Many people own orchestrions, pneumatic players, coin pianos, or reproducing pianos which they would love to have completely restored, but some are afraid of what might happen, either in shipment, or question whether or not the piano will be honestly and meticulously taken care of in the fashion claimed. Here are some questions you should ask yourself before you decide to have your instrument restored by anyone, near or far.

1. How does one know that something disastrous won't happen to their piano when sent out of state? 2. Why send it away anyway, when there are good rebuilders in your own town? 3. What about rebuilding costs? 4. What about insurance coverage? 5. Any other thing I should know?

If you have misgivings about this common procedure, I think this short article will help you decide by giving you the guidelines that all wise owners and curators use when making the same decision. We run an old-fashioned business in a very old-fashioned way.


Interstate shipping companies specializing in moving pianos are not more expensive than household moving companies, and are better at it, because moving pianos is their business. They are also better insured. Again, you have to know who to call, and it's always nice when your rebuilder knows these people, personally. I will set up the move for you. The insurance should always be for replacement value.

It is far less likely that your piano would be damaged in an interstate move than by a local trucking company, frankly. This is from over 30 years of experience in this business. But in that time, and out of literally hundreds of grand and upright moves, I have had only 1 piano dropped, and 1 grand lid broken. In both cases, the cause was an inexperienced mover which the customer arranged for themselves, the grand had only 2 men trying to control the piano, while the upright was brought in by one man!

In neither case was the damage serious, and both were able to be repaired so well that the customer could not find the damage, even when they knew what had happened.

Except for these, in which the customer decided to handle the arrangements, my caution with movers and knowing the movers handling these pianos has been appreciated. That is a tremendous track record, as far as I am concerned.

Your Confidence

Should you contract with someone you don't know or cannot find out about? The answer is, absolutely not. That's why I give you every opportunity to quiz me about anything, ask for references- whatever you would like to know, frankly. We have nothing to hide. We have never taken out a Yellow Page Ad, so our customers are strictly those by word of mouth.

Why, you may ask, would he not want Yellow Page business? The answer is simple: This business has been built on my personal responsibility to each rebuilding customer. I do the work myself. I cannot hire help to do the kind of work I require. Many shops do hire, but those shops cannot possibly guarantee as we do, nor can they be assured themselves that everything in that piano is exactly as the owner of the business would want in his own piano.

Yellow Page business is, by necessity, impersonal, with the phone book acting as a storefront to advertise the business to everybody. We want our customers to have heard about us by word of mouth and have a degree of faith before they ever call. I frankly don't like dealing with people who picked my name out of a phone book.

Our business specializes in one thing: We restore other people's pneumatic players, from the casters up. Whatever they desire. They have our guarantee in writing. The rebuilding sheet we send you is old-fashioned, filled in by hand, itemized, and priced by item, so you know what you are paying.

I've done business this way now since 1967. We would be happy to furnish references if you wish. (I cannot vouch for the phone numbers, because I do not solicit or pay for anyone's recommendation).

Why Ship Out-of-State?

There are literally thousands of player piano rebuilders in the United States. So why send your piano out of state? It has to do partly with your taste in good music and finishes, and how particular you are. But there is much more to it.

Pneumatic players are the most reliable complex mechanisms that exist. Maintained very occasionally with a vacuum cleaner, they should last the life of the piano rebuild, itself, which in today's homes, should be at least 40 years or more.

Unfortunately, this has not been the case. Reproducing grands rebuilt in the '60s and '70s are already needing a complete overhaul, again. Pianos restored by some of the best known names in the business have stopped playing. Why? Because the rebuilders didn't do valves. Some of those same rebuilders today are just now having to learn about valves, because they never worried about them before. But that takes literally decades!

I never restored a player without restoring its valves. The first one I ever did was valves all the way through, and it has been that way ever since. That player is also still playing strong, to my knowledge. That means, 34 years' experience restoring every imaginable kind of player valve- many that were deemed impossible by other restorers.

It is very necessary to keep fresh supplies and materials, and throw away old stock. Seldom do shops do that, because it costs them money. They put the oldest stuff into their next players. You can bank on getting fresh materials and supplies in your player from me.

Most rebuilders buy just several sizes of hoses and tubing, and then stretch the hose to fit oversize nipples. This quickly tires the connections and the tubing quickly begins to split. You will NEVER find stuff like this in any of my pianos. The difference? About 30 years longer life.

