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Buying an old Steinway and having it rebuilt
#2745861 06/20/18 01:28 PM
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For my next piano purchase, which is admittedly still several years away, I was considering buying an older Steinway in near original condition and having it rebuilt by a quality rebuilder (PianoCraft, Piano Works, Lindeblad, etc). I would aim to have it rebuilt to new condition including a new soundboard.

Of course, I will try new, used, and already rebuilt pianos as well. But it seems like this approach may offer some advantages:

1) Cheaper than buying new and other newly rebuilt pianos - I have seen an original condition 1920s era D on Ebay for $26k and several B's for < $20k. Assuming a rebuild cost of $30-40k, the final price would still be much cheaper than a new piano, and cheaper than most newly rebuilt pianos offered by dealers that I have seen (which seem to be anywhere from $50-80k for B's and >$80k for D's).

2) I have some control over the rebuild process - in terms of specifying how I'd like the action to feel and what kind of tone I'm after.

It seems like the main downside is that there's a chance I wouldn't like the end result. Though it seems like this risk should be small if I work with someone who knows what they're doing, and I'm able to give them reasonably accurate specifications for my goal tone and touch.

Has anyone done this before? i.e. bought an old Steinway in poor condition with the intent of having it rebuilt? How were the results? Any advice? Is $30-40k in the ballpark for a complete rebuild of a B or D?

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Re: Buying an old Steinway and having it rebuilt
asb37 #2745865 06/20/18 01:54 PM
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I did it and I couldn't be happier. The rebuilder and I discussed what piano would be right for me (size-wise) and he found the piano for me. It took him a few months to find it and have it shipped (it was about 1500 miles away), and then several more months to rebuild.

I had played several of his rebuilds in the past (and liked his work) and he also offered a guarantee. If I didn't like it, I didn't have to buy it. Feel free to PM me if you want more info.

Re: Buying an old Steinway and having it rebuilt
asb37 #2745867 06/20/18 01:56 PM
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Hi there! First of all I can't give you prices in dollars, I have no idea how much piano rebuilding costs in the USA, although I know someone on this forum who has done it.

What I can tell you is that when you select a rebuilder who knows what they are doing, and you've had the chance to sample their work, you can get a kind of ballpark level of predictability in the end result, even if there are variances between each piano. Sometimes there are surprises but more often than not there's nothing negative crops up in the end result with a good restorer.

OK now is it cheaper than buying an already restored piano? Well, it might be. It might not be. When you buy a piano for rebuilding, you don't always know what needs done to it. Although you are saying you want a full rebuild (new action, plank, keys, soundboard, bridges capped, etc etc), there may be more things that need done. There may be a crack in the frame, or there may be some other structural defects that need to be addressed. It may have had woodworm. There are myriad problems that old pianos can have, and usually rebuilders are experienced enough in picking out good candidates before someone else buys them.

You can safely assume that a rebuilt piano won't reach the price of a new piano, at least not with the workshops I know personally here in Europe, but again that depends on how far you want to take it - for instance would the back posts need to be replaced? I know that sounds like a crazy scenario and it's highly likely that would never happen, but you as a lay buyer don't know that. Are there cabinet parts missing? Do the legs and lyre need to be replaced? Does the fall board need to be replaced? Has it been restored in the past with say, strings that don't match the original design, and there needs to be some extra homework done by the workshop (not unlikely)?

I think whether you are looking at buying a previously restored piano, or starting from scratch, you're still looking at a $70,000 outlay. A previously restored piano will still give you customisation options because the restorer will be able to regulate and voice the piano to your taste should you require it.

For what it's worth, Steinway Hall charge £45,000 for a complete rebuild of a Steinway D, and I THINK but I don't know exactly, that Piano Restorations Ltd charge around £35,000 to £40,000. Neither is cheap, and neither firm makes a huge profit from the work they do. A Steinway action and keyboard assembly costs something like £10,000 before fitting and regulation just for the record. Soundboard, strings and plank costs quite a lot of money to the factory as well in time, resources and person power.

Anyway go shop around and come back here with your findings. Most people on here aren't buying Ds although there are a few on the forum! Good luck!

Re: Buying an old Steinway and having it rebuilt
asb37 #2745869 06/20/18 01:57 PM
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I am flattered for being mentioned. If you are referencing a top level comprehensive rebuild of a B or D, your assumed rebuild costs are on the low side if it will include a first class finish, new soundboard and new bridgecaps, and a new action including a new keyset ( not just new keytops ) as well as completing the piano at a high level of polished performance.

I would also recommend having the rebuilder chosen to source the piano to be rebuilt if possible. We have options that you don't and we also have pianos that we will prefer to rebuild that will give you a better result.

Also, there are Steinways in which saving the factory board makes sense and will give you an excellent result that will also save you money.

I would say working with the right rebuilder with an approach that they are enthusiastic about has minimal risk for your described approach. Actually, because the approach is more custom, there is a strong argument to be made in favor of your approach. Again, working with the right rebuilder is key.

