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Westend Piano - Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Why purchase a reconditioned or restored piano versus a new piano?
  2. What is the difference between a reconditioned, fully rebuilt, or restored piano?
  3. Is my old piano worth rebuilding?
  4. Doesn't it decrease the value of my antique piano or organ to have it professionally refinished?
  5. What is the definition of an "Upright Grand" or a "Cabinet Grand" piano?
  6. What makes a piano or organ an antique?
  7. How often should my piano be tuned?
  8. My piano tuner said my piano couldn't be tuned. Why?
  9. Should I keep my piano on an inside wall?
  10. My piano tuner said that my piano has a cracked soundboard. What does that mean?
  11. How can I tell if my piano or organ keys are genuine ivory?
  12. How can I get my yellowed ivory keys white again?

Question: Why purchase a reconditioned or restored piano versus a new piano?

Answer: The evolution of the present day piano occurred throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The fundamental design of pianos has been the same for the past 110 years. The craftsmanship and quality of materials used in reputable makes of pianos from between 1890-1930 generally far exceed that of present day pianos with several very expensive exceptions. A reputable piano make of this vintage that has endured a healthy life (i.e. not exposed to extreme dryness or dampless for extended periods) is quite often a good candidate for reconditioning or full rebuilding.

Question: What is the difference between a reconditioned, fully rebuilt or restored piano?

Answer: You will find that the definition of the terms reconditioned, rebuilt and restored vary a lot within this industry. It is therefore necessary to define these terms from our perspective to allow proper comparison.

Our global definition of "reconditioning" means putting the piano into the best possible playing condition using the existing parts (i.e. existing hammers, string, action, etc.) It also would include the option of touching up or refinishing the existing case. To ensure a satisfactory result using this type of approach, it is very important that the piano is in a good, non-abused initial condition. The soundboard and bridges must be in good shape . Strings must have a good resonance, and the tuning pins should be tight. Failing this, the piano would need a partial or full rebuilding to ensure a good result.

"Fully rebuilding" or "fully restoring" means putting the piano into as close to brand new or its original new condition as possible, within reason.

Question: Is my old piano worth rebuilding?

Answer: In most cases, yes. Many people are realizing that investing in a restored instrument is often an affordable alternative to buying a costly new one. In most cases, the quality of these antique and vintage instruments is far superior to ones being manufactured today. Like most antiques and collectibles, heirloom pianos and organs are consistently appreciating in value, and have a great deal of investment potential.

Question: Doesn't it decrease the value of my antique piano or organ to have it professionally refinished?

Answer: Absolutely not. In fact, professional refinishing can enhance the value of your antique instrument significantly. (Please also bear in mind that a poor, sloppy amateur attempt at refinishing your instrument can certainly do more harm than good).

The general public has adopted this misconception from sources such as cable television's Antique Road Show which usually showcases pieces well over 200 years old. These very early antiques were usually finished with varnish or shellac, and these finishes remain beautiful indefinitely with proper care. These are the antiques that are considered to be more valuable in their original state. Antique pianos and organs, on the other hand, were finished using early primitive forms of lacquer that deteriorated from chemical breakdown over time. These finishes almost always look black and scaly today. It is always in an instrument's best interest to have an attractive, quality finish. Are vintage automobiles not more valuable and desirable with a shiny new paint job?

Question: What is the definition of an "Upright Grand" or a "Cabinet Grand" piano?

Answer: "Upright Grand" or "Cabinet Grand" is a term usually referring to certain large, pre-depression era upright pianos. Due to their towering height, these instruments usually had string lengths and musical capabilities equal and often superior to actual grand pianos, thus being labeled "Upright Grand" or "Cabinet Grand" by their manufactures.

Question: What makes a piano or organ an antique?

Answer: Vintage pianos and organs are quite different than other antiques. Some professionals consider these instruments to be antiques only when they reach 100 years of age, although it seems to be more widely accepted that an instrument built prior to the Great Depression is classified as an antique. We at Westend Piano agree with the latter.

Question: How often should my piano be tuned?

Answer: Most piano tuners suggest a piano be tuned every 6 months, although many high quality instruments can go much longer without becoming unpleasant to listen to. Scheduled tunings every one to two years will usually suffice. If a piano is neglected and not tuned for several years, the strings will stretch and the instrument will go flat. It can take several subsequent tunings to bring the instrument back up to pitch. This technique is called a "Pitch Raising".

Question: My piano tuner said my piano couldn't be tuned. Why?

Answer: There are actually several reasons some pianos can't be tuned. The most common reason is that with age and general wear and tear, the tuning pins that hold the tension on the strings become loose. The instrument will then require either larger tuning pins or a new pinblock. This usually requires complete restringing because removing loose tuning pins requires strings to be loosened, intern making them weak and prone to breakage.

Question: Should I keep my piano on an inside wall?

Answer: No. This popular notion came about in the 19th century when homes were not properly insulated nor were they climate controlled. (Even under such harsh conditions these 19th century instruments survived unscathed!) As long as your room is relatively climate controlled and your outside wall is insulated, your piano should be fine.

Question: My piano tuner said that my piano has a cracked soundboard. What does that mean?

Answer: The soundboard is the most important resonating part of a piano. It is the large, flat piece of wood across the back of the piano that the strings parallel. The soundboard provides the amplification that makes a piano loud and powerful, and tone quality can suffer if it is damaged. Being made of soft spruce, the soundboard usually develops small separations in their original glued wood joints due to changes in temperature and humidity. These "cracks" are very common and easily repaired. In fact, almost any piano with age on it at all will have some degree of this separation due to the nature of wood. Unfortunately, there are many piano tuners that use "cracked soundboards" as a scare tactic to discourage investing in an instrument, or as a ploy to collect a tidy sum to repair the problem.

Question: How can I tell if my piano or organ keys are genuine ivory?

Answer: There are three basic materials that keyboards are made of: ivory, celluloid, and plastic. Ivory has a definite wood grain look upon close inspection, and is often yellowed in appearance. It is also made in two pieces, and a slight seam can be seen where the front and back pieces are joined together. Celluloid, a by-product of dynamite making, was the forerunner of modern plastic keys and is very common. It sometimes has straight, gray lines running through it, and may have a wavy, uneven texture about it. Celluloid keys are more of an off-white color, always being made in one piece. Plastic keys are usually quite obvious because of their shiny white finish.

Question: How can I get my yellowed ivory keys white again?

Answer: Getting yellowed ivory white again is no easy task. Real ivory is usually made from elephant tusk. It is very porous and absorbs pollutants like cigarette smoke and oil from fingers that cause this yellow staining to occur. If a commercial key cleaner doesn't do the trick, try using medium steel wool or light sandpaper. This technique will help, but keep in mind that some ivory keys will simply never turn white again.