After more than 35 years of playing piano professionally and selling hundreds of my baby grands pianos, I have found that there is a lot of untold and wrong information that the average buyer is confronted with when searching for a piano to purchase for their home and family. It has become more and more confusing for the average person to find what they are looking for because of this. I intend to dispel the confusion and supply you with information that I consider to be most pertinent to purchasing a quality piano. You will want to read this information a few times over to insure you have absorbed it all as there is quite a bit to learn before you rush to the stores. When you have read it all you will be armed with the information you need in order to make a confident decision on your piano purchase !
When shopping at piano stores
you may be shown a piano that has an American or German name on it and is
selling at what you consider a very reasonable price. You are told
that it has quality parts and comes with a long warranty. It has a
shiny cabinet and it impresses you. Later you find out it is an impostor.
It's not really American or German made and although it has some redeeming
qualities, (such as German strings - which all pianos have) the salesman
conveniently forgot to tell you that it is really a mass produced piano made
in China or Korea. If you bought it you'd be buying a piano with a
long warranty but not a piano that will last a long time. Next you
go into a used piano shop. You are shown an older piano and told that
older pianos were made better. It too has a very reasonable price.
And again you find out that this is not such a great deal. The piano
actually has 70 year old strings that no longer hold tune. It costs
thousands to replace the strings so it will hold tune. The next used
store shows you a piano and says that it was restrung a few years ago and
then you come to find out that they didn't rebuild the piano and don't really
know when the strings were replaced. It seems you can't find out the
information you need to make an educated purchase. You become discouraged
and concerned that everyone is misleading you.
Let me try to help!
First, it is important to understand that there are really only two categories of pianos. They are mass-produced and hand-built. Korean, Chinese, and Japanese pianos like most Yamaha and Kawai pianos are mass-produced thus they sell for about 1/2 to as much as 1/6 the price of many new hand-built American and German grand pianos. It is true that new hand-built pianos are very expensive and may not be the best choice for the beginning/intermediate student but rather that the best value might be found in a rebuilt, hand-built American piano costing much the same as the Asian mass-produced pianos. American pianos are "Heirloom" quality. This means they will appreciate in value making them candidates for rebuilding 30 years down the road and then they can be rebuilt again 30 years after that and so on. They can be passed down from generation to generation. These are the same pianos that many concert pianists purchase! Much the same as many violinist purchase vintage Stratevarious hand made violins. Asian pianos depreciate in value. Once they become in need of restoration they will not be valuable enough to warrant the expense, making them "Disposable" pianos and poor investments. Vintage American pianos were made during the time referred to as the Golden Era of Piano Manufacturing. Top quality woods were chosen and the finest builders with the highest integrity crafted the best pianos the world has ever known, but they must be restored now in order to hold tune and look nice in your home.
So in order to confront the issues of low end Asian pianos and high priced new American pianos I will explain what I look for in pianos I purchase to rebuild. There are quite a few aspects I look for in choosing pianos to rebuild.
1) No Cracks in Plate (Cast Iron Frame). The most important aspect to the integrity of a piano is the cast iron plate. If the plate has a crack in it, it is most likely doomed. If the plate is intact the piano can be a candidate for rebuilding.
2) Good Bridges (Bridges transfer the Vibrations of the Strings once plucked to the Soundboard "hence the name BRIDGE")
3) Good Restorable Soundboard (Solid Spruce Only!)
4) Responsive and Low Wear Action Parts (Pratt Reed and Other Fine Makers - The Action Parts are responsible for the piano's touch and ease of play.)
5) Desirable Cabinet Designs and Colors - I know that the furniture style is very important because most people really want a nice piece of furniture and are not as concerned with playing the piano on a daily basis. (Ofcourse I am also aware that no one wants a piano that will not function properly if a friend comes to play or the children become very interested and excel at their lessons - "give them a good piano and you may see their potential, give them a poor piano and they might never succeed.")
6) Pianos that are Hand-Built ("thicker ", "richer", "brilliant" tone and performance. Pianos that will appreciate in value and can be handed down from generation to generation.)
7) Pianos built after 1900 (Pianos prior to 1900 are potential rebuilding nightmares - parts are not available and cast iron plates have high rates of failure (cracking))
8) Historical and Significant Name Brands (Award winning manufacturers tend to hold their value better and everyone loves the history of presidents that owned them and opera houses that used them etc.. Are there any opera houses and American presidents that have owned Asian imports? No! Have you ever seen a concert pianist playing a Chinese import? No! Only some Rock musicians play Asian imports because they have to be ear piercing to cut through with their brittle tone.)
I then undertake an extensive restoration process which involves replacing the worn out strings, tuning pins, and pin block (the pin block controls the tuning stability in a piano). Repair and refinish the soundboard. Repaint the Cast Iron Plate and reletter the name, etc. Replace the damper felts (these are felts that stop the strings from ringing once the key is released) and understring felts. I replace the hammers in most pianos unless the hammers are very nice and still functional in my observation. Refinish the cabinet with a high quality closed grain hand-rubbed finish and buff all brass hardware and pedals to new. Install all new scarlet cabinetry felt and pedal felt I replace all the keytops unless the ivory can be saved and polished to new. I use only the finest materials and parts available to piano rebuilders. I supply an original or near matching bench and include delivery in the Atlanta area, one free tuning and a ten year warranty.
After teaching piano for many years, I still have parents come to me and say "I don't want to spend much and just need a starter piano because my child is only ____years old". I tell them you can actually cause your child to loose interest and damage their ability to learn if you buy them a cheap instrument. It's like buying them a worn out bike with a bent frame. On the other hand, if you buy them a nice instrument you will see their full potential. Even if they loose interest, you will have an instrument that will hold it's value if you need to sell it and recoup your investment. If you do not intend to spend what is needed to buy a good quality piano, (and I do not mean a concert pianist's level piano for $50,000 or more) you should buy an upright or vertical piano.
A few points of interest about some of the name brands that we have in stock:
Chickering - Won the highest award ever given any piano fortes. Once owned by many presidents such as Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Pierce, and Theodore Roosevelt. It was the only piano that Franz Liszt was willing to play on stage. Chickering was the first American piano manufacturer having begun manufacturing pianos here in the U.S. in 1823.
Knabe - The Official Piano of
The Metropolitan Opera and The San Francisco Opera. Once owned by the
composer of the Star Spangled Banner (Francis Scott Key) and Albert Einstein.
Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Hoover were proud Knabe owners.
Sohmer - Was housed next to Steinway and Sons and was said to have shared their factory workers. Sohmer built 3 transposing pianos for Irving Berlin on which he did all of his composing. President Calvin Coolidge owned a beautiful Sohmer piano.
Baldwin - Even today there is a vintage Baldwin in the foyer of the White House. This is one of the most significant and well known name brands of all time. They are known for their high quality and best value for money invested. Played and owned by many of the worlds greatest pianists such as Liberace and George Shearing. President Harry Truman owned a Baldwin grand.
Restoration costs to properly restore a quality baby grand usually runs in the neighborhood of $7,000 - $10,000. Then add the cost of the piano to restore prior to it's restoration to the restoration costs to achieve a final selling price. We have some great Super Specials on our Inventory page so be sure to click the INVENTORY link below to see them !
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