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Potential problems with an older seldom-used piano?
#3031083 10/01/20 07:23 PM
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Hi; This is my first post.

I am an adult retiree who has been slowly learning to play piano over the past few years. I just took a risk and purchased what I think may have been a real bargain: a 1959 45" Steinway upright. Although the cabinet is a bit dinged up, when I look inside at the frame and strings and hammers, etc. I get the impression that I am looking at an instrument that may have hardly ever been played, in spite of it being about 60 years old. Unfortunately I have no background info: it was obtained from a piano mover who helps realtors remove pianos from houses where neither the buyer or seller wants to keep the piano. Although I'm sure he vacuumed it out it looks MUCH cleaner than expected on the inside...every nook and cranny has little or no dust, the wood of the hammer mechanisms looks fresh, I think the felts show little wear, and the very finish on all the metal and strings has that "sheen" to it. I'm pretty sure the sound board is good but there's a buzz in a few notes here and there (it's seriously out of tune). A couple of hammers would not fully retract at first, but the mover's "tech" applied some type of lubricant to those which seems to have fixed that issue.

My question is this: if I do, in fact have what amounts to a "new old-stock" Steinway, are there any particular problems that I should anticipate? I still have to wait two weeks for the piano tuner to come, are there any particular things I should ask him about?

Thanks for any insights/advice!

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Re: Potential problems with an older seldom-used piano?
PHC Joe #3031151 10/02/20 01:57 AM
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Could take several tunings to get it up to pitch and stabilized. The dampers might be stiff and less active. But like most mechanical things, using it should free things up.

Nice find, congratulations.


-Bill L. - former tuner-technician
Re: Potential problems with an older seldom-used piano?
PHC Joe #3031397 10/02/20 04:43 PM
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Originally Posted by PHC Joe
are there any particular things I should ask him about?

Yes, you should ask your technician to fully inspect the piano and report on any maintenance it needs. Just because it looks clean and unused does not mean it's in perfect condition.

Alert your technician now that you want an inspection done so he/she doesn't arrive expecting just to do a tuning. Your technician has to allow enough time for the expected work and still get to other appointments on the same day. Based on the few things you have already said about the piano, it is very likely to need complete regulation and probably voicing. It's normal maintenance that should be done from time to time but many people don't know about it or don't have it done because they want to avoid the expense. Yet it can make all the difference in how a piano plays and sounds.

You may have landed a great prize, and I hope it turns out to be so. Just protect your interests by having a professional go over the piano with an eye towards making it the great prize you want it to be.

Last edited by Pianosearcher; 10/02/20 04:47 PM.
Re: Potential problems with an older seldom-used piano?
Pianosearcher #3031477 10/02/20 08:29 PM
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Yes; I emailed him and described the piano/condition as above. From what I know, he is apparently "the Steinway guy" in our area. I'm prepared for a bit of expense (particularly since I'm thinking/hoping I snagged a bargain here). He's not easy to schedule, so I'm hoping it won't be difficult to get the multiple tunings/adjustments that are likely to be required. Very frustrated that I can't yet play the thing!

Re: Potential problems with an older seldom-used piano?
Pianosearcher #3031519 10/03/20 01:48 AM
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Originally Posted by Pianosearcher
Alert your technician now that you want an inspection done so he/she doesn't arrive expecting just to do a tuning.

Actually, I feel that tuning a piano is an important part of doing a really thorough inspection. I often advise shoppers who ask me for buying advice with more expensive used pianos to pay for a pre-purchase tuning + inspection, both.

PHC Joe, I spent 8 years in western Wisconsin (EC), and it was extremely rare to find a 50+ year old piano that didn't have significant problems due to the challenging humidity changes that part of the country experiences on an annual basis. I do hope things work out for you, but don't be shocked if a thorough tech inspection reveals a laundry list of problems, or a couple of them that are going to cost big $$ to deal with up there.


Pianist, teacher, apprentice technician, internet addict.
Piano Review Editor - Acoustic and Digital Piano Buyer
Re: Potential problems with an older seldom-used piano?
PHC Joe #3031564 10/03/20 07:17 AM
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You're gonna need to pay the technician $500-1000 for regulation/parts to get the best hand-feel out of the action..

