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Thanks for folks answering my question in my previous thread about a 1984 Steinway. I've been shopping a few other pianos recently and would like to get your input on these. I was blowed away by a rebuilt 1878 Steinway with 85 keys.

This piano was the first design of the Model B manufactured in 1878 (before that design it was a different name). It is a tiny bit shorter than the modern Model B and only has 85 keys. This piano was rebuilt in Dec 2016 with Steinway action parts, hammers, repetitions, hammer shanks and back checks. The rebuilder worked for Steinway in the past. After it was rebuilt, the piano got very little play (less than 30 hours according to the seller). I've looked the action and the hammer and can confirm those are in mint condition.

The soundboard and the bridge are original. Graphite coating was applied to the bridge caps. The rebuilder didn't re-glue the soundboard but shimmed several cracks. According to an onsite technician, the crown and down bearing are good. The case, plate and soundboard had been refinished by the rebuilder. The pin block was replaced earlier than 2016 and the rebuilder thought it was still solid.

Action frame, key stick, damper heads and back actions are all original. The original ivory key top has been replaced.

The piano has a gorgeous tone on all registers. It is thicker than the modern Steinways. I also noticed that the sound was still ringing for a while even if the strings were damped. I was specifically looking for sustain in the treble range and it didn't let me down. Very good sustain and singing tone, and the piano has a resonance that modern pianos don't have. It's like I'm playing in a "live" room with more reverb although the piano was in a small room. The piano is also very easy to control and it enables me to voice the chord easily and have a wide dynamic range.

This seems like a piano checking all the box to me. The tone is so good that it's very hard for me to find another piano like that good in this price range. I love the Victorian legs and the carving music desk. It has a vintage Steinway decal on the fall board, printed Steinway patents on the plate, and vintage decals on the soundboard also. The action and hammer has been replaced. I was quoted $36,000 for this piano including delivery and first 2 tuning.

Now, I have the following concerns:

1. Cracked soundboard. I noticed at least 3 cracks in the soundboard. However, I'm not a piano technician so I'm not able to evaluate any potential issues with this. The tone is a lot better than another modern Steinway I tried though. So for now there is no issue. I'll be using this piano in a home setting with only one player so thought it should be fine.

2. 85 keys. I thought I would never buy a piano with 85 keys but this piano is so good that I can accept this. I rarely use the top 3 keys and wondering if anyone knows specific classical repertoire that uses the top 3 keys?

3. Original bridges. Again I'm not a technician so I'm not able to evaluate that.

4. This is a first version design of the Model B. Any Steinway specialist knows about the design differences and do those matter a lot to pianists

===================================================

In addition, I'm writing down my thoughts of some other pianos that I've tried:

1. 1982 Steinway B. The hammer and the shanks were replaced 10 years ago using NY Steinway hammers. and it was played lightly since then. The other parts are all original. The piano has been voiced and regulated recently for 10 hours. I like this piano since it has a very smooth action. I also like the tone, although not so much compared to the rebuilt 1878 Steinway B. I feel like this 1982 Steinway B has a relatively narrower dynamic range. Not sure if this is just different voicing. Yes it has teflon bushings in wippens and the back actions but the technician didn't think this as an issue for the future.

2. Brand new Schimmel K195. This piano is so easy to control, slightly better than the 1982 Steinway B. It has a different sound than the Steinways, very clean and crisp. The release of the notes are a lot shorter than the Steinways.

3. 2004 Schimmel C208. I can feel that this piano is in a lower tier than NY Steinway and Schimmel K series. It also has a clean sound but not as beautiful as Steinway.

4. 2000 Yamaha C3. This piano doesn't seem to be voiced and regulated well.

5. 2010 Kawai RX3. This piano is very even because it is in a good condition. It is very good for practicing but the tone is so-so.

6. Mason & Hamlin BB in 1970s: This piano has character but doesn't seem to be voiced and regulated.

My preference is the following:

1878 rebuilt Steinway B > new Schimmel K195 > 1982 Steinway B with new hammers > 2010 Kawai RX3 > 2004 Schimmel C208 > 1970s M&H BB < 2000 Yamaha C3

My plan is to have another independent technician to inspect the 1878 rebuilt Steinway B. Just wondering any risks to buy that Steinway? I would like this to be my final piano. I didn't try any new pianos so do I need to try more pianos to have a better idea?


