FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Every piano is different. Some of the factors affecting what a piano is worth are the brand, the type, the size, the color, the age and the overall condition. With over 12,000 parts in a piano it would be impossible to give even a general idea of worth without physically looking at the piano. We suggest looking in a local phone book under “piano service and repair” to find a technician who can give you a written estimate. Note: You are welcome to contact us for an approximate value of the instrument in fully restored condition.
In many cases, yes. Please read our article on the Old, Upright Piano
There are varying levels of working on a piano. Please read The Three R’s of Piano Restoration
Of course, by definition, any piano that is not new is used. But what differentiates classic restored pianos are their origins.The piano was perfected roughly 100 years ago. The Golden Era of the piano industry was the turn of the 20th Century. Before radio and television, the piano was the centerpiece of the home. The children played, the parents played and the grandparents played. The public was more discerning about sound quality, and the pianos reflected that demand. Then, the stockmarket crashed, the depression hit and the World Wars followed. The subsequent generations played less and less piano. The morale of the piano industry never really recovered.In the 1960s the Japanese pianos came on the market. With their production line approach they gained a strong foothold. Then in the 80s, with price being the main concern, the Korean pianos started to appear. As with anything built to fit a price point, the longevity of the Japanese- and especially the Korean- and Chinese-made pianos are very limited.
So, in general terms, a used piano is around 40 years or less. What you can expect is an American piano of questionable quality, or the mass-produced Asian piano with a limited life.
The hand-built American pianos of the Golden Era are generally too old to be viable in original condition. But it is these pianos — fully restored — that are the best value in the piano industry.
(Please see the question above regarding restored and used pianos for a brief history of pianos.) As time goes by, and fewer and fewer people play instruments, the piano is looked upon as just another piece of furniture. Today, it is not as important what a piano sounds like than how it looks. Manufacturers know this and cater to style rather than sound quality.Japanese pianos used to be the “entry level” piano. Then it was Korean. Now it is Chinese and Indonesian. If you spend less than $10,000 on a new piano, you can bet the piano was built in China or Indonesia. The majority of the case parts are either particle board or compressed paper.In terms of overall value, a restored piano is, hands-down, the best investment.
You’d be amazed at how many times that statement has been uttered; and how many times they’ve been wrong. I believe there are two main reasons for this. One is active and one is passive.Actively, they have a vested interest in you not restoring your piano and buying theirs. They are in business to sell pianos. Of course, the scruples of the sales people vary widely; from omitting truths about the potential of your piano, to down-right lying about their piano. I would like to believe that the majority of sales people have scruples and fall into the passive category. That is, they just don’t know or understand the potential of the older American pianos. They mostly see those pianos come in as trade-ins into their stores in original condition. Old faded finishes, rusty strings, sticking keys, etc. Their new pianos ARE in better shape than the vintage pianos IN THEIR UNRESTORED CONDITION. However, there are very few production line pianos today that can even hold a candle to a fully-restored American piano. It is a shame how many families are denied the happiness that their family heirloom can bring them.
The short answer is, “no.” Even our most comprehensive restorations end up costing less than the national average. The biggest savings belong to people living in rural areas where the tuners have no competition; although we are extremely competitive with the urban areas as well. Please see “How much does it cost to restore a piano?” (below) to get an idea of pricing. Generally speaking, we can have a piano shipped one way for less than $1,000.
The strings are probably the least understood part of the piano. Usually people assume that all their piano needs is a “good tuning.” When a piano is sitting in your living room it is under a tremendous amount of string tension. About 30,000 to 40,000 lbs! The tuning pins that hold the strings in tune have an average life of about 60-70 years. After that, they start to lose their grip in the pinblock. First, the piano needs to be tuned more than usual. After a while, however, the tension renders the piano untunable at all. When your piano tuner tightens the pins with his tuning hammer, the pins just slip back out of tune again. The only remedy at that point is to replace the pinblock and re-string, or re-string with bigger pins (depending on the condition of the pinblock). When the tighter pins are driven into the pinblock the piano can be tuned for another 70 years or so. A fringe benefit of replacing the bass strings is a noticably fuller sound as well. If there are cracks in the soundboard they are repaired before the new strings are installed. It is generally a good idea to do the case and strings together because the soundboard and plate can be done along with the case. Restringing over a refinished plate and soundboard gives it a comprehensive professional look. The price for the string area can be 3-5K as well, depending on the extent of repair to the soundboard and pinblock.
