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Background Questions


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Background Questions


  • When were most of the old pianos built that we encounter today?
  • How can the age and model designation of a piano be determined?
  • How long can a good quality piano be expected to last?
  • Will a well cared for piano last indefinitely?
  • Why do pianos wear out?
  • Do all pianos age and wear in the same way?
  • Were these older pianos better than those built today?
  • Do these old pianos have obsolete designs?


  • Why should an old piano be restored?
  • When should an old piano not be restored?
  • How long does it take to carry out a piano restoration project?


  • How much does it cost to restore a piano?
  • Isn't it cheaper to just buy a new piano?
  • What influences the value of a piano?
  • Is it a good investment to buy or restore an older piano?
  • Can a restored piano be sold for a price that equals or exceeds its costs?


 

  • Can a restored piano really be as good as a comparable new piano?
  • How predictable is the end result of a piano restoration project?
  • How can reliable information about a specific piano be obtained?
  • Who does this type of work?
  • How can one confidently engage a piano restoration specialist?

 

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FAQ's on a Piano's Age


how to determine a piano's age

FAQ's on a Piano's Age


how to determine a piano's age

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.

 

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FAQ's on a Piano's Decline


Why do pianos wear out and need restoration?

FAQ's on a Piano's Decline


Why do pianos wear out and need restoration?

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.

 

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FAQ's on Making a Decision to Restore a Piano


Making a decision to restore a piano

FAQ's on Making a Decision to Restore a Piano


Making a decision to restore a piano

FAQ's on Making a Decision to Restore a Piano

Why should an old piano be restored?

A piano that is sufficiently valued by its owner for musical, aesthetic, historic, sentimental or monetary reasons should be considered for restoration. The design and size of a piano should be able to meet its owner's needs and expectations for the project to be successful. Every valued piano must eventually be restored to continue giving good service as a musical instrument.

When should an old piano not be restored?

If a piano cannot reasonably meet its owner's expectations for appearance, performance, tone production, durability, and long-term value, it would be best not to pursue restoration. Pianos of low intrinsic quality, pianos that have been subjected to catastrophic fire or water damage produce unpredictable results if restored. It is seldom cost effective to restore a piano only to re-sell it in the short term.

How long does it take to carry out a piano restoration project?

The time required will vary, depending on the scope of the work planned. Smaller scale projects might be in the shop for six or eight weeks. Most complete restoration jobs would require about a year to complete. Since we schedule our work in advance, there is a variable time period between when a project is authorized and when we are able to begin work. This will fluctuate depending on our other work commitments at any given time, but typically at least a few months. When we receive authorization to carry out a restoration, we can at that point give an estimate for time required. All starting and completion dates are approximate.

 

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FAQ's on the Financial Considerations of Restoring a Piano


Financial considerations of restoring a piano

FAQ's on the Financial Considerations of Restoring a Piano


Financial considerations of restoring a piano

FAQ's on the Financial Considerations of Restoring a Piano

How much does it cost to restore a piano?

Costs vary widely, depending on which restoration operations are required. Reconditioning or partial restoration might cost $2,000 to $10,000. Comprehensive restoration would typically range from $20,000 to $45,000. After inspecting a piano for potential restoration, we provide a detailed written itemized estimate. In some areas, we can present different options for the owner to consider in selecting the combination of work.

Isn't it cheaper to just buy a new piano?

Buying a new piano may indeed be the best option where restoration costs may exceed the potential value of moderate to low quality pianos. Professional quality restoration work is very labor intensive, and therefore costly. This is true for pianos and other items considered valuable enough to restore. Restoration may cost more than purchasing a new piano of similar size and type. Many times restoration cannot compete economically with efficiencies found in modern mass production facilities. Professional and Artist grade grands built today may cost $30,000 to well over $100,000. Comprehensive restoration for instruments in this category is very cost effective. Generally, a high quality piano is a better investment to purchase or restore.

What influences the value of a piano?

The value of a piano is really based upon its utility as a musical instrument. Pianos are often regarded as a piece of furniture or an art object. And of course, they are both of these things. Yet they yield their highest value when all mechanical and structural systems as well as the visual esthetics are in excellent condition. Quality of work and materials greatly influence the value of a piano. Ultimately, we enter the subjective realm of individual taste, preferences, needs and desires. Matching the piano to the owner's needs is essential.

Is it a good investment to buy or restore an older piano?

