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(If you're not interested in the circumstances and/or who I am, just skip this part. TL;DR with questions below wall of text. I swear I tried to be short. )

Hi!

My name is Martin. I'm a 36 year old security guard, and I live in Oslo, Norway. Long story short; I've wanted to play the piano since my late teens, but I have not been able to learn much so far. That hasn't kept me from dreaming of a top, or at least high quality piano. Paraphrasing a quote I stumbled upon here on the forums, I would love a piano that makes me want to practice just so I could hear its tone. From trying a few different ones, I realized that I would probably need more than 12k$ to get what I wanted.
So I've been saving (inefficiently) and waiting. And slowly realizing I should just have taken a loan or something because I'll never be able to save up enough.

But then a few days ago, my father told me he met, and got to know, a guy who runs this shop selling all kinds of used items. One of the ways he gets his stock is by being asked to take care of the leftover items in a house that is going for sale, usually after the owner passes away. The compensation is a small fee and getting to keep items of value. This guy told my father that, not too long ago, he had been called out to a house in Holmenkollen. (Living there is basically the same as being part of the gentry.) In this particular house one of the items he brought back to his shop, was an old Steinway upright piano.
My father told me about this, and, knowing I was pining for a great instrument, suggested we go take a look at it. Apparently it wouldn't be priced at more than 5k$ at the most.
Now, I'm old enough to realize that the odds of actually getting something great for a fraction of what it is worth are preeetty low. It would probably turn out to be, at best, worth no more than the asking price. But hey, there was no harm in looking, right? And it was a Steinway, not just any brand. And it was found in a place where people wouldn't be caught dead with a shoddy instrument or shoddy anything (what would the neighbours say!?), and could usually afford to get top quality. It was probably not a bad instrument if it had been cared for, and what if.. what if it actually turned out to be an amazing one?

So I went, and there it was. Serial number 194542, built in 1918. It even had Steinway molded on the soundboard. The shopkeeper didn't have a clue about pianos. He just said the relatives of the deceased told him he should be able to get at least 4-5k$ for it. He offered it to me for 2.5k$. I think he was being nice and/or saw the opportunity to sell something that might otherwise seem difficult to sell/he wasn't sure of the value of.

I was so tempted. I mean, at that price, worst case scenario I got an OK piano worth about what I paid for it, right? My father is a guitarist, and even though I couldn't play it properly (I'm terrible, and it was so close to a window I had to play while standing at attention almost) he should be able to hear anything really wrong.
It sounded out of tune but otherwise fine to us both. No weird vibrations or sounds or anything. And coming from that part of town, it was less likely for it to be seriously mistreated. I was really tempted to buy it, everything seemed to indicate it couldn't be a bad deal. But I had no factual idea of what I was buying. It was all uneducated guesswork. I am not a musician and I am not a piano technician, I don't even know how a piano really works. It could very well turn out to be nothing but trouble. I remember my mother buying an old piano from a relative (whom she trusted) and what she got was worthless (the relative probably had no idea). It couldn't even be tuned.

I needed to make a decision, but I couldn't get past how it was all dreams and guesswork. For all I knew Steinway made terrible pianos back on 1920. I needed more information, preferably without having to get a technician. Then I suddenly realized there might be a Steinway dealer somewhere in the capital. I looked it up and there was. They were still open and a short trip on the tram away. I immediately went over and presented the case. The dealer told me, in summary: "These things were built to last. If I was offered a Steinway like you describe for that price, I would buy it on the spot." He also told me that a restoration would at most be about 6.5k$. Maybe far less, depending. I still knew that I might be throwing money out the window, but unless the dealer was lying to my face, even if there was something seriously wrong the restoration wouldn't exceed the value of the final result. And ... imagine.. just imagine if it actually turned out to be an amazing piano (yes I know, "imagine if", famous last words). I went straight back to the used items store and bought it for 2.5k$. I've added the two pictures I took below. I regret not taking more, but this is all I have:

