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Risky buy? A 1907 Steinway O 5'10" never restored, cheap
#3000224 07/08/20 11:14 AM
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Hello, I'm a long-time Conservatory-trained pianist & teacher, but new to this forum, and in need of some wisdom and quick advice. A local technician (a credible long-experienced guy, recommended by another tech) is offering me a 1907 or 1908 Steinway O for about $5,000. He obtained it from the proverbial little old lady downsizing, etc. It's never been restored, to his knowledge. Frankly, it's got a very good sound, esp. in the bass, needs more tuning and regulation, and has "a few" cracks in the soundboard which 2 other technicians have assessed & said are no issue to the sound.

I am actually a prof. harpist, returning to piano just for the love of the sound... and I love the depth on this one. But--if a 100+ yr old piano has never been rebuilt, what are the odds it will keep that wonderful sound or begin to need more work in the next 5-10 yrs? (my childhood piano was a Wurlitzer spinet, so I am yearning for the depth/nuances with this piano) Thanks so much to those with far more experience than I on these issues. They train us to play, but not to know ANYTHING about pianos! :-(

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Re: Risky buy? A 1907 Steinway O 5'10" never restored, cheap
healingharpist #3000230 07/08/20 11:38 AM
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It's not likely to deteriorate much in the next 5 years, though I suspect the action performance could degrade if it hasn't been played in recent years. At over 100 years old, it's probably at "rock bottom" in terms of what it can do.

If it's being offered by a technician, have them tune and regulate it, and then reevaluate things, since you noted all wasn't great in those areas. If there are still problems, I'd pass.

The price isn't out of line for a "core" piano that you could have rebuilt. But to have that properly done is a 5-figure amount of money.

If your budget max were $5k in the US, you could buy a nice new 45"+ vertical with a warranty, or a less than 20 year old used 48" vertical, or a smattering of very small, used entry level grand pianos or very old grand pianos like this one. All will be better than a Wurlitzer spinet. My generic preference before playing actual pianos (which is more important) would be for the <20 year old 48" upright, for that budget.


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Re: Risky buy? A 1907 Steinway O 5'10" never restored, cheap
healingharpist #3000233 07/08/20 11:41 AM
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Greetings,
The price is what a rebuilder would have paid for a carcass piano, 10 years ago. The rebuilding market has seriously contracted in the last 5 years or so, and few of us do piano restoration on spec. The market is flooded with "rebuilt" Steinways from the last 20 years, and many of them are so poorly done that a really decent Yamaha will out play and out-sound them.

Given that the piano is over 100 years old, you might expect the action to be in need of replacement,($12,000), and the pin-block to be marginal. The few cracks in the soundboard are to be expected, and whereas a crack in the board doesn't change the sound much, it is a harbinger of rattles and loose ribs, poor down bearing,etc. Even a dead soundboard will have a nice bass, but the better criteria is how much sustain is to be found in the fifth octave. And what is the "tone" of that area. Excessive brilliance can fool the uneducated ear, but if the board has collapsed, as many do, there will never be anything but harshness in the upper middle.

I can't tell you if that piano is what you want, or not. I can tell you that you need a tech that is well experienced with the brand and will tell you what is going to be entailed in bringing the piano up to your requirements. Maybe a heavy application of lube will overcome a verdigris problem, maybe plenty of humidity will keep the soundboard from rattling like a chair falling down the stairs, and maybe a CA treatment on the pin block will allow it to hold a tuning.

Maybe spending $30,000 will produce a performance level Steinway out of this one, (which is a good bargain), but is that how much piano you desire? The most common road to pianist-heartache I have seen is the one that winds through a "rebuilder" promising something that the price cannot produce. Don't trust any of us long-distance Johnnies, we really can't give the info that you need to make a good decision, we can just throw red flags around and hope you can dodge them.
Regards,

Re: Risky buy? A 1907 Steinway O 5'10" never restored, cheap
healingharpist #3000262 07/08/20 12:56 PM
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I consider a 100 year old piano as a core rather than a concert instrument, and some cores are actually OK for practising notes on, oddly enough. They can in their own right have the remnant of their beautiful tone which can be very pleasing in its own right, but really this is a piano that will require restoration at that age, of 113 years old.

