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Common Inquiry About An Old Player Piano
And My Advice To The Owner

At 0744 PM 7/19/04, you wrote

This piano is my wife's grandfathers - so it has sentimental value.

Up until now, it has just been a piece of furniture - but my girls are starting to take lessons and we are wondering if it can be serviced/tuned and made playable. My wife remembers there being scrolls, but they have been misplaced, but I see from your website that you distribute them.


We live in Hopewell Township, NJ (down 195 to 95 towards Phila - probably less than 1 hour from your house). If you can be of assistance, please reply or call me.


Thanks,

Tom

IMG_0627.JPG

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On Monday, July 19, 2004, at 0950 PM, John A. Tuttle wrote


Hi Tom,


It's obvious from the photo that the player mechanism has been

removed. Replacing it will cost approximately twice as much as

it would cost to merely rebuild an existing mechanism. The

average cost of restoring the player mechanism is $6,000. The

average value of a working player piano here in NJ is $1,800-$2,400.

The question becomes, is the sentiment worth $8-$9K?


I always recommend that those who want a player piano start

with one that is 100% intact. Even then, the cost of restoring

the piano itself can easily exceed $5,000 for the inside work

and $3,000 for refinishing the cabinet. Complete restoration of

an intact player piano often exceeds $14K. Most people aren't

interested in completely restoring an 80-year old player piano

to "new" condition. The average owner really just wants to hear

the music play again. In such cases, most of the piano and

player mechanisms are simply repaired to working condition

as opposed to being complete restored with all new materials.

This brings the costs down to an average of $4,000 - if the piano

and player mechanism are intact to begin with, and both are in

relatively good condition.


Hope this addresses your question adequately.


Musically,


John A Tuttle

Player-Care.com

Brick, NJ, USA

============================================


At 1258 PM 7/20/04, you wrote

John,


Thanks for the dose of reality. I had no idea that the player mechanism was worth so much. I guess that explains why it was 'lost in transit' many years ago. This leads to my next question. Without the player mechanism, doesn't a player piano function like a regular piano? Can any piano technician work on it in this case and get it into tune, or does still require a specialist like yourself?


If so, can you ball park what it might cost to repair a few broken keys (won't press all the way down) and get it into tune? If not, can you

recommend someone in my area that might be able to help us.


Thanks for your time,

Tom

============================================

Hi Tom,


Any piano tuner/technician can take care of the instrument. I'd

try to find one with at least 20 years experience. Here's why.

A young zealous tech might not be so 'up-front' with you about

the current condition of the piano. 80+ year old pianos typically

have numerous problems - as evidenced by the fact that you

currently have problems.


To me, problems like the one you described are an indication of

a bigger problem 'down-the-road' which can be averted by proper

attention now. It's like getting the muffler fixed before it falls off.....

Most likely, I would suggest that the piano action be dismantled

and gone over thoroughly. Depending on what is found, this could

cost upwards of $800, but $400-$500 is probably more realistic.


Next comes the tuning. Old pianos rarely hold a tuning very well

for a number of reasons. And when children are involved, it's

considered very important for them to have an instrument that plays

the right notes. In other words, the note "C" should sound like the

note "C", not "B" or "B flat". That might sound like a silly thing to

say, but tuning a piano is nothing like tuning a distributor. It's

hundreds of times more complex. Generally, a tuner must tune

a piano at least once to find out the condition of the "Pin Block".

It's the part of the piano that holds the tuning pins in place. If it

is weak, it might not be possible to tune the piano to the correct

reference pitch (A-440). If that is the case, I would recommend that

the piano NOT be used as an "instrument of learning".


When it comes to learning to play the piano, a child's mind is

likened to a white piece of paper. It only learns what is put on

the paper. If the child learns the wrong note pitches, it puts them

at a great disadvantage and typically they won't excel as rapidly

as one who has a good instrument. The analogy I use isAnyone

can learn how to drive a car with bad brakes and sloppy steering.

The problem is, they will over-brake and over-steer when they get

behind the wheel of a properly operating vehicle, and someone

might get hurt. In this case, what might get hurt is the child's

self-image.


If the tuner tells you that the piano will not hold its pitch for at least

six months, I recommend that you get a better instrument. Today's

88-note electronic keyboards with touch control aren't that expensive

compared to the cost of repairing or restoring an old worn out piano.

Further, they will provide your children with an excellent vehicle for

learning how to play the piano, and such instruments are virtually

maintenance free for life - unlike the real piano, which must be tuned

at least one a year. The cost about $85-$90 per tuning. Done every

six months, as recommended by all manufacturers, that adds up!

Throw in the cost of initial repairs and future maintenance and you

can see why a good electronic keyboard might be your best choice.


Lastly, if your children excel at the piano, you'll need to get a better

instrument than an upright within 5-7 years. Why? To truly develop

into a competent pianist, one must study on a grand piano. The action

in a grand piano is vastly different from an upright action, and in order

to develop speed and virtuosity a grand piano is a necessity. It is very

unfortunate that few parents ever hear the things I've said, and sadder

yet that many children lose interest in the piano because of their

initial experiences with the instrument. Learning to play the piano at

an early age can lead to a lifetime of enjoyment, and it's a proven

fact that children who do well with the piano also do way better in

math and science - it has to do with abstract logic and spatial

comparisons that are inadvertently learned while learning how to

play the piano. The point here is, it's really not all about insuring

that your children learn to play the piano. It's all about giving them

a leg-up in education and a tool that will provide them with years of

fun down the road.


Musically,


John A Tuttle

Player-Care.com

Brick, NJ, USA


P.S. This email will most likely be turned into another webpage at

Player-Care.com. Detailed responses, like the one above, take time

to compose, and since many people these days are running into the

same circumstances as you, others might benefit from this kind of

information. Naturally, your name will not be used without permission.

The page will most likely be located at


https://www.player-care.com/my-old-piano.html



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This page was last revised on March 12, 2015 by John A. Tuttle ( John A Tuttle).


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