[Linked Image] [Linked Image]

TL;DR (the actual questions)

So here I am, sitting on a 1918 Steinway upright. I know I have to wait for appraisal to know anything for certain (will probably take a couple of weeks because of holidays), but I just couldn't sit still. What kind of piano is it? How good were pianos back then? I started looking up info. First, I found a piano that seemed identical. This: http://www.besbrodepianos.co.uk/piano-sale/steinway-model-R-upright-grand-piano-black-rare.htm (Links to an ad).
My piano only has two pedals. I didn't measure the height, but I remember my father barely being tall enough to rest his arms on it, and when I measured the distance to his arms it was the exact same as the listed height in the ad. I also heard from the people who moved it that it was around 300kg which matches the weight according to what I read elsewhere. It seems very likely that my piano also is a model R.

Finding the answer to what model piano it is though, just left me with even more questions. So I kept looking, and I found this forum. I read the other threads about Steinway restorations (one of the same model ) and also one thread discussing the model R in general . But I still had questions. So, when I realized that people on this forum actually might want to hear about this I decided to post my own thread asking about the kind of piano I bought and what I should be doing next.

The most important question I have, is whether or not I should let Steinway restore it. I read that they will use modern parts whether they fit the original design well or not. Using Steinway seems to guarantee that it will be left in capable hands, but will it end up sounding its best if they restore according to a standard procedure without much leeway to consider the individual instrument?

The next thing I want to ask is... What should I be asking? What would you do? I probably don't have the knowledge to ask the right questions. I appreciate any advice you have for me. I realize that there isn't a lot of info to give advice based on, so I'll edit in more once the technician has looked at it.

I am also really curious about what kind of piano the Steinway model R is. How does this model, supposedly the top of the line when it was made, compare to the best uprights today in terms of quality of sound etc.? Any thoughts?

While I am dreaming: I read one comment that described the model R as the perfect piano for somebody who wanted a grand piano but didn't have the money or the space. This is me. Is this true? I mean, it is bigger than any other model upright produced as far as I know. Could it have an advantage over smaller uprights in some aspects? Even the high quality ones?

Generally, I am wondering what you think about model R, good and bad. Feel free to put my feet back on earth, I know I am hoping for too much. I realize this is a model not too many have personal experience with, so I am not necessarily expecting hard facts. Even if it involves some speculation (or lots) I would love to learn more about what I have bought, for better and for worse.

Thanks for reading!
Martin

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Welcome to the forum! It sounds like you've had a great adventure, and probably got a great price on a piano.

From your pictures it looks nice. Is the finish as nice as it looks? In the pictures it looks very good? Perhaps it doesn't need much restoration work. Congrats on your new piano!

I don't have a lot of experience with Steinway vertiicals, so will leave those questions for those who have more.


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Thank you!

While I was mostly looking inside, I think the finish was as nice as the picture shows, or close. It was not as smooth as modern pianos, you can see that the material is of a rougher and older kind. But it definetely didn't appear damaged or faded from what I could see. Given its age it is likely that it has been refurbished at least once I'd guess. I am looking forward to finding out more about its history.

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Welcome to the forum and congratulations on the standard of your English!

It looks as if you have got a very good purchase! I have no idea on pricing of Steinway verticals, but Besbrode pianos are always very competitive. If they have one for £14,000 then I would be willing to bet that that is a good price!

Some more photos, showing the whole piano, the action and strings would be useful.

Don't worry about it having only 2 pedals.


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Originally Posted by PhilipInChina
Don't worry about it having only 2 pedals.
+1

Regarding the finish, it looks like a satin finish. That would be a very normal finish for an older Steinway. The smooth finish you mention is probably the Polyester Polished Ebony. The Steinway NY factory does offer the Polyester Polished Ebony finish now, but I think that's a somewhat recent addition.


