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Steinway Rebuilder Insists on Replacing “Good” Soundboard #2726599
04/04/18 08:22 PM
04/04/18 08:22 PM
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Holly Schepke Offline OP
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He says that it’s not even a consideration to retain the uncracked and healthy-looking soundboard on my 1920’s Steinway B grand piano because a 100 year old soundboard will always be tired and dulled with so much stress on it for so long. He says it’s not like other old wooden instruments that sound clearer with age. He says it’s his experience that a well-crafted new soundboard will always be superior to an old one, so he doesn’t even consider keeping an existing century-old one. Ever.

Being a widely recommended, experienced and well-known Steinway rebuilder, I should trust him, no? Has anyone ever heard of anyone taking his approach to keeping a Steinway soundboard or not, an $8000 extra expense? I’ve personally always heard that if the soundboard is cracked, you replace it. If not cracked, then you’re $8000 ahead in the game.

Last edited by Holly Schepke; 04/04/18 08:23 PM.
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Re: Steinway Rebuilder Insists on Replacing “Good” Soundboard [Re: Holly Schepke] #2726601
04/04/18 08:44 PM
04/04/18 08:44 PM
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Some years ago, my uncle sent his 100 year old Steinway to Cunningham Piano Company to rebuild. He discussed the rebuilding with them, and they all agreed that it was very likely that the soundboard (which was original) would have to be replaced. Accordingly, he authorized Cunningham to replace it.

When they took the piano apart to rebuild it, Cunningham studied the soundboard and decided that it was perfect as it was, 100 years old or not, so they did not replace it. This saved my uncle a considerable amount of money and serves is a real testimony to how very professional they are.

The piano came out perfect (including its original soundboard), and my uncle proceeded to his second career as an amateur concert pianist. If the soundboard had not been perfect, my uncle would have known, if not immediately then at some point in the last few years, as he plays the piano 4-5 hours a day and is a superb musician.

The bottom line: I am, of course, not a piano professional, but in my view a truly professional rebuilder should study the soundboard and evaluate it before tossing it out. The rebuilder might conclude that the soundboard needs replacement; I expect that most do at 100 years old. But some do not. And at this point, I am not sure that I would fully trust the company to which you sent the piano if you ask them to examine the soundboard before deciding whether to replace it and they decide that it needs replacement. Once they have taken the categorical view that all soundboards in 100 year old Steinways need replacing, it will be hard for them to back off from that position.


Last edited by Rank Piano Amateur; 04/04/18 08:47 PM.
Re: Steinway Rebuilder Insists on Replacing “Good” Soundboard [Re: Holly Schepke] #2726604
04/04/18 08:51 PM
04/04/18 08:51 PM
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Rehoboth Beach De. USA
Rich D. Offline
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I'm sure you will get a lot of different responses to your question. Not all experts agree. If it were me and I was going through the expense of rebuilding a 100 year old Steinway B and a highly regarded rebuilder said to replace the soundboard I would do it. If you are not comfortable with his/her recommendation you can always get a second opinion. I don't think I would want to spend many thousands of dollars for a rebuild and not get the best outcome possible. Just my opinion. Good luck.

Rich


Retired at the beach

Anton Rubinstein said about the piano: "You think it is one instrument? It is a hundred instruments!"
Re: Steinway Rebuilder Insists on Replacing “Good” Soundboard [Re: Holly Schepke] #2726608
04/04/18 09:22 PM
04/04/18 09:22 PM
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Seattle, WA USA
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Ed McMorrow, RPT Offline
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West of the Rocky Mountains it is possible to find 100 year old soundboards that still function perfectly well, but it is rare. Much depends on the conditions the piano has lived in. If the humidity varied little with the seasons, the board could be still excellent.

If you kept a piano in perfectly stable humidity and with almost no exposure to aerosolized corrosives or oils and UV light, the piano would endure for centuries.

Not all soundboards are created equal, and it is not fully understood why. But a few rebuilders today have achieved a high degree of consistentcy, so look for one that you know achieves this to your satisfaction.

Have you played pianos done by this rebuilder similar to the one you have?


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Re: Steinway Rebuilder Insists on Replacing “Good” Soundboard [Re: Holly Schepke] #2726611
04/04/18 09:58 PM
04/04/18 09:58 PM
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Miguel Rey Online content
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What if you ever decided to move to another area with completely different climate ? After spending thousands on a rebuild I would go ahead and replace the SB just for peace of mind.




Re: Steinway Rebuilder Insists on Replacing “Good” Soundboard [Re: Holly Schepke] #2726615
04/04/18 10:19 PM
04/04/18 10:19 PM
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Get a second opinion...

Re: Steinway Rebuilder Insists on Replacing “Good” Soundboard [Re: Holly Schepke] #2726618
04/04/18 10:34 PM
04/04/18 10:34 PM
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Georgia, USA
terminaldegree Offline
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Whether a board is cracked or not, is not the measure of whether a soundboard (or in a larger sense, the "belly") of the piano is working well. It is difficult for a layperson or pianist to know the cause of poor sustain, balance, or treble tone quality. Rebuilders who do a lot of soundboard work have a financial interest in selling you a new soundboard, while those without much experience doing the job often advise against it, which can make things all the more confusing.