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I'm glad you're getting a second opinion! If you have a good tech doing the inspection they'll be able to tell you so much more than anyone here could since they'll be seeing the actual piano.

It sounds like you've really fallen in love with the tone. I would be concerned about the resale value of an 85 key piano but if it's your forever instrument, it is what it is! I think very little repertoire uses the top three notes, and definitely not any standard repertoire.

I do think you should play more pianos and it'll help give you a lot more clarity-- either you'll find another piano you really like or it'll direct you back to the restored Steinway smile

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Originally Posted by Harpuia
2. 85 keys. I thought I would never buy a piano with 85 keys but this piano is so good that I can accept this. I rarely use the top 3 keys and wondering if anyone knows specific classical repertoire that uses the top 3 keys?

I can't think of anything. The highest note of any of the pieces I play is the high A in Saint-Saëns' Aquarium but you would have that note.

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I'm currently learning the Kachaturian Toccata that uses high notes in the treble. I myself have a used Steinway Model B that I bought from M. Steinert in Boston so I'm partial to Steinways. I like the warm sound and heavy touch of a Steinway. As you said, bring a technician and go over the restored 85 key Steinway. If this is your forever Steinway, I would go for it. Even the Liszt Grand Concert Etude Gnomes is sufficient in key range for your piano.

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Yeah someone told me that Debussy and Prokofiev have some pieces that will require the top 3 keys. It’s kind of like sostenuto pedal. BTW this piano has 3 pedals. It’s rare for an 1878 piano


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Originally Posted by Harpuia
Yeah someone told me that Debussy and Prokofiev have some pieces that will require the top 3 keys. It’s kind of like sostenuto pedal. BTW this piano has 3 pedals. It’s rare for an 1878 piano

Hi Harpuia,

Since you mention the piano was built in 1878 and it was a little smaller than a modern model B, it is 6'8". It could either be a modern bent rim or a solid timber case (like Bosie still does) because they made both that year, I believe. (If someone knows better, feel free to correct me).

It should be a full modern plate and a continuous bridge. I will add that Steinway in no way was thinking that this piano would still have a functioning soundboard/bridges today and, I would think it very likely that there are serious issues with the belly.

Please keep us posted,


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I have an 1886 model B, so I totally understand that you love the sound. It's warmer than a modern one, yet it can be incredibly powerful. Every technician so far was blown away by the incredible bass.

Yes, you should have an independent technician inspect the piano and please let him have a focus on the action. When not done by a real expert, a rebuilt action with modern parts with the old geometry and keyframe can be difficult to impossible to regulate properly.

I share your concerns about the original bridge and that's something to carefully inspect for even the tiniest cracks and then listen to those notes. It may not be audible immediately, but when you detect unclean notes, then your technician should try to tune that unison to perfection. If it then sounds unclean, well you'll have to decide whether it's going to bother you or not. I can honestly say that one particular note got on my nerves over the past three years to such an extent that I have finally decided to do a complete overhaul of the acoustic assembly, particularly recapping the bridge. Totally worth it.

Have your technician check the strike line in the treble section. My technician removed 42 hammers from the shanks and reglued them in a way that gave the best possible tone. At its apex, the strike line differed by 4.5mm from a straight line and the tone quality improvement was massive.

I am surprised that a refurbished piano has cracks in the soundboard, especially since the rebuilder already shimmed some cracks. Did he overlook these?

Are you happy with the way the action feels? Older Stenways had smaller and lighter hammers and the action thus felt a little different, but most comfortable.

Yes, the resale value of an 85key piano isn't that great. I have known an 1882 B, same model as yours that stood in an evenly temperated house for 136 years and it was as if it had just been delivered fresh from the factory. Yet, this piano in the end has been sold for a lot less than the B you are looking at.

88 keys are necessary for Jeux,d'eau, Scriabin 7th sonata, Prokofiev 2nd and 3rd piano concert among others.

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There have been several PW threads about pieces that use the top three notes that you may be able to find with a search. The bottom line is that there are very few written before around 1950 although there may be more in very contemporary music. I think not having the top three notes is more a psychological issue for some people and not much of a negative in practice. And it should certainly lower the cost of the piano, in my experience by around 10K compared to a similar piano with 88 keys.