Thanks so much for considering PianoCraft. That means a lot to me! smile


Keith D Kerman
PianoCraft
Rebuilding & Sales - vintage and used Steinway, Mason & Hamlin
New Steingraeber, Estonia, Baldwin
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check out www.sitkadoc.com/ and www.vimeo.com/203188875
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Re: Buying an old Steinway and having it rebuilt
asb37 #2745877 06/20/18 03:12 PM
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An option that we were looking at were recently rebuilt Steinways that were being sold for one reason or another. Whike we ended up going with a new Mason instead, we did find at least one great value on a B. If you are in the NY area, PM me for details; happy to share.

Re: Buying an old Steinway and having it rebuilt
asb37 #2745883 06/20/18 03:29 PM
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Although it may be true that a really great rebuilder can guarantee that the piano's tone and touch will be to your liking or the same as another one of their rebuilt pianos of the same make/size you try out ahead of time, I see no reason to take a chance that you won't like the outcome.

I doubt very much that you can get a core piano more cheaply than a rebuilder, In fact, I'd guess you'd typically pay more and maybe a lot more. Then there's the hassle of finding a core and having it sent to the rebuilder.

So I think it makes MUCH more sense to buy an already rebuilt piano whose touch and tone you know you like because you can try it out ahead of time. If you find one that's close, the rebuilder can always adjust the touch and/ or tone more to your liking before you pay anything.

The only possible reasons I can see for not going this route are:
1. You already own a Steinway shell that needs rebuilding so the shell ends up costing you nothing.
2. You want some special customization that is not normally done on the rebuilder's pianos. Even then I would suggest you tell the rebuilder what you want and have them rebuild one of their own core pianos they have not rebuilt yet. I think some dealers will do this without any obligation on your part unless you want something so strange(the case finished in blue) that they feel they could not sell the piano if you turn it down.

In summary, I think you have nothing to gain by buying your own core and potentially much to lose as I have explained above and has been explained by Keith Kerman, joe80 and others.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 06/20/18 03:33 PM.
Re: Buying an old Steinway and having it rebuilt
DanS #2745896 06/20/18 04:10 PM
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Originally Posted by DanS
I did it and I couldn't be happier. The rebuilder and I discussed what piano would be right for me (size-wise) and he found the piano for me. It took him a few months to find it and have it shipped (it was about 1500 miles away), and then several more months to rebuild.

I had played several of his rebuilds in the past (and liked his work) and he also offered a guarantee. If I didn't like it, I didn't have to buy it. Feel free to PM me if you want more info.
In effect, I think what you did is no different from having the dealer rebuild one of their core pianos that is not already rebuilt.

Now maybe that rebuilder didn't have a lot of rebuilds for sale, but even though he offered the guarantee, I think this approach risks the chance that even after waiting to have the piano rebuilt one might have to start all over if you didn't like the piano. So I think this approach makes more sense if you want a particular rebuilder but they don't have many rebuilds already for sale.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 06/20/18 04:13 PM.
Re: Buying an old Steinway and having it rebuilt
pianoloverus #2745897 06/20/18 04:32 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Although it may be true that a really great rebuilder can guarantee that the piano's tone and touch will be to your liking or the same as another one of their rebuilt pianos of the same make/size you try out ahead of time, I see no reason to take a chance that you won't like the outcome. ... In summary, I think you have nothing to gain by buying your own core and potentially much to lose as I have explained above and has been explained by Keith Kerman, joe80 and others.


FWIW, I agree. Same model new instruments may vary greatly. While it may be that a core B + a great rebuilder may equal a very nice instrument, it may not be to your taste.

Re: Buying an old Steinway and having it rebuilt
asb37 #2745922 06/20/18 06:09 PM
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Thanks for all the replies. Seems like if I were to go this route it would make more sense to have the rebuilder obtain the piano or rebuild one of the pianos they already have, rather than try to acquire my own. However, it would still be tempting to buy my own piano if I found that was one dirt cheap.

When I eventually start my search, I will definitely look around at new and completed rebuilds. If I can't find one I like, I may approach a rebuilder about going this route.

