You can pick up an old antique piano for $400. I
know, because I just
sold one. But how do you know if it's worth buying at all? Will it be
repairable and will it be OK for your child to learn on? You need to
know what to look for.
The wrest plank and tuning pins of my Moore & Moore
all looked excellent. It was one of the best I'd ever seen in that
respect--there was no evidence of damaged or abused pins, they all
looked original, none had been hammered in, none had marks on them,
they were not bent and there were no signs of cracks or other damage to
the wrest plank. The sound board (the largest piece of wood, behind the
strings in the centre of the instrument) had no cracks either, and the
strings all looked fine. The action (the moving parts) worked well on
all the notes, and the dampers stopped the sound of each note when you
lifted the key or raised the damper pedal. There was one missing
plastic key, but that would be easy to replace. Most old pianos would
not look so good on the inside.
Then, a couple of weeks later I got a complaint from the
"Hi Margaret. After we had the piano delivered we got
a piano tuner out and were really disappointed...it was unable to be
tuned...when the tuner tried to tighten the pins they would unwind
straight away and she said it was no good at all...so we have hired a
piano. When the guys came out to deliver the [new] piano they also said
"No, that's cactus..."
But the piano was actually quite tunable, and the inside
in very good condition. Eventually, after more advice from me, the
buyer realised he'd found a very useable instrument.
The skill of the tuner is paramount to keeping the strings
pins 'on pitch.' When living in the remote town of Karratha, I taught
myself to tune a very old piano in much worse condition than this. I
also did some tunings on a couple of my students' old pianos. In all
cases it was very difficult to keep them in tune for more than a few
minutes, partly due to my poor technique with the tuning hammer
(lever). However, when a professional tuner came to town he did a
marvellous job and the three rickety old pianos stayed well in tune for
When a piano has not been tuned for some years it may
require more than
one tuning to 'come up to pitch.' It's impossible to know how well this
is going to pan out, you can only try it and see how many tunings it
needs. The strings have tonnes of tension and you have to wait for the
tension to even out before doing another tuning. It can take months
before the tuning settles.
When he bought my Moore & Moore piano I told him it
re-hydrating (it needed more water or moisture in the wood). If the
wrest plank had dried out the pins would certainly be loose. In
Karratha we re-hydrated all three old pianos and it made a BIG
difference. The simple cure is to place a beaker of water inside the
piano at the bottom. The bigger, the better, because people tend to
forget about them and they eventually run out of water. It takes weeks
to have an effect. This re-hydrating also seemed to fix an action
problem that two of our pianos had. Some tuners don't like water
beakers, they reckon they will cause problems with the action or rust
the strings so expert advice should be sought from a professional
technician, but it worked well for us. There are commercially-available
humidifiers/de-humidifiers specially made for pianos.
Another cheap technique to help with the tuning is to hammer
into the wrest plank. It's a standard remedy but there's a limit to how
much and how often the pins can be hammered in. The pins on this old
piano looked like they'd never been hammered at all, so that was still
a viable option. It's definitely a job for a skilled piano technician,
to avoid damage to the pins or wrest plank.
A much more expensive technique is to replace the pins with
(they come in different sizes), but it would be a big undertaking and
it would be cheaper to get another piano.
In the end the buyer was very happy with his piano, it
turned out to be
quite a good instrument.
Margaret D. Jones, MusB(UWA), DipEd,
LTCL, ATCL, AMusTCL, AMusA, is a
composer, piano accompanist and voice teacher, whose first
non-musical(?) hobby was examining old pianos at auctions with a
torchlight and a tuning fork.
For detailed photos of the pianos referred to, and
more about old
pianos, see http://mixmargaret.com/piano-article-pno001pics.html
(C) 2010 Mix M D Jones.
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Direct link to the piano photos:
Direct link for this article: http://mixmargaret.com/piano-article-pno001-moore.html