There are so many questions about the piano's condition that, like everyone said, you must have it inspected by a very highly qualified and independent tech to evaluate its current condition and the quality of the work previously done. I never heard of the tone of a piano not being fully and immediately cut off by the dampers, so even if you seem to like that it could be an issue.

If the onsite tech you referred to is a tech working for a dealer, you can take his comments with a grain of salt. He would never say anything negative about the piano as he'd be out of a job.

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I'm tempted to say that since you love the piano so much, perhaps it is worth the money to you. Here's some thoughts:

85 keys wouldn't necessarily put me off a fine piano. There isn't all that much written for that register anyway although there are some important pieces that use it. It does lower the value of the piano, since they're a little bit more difficult to sell, but it's not a huge issue.

I'm not totally convinced an 1878 Soundboard is going to be doing its job properly. I'm not going to bother getting into soundboard replacement vs repair, etc etc, but I think before parting with your cash you need to make sure that you are happy with the condition of the soundboard system (Soundboard, ribs, bridges, strings). My own pianos have replacement soundboards and I love the tone that they have. Others prefer to keep the original. Whichever you choose, make sure the soundboard that is in the piano is working.

Dampers - older pianos actually sometimes have a little ring after the dampers are returned. It's kind of part of the aesthetic.

Anyway it also sounds like the issues with some of the other pianos are to do with regulation, voicing preparation, and not necessarily the build and design quality of the pianos themselves.

It's a tricky business buying a piano!

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OP - It looks like you've found a very nice piano in potentially good enough condition to last you for years. Of course there COULD be things, and you should do the usual Piano World recommended due diligence - get that independent inspection.

One thing you wrote tells me there is some work to be done with the damper system: "I also noticed that the sound was still ringing for a while even if the strings were damped. I was specifically looking for sustain in the treble range and it didn't let me down".

The strings should stop vibrating as close to instantaneously as possible when damped. How quickly and quietly the damper system works is, IMO, something that distinguishes really good Tier 1 instruments from those further down. I remember a 208cm Feurich that I found distracting to play until I got used to how precise the damping was. Ringing with the felt down is... a correctable flaw.

IMO there could be three causes for the over ringing.
  • It could be that when the action work was done insufficient attention was paid to regulating the damper timing, i.e., precisely WHEN the damper starts to lift as a key is being pressed. The timing issue should be easy for your inspecting technician to discover and would not require removing the action.
  • The damper felt could be worn to the point where it needs replacing. The need for new damper felt could take a few more steps, but is also not that difficult.
  • It could be that the "back action", the part that controls the lifting/lowering of the dampers, is worn out and needs replacing. That would be the most expensive fix. Was the "back action" replaced along with the other action work that was done?


As to the 85 keys - if you don't play repertoire that requires them, it shouldn't matter to you. That said, my opinion is that $36,000 is a lot to pay for an 85 key early design "B". Those extra 3 keys at the top really do add $1000's per key to the street value. Even if your inspector finds no glaring faults, I'd negotiate a bit on the price.

All these things said, if the piano sounds and feels good to you, don't be discouraged by what I wrote. Just go into the purchase eyes open to the issues that come with acquiring such a venerable instrument.


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I realize most people that buy an expensive piano don’t think about resale value. $36,000 for an 85 note 1878 Steinway with the original soundboard seems quite high to me and far more than you could sell it for down the road. Having an independent tech evaluate the piano is of course a smart move. Even with a good evaluation you may want to still take your time and continue your search for awhile. I suspect that piano might be on the market for awhile longer. Good luck in whatever you decide.

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I wonder if those that say the piano is overpriced are aware of what some top rebuilders charge for completely rebuilt and refinished B's with elaborate cases. In NYC, one rebuilder charges 82.5K for ebony B's with non fancy cases. A new Steinway B in a non ebony finish with a non standard case could easily be 140+K. The piano is question is four years old, has 85 keys, does not have a new soundboard or recapped bridges, and has other possibly less critical parts that were not replaced. How much each of those lowers the value, especially in combination, is not easy to determine. We also don't know the quality of the rebuilding that was done.

