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#2115055 - 07/09/13 07:30 AM My trip to Piano Restorations UK
joe80 Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/30/09
Posts: 2537
Hi Everyone,

Yesterday I went to visit Piano Restorations Ltd, just outside Twyford in Buckinghamshire for the first time.

In this workshop they rebuild pianos virtually from scratch. They do whatever the piano needs - if it needs a new soundboard, new action and keys, repolished case, they do it.

The outfit is run by father and son team Colin and Paul Leverett, who are probably the nicest people in the business. You get a real sense of family and welcome in the place, and you can tell they love their job.

Family values only get you so far, however, and so to the workmanship. I saw the area where they strip the old case finish, I saw the soundboards being made and installed, new keys and actions being made and installed, old actions being rebuilt, and I played several finished pianos.

The most interesting piano, in a way, was a very recent Steinway D that has been rebuild for the Faro concert hall in Portugal. It was dropped, and rather than replace it, they used their insurance to fully rebuild the piano with a new soundboard, new finish, and fully rebuilt action. The piano is still VERY new sounding and needs playing in, but, it really sang. The tone was still very much Steinway, there was no mistaking it, the piano was a Steinway through and through, but it had a quality about it, a warm glow. They're going to keep it for a couple of months and get people to play it hard, (I'm going back....), and keep working on the tuning and regulation. This piano is so beautiful, and if anyone wanted to buy a Steinway D, I would recommend buying a clapped out one and sending it here, it will come back to you indistinguishable from new. Possibly better!

Then there was a Grotrian Steinweg concert grand, rebuilt for the same people. This piano was in such terrible condition that it was going to be burned, but a rather famous Portuguese concert pianist told them not to, and he arranged for it to be sent here too. The piano is absolutely glorious. I have never actually played a Grotrian concert grand before, and this was a real treat. New soundboard, recapped bridges, new action, new keys, new everything, but done in such a way that it retains the original design, and certain things were improved where necessary - like setting the down bearing (you techs can argue about that later ;-) )

Then for some real treats - they have on their floor a 5'8 Bluthner from c.1910. Rosewood case, new soundboard, new plank, but original keys and original rebuild Bluthner patent action. The action retains the original shanks which were in perfect condition. This was a real surprise because the repetition was as good as ANY and I mean ANY roller action. The touch was lightening fast, perfectly weighted, and the tone was mellow, BUT, very powerful. This piano will open out into quite a spectacular instrument. Well, it already is a spectacular instrument and it's already there, for sale, for one lucky buyer. Don't let anyone tell you that you won't get a good Rachmaninoff concerto out of a patent action Bluthner. You will. I played excerpts from Rach 1 and 2, and the piano really worked perfectly. This particular piano would be a dream piano for any small studio, any pianist. Yes, the patent action feels different from the roller action, but it's as good. I also played the Schubert A-flat minor impromptu on the piano, and the repeated notes played, with exceptional precision and speed, every time. The tone was full, rich, mellow, dark. It could be brightened up if the customer wants, but they prefer to start them mellow and brighten them gradually. Having played some more mature examples of their work, I can state with confidence that any customer would not be disappointed.

I also played a 6'3 Bluthner with patent action, and a 7' with patent action. They were just divine. I would have walked out of the showroom with any of these pianos and not wanted to upgrade ever again.

In fact.....

I have decided to buy a 6'3 Bluthner Style 8, with a new roller action and keyboard from this workshop. I will be able to take delivery of it when I have sold my Brodmann grand, and it should be ready for me in about six months.

Then, a couple of years down the line god-willing, I will have my rosewood style 8 rebuild with the patent action rebuilt rather than replaced.

I'm not going to name a price on here, because each instrument has certain considerations that must be taken into account, and it's between any buyer and the firm. However, what I can say is that these pianos cost not much more than buying a new Chinese or Japanese piano, and the quality is way higher.

OK, I'll be the first to admit, that a rebuilt piano isn't for everyone, and it depends what you want from the piano. Perhaps you want a Yamaha or Kawai, or any other fine piano, and there's nothing wrong with that. Incidentally they DID rebuild a Yamaha CFIIIS and the C and A manager from Yamaha UK claimed it was better than their new instruments.

I could be accused of advertising here, and I am blowing their trumpet, but I don't work for them. I'm just an enthusiastic pianist who was so bowled over by the work there, it's the first time I've seen such things first hand. I don't think it's possible to buy higher quality than what these guys are doing.

When I go back, I will take some pictures and perhaps a video so you can all see for yourselves what these people do.

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#2115074 - 07/09/13 08:28 AM Re: My trip to Piano Restorations UK [Re: joe80]
Almaviva Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/21/13
Posts: 1012
Loc: Richmond, Virginia

Congratulations, Joe! You've been longing for a Bluthner grand for ages. What a stellar lineup of artists singing the praises of Bluthners - Rachmaninov, Mahler, Wagner, Debussy, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Bartok, Shostakovich, Johann Strauss, Artur Rubinstein, Wilhelm Kempff & Joe80! smile

If you have the time, we'd love to see some pictures and hear some recordings.

I'm a bit confused by the model name, though. You say that this "Model 8" is 6'3" long, but the current Bluthner 6'3" piano is the Model 6! What year is this Model 8, and how is it different from the Model 6?

Congratulations again! thumb

#2115084 - 07/09/13 09:13 AM Re: My trip to Piano Restorations UK [Re: joe80]
joe80 Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/30/09
Posts: 2537
Bluthner's changed their line up many times, and the old models are not equivalents of the new models.

