There have been times in my life when that old blues nugget - if it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all - seemed to apply a little too well, but that has certainly not been true of my recent quest to finally acquire a high quality acoustic piano. I have never owned, or even had regular access to, an acoustic piano of decent quality, and I'm a 47 year old who started piano at age 3. My parents had what is still a lovely C Bechstein upright that is still in their living room today (and played by them daily), but since moving out of their house at age 18, I've had nothing but digital and electromechanical pianos (suitcase rhodes, wurly 140b) aside from a short stint with a crappy rental upright.
About a year ago, I became determined to really work on my technical abilities as a pianist, even going so far as to take a couple of lessons (I'm self-taught since abandoning my childhood lessons before age 10), but the better my abilities got, and the more exposure to nice grand pianos I had, the more awareness of the shortcomings of digital and vintage electric pianos I had. To some not-insignificant extent, my fiance and I embarked on a search for a house to buy because I wanted a forever home within which I could put a forever piano, and space for a grand piano of at least 7' was a hard prerequisite for any home we looked at.
After much looking, we found a lovely place, with a bit of land, in the woods outside of Portland, OR, just across the Columbia in Camas, WA. Along the way, I started auditioning pianos at every piano store in town (and Seattle) while also checking out the few high-quality pianos for sale in the local market. I eventually fell in love with a fairly recent (2004) Mason & Hamlin model A that was on consignment with a local piano store. I mostly play jazz and blues, often in small ensemble context, and tend to find that Steinways don't have a tone that lends itself to the music I make. I really wanted to like the Steinway model As and Bs that I tried, but none satisfied. Going back and forth between several recently restored Steinway As and Bs and the M&H model A, I found that I consistently preferred the M&H despite the shorter 6'4" length. It sounded every bit as long as the model Bs I compared it to.
Upon returning home that evening, I was browsing the local craigslist listings, searching for 'mason & hamlin,' when I encountered an ad, not in the instryments for sale section, but in the section for musicians recruiting other musicians into bands and for lessons. The ad was from the owner of a Mason & Hamlin "baby grand" (that's all she knew about it), who had been gifted her piano by a mother who could no longer play due to arthritis. She had it in storage, but wanted the piano to be in a location where it would be played, preferably where it could contribute to the growth of numerous musicians, such as a school or theatre. I reached out, explaining that I have intentions to build a music recording space in my workshop, where local blues and jazz musicians would be welcome to play, record, and livestream. It's not a school, but it was intended to support the local community of musicians that I play with. She came down to a local jam where I'm in the house band, and was introduced to our community of players, and eventually agreed to store her piano in my studio.
After months of waiting, including the whole process of buying the house, I either ended up with the most expensive piano ever purchased (the mortgage!) or the greatest free piano anyone other than a budding concert pianist could ever hope to be gifted with. I still have much work to do to build out the studio space, so the piano lives in my living room at the moment (where that other model A will eventually go if I don't end up buying another piano I have since encountered), but her 1940 refurbished M&H model B was finally delivered on Tuesday of this week.
I knew from the first touch that it was a really excellent piano. Sure, it is only 5'4" in length, but it is an extraordinary instrument for that size - and both tuner and piano technician agreed when I had them out to prep the thing today. The ivories are in such perfect condition that my (blind) tuner didn't believe me when I told him they were ivory keys until the technician he called to repair a damping problem confirmed it. The seams simply cannot be felt even by the fingertips of someone used to reading braille. The strings are old, but the action was completely refurbished not too long ago. The hammers are in nearly new condition, still. The finish has its occasional blemishes, but they are minor. After tuning it and getting the dampers working properly today (a broken leaf spring was preventing them from dropping with enough pressure to damp every note), the piano revealed itself to be a truly excellent blues, jazz, pop piano that, while sounding quite nice on classical material, really sounds amazing on more modern material. Total cost to me was $325+tip for delivery, $150 for tuning, and $260 to fix dampers and a couple of other minor issues. Not quite free, but as close to it as one is likely to find for an instrument that is surely worth at least $20K but which sounds like it is worth far more than that.
I couldn't be happier or feel luckier. We've got this beautiful new house, a new puppy (named Mason Hamlin because he's black and white) who we adopted even before we moved into the house, and now this lovely piano that was gifted to our community of friends and musicians that I get to live with and experience on a daily basis.https://www.instagram.com/p/B8FBk05ADTF/https://photos.app.goo.gl/PUgDXtDqzBnLyHtE8
As you can see from that last album, the place is quite lovely in Spring, but we had a freak return to winter last weekend. The green photo was taken mere days after the snowy one. Also, there is an artist's bench for the piano, but it is still at the owner's home.