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How old is too old ?
#2996721 06/29/20 02:40 PM
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Hi everyone.

I got back to playing after several years of non playing. I have now been playing for the past 2 years regularly and I consider myself an intermediate of sorts. I am currently working on Bach's French suites and the easiest of Chopin nocturnes + jazz standards.

My piano is a classic Yamaha U1. Bought it in 1987, it was some 10 years old back then, coming from the local conservatory. Basically it has not been played for 35 years and is now regularly played some 2 hrs / day.

Keybed is OK as far as I can tell, tuning holds reasonably well, I have it tuned every 6 mo. The sound is really harsh, though; my teacher says it might be the hammers are used up.

So my question for you. How old is too old ? Shall I consider buying a new piano or will it not be worth it? It's a major expense, I can afford it but it's quite some money, I would imagine anywhere between 6 to 9 K.

Thanks for reading and commenting

Mark

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Re: How old is too old ?
marklings #2996731 06/29/20 03:13 PM
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I'd be very surprised if many members would say, based on age alone, that it's shot. Take your time and search for a tech/rebuilder who comes well recommended, and have it assessed.

Re: How old is too old ?
marklings #2996746 06/29/20 03:58 PM
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If the rest of the action, pin block, strings, and belly were in good shape, I'd see about having a new set of hammers hung on it, regulate it, tune it, and put it right back into service. As tend to rush suggests, find someone who's good at doing action rebuilding work (a technician who works for a college or university and does a lot of this sort of work, or a rebuilder who is recommended by your technician, or ask your technician if they do this sort of stuff). It's just old enough, being from 1977, that you want to start with a really accurate assessment of what the piano needs and its current condition before you go down the rabbit hole...

If the piano has some more serious issues, then I'd agree with the idea of selling it and replacing it with a new 48" upright. The top end of your budget could probably negotiate a new U1 for that amount (in the US, you don't indicate your location), though there are many good choices out there in the 48" size in the $6-9k realm. Here's a list I generated using the Piano Buyer database tool, if you just want it in black:

Link

You can click on any of the fields and sort by different parameters, ascending and descending.


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Re: How old is too old ?
marklings #2996753 06/29/20 04:09 PM
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How did it sound in 1987? If it was ok then and hasn't been played much since, then the hammers are probably just dried out and brittle, which should be addressable through voicing. Do the hammers in the middle section have most of their shape, or are they flat and shortened at the strike point? If the former, I bet a good regulation and voicing should have your piano sounding good again.


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Re: How old is too old ?
marklings #2996762 06/29/20 04:38 PM
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Assessment by a trusted technician first. If it is still structurally sound and simply needs regulation, voicing and tuning then it may well be worth keeping at least until you are confident you will stick with playing long-term. I find U-series Yamahas very variable, and time in music schools makes them even more so, but I generally found U1s to be more satisfying than the larger U3.


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Re: How old is too old ?
marklings #2996778 06/29/20 05:24 PM
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An addendum to all this-- while you might want not to make this journey a second time, there might be some good value on a nearly-new upright somewhere. Obviously, make sure it really was just driven to church by a middle-aged librarian, etc. But you could possibly increase your buying power by getting one that has already been driven off the lot.

Re: How old is too old ?
marklings #2996818 06/29/20 08:00 PM
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I don’t think the issue here is age. I have an ‘85 U1 that was not in a conservatory but was looked after and tuned every couple of years. It’s not perfect but it’s very good all round. They are a fine piano for beginner to intermediate in a smaller room..

The issue here is condition and whether or not some hammer voicing can improve it or if they are totally shot and need replacement which might be too expensive to be worth it.


Yamaha U1. Yamaha P-45. Yamaha RD-250 (a long time ago). smile
Re: How old is too old ?
marklings #2996871 06/29/20 11:00 PM
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A more likely issue is that the spring cords (hammer return springs) will need replacement. This is a very common problem on Yamaha verticals from that time period. If their color has turned brown you know it's not far away. Some may already be breaking and you don't know it.

If the above is true, and you want new hammers, the best bet is to replace butts, shanks, and hammers, as they come already shanked (the hammers) and ready to go. This is just an opinion based on experience.

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Re: How old is too old ?
marklings #2996900 06/30/20 01:21 AM
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Thank you all for the exceedingly useful suggestions. I am definitely here for the long run, having eventually the time to devote to this, being close to retiring. I am based in Italy.

Terminaldegree, thanks for the link.

"Do the hammers in the middle section have most of their shape, or are they flat and shortened at the strike point?" They are definitely flat and shortened and look and feel somewhat dried up.

Do you just change the hammers ? Or the whole mechanic ?

"Spring cords". I'll look into those but what effect will that have on the sound ? Isn't it just a matter of how fast / effectively the hammer returns to its original position after having being played ? It's a new concept to me, please help me out, clarify.

Again thanks all for taking time to advise. I just love this forum !

Mark.