There's nothing that I can add of any worth to what the other two have said except to say that your absolute worst case scenarios would be a crack in the plate that broke the plate, and/or a crack in the rim. Really the only way that would happen is if the piano had suffered an extreme trauma at some point in its life and the little old lady who owned it previously would probably have known about it.

I remember when I bought my Bl├╝thner, un-restored, 1912, back in 2003, it had that beautiful early-20th century sound, light action, light hammers, light felt on the hammers, original strings, board, pin block. It was actually breathtaking. It had sat in the same room for 30 years and a different room in the same town for 60 years previously to that after it was originally purchased. It had hardly ever been played and so was a real time traveller, as original as you could get. Since the weather in Scotland is very constant, it hadn't undergone huge swings in humidity and the soundboard, believe it or not, was still in good condition. As a rather green music student at the time, I started to practice on that piano a LOT. It deteriorated VERY VERY quickly. The hammers went into the wood because actually the felt was brittle. The treble lost its sustain, the bass started to go dead, etc. I had the piano rebuilt as everyone here knows, and I opted for the full-works restoration - new soundboard, new pin-block, but original restored action. I must say it actually took a while for the piano to settle after that. The first year of having it back it went through a few weird phases, not sounding so good. It took a while for that work to settle. After that first year though it opened out, evened out, and after it was serviced it was like a younger version of that sound that I had originally fallen in love with. Not for the feint of heart though........ and there was a large element of trust involved in the rebuilder even though I knew their work. There's always ALWAYS an element of risk involved in restoring a piano. The rebuilder can give you an assurance of consistency of their work, and you can see a sample of their pianos, etc etc, and you can even love their pianos that they've previously restored, but whether or not you'll bond with your piano after it's been rebuilt is another question. If the job is done right, chances are you will. If not, you might want to shop on.

I do think that Steinways from that period can be very beautiful, from both factories, and it's certainly a piano worth rebuilding, and the price is - while not a steal - it's not a rip off.

Re: Risky buy? A 1907 Steinway O 5'10" never restored, cheap
Ed Foote #3000263 07/08/20 12:58 PM
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Originally Posted by Ed Foote
Greetings,
The price is what a rebuilder would have paid for a carcass piano, 10 years ago. The rebuilding market has seriously contracted in the last 5 years or so, and few of us do piano restoration on spec. The market is flooded with "rebuilt" Steinways from the last 20 years, and many of them are so poorly done that a really decent Yamaha will out play and out-sound them.

Given that the piano is over 100 years old, you might expect the action to be in need of replacement,($12,000), and the pin-block to be marginal. The few cracks in the soundboard are to be expected, and whereas a crack in the board doesn't change the sound much, it is a harbinger of rattles and loose ribs, poor down bearing,etc. Even a dead soundboard will have a nice bass, but the better criteria is how much sustain is to be found in the fifth octave. And what is the "tone" of that area. Excessive brilliance can fool the uneducated ear, but if the board has collapsed, as many do, there will never be anything but harshness in the upper middle.

I can't tell you if that piano is what you want, or not. I can tell you that you need a tech that is well experienced with the brand and will tell you what is going to be entailed in bringing the piano up to your requirements. Maybe a heavy application of lube will overcome a verdigris problem, maybe plenty of humidity will keep the soundboard from rattling like a chair falling down the stairs, and maybe a CA treatment on the pin block will allow it to hold a tuning.

Maybe spending $30,000 will produce a performance level Steinway out of this one, (which is a good bargain), but is that how much piano you desire? The most common road to pianist-heartache I have seen is the one that winds through a "rebuilder" promising something that the price cannot produce. Don't trust any of us long-distance Johnnies, we really can't give the info that you need to make a good decision, we can just throw red flags around and hope you can dodge them.
Regards,

Excellent explanation Ed Foote. Thank you.


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Re: Risky buy? A 1907 Steinway O 5'10" never restored, cheap
Ed Foote #3000266 07/08/20 01:05 PM
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Originally Posted by Ed Foote
Greetings,
The price is what a rebuilder would have paid for a carcass piano, 10 years ago. The rebuilding market has seriously contracted in the last 5 years or so, and few of us do piano restoration on spec. The market is flooded with "rebuilt" Steinways from the last 20 years, and many of them are so poorly done that a really decent Yamaha will out play and out-sound them.

