|New & Used Piano
In order to evaluate a new, used or rebuilt piano, the piano must be seen and inspected. Inspection of new, used or rebuilt pianos is a complicated process and should only be performed by a qualified full-time professional piano rebuilder.
I typically take many pictures of every piano I appraise that is "for sale". Also, I give three values: 1. High Value. (This is the most you could expect to achieve.) 2. Minimum Value. (If you take less than the minimum value, you are making a mistake.) 3. Fair Insurance Value. (The value your piano is best insured at.) These values are "guides" to assist you when negotiating with a buyer.
Providing these three different values helps you tremendously! What most appraisers do is just suggest a very high asking price that is next to impossible to achieve. Also, they are unlikely to be a qualified piano rebuilder and unlikely to examine the piano for its true strengths and weaknesses.
Often, raising a piano to pitch, reshaping the hammers, cleaning, partial or complete regulation....and fixing that pedal squeak...can result in attaining a much higher figure as the future owner can appreciate your reconditioned piano and competing instruments are not as desirable.
Because pianos are such complicated instruments, it is necessary to have an on-site inspection of a brand new piano (prior to purchase). On the one hand, the new piano may not have received the required and absolutely necessary dealer preparation that the manufacturer expects to be performed. On the other hand, there can be a factory defect that the salesman or the store piano tuner has not found. Finally, the piano you are considering may be a good or a poor example of the manufacturers work. If it is not a good example then another piano should be ordered from the warehouse for evaluation. My personal approach to new pianos is to look for the good models in every product line instead of disparaging an entire companies production.
Used and rebuilt pianos:
Pinblock: Most importantly, the tuning pinblock has to be solid. The pinblock is the wooden board that is underneath the metal plate. The tuning pins pass through the metal plate and into the pinblock. If the tuning pins are loose then the pinblock will require replacement. This is a somewhat common occurrence with old grand pianos. A good new tuning pinblock should have about 110 inch pounds of torque on each tuning pin. This falls to about 90 inch pounds after a year. The average old tuning pinblock can have 50 to 75 inch pounds. When the block begins to fail, the tuning pins in the bass and the tenor will not hold a tuning. The bass and tenor are the first areas to go into failure.
If the tuning pinblock was originally constructed of high density material then it may actually hold a tuning with only 35 inch pounds of torque. Density of material is an important consideration in pinblock construction. Sometimes I am able to "save" a pinblock that is marginal without replacement.
The soundboard should have sufficient crown such that the strings have good "down bearing" or "bend" over the bridges. This "down bearing" makes for positive "termination points" of the strings on the bridges. If the soundboard has lost its crown, the "down bearing" will be negative, the tone poor and it should be replaced.
It is important to note that many times the soundboard can be extensively repaired, the ribs re-glued, and the crown thereby restored. The repaired soundboard can be buzzing or have "bridge roll" or a myriad of other problems. Soundboards are repaired very extensively when there is absolutely no question they should really be replaced. This is to save money or because the company does not know how to replace a soundboard properly. It is oxymoronic as it takes more time to extensively repair a dead, old soundboard than to construct a beautiful new one. Brand new pianos can have soundboards that are loose around the rim, have inadequate down bearing, have a "plate foot" resting on the soundboard, are made of plywood instead of high quality spruce. Also the ribs can be of inferior material and have the wrong grain direction or be made of short grain stock which will eventually break under the 20 tons of string pressure.
Keys and mechanical action: The action should be in good regulation and repair. The action is the second most important aspect in an inspection. If the action does not play well and the mechanical action does not work with consistency then it is next to impossible to learn how to play. The music is hard enough. The action should not pose additional constraints to mastering the music. It is also significant to note that what separates a good instrument from a great one is always the quality of the mechanical action. Yet, this is the area that most makers and piano rebuilders pay the least amount of attention to. This is because the action is very labor intensive and expensive to do correctly. Consequently, the tendency is to "cut corners" in the action as the average player cannot discriminate if the action is poorly regulated or repined improperly or not repined at all.
General Notes: Most rebuilt pianos that have new hammers that are very heavy compared to the originals which were "feather-weight. The keys measure inconsistently not only from section to section but from key to key. The average buyer cannot detect this and the average rebuilder does not even recognize the problem exists. The manufacturer often omits adding weights to the keys in order to save labor and cost of materials. It is the serious or experienced player who recognizes the difficulty while the piano rebuilder or maker does not understand. The lead weights must not only be present in the keys, they must be the right size and in the right location to deliver good down-weight and up-weight measurements.
Literally all "unwanted friction" must be removed from an action before any regulation or weigh off can be performed. This means that every single brass center pin must be replaced and the bushing adjusted so the right gram weight exists for the joint concerned. Typically, this means repining every single part. New pianos usually do not measure off correctly but close enough that the buyer is not alarmed. It is common for us to completely repin new actions and go through all the friction removal operations. On new Steinway grand actions we are quick to also remove the green Emralon and apply graphite that is burnished. Also the Teflon repetition spring post is also removed and replaced with cloth as it will click. New Steinways have the Teflon removed from the action except for this one part.
All the felt in the action must be compressed and "ironed". This is not done in the factory so the action "sinks" after a few months and the action needs touch up regulation. The piano rebuilder also needs to do this when installing new felt to the key frame or the same sinking develops. Most piano rebuilders regulate the piano only one time and the regulation is only proximal. New actions are usually not in a state of "fine" regulation and the manufacturer expects the dealer to go over the regulation. The dealers omit "dealer prep" in order to save money and to avoid hiring qualified personnel. After a few years most new pianos are, in my opinion, in a poor state of regulation. Usually, the owner has adjusted their playing to the constraints of the action and do not notice the degradation until the action is returned to correct specifications.
Our action regulation consists of three procedures. Pre-regulation consists of setting up all the mechanical parameters. Then the action is regulated a second time to get close settings. Then the action is regulated inside the piano where the action "lives". Then, after the action is played on for a year by the customer, the action is regulated yet again. Now the action is stable. It will only require "touch-up" if regular tunings reveal a change has occurred in the finished action.
Most new and rebuilt pianos have plastic keys and plastic sharps. Often the plastic keys have sharp edges. This is especially true of rebuilt pianos where the keys are sent out for new plastic key tops and the labor to remove the sharp edges was omitted. This is common. This is another example of "cutting corners". A more serious issue is the amount of wood removed from the keys prior to installing key tops. Only the amount of wood should be removed such that the new key top material restores the key to its original dimension. While this looks like common sense, there are many sets of keys out there that are cut down improperly. Worse yet, the sides of the keys are taken down on a sanding machine and there is so much unwanted space between the keys that it is necessary for us to add new wood to the sides of each key and re-cut them before new key tops can be installed.
Plastic keys versus ivory and bone keys: The ivory keys can be chipped, worn hollow with glue failing joints. If the glue joint is failing then there is a tapping noise when the key is hit with a short, brisk stroke. There could be other problems. Plastic keys can also have problems if the material is coming off due to the use of contact cement. This glue moves in the hot summer months. Also, one piece plastic keys and key fronts tend to split at the joint over time. If these one piece plastic tops exist on a new or rebuilt piano, they must be replaced with two piece material.
Ebony keys: Original ebony keys can be worn or rounded or no longer level. Some ebony is "brown ebony" and is stained or painted black by the manufacturer to imitate true ebony. True ebony keys can be restored and polished with a dry buffing wheel running at 2000rpm. The brown ebony or plastic should be replaced with real ebony. If the sharps were painted with black lacquer, we typically strip the sharps and go through the polishing sequence.
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