FAQ's on a Piano's Age

When were most of the old pianos built that we encounter today?

Most of the older pianos one encounters were built between 1870 and 1940.  Many of the world's existing fine pianos were built during this seventy-year period.  Piano production was sharply curtailed due to the Great Depression and the Second World War.  Many of the great 19th Century piano companies did not survive this period, or were acquired by one of the piano conglomerates.  The 1950's saw a resurgence in piano building, though the emphasis was on small vertical pianos.  The 1960's through the 1980's saw a general decline in numbers and quality of pianos produced in America.

How can the age and model designation of a piano be determined?

The age of most pianos can be found through checking the serial number with various piano atlases.  This number is usually 4 to 7 digits, and usually stenciled on the interior of the piano near the tuning pins.  Some builders would list patent dates referring to specific features they developed, but this does not refer to the age of the particular piano.  Grand pianos are referred to by over all length, measured from in front of the keys to the back edge of the lid.  Vertical pianos are measured from the floor to the top of the lid.  Some makers give specific model designations based on size, which may appear near the serial number.  Sometimes in previous refinishing, the name of the manufacturer usually appearing above the keys is lost.  Most good quality pianos also have the name of the maker cast into the iron plate inside the piano.  Some "generic" or "stencil" pianos only had the name of the maker appear above the keyboard.

How long can a good quality piano be expected to last?

The piano industry has always considered the useful life of a piano to be 40 to 50 years before restoration or replacement is required.  Heavily played or high specification institutional pianos may have a useful life of only 20 years.  As they age, all pianos must eventually be restored if they are to continue being used as musical instruments.

Will a well cared for piano last indefinitely?

Pianos can give good service for many more years than most things people use.  But even a well maintained piano at age 80 or 90 couldn't be expected to perform up to its potential.  A long un-played piano that is remarkably well preserved will often wear very quickly when brought back into regular use.  The soft materials lose qualities of resilience and durability.