FAQ's on a Piano's Decline

Why do pianos wear out?

A piano is a machine. There is a wear factor as forces of playing pit felt, cloth and leather against metal and wood. Thousands of precisely machined wooden parts must endure not only physical wear but the constant change of temperature and humidity cycles. Insects devour the soft materials. Cumulative string tensions approach 20 tons. To work correctly, all parts must operate and be positioned within tolerances of a few thousandths of an inch. How many other machines aged 80 years are still in service without a major overhaul or replacement?

Do all pianos age and wear in the same way?

The condition of a piano reflects its history. Each instrument has been exposed to different use, care, maintenance and environmental conditions. So every piano must be evaluated individually, to determine how it has held up to the ravages of time.

Were these older pianos better than those built today?

Pianos have always been built encompassing a wide range of price, quality and features. 100 years ago, as today, one could buy a cheap piano of poor design and low intrinsic quality. There was great diversity among the makers of quality instruments. Craftsmanship was not as rare in this period as it has become in later years. The best pianos of this age have stood the test of time. Reputations of the world's greatest piano builders were established in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, rather than during the last 50 years. Most surviving piano builders have faced the substantial challenge of equaling the achievements of their earlier history.

Do these old pianos have obsolete designs?

Some antique European and American pianos could be characterized as obsolete, in that their designs were later abandoned in favor of the modern systems. Restoration can be more challenging, as a wide selection of some replacement parts is not available. These pianos (like all pianos), have some inherent limitations which must be realistically considered. Some mid-19th Century designs are problematic to restore, and resulting pianos may have very different qualities than more contemporary instruments. Pianos built after 1900 are for all practical purposes modern instruments. Many high quality pianos of this era differ primarily in case design from their modern counterparts. Pianos of today are still a prime example of 19th century technology, falling somewhere between a Swiss watch and a steam locomotive in scale and intricacy. Very few significant changes in design or materials have been implemented in piano building over the last century. Some changes have not been widely hailed as improvements. Some people today savor a sophisticated instrument that does not require electricity to operate.