Re: Buying an old Steinway and having it rebuilt
asb37 #2745925 06/20/18 06:21 PM
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Originally Posted by asb37
Thanks for all the replies. Seems like if I were to go this route it would make more sense to have the rebuilder obtain the piano or rebuild one of the pianos they already have, rather than try to acquire my own. However, it would still be tempting to buy my own piano if I found that was one dirt cheap.
Assuming you can't find a cheaper core(which I think is very likely the case), what do you hope to gain vs. buying an already rebuilt piano? Unless you want some unusual hammers that the rebuilder doesn't use(which is probably a good reason for not using those hammers), an action that's much, much lighter or heavier than normal, or an unusual finish on the case, I see only disadvantages to this approach.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 06/20/18 06:22 PM.
Re: Buying an old Steinway and having it rebuilt
asb37 #2745931 06/20/18 06:48 PM
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I'll join the chorus of folks saying it'd be better to select an already rebuilt piano, for all the reasons mentioned, but let me also add that I think you're probably kidding yourself if you think you can save money by purchasing your own "core" and having it rebuilt. You'll be paying full-freight for the work being done, and shoulder all the risk. Shops that specialize in doing so, turn a profit by selling the rebuilt pianos. They "buy low," put some work into it, and the higher sales price, less their costs, is their profit. They'll have much more wiggle room to aggregate all the work, potentially discount, etc. Someone may give you a slight break if you're having the whole thing rebuilt, but they'll want to do the work profitably, and you'll be paying for the labor and all the parts.



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Re: Buying an old Steinway and having it rebuilt
pianoloverus #2745941 06/20/18 07:59 PM
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by DanS
I did it and I couldn't be happier. The rebuilder and I discussed what piano would be right for me (size-wise) and he found the piano for me. It took him a few months to find it and have it shipped (it was about 1500 miles away), and then several more months to rebuild.

I had played several of his rebuilds in the past (and liked his work) and he also offered a guarantee. If I didn't like it, I didn't have to buy it. Feel free to PM me if you want more info.
In effect, I think what you did is no different from having the dealer rebuild one of their core pianos that is not already rebuilt.

Now maybe that rebuilder didn't have a lot of rebuilds for sale, but even though he offered the guarantee, I think this approach risks the chance that even after waiting to have the piano rebuilt one might have to start all over if you didn't like the piano. So I think this approach makes more sense if you want a particular rebuilder but they don't have many rebuilds already for sale.


The rebuilder is someone I've known for decades and he doesn't have a showroom anymore. He mostly rebuilds on demand but will buy and rebuild rarer S&Ss. He'll usually have those sold or at least interested parties before they're finished. He does have a few cores around as well, but not what I was looking for.

As for price, not having the overhead of a showroom, sales staff, marketing, insurance etc saves a bit of money.

Re: Buying an old Steinway and having it rebuilt
asb37 #2745943 06/20/18 08:16 PM
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Originally Posted by asb37
Thanks for all the replies. Seems like if I were to go this route it would make more sense to have the rebuilder obtain the piano or rebuild one of the pianos they already have, rather than try to acquire my own. However, it would still be tempting to buy my own piano if I found that was one dirt cheap.


There can definitely be unseen problems. We had to pass on a piano or two when I was doing this.

Also, a good rebuilder will know which years are good and which years tend to have inherent problems. Buying one on your own seems like a can of worms.

_____

A final thought: not all rebuilders are created equal. Don't believe any advertising hype or harassing sales people (or unsolicited PMs generated by your post). Play a lot of pianos before you decide on anything, and play a lot of a rebuilders pianos if you decide to 'buy blind'. You can get terrific results and great value this way, but you need to know what you're doing.

Re: Buying an old Steinway and having it rebuilt
asb37 #2745973 06/21/18 01:07 AM
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When I got a quote from Bluthner to rebuild my model 1 I was surprised how reasonable the price was. A small independent rebuilder would have been even less.


Currently working towards "Twinkle twinkle little star"
Re: Buying an old Steinway and having it rebuilt
asb37 #2746025 06/21/18 09:03 AM
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FWIW, I've notice that Lindeblad offers some pianos on-line as restored and ready for delivery. They also list some as ready to restore, and they list a sales price range based up how much of the recommended work you have done. I've never played one of their rebuilds, but that just seems like a nice option when considering a rebuild. I just can't imagine choosing someone to rebuild my piano when I have no experience with them and I haven't played pianos they rebuilt.

The approach of purchasing the piano and then having it rebuilt might be a great option, but it would require a lot of research and knowledge. On the piano side, you'd have to be really educated when picking out an instrument and having it inspected by a technician beforehand -- hopefully the technician who would be performing the rebuild. Then you'd have to do your homework on the technician side and get a feel for their work and the costs you will incur based upon the extent of the possible rebuild and all possible levels.

Re: Buying an old Steinway and having it rebuilt
asb37 #2746154 06/21/18 06:32 PM
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With interest rates near zero, it makes sense to let the rebuilders front the core cost. You can walk away, no harm no foul, if you don't like the results. Having a piano rebuilt mainly makes sense if you have a sentimental attachment to a family instrument.


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Re: Buying an old Steinway and having it rebuilt
JohnSprung #2746161 06/21/18 06:52 PM
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Interest rates may be low, but real estate costs are high.


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Re: Buying an old Steinway and having it rebuilt
asb37 #2746189 06/21/18 08:52 PM
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Yes, the rebuilder has to have room for the spec piano from the time it's finished until it sells. The client piano should get out of the way pretty quickly. It's mostly an opportunity cost if there isn't room for the next rebuild until the current one sells.


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