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Thank you for the kind words! I'm not worried about there only being two pedals, It is just an obvious difference, and I was not sure if it meant something for identifying the model.
I would have added more photos if I just had the brains to take more when I was looking at it. I was focused on the serial number and took the second one as an afterthought. I'll make sure to go nuts when I see it next, it is still kept where I bought it so I don't have to transport it home and then to a workshop.
I was really wondering about that pricing, it seemed too good to be true, but if it fetches that price it would be wonderful. Not because it is worth money but because it is indicative of how good of an instrument it might be.

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Severian, steinways of that vintage that look in much worse condition from what those two photos show, where we are, get at least $1-2 k., and sellers of vintage steinway uprights that appear to be in good condition like that one, even if they need considerable work, usually ask for twice that. the pianos are valuable to rebuilders who turn them around for prices similar to what you saw in the besrode listing, which of course affects the market for the restoration candidates.

don't know what resources you have where you are in terms of qualified piano rebuilders. in the u.s. there are quite a few who are not employed by steinway who'd do comparable or better work than the 'official steinway' personnel, and choose the replacement parts according to what you prefer in playing characteristics, or as close to the original mechanism and parts as practical. it's also possible that some parts have been replaced and still have many years of life in them. the best tall uprights from that period, restored correctly, play wonderfully, resonate richly from the bottom register to the top. we have a 120 year old upright of similar height, which is my nightly practice instrument.

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I agree that the piano might already have had some work done.

Everything is insanely expensive in Norway, especially imported luxury goods and skilled labor so if it is good to go as is, you got a great deal.

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Action parts for this piano from Steinway are not available - the modern parts are too different. Aftermarket parts are available from Tokiwa and Wessell, Nickel, and Gross sells composite reproductions that will fit. Bass strings can be reproduced, and anything else can be custom made as needed by a competent rebuilder.


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To me, it looks as if it has been restrung at some point. The plate appears to have been reguilded. The red felt under the strings is too new for 100 years old. I can see a stringing gauge number, which has a modern decal number. The case has been refinished, with the hinge hardware redone. I don't ever remember seeing green felt between the plate and the lid...usually purple or red from that vintage Steinway.

I recommend hiring a piano technician and have him/her thoroughly inspect and evaluate the piano. Ideally, this should have been done before you purchased the piano. If the action and bridges are good, I'm guessing you might not have to do any major work to it .. maybe just tuning and regulation ... all just a guess, though, since I'm not the one looking at the piano. Just don't jump into a restoration or reconditioning without first finding out if, in fact, that's what it needs. And yes, post more photos!


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Congratulations on the purchase of your new-to-you Steinway upright piano! I agree with the others in that it has definitely been restored/refurbished/refinished at some point in the past, and not a long time ago. I think you made an excellent purchase.

All the best!

Rick


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Originally Posted by Eric Gloo
To me, it looks as if it has been restrung at some point. The plate appears to have been reguilded. The red felt under the strings is too new for 100 years old. I can see a stringing gauge number, which has a modern decal number. The case has been refinished, with the hinge hardware redone. I don't ever remember seeing green felt between the plate and the lid...usually purple or red from that vintage Steinway.

I recommend hiring a piano technician and have him/her thoroughly inspect and evaluate the piano. Ideally, this should have been done before you purchased the piano. If the action and bridges are good, I'm guessing you might not have to do any major work to it .. maybe just tuning and regulation ... all just a guess, though, since I'm not the one looking at the piano. Just don't jump into a restoration or reconditioning without first finding out if, in fact, that's what it needs. And yes, post more photos!


I'm with Eric. This piano looks like it has had significant work done to it.

The assumption that the plate has been re-guilded argues that it was at least re-pinned and re-strung. The new felts support this theory. I'd be surprised if that work were done to a piano with other major problems (cracked bridges, no down-bearing, bad soundboard).

You just might have "stolen" a nice piano. The inspection will tell.....


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It clearly has had work done. No way that felt is 100 years old!

Play it and see how you get on. Even if it needs a bit of work, at that prices we are talking mouths of gift horses!