The value of a piano is influenced by many factors, including the local market conditions. The purchase or restoration of a quality piano should be viewed as a long-term investment. The real "investment value" is that of artistic expression and development, the satisfaction of owning a lovely instrument. Historically, good quality pianos have held their value well over time.

Can a restored piano be sold for a price that equals or exceeds its costs?

A piano is a very "non-liquid" asset. Selling a piano at a favorable price in a short time period is not always possible. The same limitations that apply to the sale of artworks, antique furniture and collectibles, real estate and automobiles also apply to pianos. A fine piano's economic value may rise over time, but this should not be the primary consideration. One strength shared by all high quality pianos is their remarkably long service life, when compared with other things people own and use. New pianos experience initial depreciation in resale value, since they immediately become "used" and cannot be sold for as high a price as when new, sold by a dealership.

 

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FAQ's on Ensuring the Quality of a Piano's Restoration


FAQ's on Ensuring the Quality of a Piano's Restoration


FAQ's on Ensuring the Quality of a Piano's Restoration

Can a restored piano really be as good as a comparable new piano?

If the right combination of work is done the right way, the results should equal or exceed new factory standards for tone production, performance, beauty, durability and strength.

How predictable is the end result of a piano restoration project?

Two almost identical pianos can have very different qualities. It is impossible to precisely predict the final outcome, since literally hundreds of variables come into play. Materials, techniques and workmanship that are high quality and appropriate yield the best result. Piano restoration combines hundreds of seemingly minor detailed operations. If each phase is done thoroughly and professionally, the result is a superior product. Perhaps the most important consideration is in the subjective realm. Ultimately, beauty is in the perceptions of the beholder. The fullness of sound, coloration of tone, touch of the keyboard, case design and finish all combine to give an overall impression. These impressions cannot be ranked on an objective scale. They require an artistic value judgment. The most satisfactory piano should ultimately blend these qualities with the preferences of the owner. There is no one "best" piano for everyone. But the "best" piano restoration project holistically satisfies the owner's needs by means of appropriate technical work.

How can reliable information about a specific piano be obtained?

It is important that a professional evaluation be performed on any piano one contemplates for purchase or restoration. There is no substitute for a careful examination of all elements of a piano. This insures the full scope of required restoration work is known, in order to make informed decisions about the piano. The structural integrity of case, pinblock, soundboard, bridges, and plate must be determined. Special problems in these areas can greatly increase restoration costs, or indicate against the purchase or restoration of a piano. It is important to understand the overall picture of a piano's condition, potential and value.

Who does this type of work?

The majority of piano craftspeople are independent field service technicians. They specialize in tuning, service, repairs, regulation and voicing of pianos on location. Some piano technicians occasionally undertake different facets of rebuilding work. Piano dealerships selling new and used pianos are primarily in the sales business. The best piano retailers have a high commitment to adequately preparing their pianos before the sale and for good service after the sale. They sometimes maintain shop facilities to recondition and rebuild used pianos. The level of service and quality of work produced is directly linked to the ownership's commitment to excellence in these areas. The profitability of restoration work is very low when compared to retail sales, so very few dealerships develop the staff and facilities needed for high-grade work. Over the last 20 to 30 years specialized piano rebuilding companies have developed. The comprehensive restoration of pianos to very high standards has grown substantially during this period. Doing this work well requires a commitment to training, specialized skills, and facilities. The Piano Technicians Guild (PTG) provides a forum for the exchange of information and on-going technical education in this field. Individual piano technicians and dealerships are seldom able to develop the needed infrastructure for comprehensive work. Some piano manufacturers will also take in older instruments for service or restoration.

How can one confidently engage a piano restoration specialist?

One encounters a wide range of quality in standards of workmanship, quality and durability of materials, and thoroughness of work. The experience, reliability, integrity and skill a piano craftsman brings to this work varies considerably. The best way too feel confident in one's choice of a piano rebuilder is to see their work first hand. Inquiring for recommendations and references in the community and visiting shop facilities will help indicate what type of experience to expect. It is also important to understand the recommendations and proposals of this restoration specialist and be sure they reflect your needs and vision for the piano. Establishing a common understanding and partnership for accomplishing the restoration project is critical.

 

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FAQ's on Piano Care


Advice on piano care, maintenance, moving and tuning

FAQ's on Piano Care


Advice on piano care, maintenance, moving and tuning

How should I care for my piano? 

 

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