The action is like to motor of the piano. It transfers the energy from the player’s fingers to the strings. It literally connects the player with the instrument. As in the example of a classic automobile, if it was just a “sunday driver” all of its life, only minor repair to the engine will be needed. On the contrary, if it was a daily driver, the engine needs major restoration or replacement. It’s the same thing with a piano. If it had minimal use in its lifetime, we could maintain the original parts, but if there were musicians in the family, chances are we will need to replace parts. The top of the action is where the hammers are. The hammers hit the strings and that’s what produces the sound. The rest of the action (keys, shanks, wippens, bushings, felts, etc.) is critical to how the instrument feels to the touch. That is an often overlooked point of consideration. It is a combination of the sound and the feel that inspire (or don’t inspire) the player. There is nothing like the sound and feel of a new Renner action! The cost of the action can run from several hundred to thousands, again, depending on what’s replaced, the condition of the keyboard (ivories or plastics), etc.
Having said all of that, there are generally one of three directions that people go. Either the “full restoration” route that would entail all three areas for around $15,000-25,000; refinishing, restringing and minor work on the original action for $8,000-12,500; or just touching up the case, minor action regulation and restringing the piano to bring back the tuning integity for around $4,000-9,000. The bottom line minimum is the strings. Without exception, an original upright or grand piano from the 1930s or older needs new strings.
Option A – Full Rebuild
- Full case restoration with hand-rubbed lacquer finish
- Replace pin block and repair sound board, as required
- Restring piano
- Full replacement of the piano action using best in industry Renner parts
Option B – Reconditioning
- Refinish case
- Restring piano
- Minor work on the original action to restore playing ability of instrument
Option C – Repair
- Touch up case
- Restring piano
- Minor action regulation
In most cases, the piano is restorable. Water marks, burn marks, broken parts, sun fading, weak legs, sticking notes, broken strings, missing parts, etc. can all be restored. Water is a piano’s worst enemy. Minor water damage can be repaired; major water damage, however generally cannot. If the entire piano was left outside exposed to the elements for a prolonged period of time, it’s probably beyond repair. If the piano has spent its life indoors, including in the garage or storage, it’s probably restorable.
Unfortunately, NO! Unlike most other industries (automobile, food, home building, etc.) where there are standards or codes that must be followed in order to ensure quality, the piano industry has none. There is a Piano Technicians Guild that, to some extent, ensures competent piano tuners, (however, you can become an “associate member” simply by paying a fee, which alot of people do to get the PTG logo on thier business cards). Anybody and everybody can call themselves “rebuilders”; from weekend tuner hobbyists to piano dealers looking to increase their bottom line. Whenever the job is farmed out to another person (which is the case for both of the above mentioned parties), corners will be cut. Keep in mind that there are over 12,000 parts in a piano (9,000 or so you can’t see!), and EVERY STEP along the way the rebuilder has opportunities to save money by using less expensive parts. I don’t mean to cast aspursions on anyone in particular; it is just a matter of simple ecomonics. When your primary goal is the bottom line, the less expensive way will always win. In summary, a “golden era” hand-built grand or upright piano is not something you necessarily want to give to the lowest bidder. At the risk of sounding self-serving, our recommendation is to go with a company who uses the best parts, has the most experience and restores pianos as their only profession. Classic pianos were originally built with meticulous care, the least we can do is use the same care and attention to detail in RE-building them.
See The Value of Teaching Children to Play the Piano
— We buy classic pianos from people who either trade their old classic in for a restored one or from owners who do not want to restore their pianos.
— Yes, you can request a classic American brand name and/or style and we will gladly search for it.
— Partially-restored pianos are a great alternative to mass-produced new pianos. The prices range from $4,000 to $9,000. Fully-restored pianos are a great alternative to Japanese, American and European new pianos. The prices range from $10,000 to $50,000.