Re: How old is too old ?
marklings #2996938 06/30/20 05:58 AM
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Hello Marklings, where about in Italy are you based? There are some good technicians in Milan of course, and both Rome and Naples have good technicians and good piano stores.

For 9000 Euros you will be able to buy something better than you've already got. You will certainly be able to buy a new upright piano from Feurich/Hailun, Irmler, maybe even a German piano. The thing is it depends on if you want to spend the money. I don't know how much a new U1 is but I think it's about 10,000 Euros. A P121 would be in the region of 7000 Euros I think and is a fine piano as well, better than an old U1 but not as good as a new U1.

It sounds like your piano almost certainly needs a new set of hammers, although without seeing them I wouldn't know, and a new set of hammers, hung and voiced, can be expensive in Europe. You'd have to get quotes. You can either get pre-hung Yamaha hammers and shanks, or you could have a new set of hammers of your choice put on the piano. Be warned though, this kind of action work can be over 2000 Euros and I don't know if the piano would be worth that in a private sale.

If the strings, pin block, and soundboard are in good condition then new hammers should improve the piano but when we start getting to that price on repairs it becomes a trade-off. You could spend more than the piano is actually worth to improve it, but at the same time, you couldn't get another piano that sounds as good for 2000 Euros.

There's also the option of going digital. I don't know just how good or bad your piano is.

Re: How old is too old ?
marklings #2996963 06/30/20 07:16 AM
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Thanks for the answers. I am based in Torino, you may recall that for relatively recent Winter Olympics.

2K Euros seem like a lot of money for retrofitting and old piano. Doesn't seem worth it. I could probably buy a gently used U1 for 6K and get maybe 1 K for mine. I'll check. I have a technician here that is "Steinway certified" whatever that mean and he tunes up my piano regularly.

As for digital I recently bought a Yamah CP88 for my silent practice. I bought it after extensive testing purely for the action. Piano sounds are really bad but the action feels very good to me, I actually prefer it to the U1 as far as action is concerned. I use it mostly with Garritan CFX and it's reasonably good. This is for my silent practice, I enjoy playing as soon as I wake up. Nevertheless, eventually, a digital piano just doesn't "connect" to me as well as an acoustic instrument does, just my feeling. Plus you get distracted from computers, windows, drivers, you know the story I guess.

Thanks again

M

Re: How old is too old ?
marklings #2996978 06/30/20 08:10 AM
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You might need new hammers but maybe there is still life in them. They can be reshaped and doctored a few times to get them sounding nice and soft again but eventually you run out of felt and need new hammers. You could just ask your technician if there is still sufficient life left to do this or post a few images of your hammers in the piano tuners-technicians section here where they will be able to tell you if replacement is actually needed. You may have a few more years life without any expensive work actually being needed, or not.

Re: How old is too old ?
marklings #2997245 06/30/20 08:37 PM
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Originally Posted by marklings
"Spring cords". I'll look into those but what effect will that have on the sound ? Isn't it just a matter of how fast / effectively the hammer returns to its original position after having being played ? It's a new concept to me, please help me out, clarify.

I replaced all the cords on my '85 U1 (see link below for what they look like and how easily they break once they get old). You are correct, it doesn't directly affect the sound as the hammer hits the string. However if the cords are broken and the return spring is consequently not under tension, the hammers can "bobble" and double strike because they kind of "linger" near the string instead of returning properly. But this is at least 50% due to pianist technique (or lack of it in my case).

It is a fiddly and time-consuming job to replace the cords. I did it myself, so it cost me nothing, but paying a tech to do it would be expensive for not a lot of gain. I wouldn't recommend doing it unless they are causing a specific problem. Of course if you did replace the hammers and the action was out on someone's workbench it would be natural to replace the cords at the same time.

https://youtu.be/-9MhC4Fexqo


Yamaha U1. Yamaha P-45. Yamaha RD-250 (a long time ago). smile
Re: How old is too old ?
marklings #2997255 06/30/20 09:22 PM
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I echo what quite a few people have already said - have a competent technician evaluate your piano and make recommendations. Only then will you know whether or not your U1 can be brought into good condition & sound ... or whether you should consider replacing it. Age alone is not an indicator.

Very recently, I had my technician look over my 1995 Charles Walter studio piano. It had regular tunings and general upkeep over the years but it gradually became brighter to the point where the upper C4 & C5 octaves were becoming harsh and I could feel that the action had become uneven across the keyboard. It was hampering my ability to play and certain notes just sounded "off." She recommended a full regulation, reshaping the hammers, some light voicing adjustments and replacement of the hammer rest rail felt. She did it all and of course she also tuned the piano. And let me tell you, it's like a new piano! I am astounded how even the touch & tone are now that this work has been done. This is one of the best investments I ever made in my piano. If your piano just needs that kind of work you could expect it to cost $500-$1000; of course if you need parts, especially new hammers it would be a lot more.

Last edited by Pianosearcher; 06/30/20 09:22 PM.
Re: How old is too old ?
marklings #2997263 06/30/20 09:46 PM
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How old is too old?

Some days I ask myself the same thing.


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