Probably just about everything needs lubrication, dust busting. There's gonna be grime in places you wouldn't expect. Avoid DIY unless you're experienced with handling delicate parts.

Since it's not tuned. You have no idea if the pin block is even still good and can HOLD-a-tune. Check the wood bridges which are more visible, if there're any cracks, that means the piano's gone through some sub-optimal wetting/drying <humdity>. That could indicate a riskier pin-block.

Last edited by jeffcat; 10/03/20 07:20 AM.
Re: Potential problems with an older seldom-used piano?
PHC Joe #3031785 10/03/20 09:05 PM
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Okay, my optimism is maybe (slightly?) dimmed. I cannot believe I never noticed separation (not more than 1/16") between the pinblock and back frame...or possibly separation of one of the pinblock layers) along the width of the piano. In most places a business card will not pass into the crack, but maybe over about 1/3 of the widths it will, down to the level of the top pins. There are actually some faint pencil markings and notes on the wood pointing these out! Duh! One of the markings starts "10-92" which I'm thinking must be a date when it was first noticed. From what I just saw in some other threads, maybe I needn't panic?.
[img]https://drive.google.com/file/d/1p9jDNZx4j0Dm099WVFwwNXbwrtzoWtzI/view?usp=sharing[/img]

Re: Potential problems with an older seldom-used piano?
PHC Joe #3031787 10/03/20 09:16 PM
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Sometimes small separations like that are a problem, but more often they are not.


Semipro Tech
Re: Potential problems with an older seldom-used piano?
PHC Joe #3033148 10/07/20 03:33 PM
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Don't mind me, just trying to figure out how to use image posting in messages...

I was impressed with how clean this very old piano looks inside.

[Linked Image]

Yes, I did vacuum under the keys before I took this one...

[Linked Image]

Last edited by PHC Joe; 10/07/20 03:40 PM. Reason: trying to display picture
Re: Potential problems with an older seldom-used piano?
PHC Joe #3033155 10/07/20 03:51 PM
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(did not know there was a time limit on editing posts. Live and learn...)

This is another detail of the crack I am concerned with.

[Linked Image]

Another interior view.

[Linked Image]

Re: Potential problems with an older seldom-used piano?
PHC Joe #3033418 10/08/20 02:17 PM
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Those hammers have had a LOT of play on them.

Re: Potential problems with an older seldom-used piano?
jakedaniel #3033428 10/08/20 02:59 PM
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Originally Posted by jakedaniel
Those hammers have had a LOT of play on them.

Agreed.

I feel a little bad for the OP that his original assessment, by looking at those hammers, was that the piano wasn't played much. Those deep grooves tell a different story.

That's okay. We all have to learn somehow in this hobby/profession. I made mistakes in my initial assessment of my vintage Baldwin grand because I didn't know enough, but I ended up here, at this forum, and have learned a lot since. It's worth it.

Re: Potential problems with an older seldom-used piano?
violarules #3034831 10/12/20 02:06 PM
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We have a “vintage” Baldwin as well! 1962 M, to be exact! My hunt for a grand for my kids is actually what led me here originally.

Last edited by jakedaniel; 10/12/20 02:10 PM.
Re: Potential problems with an older seldom-used piano?
PHC Joe #3034844 10/12/20 03:15 PM
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PHC Joe, that crack that concerns you is a major structural failure where the pinblock glue joint has failed. Judging by how wide the crack is, it is likely quite long. You should take a picture of that crack along its full length and share it with us.

A separation like that means that the piano tuning stability will be very poor, even if the tuning pins remain tight. This may well be a dump piano. Absolutely, have the piano technician inspect this crack.


fine grand piano custom rebuilding, piano technician and tuner
Re: Potential problems with an older seldom-used piano?
violarules #3034888 10/12/20 04:39 PM
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Quote
Those hammers have had a LOT of play on them.
I think the angle/lighting make those grooves look deeper than they actually are. A while back I was browsing brand-new Steinways at our local dealer and it was his opinion that even a brand-new Steinway with fresh hammers would not sound good until it had been played a while and the hammers were broken in. It does not look like these hammers have ever been "dressed" and I suppose the tech will do that if he deems it useful.

