Piano tuning/restoration near Houston, TX
November 5, 2022 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Hello Hive Mind! We have an upright piano in our house that has been completely unused for the 14 years we have lived here. I suspect it has probably not been played in about 30 years. I have restoration questions.

My partner's mom died when they were 6 and this is the mom's piano. Obviously, I would love to get it proper condition again. I would like to make it a surprise as well.

Multi-faceted question:

1. What would be an approximate cost to retune an 88 key upright piano in the Houston area?

2. 2-3 white keys and one black have no action. That is, you press them, and they don't bounce back. Add that to the estimate.

3. One of the hammers inside definitely needs to have the pad replaced. I thought it was about 2-3, but only noticed one. Again, how much am I paying?

4. Loving partner is 100% WFH and Thanksgiving is one of the few times they leave and I have the house to myself. Almost certain I can't pull it off that fast, which is no big deal... I've been pondering this idea for years and keep forgetting. Would you have any estimation about how long these fixes would take? And would any Piano Tech tackle it on Wed before Thanksgiving or Black Friday or that weekend and what the premium would be for that?

Thank you all in advance. AskMe is a true beacon on the internet. I'm always astonished by the knowledge shared.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd to Grab Bag (6 answers total)
Here in Seattle, we pay around $200 for our yearly tuning.

The repairs you mention would probably go for about the same amount. Replacing a hammer and the 3 keys with no action would probably cost about the same I would think. Start asking for quotes. Make sure you have details about the piano brand and such.

No idea about Houston tuners though. Nor the time frame. May cost you a bit more for the days you are suggesting.
posted by Windopaene at 10:45 AM on November 5, 2022

I had one of these piano's. After I got it fixed up enough to play, several more keys stopped responding because it hadn't been used much in a long time. The first time I needed it fixed I just called a piano tuner in the area (I can't remember how I found him). The costs were in line with the above comment.

The next time he came to fix the new broken keys he tossed a bunch of new plastic doohickys into the piano cabinet so I could replace them myself when more keys broke. He said the original ones where fragile and brittle and would continue to break because they were so old. I ended up replacing a dozen or so of the plastic key things over the next few years before I got rid of the piano. The piano was not heavily used during that time.
posted by rsclark at 11:00 AM on November 5, 2022

A piano that hasn't been tuned in that long may no longer be capable of staying in tune. My family's piano was old long before it was "gifted" to us by my dad's business partner. My mom always said "I just had that tuned, it shouldn't need to be tuned again already." When I finally got her to get a tuner out he said "you must have had my father out, because I've never been to this house. He retired fourteen years ago." (SEE, mom? SEE?) The pegs slipped so badly it wouldn't even stay in tune for as long as it took him to finish tuning it in the first place. He finally managed to get it a little flat but mostly in tune with itself, and then we had him come out a week later to refine the tuning.

I think I've mentioned in a couple other piano threads here that a tuner had referred to that piano as a "furniture piano." Depending on the age and provenance of the piano yours (like ours) may date from a period when it was fashionable to have a piano in the home, but as instruments they weren't particularly well made. I'd recommend paying a technician for an honest appraisal of the piano's condition (which is a thing you can do in an afternoon) and make your decision based on that appraisal. You may find that your well-meaning gesture is throwing good money after bad. Maybe the sentimental value is worth it to you and your partner, but maybe it's not.
posted by fedward at 11:15 AM on November 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

I concur that getting a technician to evaluate the overall condition is a good idea. There may be other issues lurking beneath the surface... some which have the potential to be cost prohibitive (and/or time consuming) to address. A piano is probably closer to a car than furniture in the scale of "if we let this thing sit for a decade and a half with no maintenance can we reasonably expect it will work after addressing only a few surface level issues?"
posted by oceano at 12:19 PM on November 5, 2022

Our piano tuner told my wife that you have to have them tuned once a year, or the pegs stop fitting tightly in their holes and eventually it can't be tuned properly. (What Fedward said.) Six years later she called him again, and he said, "If you'd gone another year it would very likely have been impossible."
I think pianos are wonderful, and you should get someone to look at it. I have a history of having things I like repaired no matter what it costs, and if this instrument can be fixed I'd definitely do it, but don't assume it'll be trivial.
Also, please budget for tuning in the future, both in terms of money and remembering to have it done. Around here you can find pianos on Craigslist you can have if you'll come and get them, but I suspect most of them are too far gone to be worth it. I find that very sad.
posted by AugustusCrunch at 1:18 PM on November 5, 2022

do you expect this piano to be played / remain playable going forward? because if so, it will have to be tuned twice a year (or more depending on how dramatic the seasonal humidity / temperature changes are where you live.) you can let it go longer, people do, but this will be at least a yearly expense (though a lower & more predictable one every time after the first time.)

you need a technician to see it in person and confirm to you that it's possible to do as well as worth doing, but you will probably want to have it "regulated" not just tuned. that will be several hundred dollars more but almost certainly needs doing.
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:20 PM on November 5, 2022

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