trade or fix up piano
March 21, 2005 6:09 PM   Subscribe

I have a 1950's Chickering piano that plays 'bright' Nice touch, etc but loud in it's current home. Piano tuner says 900.00 will voice it, fix hammers, etc. Piano store says that vintage not worth the money and should trade it. I am looking for suggestions. Others tell me to just put blankets, etc as sound absorbers. Not sure what to do. I play classical stuff.
posted by lag to Grab Bag (2 answers total)
Before you do anything get a copy of Larry Fine's Piano Book.

If you like the feel and are generally happy with the sound, then what are you worried about? Give it the $900 spa treatment, then put it on a rug, close the lid, or whatever to muffle it.

If you have a good relationship with your tuner, he should be able to give you an honest evalation of the piano's condition and some decent advice for managing the acoustics.

Sounds like the store just wants to sell you a piano. You're in it for your enjoyment, not resale value.
posted by ldenneau at 7:01 PM on March 21, 2005

Playing "bright" means hard, or more likely, hardened felts on the hammers. Thus, the full voicing, which will involve sanding the hammers (to remove the string grooves that are almost certainly present) and then softening them (usually, by pricking to work the felts looser.)

After that, though, the hammer felts will have a different shape, so the action needs to be readjusted to compensate.

Repeat 88 times, or, if you prefer, think of it as $10.22 a key. Given that it'll take hours to do them all, $900 for a full voicing is a fair price -- there's lots of picky hand work invovled. The only thing more involved are a full regulation (where the manual is rebuilt.) After that, well, you're into "repair" not "maintain."

If the tuning holds, and you just want it to be quieter, you can just muffle the piano with blankets -- but the felts will only get harder over time.

Or, you can thumbtack the felts and play barrelhouse and ragtime. ;)

Is it worth $900? It depends on you. Do you like the piano? If you feel you'll spend the next 10 years of your life with the piano, then you're paying $90 a year. If you're already thinking of trading, will this change your mind?

Related is Tom and Ray Maggliozzi's rules of dealing with a used car. You've driven a car for a long time. It's in good shape, but needs work. You can do one of two things.

1) Fix it up. This will cost money. (This assumes the car can be fixed up. If the car is so rusty it can't be safely driven, you need a replacement car.)

2) Buy a new one. This *will* cost more money.

The rub with the first? If you're not happy with the car, you'll spend the money, still not be happy, then buy the new car, totalling *much more* money.

So. The process they propose.

1) Rent a new car for a week. Just so it works, and you get that whiff of new car.

2) Fix *everything* on the old car. And they mean everything. Even the rear passenger door trim.

3) Then, paint the old car, so it looks good. Then, you'll be happy with it, and it'll last years more. And you can do all of this for 5-8 car payments, maybe as much as 12 if you need a whole new engine. A new car will cost you, well, 36-60 car payments. But, if the old car isn't going to work for you -- if you'll be unhappy, regardless of the transformation 12 payments would work upon it, then it's wrong to spend the 12 payments. You're going to spend the 36-60 in this case, don't spend the 12.

Thus: If you're happy with the piano, spending $900 to stay happy with the piano could save you tons of money in the long run. Never mind if it's not "vintage" enough. If playing it makes you happy, then, by Ghugle, it's a fine instrument.

If the instrument is driving you nuts for other reasons, spending $900 on voicing will make the instrument sound better, but it may well still drive you nuts. Then, you'll trade it in, and be out the $900, plus the cost of the new one.

Finally -- ldenneau's comment about the tuner is dead on correct. If you trust your tuner, ask them what they think -- they're not in the business of selling you new pianos, they're in the business of making you happy.
posted by eriko at 4:10 AM on March 22, 2005

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