Re: Potential problems with an older seldom-used piano?
PHC Joe #3034901 10/12/20 05:15 PM
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Here is the entire length of the pinblock crack (3 pictures, left to right). Pencil notations along the crack suggest that it was noted about 28 years ago (10, 1992). It looks like in the middle section of the crack some kind of glue was applied. In a few places it also looks as if some tiny wedges had been inserted (and removed) maybe in the process of gluing it? My first appointment with the technician (who I understand is our well-regarded Steinway tech) is just two days away now.

The first shows (I think) the worst of it.
[Linked Image]

This is the middle section (includes what appears to be a glued section).
[Linked Image]

...and this is the right-most section. Actually the crack appears to end about 2 inches before the leftmost end of the pinblock.
[Linked Image]

I've been diligently reading whatever I can find online about such issues and various people indicate that epoxy can be (has been?) used and/or the large screws that affix the iron frame to the soundboard can be removed and holes drilled completely through to the back of the piano and replaced with carriage bolts to prevent such cracks from progressing.

Last edited by PHC Joe; 10/12/20 05:16 PM.
Re: Potential problems with an older seldom-used piano?
PHC Joe #3034940 10/12/20 07:35 PM
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How about some closeups of the hammers? From that pic it looks like some really deep grooving BUT its been pointed out that it may just be the angle/lighting. Regardless, they can be dressed up but it puts to rest the idea that this was a "seldom-played piano", at least for a large portion of it's life.

Anyway, I'm rooting for you. Hopefully it doesn't take too much to get your piano stable and playing well for you!

Last edited by jakedaniel; 10/12/20 07:35 PM.
Re: Potential problems with an older seldom-used piano?
PHC Joe #3035610 10/14/20 05:39 PM
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Finally. Piano Tuning Day! Executive Summary: All went well! grin

The tuner (a very experienced, Steinway-trained tuner/tech with 40 yrs experience who regularly services pianos for the high-end professional venues and performers here in town) spent 2.5 hours giving the piano a thorough inspection and "tempered" tuning. He found no soundboard cracks. He stated that he was not overly concerned about the pinblock separation (the threaded part of the pins remain in the intact layers and all seemed good an snug as he tuned them). Did not think gluing or bolting was called for at this time. But said, in essence; "Time will tell". He softened up a few hammers in the bass section with some little tool he had but left most as-is. He thought the instrument is in good shape and not at all a "dump piano". {Whew!}

He found the regulation to be in good order.

He predicts it will tend to go a bit flat as we head into our dry Wisconsin Winter and will sharpen up when our humidity returns in the Spring.

Now that it is tuned, I can no longer blame any bad music that comes out of it on the instrument itself. However, the voice will take me a while to get used to. In comparison to the 1947 Hamilton that it replaces, it seems generally to be a louder instrument, to my ear, it also seems to have a bit of a buzz that I'm not used to (I've heard the same quality in other Steinway and Yamaha uprights that I have tried,) that I don't hear in old Hamilton/Baldwin pianos (but in newer ones the buzzing seems horrid).


[Linked Image]

I had the Hamilton moved to another location where I will continue to use it from time to time, and have made another appointment with this same tuner to see if CA gluing of some apparently loose tuning pins will improve that instrument. The journey continues...

Last edited by PHC Joe; 10/14/20 05:44 PM.
Re: Potential problems with an older seldom-used piano?
PHC Joe #3035659 10/14/20 08:31 PM
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I wonder why the tuner described their tuning as "tempered." That's kind of a strange way to put it.


I tune and repair pianos. Let's have fun!
Re: Potential problems with an older seldom-used piano?
PHC Joe #3035873 10/15/20 11:08 AM
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If the tech found no soundboard cracks then that “buzz” might be nothing more than something else in the room vibrating while the piano is being played.

Anyway, glad to hear that all went well for you!

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