Non-Internet Techniques

In this age of the Internet, it's important not to forget older, more conventional methods of networking that still work, such as placing and answering classified print ads in local newspapers and want-ad booklets; and posting and answering notices on bulletin boards anywhere people congregate, such as houses of worship, community centers, laundromats, etc. Other, more aggressive, techniques include contacting movers and storage warehouses to see if they have any pianos abandoned by their owners; attending auctions; contacting attorneys and others who handle the disposition of estates; and just plain old asking around among coworkers, friends, and acquaintances.

Obtaining a Piano from a Friend or Relative

It's nice when pianos remain in the family. I got my piano that way. But pianos purchased from friends and relatives or received as gifts are as likely as any others to have expensive problems you should know about. It's very hard to refuse a gift, and perhaps embarrassing to hire a piano technician to inspect it before you accept it, but for your own protection you should insist on doing so. Otherwise you may spend a lot of money to move a "gift" you could have done without.

Which of these routes to finding a used piano you end up following will depend on your situation and what you're looking for. If you have a lot of time and transportation is no problem, you may get the best deal by shopping around among private owners or in out-of-the-way places. If you're busy or without a car but have money to spend, it may be more convenient to shop among piano technicians, rebuilders, or dealers, who may be able to show you several pianos at the same time and spare you from worrying about future repair costs and problems. If you travel a lot to other cities or have few piano resources in your local area, the Internet can be a big help in locating an appropriate commercial or non-commercial source far away. (See the ads in this publication for movers that specialize in long-distance piano moving.) The best route also depends on where you live, as some communities may have a brisk trade in used pianos among private owners but few rebuilding shops, or vice versa, or have an abundance of old uprights but few grands.

Grand Piano Rebuilding Checklist

The following is a list of the tasks that might comprise a fairly complete rebuilding of a grand piano. Any particular job may be either more or less extensive than shown here, depending on the needs and value of the instrument and other factors, but this list can serve as a guide. See also The Piano Book for information about specific rebuilding issues pertaining to Steinway and Mason & Hamlin pianos.

Notice that the restoration can be divided into three main parts: the soundbox or resonating unit, the action, and the cabinet. The soundbox (also known as the strung back or belly) includes the soundboard, ribs, bridges, strings, pinblock, tuning pins, plate, and the structural parts of the case; the action includes the keyframe and action frame, keys and keytops, hammers, dampers, trapwork, and all other moving action parts; the cabinet includes cosmetic repair and refinishing of the case and of the nonstructural cabinet parts and hardware. Note that the damper parts that contact the strings are restored with the soundbox, whereas the damper underlever action is treated with the rest of the action.

There is very little overlap among the three types of work; each of the three parts could be performed alone or at different times, as technical conditions permit and/or financial considerations require. In a typical complete rebuilding job, restoration of the soundbox might comprise 45 percent of the cost, the action 30 percent, and the cabinet 25 percent, though these percentages will vary according to the particulars of the job.

Soundbox or resonating unit

  • Replace or repair soundboard, refinish, install new soundboard decal (if not replacing soundboard: shim soundboard cracks, reglue ribs as necessary, refinish, install new soundboard decal)
  • Replace pinblock
  • Replace bridges or bridge caps
  • Replace or ream agraffes, restore capo-bar bearing surface
  • Refinish plate, paint lettering, replace understring felts
  • Replace strings and tuning pins, tune to pitch
  • Replace damper felts, refinish damper heads, regulate dampers

Action

  • Replace hammers, shanks, and flanges
  • Replace or overhaul wippen/repetition assemblies
  • Replace backchecks
  • Replace front-rail key bushings
  • Replace balance-rail key bushings or key buttons
  • Replace or clean keytops
  • Replace key-end felts
  • Clean keys
  • Clean and refelt keyframe
  • Replace let-off felts or buttons
  • Clean and, if necessary, repair action frame
  • Regulate action, voice
  • Overhaul or replace damper underlever action and damper guide rail
  • Overhaul pedal lyre and trapwork, regulate

Cabinet

  • Repair music desk, legs, other cabinet parts, as needed
  • Repair loose or missing veneer
  • Strip and refinish exterior; refinish bench to match piano
  • Buff and lacquer solid-brass hardware, replate plated hardware