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Hi, Freiends:

I haven't had chance to get back to your great suggestions because I'm busy trying out a lot of pianos! Thanks for your great suggestions on keeping trying other pianos. I've tried about 50 grand pianos in the last 3 days, including both new and used. My budget is under $40,000. I'm going to write down my thoughts about some of those pianos that leave me impressions, starting from the top candidates:

Steinways:

1. Rebuilt 1902 Steinway A3 with original soundboard repaired for $53,000: This piano also has a vintage sound similar to the rebuilt 1878 Steinway B that I tried earlier. Sweet, warm, great sustain, and could be powerful as well. This A3 is in no where a worse piano than a good B, and is better than a lot of mediocre and better Bs. Very good action, being regulated and voiced well. I like this piano equally with the 1878 Steinway B with 85 keys. However, I'm not able to justify the extra cost of $17,000.

2. Lightly used 1993 Steinway B for $63,000: This almost plays like a new Steinway with a familiar and distinctive modern Steinway tone. It has even better action than the A3 and super easy to control (probably the best among all pianos that I tried). Very light and even action also. This piano seems to have the most timbre variations among all the pianos I tried. It can go from whisper soft to thunderous loud, kind of like the Steinway D in the auditorium. I wouldn't say the tone is worse than the vintage Steinways since it is just different aesthetics but this piano is definitely able to provide a very bright, powerful and distinctive "Steinway" sound, although not having as good sustain as the vintage Steinways. This could be a good piano played with orchestra. However, I thought it might be too much volume for my home, and I also need to somehow adapt to this piano since it starts to become bright in the mf range. And also, way out of my budget for now. But I feel this could be a great piano for concert pianists, though I still like the vintage Steinway tone more.

3. Rebuilt 1920s Steinway D with original soundboard repaired for $60,000: Although I don't have the space to hold a D, I still tried this piano to see how I like it. But this is a Steinway that I will never buy since it has weak 5th octave and poor sustain on the 7th and 8th octave. My guess is that soundboard crown is suffering and the rebuilder didn't replace the soundboard, so even new hammers don't help.

4. Rebuilt Steinway L (forgot the manufacturing year) for $50,000: This is another example of a rebuilt Steinway that is not done well. It feels like the rebuilder just puts the NY Steinway hammer on and never tried to voice it. All the notes are like under the water and the bass is like "thud thud". I heard that NY Steinway hammers are like that before voicing. Since the voicing is terrible, I will never buy a piano like this because it is unplayable to me. I would prefer new Yamaha C3X than this piano.

I also played more than 20 Steinways (Bs, Ls, Ms) in original conditions from $10,000 to $70,000 (ridiculous price for a used Steinway in original condition). All of those are in original condition without proper voicing and regulation. These pianos are a nightmare to play and are stacked in a single showroom.

------------------------------------------------------

Yamahas & Kawais:

1. New or lightly used Yamaha C3s, C6s: These are all very reliable practice pianos. All of the Yamaha pianos that I tried have the action that I like. I can control my dynamic very well on most Yamaha grand pianos. The new CX series has a more mellow tone than the old C series. However, after trying some good Steinways, both modern and vintage, I found Yamaha tone almost like a digital piano (maybe because Yamaha digital samples from their own pianos). It has a clean tone and release but I miss the dirty and complex sound of a Steinway.

2. 1988 Yamaha S400B: I think this is a variation of old S4, which is corresponded to the current model CF4. S400B was produced in a separate factory than the C series, and I can feel that tone from the better wood that they use, like a very fine wine. Also a cleaner tone than Steinways. I like it but not my favorite.

3. New Yamaha CFX: This piano plays like a better S400B and I also played for a short amount of time.

4. Kawai GX-6: Also a very reliable practice piano. Even action regulation and tone. I'm more used to the Yamaha actions so I need to adjust a bit to the Kawai ones. It feels heavier than Yamahas but maybe because it has a mellow tone. Too mellow for my taste.

-------------------------------------------------------

Estonias:

1. Estonia L210, L190, L168: Light action. I would put Estonia at the same tier with, say Schimmel C series and Yamaha S series. I still like the new Schimmel K series better. Estonias definitely have a more complex, nuanced tone than Japanese pianos and are very enjoyable to play. They are all quieter pianos than Steinways and Yamahas. It has less volume but not too mellow like the Kawai GX-6 that I tried. The Estonia L210 is a very fine piano but if I need to pick between an Estonia L210 and a Yamaha SX/CF, I may still pick the Yamaha because I'm more used to it and I feel Yamahas are easier to control the dynamics. The L210 is out of my budget but I feel the L190 is a lesser piano. I didn't quite like the L168 because of the baby grand kind of bass.

