One of THE most difficult questions that I am constantly being asked is, "What is my player piano worth?" Honestly, I can't tell you with any degree of accuracy. It is the condition of a unit, both inside and out, which establishes it's basic value, just like with any other consumer good. There are, of coarse, classes of instruments ranging from 'unknown origin' to 'elite'. The fact is, there have been more than 12,000 different piano makers in just the past 150 years, and there have been over 1000 makes of player pianos since 1900. (And you thought there were a lot of car makers.)
It is actually much easier to approach the topic of value from an entirely different perspective. First, let's talk availability. Today, on the Internet, there are people who are selling 'complete' circa 1920 upright player pianos in unrestored condition for less than $200.00, and there are dozens to choose from. As far as prices at auctions, upright players hardly ever command more than $800.00 in working or semi-working condition. The same is true at sites like CraigsList. Here in New Jersey, if you can get $1200-$1500 for a fully functional circa 1920's player piano, you're having a great day. Reproducing players can go for as high as $14,000.00 to $16,000, and higher, but only when the piano is in the highest class and in perfect working order. Again, we come back to condition, for it is the condition of a unit, both inside and out, which determines it's basic value.
Let's say you have a working player that looks pretty nice and is regularly maintained by a qualified player piano technician. I can almost guarantee that the technician has a good idea of the units value and would be happy to tell you. If the unit looks nice and is not well maintained, you will most likely have to hire a professional to evaluate the units condition and he will give you an idea of it's approximate value. Let's say the unit looks pretty rough, has chipped ivories, a few corners crushed in, ding marks here and there and the player doesn't work but it's intact. Well, it's considered unrestored and it's worth less than $200.00.
What about restoring the unit. Surely they must become more valuable if they have been professionally restored. WRONG! At the present moment, it costs more to restore a player piano than it's worth. Remember those units that I was offered for the cost of moving? I usually decline the offer because even at cost, it's almost impossible to sell a restored unit for what I've put into it in time and materials. Generally speaking, the return one can expect is $0.35 for every dollar spent in repair or restoration costs. Then you might wonder, "Why have it restored?" Answer... because you love it. That's the only reasonable answer. Player pianos are not an investment!!! Unlike a fine violin, player pianos get WORSE with AGE and every single one will have to be restored, at a healthy fee, at least every forty years (much sooner on certain types). Ouch!
So, what's it worth? If you haven't figured it out by now, you need the services of a profession technician who will charge about $80.00 to $95.00 an hour for his talents. Frankly, that's a lot less expensive than just two of the main reference books that any qualified technician has in his office and most good technicians have dozens of books. Have we got the time to do all the research for free? Frankly, No! It's best if you hire a professional rebuilder and have him perform a complete evaluation. If you have the Name of the Manufacturer, the Serial Number and the units General Condition, i.e., working or non-working player mechanism, appearance, etc., then visit the Blue Book of Pianos website and write to Bob Furst. He has collected quite a bit of information about numerous piano companies.
As a final word, all of the above is simply my opinion based on forty years as a player piano technician. I could be wrong!
This page was last revised on October 23, 2021 by John A. Tuttle.
Since "Player-Care" is an internet business, I prefer that we correspond via E-Mail (click here to fill out the 'Request Form'). However, if I'm not in the middle of some other activity, you can reach me at 732-840-8787. But please understand that during the hours from 8AM-5PM EST (Mon-Sat), I'm generally quite busy. So, I probably won't answer the phone. If you get the answering machine, please leave a detailed message stating the reason for your call. Also, repeat your name and phone number clearly and distinctly. By necessity, I prioritize everything in my life. And, if you call and just leave your name and number, and ask me to call you back, it might be a day or two before I return your call. Why? Because I don't know why you want me to call and I might not be prepared to assist you in an effective and efficient manner. If you leave me an E-Mail address (which I prefer), spell it out phonetically. The more you do to help me, the more I can help you in return. Don't rush. You have four minutes to record your message.
407 19th Ave, Brick, NJ, 08724
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