You don't list your location, but the environment in which the piano has been kept (in addition to use) means a lot to the condition of the many natural materials that are used in its construction, and susceptible to deterioration. For example, my mentor here in Georgia recently sold a 1940s Steinway B with the original board, but most everything else rebuilt, replaced, or refreshed. This piano performed at a very high level. However, at my last post in the much more extreme weather of the upper Midwest, there is simply no such thing as a 1940s piano in good original condition, because the annual weather and humidity extremes were really hard on pianos. 100 years is beyond the expected high performance lifespan of the major systems in a piano, no matter the initial quality.

Playing finished examples of a rebuilder's work, using similar parts, and finding similar makes/models, is one of the best ways to evaluate the veracity of the rebuilder's claims. Also, getting some opinions from trusted technicians, institutions, and professional pianists in the area familiar with their work can help as you search for the best vendor.


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Re: Steinway Rebuilder Insists on Replacing “Good” Soundboard [Re: Holly Schepke] #2726626
04/05/18 01:10 AM
04/05/18 01:10 AM
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Scotland
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Holly,

You should consider placing your post in the tuner and technicians section of this forum.

Ian


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2016 Blüthner Model A
Re: Steinway Rebuilder Insists on Replacing “Good” Soundboard [Re: Holly Schepke] #2726637
04/05/18 04:41 AM
04/05/18 04:41 AM
Joined: May 2001
Posts: 11,185
Philadelphia/South Jersey
Rich Galassini Offline
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Holly,

Overwhelmingly, a 100 year old piano, no matter what the brand, will benefit from a new soundboard. Visible cracks are an obvious sign that the soundboard is moving, but compression and humidity fluctuations over many years can cause damage to the entire assembly that does not cause visible cracks.

This does not mean that we do not occasionally find a piano that surprises us. We have found a few pianos that age that we have been able to keep the original soundboard. By the same token, we have replaced soundboards on 20 year old pianos and pianos that had already received a new soundboard only 3 years earlier.

Even if a piano gives every sign of being able to preserve the original belly, a final determination in any given piano cannot be made until the piano is disassembled. I understand the hesitancy of your technician, particularly a piano the size of a B. The larger pianos have larger spans and it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain the needed crown and downbearing over time as a piano gets larger.

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My 2 cents,


Rich Galassini
Cunningham Piano Co.
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Re: Steinway Rebuilder Insists on Replacing “Good” Soundboard [Re: Holly Schepke] #2726651
04/05/18 06:44 AM
04/05/18 06:44 AM
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My point here was not that soundboards do not usually need to be replaced. My point was that the rebuilder should study the actual soundboard in the actual piano before making the decision. While it may be rare that a soundboard does not need replacement, it does happen. It seems to follow from this that a blanket rule is not the best approach. Obviously, every person who gets a 100 year old piano rebuilt should be prepared to have a new soundboard installed.

Re: Steinway Rebuilder Insists on Replacing “Good” Soundboard [Re: Holly Schepke] #2726655
04/05/18 07:04 AM
04/05/18 07:04 AM
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joe80 Offline
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It's not impossible to save the old soundboard, but the piano will only be as good as the soundboard. Cracks in the soundboard do not, themselves, affect the sound in general, but the reasons why the cracks might appear do affect the sound. Sometimes the things that normally cause cracks don't always cause cracks to show but are still very much a problem in the piano.

If your rebuilder has a lot of experience and has played your piano and listened to it, and has suggested that the soundboard does need to be replaced, then I'd be tempted to go with it. If the rebuilder is good at their job, then there will only be an improvement in the piano with the new soundboard. If the rebuilder is not so good then you don't want them replacing the soundboard but perhaps you don't want them doing anything to the piano.

Soundboards take on an almost magical status in piano restoration. There are lots of stories about the age of the wood being important, and the fact that it has aged inside the piano for an extra 100 years after manufacture means the board will be even better, but this is not necessarily the case.

I've had the soundboards replaced on both my pianos and I'm very happy with the results. They're not Steinways, but I've seen the same company's Steinway pianos which have also had phenomenal tone after soundboard replacement. I've also seen and played some of Steinway hall's rebuilds with new soundboards and they have also been excellent.

Re: Steinway Rebuilder Insists on Replacing “Good” Soundboard [Re: Holly Schepke] #2726663
04/05/18 07:22 AM
04/05/18 07:22 AM
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P W Grey Offline
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Ask the rebuilder if he rebuilds pianos without replacing the board. Some shops are set up to replace boards. That is what they do and that's it. Steinway factory restoration is the same way. They have a protocol that does not get changed. This is not wrong. If the consistent end result is worth it...then it's worth it. If it is inconsistent, then think twice.

What is your goal for this piano?

Pwg

Last edited by P W Grey; 04/05/18 09:40 AM.

Peter W. Grey, RPT
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Re: Steinway Rebuilder Insists on Replacing “Good” Soundboard [Re: Holly Schepke] #2726668
04/05/18 07:35 AM
04/05/18 07:35 AM
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joe80 Offline
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For what it's worth, Steinway London are not replacing the boards on every piano they restore for sale. Only on some.