Few if any piano rebuilders do their own finishes, so they are at the mercy of someone else's work. I tried this once, and since having learned the refinishing business overseas many years ago, can put on any kind of a showroom, new-piano finish you might want, and you will agree- it far excels new piano finishes today by a mile! It is also repairable if it gets damaged. [That means, I don't do it in such a way that an expert touch-up man can't fix it like he'd want to.]

My guarantee is not based on mileage. You'd be surprised how difficult it can be to get a technician in the same town to make good on his promises to you. But with me, that's not a problem. The reason I don't mind, is because I trust my work. Since I don't leave old working materials in a player, I have no fear about what I'll find. I have only once in my life had to make the guarantee good, but I did it without complaint (a speck of dirt in a valve, actually), and if you want to check that out, I'll give you that family's phone number.

Sending your piano to the right rebuilder is the only sensible thing to do. It's only going to get restored once by you. Why pick someone, just because he lives closer to you? No collector does that. No museum does that. No critical musician does it, either. Why pay for a restoration, and still need one?

The Cost Factor

Another thing to look at are costs. My rebuilding fees are some of the lowest in the business, as well as thorough and guaranteed all the way through. For example, while most top rebuilders charge $1000-1300 or more for rehammering a Steinway with Abel or Renner hammers, I charge much less than half of that. Does that mean I cut corners? No. I do it all the time, and I'm efficient. I am also a professional voicer. That which requires some tuner-rebuilders days to do, I can do in hours. And my time isn't split up by having many different phases of a business to take care of.

I realize that you are going to spend about $2000, or maybe a little less, sending your piano, and then getting it shipped back- with the insurance and handling. If that sounds like a problem for you, I suggest getting some typical quotes from the most reputable shops in a large city close by, first. Ask them about the extent of their guarantees and what they will do for you. Will they put it all in writing? Then check with me. When you total everything up, you will find that with shipping included, I still beat most of the prices, but more important, is the insurance you get with your rebuild from me. You aren't taking a chance. The reason is overhead costs, a single ownership shop, and sole dedication to one thing only- rebuilding other people's pianos and players. We do not buy and sell.


To insure your piano during repair, practically all home policies allow you to place a"rider" policy on your piano in a piano shop. Usually, it costs nothing. You just tell them the piano is out for repairs. You're covered. But find out first. Differences from state to state vary.

A Warning

You'll not hear this very often, but I'd like to warn you that player pianos are very easy to hide problems in. Old leather valves can be retained illegitimately even today, just by soaking them with mineral oil. Old tubing and hose can be hidden, up underneath the new parts, so you can't see it. They will still last maybe 10-15 years in some cases, but usually not. Old pump flaps and seats inside the pumps are impossible to see. They are, 99% of the time yet today, retained. Those owners will never know what these piano actually could do. No wonder they are willing to buy solenoid pianos as a substitute of the real thing.

When you ask a rebuilder if he does everything, guess what the reply will be, in every case. When you seek out "a rebuilder close by," you are throwing caution to the winds. I have personal and professional references worldwide, maybe even someone close to you that you can ask personally about my work. I strongly suggest that you talk to your rebuilder and see if they tend to be meticulous and a perfectionist, or not. Are they detailed with you, or do they generalize and tend to be close-mouthed and brief?

Again, the very best assurance against paying for a "restoration" and getting a "repair" is the written guarantee. I put mine right on this web site's front page because I'm proud of it. Get it in writing. Know the fellow (or gal) you're sending your piano to. Take some time with them, and ask them all kinds of questions. If they want to be brief with you, or do not let you get to know them, ask yourself, why? Also ask them how large a shop they have. Do they do their own finishing? If they hire help, what it will cost you extra for the owner to do all of your work personally?

We do pianos as though they were our own instrument- which, in a very real way, they are. They become one of our own "children," at the end. We talk to you the way we would want to be talked to about our own instrument and the money we are willing to spend to get it done perfectly. We would expect that rebuilder to be candid and take time to answer all our questions, not be evasive, and to put in writing anything we care to have him write down for us. This is how we do business, and hopefully you'll find it a breath of old-fashioned fresh air!

Craig Brougher

I Don't..

This page was last revised on March 11, 2014

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