-------------------------------------------------------

Well, after trying all these different pianos, I found that the fat and complex sound of an American piano is still my favorite. There are more differences among brands than the differences between new Steinways and old Steinways. Good Steinway pianos all have something that makes me joyful and keep playing. I played 3 hours on that rebuilt 1878 Steinway B and didn't want to stop. I was thinking why I like that piano so much. Part of the reason might be that Steinway has a vintage soundboard with good down bearing and crown, the other part of the reason might be the voicing done by that technician.

I still have some other pianos that I want to try. Obviously tier 1 and tier 2 new pianos will be out of my budget. The only new piano brands that I'm considering to try are Mason & Hamlin, and Shigeru Kawais. I feel like I may fall in love with a great Mason & Hamlin also, but haven't found a really good used one yet. I'm also going to try two rebuilt Steinway Cs, one A3 and one rebuilt Hamburg B. Ah there are still so many pianos to try but I feel so exciting!


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To the OP: since you like the American sound, it would be worth your while to seek out some Baldwin, Mason & Hamlin, & Chickerings from good rebuilders. Even recent Mason's can be great. All of these can be had without the Steinway "premium" on price. Baldwin's in particular being undervalued in the market currently.

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Originally Posted by Harpuia
Steinways:

1. Rebuilt 1902 Steinway A3 with original soundboard

This would be an A2 which is a shorter piano with a different design than the A3.


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Harpuia,

I don't understand what you are waiting for. If you love this Steinway so much, what is holding you back? No one here can make the decision for you. However, a classic mistake potential buyers make is trying too many instruments, creating too many choices, confusing the mind, and ending up in indecision.

Peter Grey Piano Doctor


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Originally Posted by P W Grey
Harpuia,

I don't understand what you are waiting for. If you love this Steinway so much, what is holding you back? No one here can make the decision for you. However, a classic mistake potential buyers make is trying too many instruments, creating too many choices, confusing the mind, and ending up in indecision.

Peter Grey Piano Doctor
Although I agree with your last sentence, this partially rebuilt piano hasn't even been inspected yet. That alone is good enough reason to wait besides the several potential issues mentioned on this thread. I think the OP should ask the dealer if he can put a refundable deposit to hold the piano until it is inspected.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by P W Grey
Harpuia,

I don't understand what you are waiting for. If you love this Steinway so much, what is holding you back? No one here can make the decision for you. However, a classic mistake potential buyers make is trying too many instruments, creating too many choices, confusing the mind, and ending up in indecision.

Peter Grey Piano Doctor
Although I agree with your last sentence, this partially rebuilt piano hasn't even been inspected yet. That alone is good enough reason to wait besides the several potential issues mentioned on this thread. I think the OP should ask the dealer if he can put a refundable deposit to hold the piano until it is inspected.

Should I first ask a technician to inspect it, or should I put a deposit first?


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Originally Posted by Harpuia
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Originally Posted by P W Grey
Harpuia,

I don't understand what you are waiting for. If you love this Steinway so much, what is holding you back? No one here can make the decision for you. However, a classic mistake potential buyers make is trying too many instruments, creating too many choices, confusing the mind, and ending up in indecision.

Peter Grey Piano Doctor
Although I agree with your last sentence, this partially rebuilt piano hasn't even been inspected yet. That alone is good enough reason to wait besides the several potential issues mentioned on this thread. I think the OP should ask the dealer if he can put a refundable deposit to hold the piano until it is inspected.

Should I first ask a technician to inspect it, or should I put a deposit first?
The point of putting a deposit down is to allow time to find a tech and have the piano inspected. You need to get a written agreement that the deposit if fully refundable if you choose not to buy the piano, and that you have whatever time is agreed om where you will have first dibs of the piano. If the dealer is willing to do this arrangement, then you should do it right away. The whole idea is to not lose the piano to someone else.

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https://sfbay.craigslist.org/pen/msg/d/san-mateo-steinway-grand-piano/7252987117.html

I don't think think one would need to hire a piano technician to inspect this piano at this price point to make an informed decision.

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practice piano device sugguestion?
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Download Sheet Music
Virtual Sheet Music - Classical Sheet Music Downloads
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