Given that the piano is over 100 years old, you might expect the action to be in need of replacement,($12,000), and the pin-block to be marginal. The few cracks in the soundboard are to be expected, and whereas a crack in the board doesn't change the sound much, it is a harbinger of rattles and loose ribs, poor down bearing,etc. Even a dead soundboard will have a nice bass, but the better criteria is how much sustain is to be found in the fifth octave. And what is the "tone" of that area. Excessive brilliance can fool the uneducated ear, but if the board has collapsed, as many do, there will never be anything but harshness in the upper middle.

I can't tell you if that piano is what you want, or not. I can tell you that you need a tech that is well experienced with the brand and will tell you what is going to be entailed in bringing the piano up to your requirements. Maybe a heavy application of lube will overcome a verdigris problem, maybe plenty of humidity will keep the soundboard from rattling like a chair falling down the stairs, and maybe a CA treatment on the pin block will allow it to hold a tuning.

Maybe spending $30,000 will produce a performance level Steinway out of this one, (which is a good bargain), but is that how much piano you desire? The most common road to pianist-heartache I have seen is the one that winds through a "rebuilder" promising something that the price cannot produce. Don't trust any of us long-distance Johnnies, we really can't give the info that you need to make a good decision, we can just throw red flags around and hope you can dodge them.
Regards,

I agree w J&J. Thanks for the great info, Ed!

Re: Risky buy? A 1907 Steinway O 5'10" never restored, cheap
Ed Foote #3000282 07/08/20 01:55 PM
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Originally Posted by Ed Foote
Greetings,
The price is what a rebuilder would have paid for a carcass piano, 10 years ago. The rebuilding market has seriously contracted in the last 5 years or so, and few of us do piano restoration on spec. The market is flooded with "rebuilt" Steinways from the last 20 years, and many of them are so poorly done that a really decent Yamaha will out play and out-sound them.

Given that the piano is over 100 years old, you might expect the action to be in need of replacement,($12,000), and the pin-block to be marginal. The few cracks in the soundboard are to be expected, and whereas a crack in the board doesn't change the sound much, it is a harbinger of rattles and loose ribs, poor down bearing,etc. Even a dead soundboard will have a nice bass, but the better criteria is how much sustain is to be found in the fifth octave. And what is the "tone" of that area. Excessive brilliance can fool the uneducated ear, but if the board has collapsed, as many do, there will never be anything but harshness in the upper middle.

I can't tell you if that piano is what you want, or not. I can tell you that you need a tech that is well experienced with the brand and will tell you what is going to be entailed in bringing the piano up to your requirements. Maybe a heavy application of lube will overcome a verdigris problem, maybe plenty of humidity will keep the soundboard from rattling like a chair falling down the stairs, and maybe a CA treatment on the pin block will allow it to hold a tuning.

Maybe spending $30,000 will produce a performance level Steinway out of this one, (which is a good bargain), but is that how much piano you desire? The most common road to pianist-heartache I have seen is the one that winds through a "rebuilder" promising something that the price cannot produce. Don't trust any of us long-distance Johnnies, we really can't give the info that you need to make a good decision, we can just throw red flags around and hope you can dodge them.
Regards,

I love the fact that you have regular attacks of unbridled eloquence, Ed. Thank you for posting. I could not have said it better.


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Re: Risky buy? A 1907 Steinway O 5'10" never restored, cheap
Ed Foote #3000312 07/08/20 03:18 PM
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Wow, you guys are quick with the responses, thanks so much. (I tried, it wouldn't let me reply to each of the comments.) I want to believe "terminaldegree" that it wouldn't degrade much in 5 yrs. I will take all of the advice you all have given, and discuss with the technician. Frankly, I cannot afford to invest 30,000+ in a restoration when I have no clue how the sound will come out. I was hoping the sound of this old Steinway might remain this good for quite awhile--before boards collapse & I start hearing chairs falling down stairs :-), but Joseph's story about the VERY VERY FAST deterioration is scary. There is a restored Chickering 1995, 5' 7", at a music store here that also sounds good, for 5800 delivered, which might be a better option for the time being. Maybe part of it is that every little serious piano girl who got to play on Steinways for Conservatory recitals secretly hopes she'll own one someday. Thank you, Ed, for the details and all of you for the excellent, considered advice and stories, very grateful. I will post again in case some of you want to know how the saga turns out!

