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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.
On Monday, July 19, 2004, at 0950 PM, John A. Tuttle wrote
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.
John A Tuttle
Brick, NJ, USA
At 1258 PM 7/20/04, you wrote
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,
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
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.
John A Tuttle
Brick, NJ, USA
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