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Thank you all for you feedback, comments and congratulations. I know that I took a risk buying it without having a tech look at it first, but frankly I was worried it would slip away if I had to wait for one to be available, and I would have felt terrible buying it for 2.5k$ if the tech had told me it was worth five times as much or something. The salesman knew he was taking a risk (he did say "I might regret selling it so cheaply") and I knew I was taking a risk, but we both felt it was a risk worth taking. If I knew he would regret it but didn't say I would feel terrible.

Like this, I can enjoy what seems to have been a successful gamble without feeling like a con artist!

I was going to reply earlier, but I discovered I somehow missed several discussions about Steinway restoration vs. private restoration. They, and your helpful feedback, seem to confirm that they don't restore as much as they replace where older instruments are concerned. I wouldn't mind owning a rare piano, but I will sacrifice that if it means I basically get a new one that is as good or better. It seems safe to assume Steinway won't give me a worse instrument even if it is a different one. It is also far easier than trying to figure out who else is equally competent.

But there is one thing that I need to know. And that is whether the model R soundboard could possibly be better than the shorter ones Steinway use today. Is that possible? Because if so it is irreplaceable. If it works, but Steinway can't fit it with something that needs to be replaced, that might mean I have try my luck elsewhere. Thoughts?

It seems strange though. A complete restoration would cost 6.5k$, that was as expensive as it could get. But a new Steinway upright costs what, 35k$? That doesn't make sense...

Anyway, I am going to contact the technician today and ask when he is free to look at it. (I just did and he said he would be able to sometime next week).

Now, concerning more pictures. I will supply more, but it might not be until next Saturday. I'm on the night shift currently so going into town instead of going to bed is not too tempting. We'll see. When I do get to it though, is it enough to take pictures of everything under the lid? You can't easily remove the front of the casing right? If so you have to tell me how. It is really interesting to hear your observations on the piano so I will get them to you.

Now I have to leave work so I didn't get to proofread properly but hopefully I make sense.




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If work has already been done on it, it may not need any further attention for some time to come. Hopefully your technician will give you a report as to its general condition.

It may well be that it is in sufficiently good condition to satisfy your needs for the first few years of learning the piano. If you stick with it then you could have it worked on at a later date when you understand pianos much better than you do at the moment, and would benefit from the improvemnets. I reckon that Steinway charge about double what an equivalent competent restorer would charge, working privately.

Best of luck.


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My family has been on a rollercoaster ride for the last few years when it comes to piano lessons and practice instrument. If I learned anything, it's that quality of instruction and student's inner drive matter a lot more than the instrument as long as it can meet the studnt's needs.

If you like its action and tone and your tech says everything is in working order then I would not spend anymore money making it "better" if you have a fully functional piano that can meet your needs for many years to come.

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I would agree about Steinway charging a premium for their services just because of their name. From my experience visiting the Steinway Gallery in Oslo, they seem to have more salespeople on staff than piano technicians. The other piano dealers in Oslo seem to only employ trained techinicians. The manager and 'Steinway Technician' has received training from amongst others Bøsendorfer and Schimmel. So you don't need to get too hung up in dealing only with someone associated with the Steinway brand. I'm sure the technicians working with Steinway Gallery Oslo know their stuff. But there are many competent and experienced piano technicians in Oslo, and three other piano workshops. If the piano does need a lot of work done to it, I would suggest calling Aspheim or Hellstrøm also so that you can compare quotes and get a different opinion/perspective.

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Originally Posted by Severian
It seems strange though. A complete restoration would cost 6.5k$, that was as expensive as it could get. But a new Steinway upright costs what, 35k$? That doesn't make sense...
That figure seems absurdly low for a complete rebuilding and refinishing by a good rebuilder. Between two and four times that amount seems more realistic.

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Severian,

Take a good look at the plate.
This piano has a cast in capo.
The mountings are weak near the action posts and can crack.
It may not be obvious.

Craig


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