Re: Risky buy? A 1907 Steinway O 5'10" never restored, cheap
Rich Galassini #3000313 07/08/20 03:20 PM
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Originally Posted by Rich Galassini
I love the fact that you have regular attacks of unbridled eloquence, Ed.

+1. Also the expression "long distance Johnnies" grin


To the OP, if what you want is a really good piano, you can do that, without buying this one (which is surely a "fixer-upper"). If you have a budget of $5000, you can get a very nice upright, or if what you really want is a grand, you're not too far away from having a lot of options in 20 y/o instruments, of which there are a lot!

Good luck and keep us posted!!


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Re: Risky buy? A 1907 Steinway O 5'10" never restored, cheap
healingharpist #3000318 07/08/20 03:40 PM
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Having owned a similar age, poor condition Steinway A recently, I would say this really depends on your goals in terms of how much money you're willing to invest and lose. A technician or major piano snob can find all kinds of faults with a piano, but for a lot of people, if the hammers go up when the keys are pressed and the strings are in tune, that's good enough. I've seen people enjoy listening to pianos with the hammers worn down nearly to the wooden core.

In that price range, you have pretty stiff competition from 70s and 80s Japanese pianos. Fortunately for the Steinway owners, those pianos tend to sound extremely bright and harsh, and the casual listener would prefer hearing the beaten up old Steinway with low sustain and power.

If you don't demand a lot of performance from the action, and the parts are still holding together and functioning (albeit not well), a new pinblock, strings, and a little bit of soundboard refurbishment are a pretty modest 4 digit investment. Since it has the Steinway name stamped on it, in my experience you can probably get rid of it for 5-6k easily in that condition. If the action is marginally workable and you can haggle the price down a bit, I think it's worth it if your budget is strict and you're pleased with the sound.

If you need a good action, don't want to go any shorter on length, and don't want to spend money putting a brand new action into a piano, you need something low end and new like a Hailun or lower-line Yamaha. No matter how much my technician massaged my 1972 Kawai, the worn action parts just didn't work well at all (though maybe replacement of the knuckles would've helped a lot).

Once you're willing to spend around 15-20k then your options really open up IMO.

Re: Risky buy? A 1907 Steinway O 5'10" never restored, cheap
healingharpist #3000445 07/08/20 11:06 PM
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I wonder when I hear about 100+ year-old pianos that may have never been restored. 100 years is a long time! How would one even know for sure what happened over that span? (well, I am no expert and probably there are ways to tell).

Re: Risky buy? A 1907 Steinway O 5'10" never restored, cheap
stemPianist #3000558 07/09/20 09:11 AM
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Originally Posted by stemPianist
I wonder when I hear about 100+ year-old pianos that may have never been restored. 100 years is a long time! How would one even know for sure what happened over that span? (well, I am no expert and probably there are ways to tell).
The one thing we know is the amount of time that has passed. Joseph Fleetwood mentioned that his Bluthner had lived in Scotland and hadn't endured swings of humidity. Joseph was referring to summer humidity and winter dryness which causes the fiber of wood to deteriorate over time. As that fiber deteriorates the sound board is under constant pressure from the strings (between 20 and 50 tons). Eventually something has to give and it happens slowly, but sound boards collapse. Over time dust and dirt settle into the action. The term verdigris has been mentioned. If the piano is played the hammers wear down and felt will become brittle. If the piano is tuned the pins in the pin block will work their way loose. Even if it's not played swings of humidity can cause cracks in the pin block and the piano will lose its ability to stay in tune. Pianos do not get better over decades of time. They may be antiques, but they require maintenance and eventually rebuilding to continue as musical instruments. If what you want is furniture the finish can be maintained for a long time, especially the polyurethane that have encased pianos in plastic for the last half century or more. Does that make sense?

Re: Risky buy? A 1907 Steinway O 5'10" never restored, cheap
healingharpist #3000587 07/09/20 10:05 AM
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healingtherapist - now that you told us the story, we certainly are interested in what you decide to do and would really enjoy pictures and stories of your future piano purchase.


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Re: Risky buy? A 1907 Steinway O 5'10" never restored, cheap
healingharpist #3000600 07/09/20 10:37 AM
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The soundboard is not under 20 to 50 tons of pressure. On a Steinway O, the lower number would be about the tension on the metal string plate, but the tension on the soundboard is much less, in the neighborhood of a few hundred pounds.


