Are you curious about how to restore a piano that’s been sitting in your basement or storage unit unused? Was an old piano passed down to you, and you’re not quite sure how to make it playable? Here, Katy, TX music teacher Zachary A. shares his advice…
A piano is not only a part of the art of music, it is also a work of art itself. The machine is extremely complex and has thousands of moving parts. The piano is also one of the few instruments out there that has stood the test of time. It has a beautiful framework and a sound board supporting tremendous string tension, all concealed by a beautiful finished cabinetry. The piano is not as fragile as other instruments, but it is still subject to deterioration over time. The felt wears, strings break, wooden structures weaken and crack, and the beautiful exterior cabinet loses its finish and elegance.
So what should you do if you have an old, used piano that needs some TLC, and you’re interested in starting to play it?
When discussing how to restore a piano, experts generally use two terms, reconditioning and rebuilding.
The easier of the two, reconditioning is done by cleaning, adjusting, repairing, and replacing parts when absolutely necessary. Reconditioning only focuses on the parts of the piano that are highly damaged and in high need of repair for the best or desired performance.
Rebuilding, for the most part, involves a completely disassembling inspection — repairing parts that are in need of repairing, including the replacement of ALL worn, damaged, or deteriorated parts! Rebuilding focuses on the entire structure, including the sound board, bridge, pinblock, and strings, as well as the action, ivory keys, and case refinishing. Rebuilding is a total overhaul of the piano, completely restoring it to its original state, or better! Rebuilding a piano is usually most practical for high-quality instruments, where maximum performance and longevity is required.
How to Know When to Recondition or Rebuild Your Piano
Most pianos can go years without needing to be reconditioned or repaired, although the quality of the tone, touch, and outer appearance of the piano will continue to decline with age. This can be really agitating to someone trying to learn the piano. But ultimately, when regular maintenance that you perform on your piano (such as cleaning, regulating voicing, and tuning) can no longer provide a satisfactory performance, then it might be time for your piano to be reconditioned or rebuilt.
Now, whether your piano is in need of a little reconditioning or a total overhaul of rebuilding depends on its original quality, its surrounding climate, and its usage and performance requirements. One piano may need rebuilding after 20 years of use, but another may last over 50 years. Maybe the most important factor to some will be whether or not the piano has sentimental and personal value. If the instrument has historical value, this can be a key factor in deciding whether a piano should be rebuilt or repaired.
How to Restore a Piano With a Professional
The best thing that you can do is seek out a professional piano restorer — one who has the judgment, experience, and expertise to advise you when making such an expensive and important decision. Remember, when seeking out a professional, always ask for referrals and get a handful of opinions. Do not accept the first opinion of one professional and make up your mind from there!
The key decision: when are major repairs appropriate? When you are seeking out a professional, keep in mind a few important factors:
- The overall condition of the piano. Pianos that are subject to severe fire, flood, or moving damage may not be repairable, depending on the damage to the instrument.
- The quality, size, and type of the piano. In general, low-priced, smaller pianos of a poorer quality and design have limited potential. It might be more viable to buy a new piano of better quality and design.
- Does the cost of repairs exceed the price of replacement? This usually depends on the quality and size of the instrument. Smaller, lower-quality pianos may exceed the replacement price, but high-quality, large pianos may only cost half of the price to replace the instrument.
These guidelines should aid you in trying to decide whether or not a piano is worth rebuilding or reconditioning. Again, always seek out advice from several professionals if you are considering rebuilding; they have the experience and expertise that will help you make your decision. Ultimately, this could help you save money in the long run, not needing to repair your piano again if it’s done right the first time.
Zachary A. teaches guitar lessons in Katy, TX. He is currently working on his Bachelor’s degree in music theory, and has also been playing piano for four years. Learn more about Zachary here!
Photo by Quinn Dombrowski