In the late 19th/Early 20th Century there was a Style 7, and a Style 8. They were both 6'3. Some had the patent action, some had the roller action, depending on preference. The difference between the styles 7 and 8 was that the 8 had the aliquot stringing, the 7 didn't

Around 1930, the style 7 and 8 were discontinued and the 6'2 style XII (12) was introduced. It had aliquot stringing, but was a shorter scale and loop strung, rather than single strung. Some argue that you can get a more precise tuning with single stringing, but I'm not sure how true that is. What is true is that if you break a string on a single strung instrument, it only affects one string, but a loop strung instrument you loose two strings. By this time (1930) there were no more patent action pianos being sold new.

Anyway, after the second world war, the nationalized Bluthner firm introduced the model 6, which was basically a Style 8 - it had the 6'3 scale and was single strung. It wasn't of the same quality as the style 8 due to the materials used. It had a flemming action, not a renner, and while it was OK, the dampers were a bit too heavy and other things weren't so good about it, but out of the DDR pianos, it was probably the best.

Then when the firm went back into the ownership of the family, the new scale designs were introduced, and in the mid 1990s we got the new model 6, which is not quite the same scale design as a style 8, although it is 6'3. It's a matter of preference whether you think the old early 20th Century Style 8 is better than the new model 6. They are both amazing pianos in my opinion.

Bluthners used to produce a 5'8 grand piano in the early 20th century, this was phased out quite a long time ago, but the Haessler produce a model 175 which is 5'8. The Haessler 186 is largely based on the Bluthner Style XII, but it doesn't have aliquot stringing, and there are obviously some differences in design and construction. Haessler are Bluthner's second line of pianos, but they are made fully in the Bluthner factory in Germany and have renner actions.

So in answer to your question, the model 6 is Bluthner's current 6'3 piano, and the Style 8 is their historic 6'3 piano, and the piano that I'm going for dates from 1894. My current Bluthner (which I'm keeping - it's the Brodmann I'm selling) dates from 1913, and will be rebuilt in due course.

#2115501 - 07/10/13 04:10 AM Re: My trip to Piano Restorations UK [Re: joe80]
maserman1 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/01/07
Posts: 163
Loc: U.K.
One small correction Joe. The DDR Model 6 supplied to the UK market had a Renner action. This version certainly stands comparison with the style 8, including the build quality.
Bechstein C 1890, Rebuilt
Bechstein V 1888, Project

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#2115545 - 07/10/13 07:02 AM Re: My trip to Piano Restorations UK [Re: joe80]
joe80 Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/30/09
Posts: 2537
Woops, I'm sorry, the UK model 6 DID have renner action, you're right. Actually I think it was the 1930s style XII that had the flemming action, or at least some of them did.

There are some DDR Bluthners that have flemming and some that have renner, but on all of them, the damper heads are very heavy (the DDR pianos), because they're quite tall. They can be made into nice pianos, that much is true. Perhaps they're also good candidates for rebuilding because they tend to come on the market quite cheap.

Do you have a DDR model 6? How do you find it? I remember one in the RSAMD in Glasgow that was made in the 1980s, it was bought new and hardly ever played because it was in a string teacher's room, so it was immaculate. I remember thinking it was actually a really nice piano, but nobody else liked it because it wasn't a Steinway. Everyone else thought it was really heavy, but actually it was mellow, but it certainly wasn't heavy.

#2115668 - 07/10/13 12:47 PM Re: My trip to Piano Restorations UK [Re: joe80]
maserman1 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 07/01/07
Posts: 163
Loc: U.K.
DDR 1989, almost like new. Sounds like a Bluthner. Responsive action, not heavy, 50gms downweight, moderate inertia. Only criticism, it is too powerful for my music room being better suited to a small venue, in my opinion.

People can be very narrow in their expectations/horizons can't they? Why would one want to restrict life merely to Steinway? There are many other comparable or better pianos out there.
Bechstein C 1890, Rebuilt
Bechstein V 1888, Project

#2116097 - 07/11/13 11:48 AM Re: My trip to Piano Restorations UK [Re: joe80]
joe80 Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/30/09
Posts: 2537
Well, actually the DDR models being produced towards the end of the 1980s were far better than the ones that had come before. The 1950s - 1970s there were some real variances in quality.

The 1980s for some reason were different.

I think that Bluthner has a very distinct sound - if you think about it, Steinway has dominated the market not just in terms of being the number one on the concert and conservatoire circuit, but also in terms of the fact that for a long time, many other manufacturers copied bits of the Steinway and incorporated it into their own designs. The latest piano to do this is Brodmann, but Yamaha, Kawai and many others have taken a similar line. It's not that a Yamaha sounds like a Steinway, but they behave in similar ways from the point of view of the pianist.

When you get a piano that doesn't behave in that way, particularly a piano like a Bluthner or a Bosendorfer which has a very clear sound - therefore showing up many more flaws in voicing to the pianist than a Yamaha or a Steinway - the young pianists in conservatoires don't like it. It sounds good on a Yamaha, so why not a Bluthner? Now, it may just be that those of us performing on Bluthners don't sound so good on Yamaha and Steinway, although it hasn't been my experience.

Many of you are going to say 'but a Yamaha doesn't behave like a Steinway'. Well, it's not quite what I mean. What I mean is that these are pianos which you feel safe playing. They have a kind of cover on the tonality - I don't mean mellow or muted, but I mean, when you play a chord on a Steinway or Yamaha you hear a unit of harmony. When you play chords on a Bluthner you hear the unit of harmony, but the individual notes come through clearer. I'm not saying one is better than the other - I rather like a good Steinway and I've played some beautiful Yamahas. But for the purposes of students who are used to a certain sound, who haven't yet explored what is out there, the Bluthner can feel like a lesser option, when it isn't. It's an equal.


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