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Re: Risky buy? A 1907 Steinway O 5'10" never restored, cheap
healingharpist #3000625 07/09/20 11:47 AM
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A 20-yr old Yamaha or Kawai with new Ronsen hammers might be lots more bang for the buck. As other have said, find a local tech--preferably a rebuilder--who can check out the piano and give you advice.

Re: Risky buy? A 1907 Steinway O 5'10" never restored, cheap
Steve Chandler #3000646 07/09/20 12:33 PM
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Originally Posted by Steve Chandler
As that fiber deteriorates the sound board is under constant pressure from the strings (between 20 and 50 tons). Eventually something has to give and it happens slowly, but sound boards collapse.

Greeting,s
The official New Yorker number for the L scale, which is a real cousin of the O, is 36,500 lbs of tension. The downward tax levied on the soundboard is variable according to the tastes, experience, and breakfast menu of the bellyman cutting slots that day, but figures I've stumbled over in print,(which lends'em credibilitation in arcane discussion) puts the downward force somewhere between 3% and 8% of string tension. According to the abacus, boards may suffer 1000 lbs and up. I expect the higher amounts to be found on the bigger instruments, but that is a juggle between conjecture and guess, with logic limping along the sidelines.
Regards,

Re: Risky buy? A 1907 Steinway O 5'10" never restored, cheap
healingharpist #3000808 07/09/20 07:30 PM
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Originally Posted by healingharpist
but Joseph's story about the VERY VERY FAST deterioration is scary.
My thoughts on this are that it might depend on how much you intend to play the piano. If it's in passable condition after 100 years, and you play it just a bit, then I'd guess it might still be in passable condition after 105/110 years. But if you play it A LOT as Joe did on his Bluthner, that might be a different story.

Perhaps my personal experience with an antique piano might be helpful. I have a 6-foot Bluthner grand which celebrated its 100th birthday in 1981. I have played it regularly but not intensely over the years, from 1955. It always had a nice sound, the action was reasonably smooth, and it was beautiful to look at. We had no restoration work done on it until 1999, when it became untunable because the pins ceased to grip properly in the pinblock - this was because my mother liked to keep the house toasty warm, and we had no humidification. We spent a fairly modest amount, a few thousand pounds, on new strings, larger tuning pins, re-felted hammers. After this work had been done, the piano sounded simply magnificent. But the point I want to make is that even in unrestored condition and approaching 120 years old, the piano was still most enjoyable to play. If we hadn't kept the house so hot, I am sure it would have continued to be enjoyable for many years further.

Re: Risky buy? A 1907 Steinway O 5'10" never restored, cheap
David-G #3000823 07/09/20 08:01 PM
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Originally Posted by healingharpist
but Joseph's story about the VERY VERY FAST deterioration is scary.
One data point is not very significant IMO.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 07/09/20 08:02 PM.
Re: Risky buy? A 1907 Steinway O 5'10" never restored, cheap
pianoloverus #3000867 07/09/20 10:42 PM
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OK, I am appreciating all of your comments...and I am learning quite a bit about old pianos (after being a prof. harpist for 20 yrs & not playing many pianos lately). But--I have contacted a very reputable restorer (works w/ the Cinti. Symphony pianos) who is going to assess this piano for me in a few days. David G's point is helpful in my situation: that even in this condition, the piano is already enjoyable to play, and with SOME work done, would even be better. A few asked if I just want "furniture"--no, I don't really care what it looks like, I just want the sound, and maybe I'm just naive, but this old boy has got warmth and depth and a great touch.... I just don't like the brighter, more "edgy" sound of the cheaper & younger pianos I've played. No doubt the resonance of pedal harps that has surrounded me for years has influenced the sound I want in a piano. But I've just started my search, so who knows where this will go? J&J, yes, I will keep you all posted on the next chapter. Thank you all so much for taking the time to advise me... (Clicking "Reply" to respond to individual posts isn't working--sorry--it sends me to the end of the thread. What am I doing wrong?)

Re: Risky buy? A 1907 Steinway O 5'10" never restored, cheap
healingharpist #3000869 07/09/20 10:49 PM
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BTW, David G. mentioned humidification--I should add that I already have a humidifier going for the harps, so apparently that would be helpful esp. to an older piano. I am really looking forward to hearing this restorer's comments this weekend... and I'll report back--thanks again, all.

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