one of these things—and I mean really rebuilt with new felt and leather in place of the original foam garbage and new, more appropriate regulating screws and buttons in place of the disastrous components originally used—for a young woman who had pretty much trashed it during her first year as a music major at Portland State University. The piano wasn’t designed or built for that kind of service either. But she needed a grand to practice on and that was literally the only piano that would fit in her tiny little “efficiency” apartment. Still, with its new action it went on to serve her needs well for the next three years of college and then on into her teaching studio as her second grand piano. That compact grand action worked pretty well given decent materials and components. The piano also sounded pretty good in its intended environment. The bass, of course, was weak and indistinct but through most of the compass of the piano—where most piano music is actually played—it sounded quite decent. Clearly her criteria for judging the worth of a piano were different from yours. She thought they important, though.

Another piano you would be quite contemptuous of is the little Young Chang 150—yes, as in 4’ 11”—grand that was on display at the recent PTG convention in Bellingham, WA. You’d compare the lowest few bass notes with those of your grandmother’s 57” upright and turn your nose up at the whole idea of the piano. You’d miss the fact that through most of the scale it was a quite nice musical instrument. And because of its combination of diminutive size and its musicality it is rapidly becoming one of the best-selling grand pianos in the world today. No, it doesn’t have a great booming bass but I’m still rather proud of its inherent musicality and the fact that it is going to bring that musicality into a great number of homes throughout the world. You, of course, will dismiss this piano out of hand believing, apparently, that it is better to have no piano at all if it can’t be at least 57” tall.

Thankfully not all piano buyers are as rigid as you; most people are willing to make compromises when they select a product such as a piano. It might help to remember that most of those spinets and consoles that we are now so contemptuous of were not purchased by musicians or pianists; they were purchased by parents. Parents who knew little or nothing about either music or pianos but who were willing to make a financial sacrifice to provide a piano for their children so the children could have that experience. And there are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of piano players today who learned how to play on just such instruments.

There seem to be those among us who believe it would have been better if those small pianos had never been built—they don’t, after all, sound as good at that great old 57” upright—but I can’t help but wonder if much thought has been given to the consequences of that scenario. Many thousands of children growing up during the 60s, 70s and 80s would not have been exposed to the piano at all. And—a little closer to home—many piano dealers and piano tuners would be in other professions. Because, trust me, very few people would have purchased anything like that 57” upright we have heard so much about and we would have witnessed the demise of the piano industry several decades back.

I guess my point is that extremism is rarely beneficial whether in politics or business or music. Personally I think it is better if a family has a Kimball La Petite that is played, tuned and serviced as opposed to one having a beautiful large grand that sits idle and dusty year after year simply taking up space. Or where there is no piano at all—just cable TV and an assortment of video games.

ddf