Re: Steinway Rebuilder Insists on Replacing “Good” Soundboard [Re: Holly Schepke] #2726693
04/05/18 09:50 AM
04/05/18 09:50 AM
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If I were inclined to invest in all the equipment, etc for soundboard replacement I would be inclined to recommend this procedure for most rebuilds. As it is, I have specialized in restoring old soundboards (some I felt should be replaced but at the owner's insistence repaired and restored instead). Many of us do this. The results almost always exceed my expectations and forecast.

What you need to remember though is, if you are emotionally attached (long term) to this instrument and it's inherent tone quality, replacing the SB is going to change it. It may be phenomenal! Great! But if there was something there before that made a connection with your "heart" and mind, and now it's gone...too bad. You might not be too happy.

If on the other hand, you have only recently acquired this piano and simply want it to be the best it can be, and you have confidence that this talented rebuilder can and will achieve it...then it's worth every penny you put into it. Go for it. It's pretty hard to beat a good Steinway B.

Pwg


Peter W. Grey, RPT
New Hampshire Seacoast
www.seacoastpianodoctor.com
pianodoctor57@gmail.com
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Re: Steinway Rebuilder Insists on Replacing “Good” Soundboard [Re: Holly Schepke] #2726720
04/05/18 11:38 AM
04/05/18 11:38 AM
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My belief is that the only way to know the effect of age on a soundboard is to restring the piano without replacing the soundboard, listen to it, and then replace the soundboard and hope you remember the previous sound enough to be able to compare. To be expert in this, one must do this many times with many pianos. As far as I know, nobody does this.

In the end, it is your piano and your money. If you do not want to replace the soundboard, find someone who will do what you want.

I tune many, many old pianos with original soundboards, some for concerts. I cannot tell the difference in sound between them and new pianos, especially after being restrung.


Semipro Tech
Re: Steinway Rebuilder Insists on Replacing “Good” Soundboard [Re: Rich Galassini] #2726723
04/05/18 11:47 AM
04/05/18 11:47 AM
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Originally Posted by Rich Galassini


This does not mean that we do not occasionally find a piano that surprises us. We have found a few pianos that age that we have been able to keep the original soundboard.


My 2 cents,


Rich,

Out of curiosity, how do you determine this? Do you look for crown? Tap test for resonance?
Kurt

Last edited by KurtZ; 04/05/18 11:48 AM.

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Re: Steinway Rebuilder Insists on Replacing “Good” Soundboard [Re: Rich Galassini] #2726750
04/05/18 01:51 PM
04/05/18 01:51 PM
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Originally Posted by Rich Galassini
. By the same token, we have replaced soundboards on 20 year old pianos and pianos that had already received a new soundboard only 3 years earlier.


And there's the rub: If a 100 year old board might be good for another 50 or 100 years, would you take a chance on replacing it with one that'll only last 20 years, or even just 3?

If you think the board is good, get a second opinion.


-- J.S.

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Re: Steinway Rebuilder Insists on Replacing “Good” Soundboard [Re: Holly Schepke] #2726786
04/05/18 03:29 PM
04/05/18 03:29 PM
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These are all good responses. I echo suggestions to play other examples of this rebuilder's bellywork and challenge them to show (even if you are a layperson) any evidence of loss of crown, both aural and visual. This is a very subjective situation and there really isn't a "right" answer. Me personally, unless I felt like the piano had an EXCEPTIONAL tone as-is would go ahead and authorize a new board if it was within my budget and I had confidence in the rebuilder's boards.


2012 NY Steinway Model B | Kawai MP11 | Nord Stage 3 Compact | Moog Sub 37 | Behringer DeepMind 12 | Sequential Circuits Prophet 6 | Korg Prologue
Re: Steinway Rebuilder Insists on Replacing “Good” Soundboard [Re: Holly Schepke] #2726819
04/05/18 05:12 PM
04/05/18 05:12 PM
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Dean Barker Offline
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My piano is a Steinway that has a 103 year old soundboard. The resonance, sustain, etc. I get from it is a chief reason I chose the piano after looking for quite a while.

Important caveats to the above:

* It's a Model K upright (I gather soundboard issues are different between grands and uprights?)
* I'm not a tech.
* I'm only 4 years into my piano hobby, and only 6 months of that on this piano I have very little experience with a wide range of pianos. I just know this one has a soundboard that sounds the opposite of dead and dull to me, despite its 103 years.

Re: Steinway Rebuilder Insists on Replacing “Good” Soundboard [Re: Rich Galassini] #2726837
04/05/18 06:55 PM
04/05/18 06:55 PM
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Originally Posted by Rich Galassini
Overwhelmingly, a 100 year old piano, no matter what the brand, will benefit from a new soundboard. Visible cracks are an obvious sign that the soundboard is moving, but compression and humidity fluctuations over many years can cause damage to the entire assembly that does not cause visible cracks.


Rich,

I'm curious as to whether you see any difference in Mason & Hamlins with the crown retention system. Are they less likely to need soundboard replacement?

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