Piano restoration ranges from the simple to the complex. Reconditioning is the most basic and affordable type of restoration. This involves replacing worn felt, leather, springs and centre pins in the piano’s action along with a thorough cleaning of everything else. The small centre pins are like bearings and are what the parts of the action pivot on. They are probably the main reason for sticking notes when stiff and cause the action to feel sloppy if they have become loose. Piano keys may also need to be cleaned and polished, or tops replaced, to complete the reconditioning process.
As regards the exterior of the piano, the original French polish may look a little worse for wear and so require re-polishing. This could be due to fading from the sun, exposure to moisture (spilled vase of flowers being a popular culprit), scratches or general abuse over its lifetime. Although re-polishing of the casework will make no difference to the instrument’s sound it will undeniably improve the aesthetics of the piano.
Sometimes a piano requires a bit more tender loving care. Full restoration would generally involve replacing the tuning pins and strings of the piano, re-gilding the frame, possibly replacing the wrest plank too if necessary. Soundboards can sometimes split, bridges may come adrift or split too and on occasion the cast iron frame may have cracked and need repairing. This requires a lot more work, time and investment and so would only be worthwhile on a top quality instrument.
SO WHAT’S TOP AND WHAT’S NOT
The three German manufacturers, Steinway, Bluthner and Bechstein are universally recognised as the top makers of pianos and are generally always worthy of restoration. Top English makers include John Broadwood, George Rogers, Chappell and Challen, to name a few. The pianos manufactured from these makers were built by craftsmen to a high standard using solid, seasoned wood and many of which survived 80-100 years before the need for restoration. However these were expensive pianos back then, bought to be played as well as admired. By now they show a lot of wear and tear and at best they will need reconditioning but most likely a moderate amount of restoration will be required. Of course there are plenty other quality piano makers, but these are a few of our favourites in terms of restoration potential.
Sadly, many older pianos are not worth restoring. In the late 19th century there were 360 known firms making pianos in London alone. As a result of this, more people were employed in the piano industry in the UK capital than in any other manufacturing business. However, most of these firms built pianos quickly and cheaply to satisfy the mass market and they were not particularly good instruments to start with. In general, pianos with over damper actions are not worth restoring compared to those with under damper actions which are. And, if you are unlucky enough to have a spring and loop action (on your piano, that is), forget it, they are just not worth it. However, these are just a few pointers……………... and if you still have no idea what we are talking about, don’t worry, give us a call.
Restoring pianos can be costly, so it is important to assess each instrument to see if restoration is worthwhile and if so, the type and level of work required. We are always happy to come out and give you an honest opinion of your piano's potential. There is no doubt that an older quality piano, once restored, can be a valuable and beautiful instrument with far more character and history than any modern piano.