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What to look out for if considering a 1925 Blüthner upright?

Posted By: Matt Mower

What to look out for if considering a 1925 Blüthner upright? - 05/25/19 05:04 PM

Hi.

I've been learning piano for about a year and a half using a Kawai ES8 which has been great. But now I need a second piano for another location and I'm thinking of buying an upright. For reference one of my favourite piano sample library's is based on a Schimmel upright and I love the mellow, darker, tone it seems to have. I typically find Yamaha uprights rather too bright for my taste.

Anyway, a Blüthner upright caught my eye. Turns out it's a 1925 model. I've not seen it yet but the owner has sent me a recording and I loved the tone.

https://www.gumtree.com/p/pianos/bl...ermediate-or-advanced-student/1340036335

Quote
I've used this piano for many years for recording projects. The piano has been recently tuned to concert pitch and regulated and has the famous original Bluthner damping mechanism.


Before I get carried away they are asking £1,950 for it and I have a few questions:

I've no idea how to value such a piano as I can find very few Blüthner uprights for sale. I've seen another, similar-seeming, piano for around £2,500 ONO so who knows?

It's nearly 100 years old. The seller says, and it makes sense, that if it's been well maintained it's not a problem. This sounds plausible enough but I feel like a babe-in-the-woods. What does "well maintained" mean for a piano of this age?

And should I expect huge amounts of maintenance ahead over buying something more modern?

I'd certainly want someone to look at it before I'd think about making an offer. But will any old piano tech do? Or should I be looking for someone with specialist experience with old and/or Blüthner pianos?

Any help would be much appreciated.

Thanks.

Matt


Posted By: BruceD

Re: What to look out for if considering a 1925 Blüthner upright? - 05/25/19 05:52 PM

Whether or not a 100-year old piano has been well maintained, that is no guarantee of its current condition nor a prediction of its future longevity. The "well-maintained" description may have varied meanings depending upon the source of that statement, from occasional tuning over the years to major maintenance. With organic parts, wood, leather, felt, there is bound to be some deterioration over that length of time, and until one knows what the maintenance has been, only a thorough inspection by a reputable technician would give me any assurance of or warning against a purchase.

Regards,
Posted By: joe80

Re: What to look out for if considering a 1925 Blüthner upright? - 05/26/19 06:42 AM

Blûthner uprights from the 1920s were very good pianos, they were very well made and had beautiful tone. Some of them are still in good condition but I would consider this about *any* piano over a certain age:

Firstly the famous "Blüthner damping system" on the uprights is not necessarily a positive. It is the over-damper action. These work well enough in the Blüthner, and the German pianos that used the over-damper action were in a completely different league from the English pianos that used a cheaper version of it. However these actions are now very old, and it's difficult to get parts for them if something goes wrong. In terms of actual playing this translates to - it might feel fine just now and probably does feel fine, but I wouldn't start using this piano for heavy practice because the action will wear out very quickly and the maintenance on it will be a pain.

Secondly, Blüthner uprights of this era can and do have problems with the tuning plank. A friend of mine has one from 1905 which is only a little younger (by the time pianos get to this age...) and for the past 10 years they've had it, and according to this previous owner at least the 10 years before it, it has suffered from slipping tuning pins because the plank isn't holding. In a piano of this age you can't guarantee that the original plank is going to hold well if you start using it for heavy practice.

Generally the soundboards on uprights are OK in the UK, which is down to a combination of the pianos being smaller so the soundboard has less work to do, and the expectations on the piano - uprights are never expected to project masses of tone in large music rooms or concert halls. There could be a lack of tone in the fifth octave, which is a sign that some work needs done. Some people find this lack of tone quaint and think it's character. I think it's annoying.

£1950 is a bit high for a private sale. Whether the piano is worth that is down to a few different factors. As a musical instrument, no I don't think it's worth that and your money would be better going in to something younger, or even a more advanced digital piano.

Yes the piano does have a beautiful tone according to your ears, and that's subjective but I know what you mean. The Blüthner tone is one of the most famous and most revered for good reason, and that's how they built their reputation. How long will it stay beautiful? It depends on what kind of use the piano will get and it also depends on when the piano was recorded, had it just been tuned or was it a more honest situation (six months ago and still holding well?). There's no way you could know the answer to that.

Blüthner uprights are quite rare on the market and can fetch high prices. Ones in good cosmetic condition are even more rare. This one does actually look beautiful and as a piece of furniture may even be worth the asking price.

Basically, you may love the piano and it may fit your needs perfectly, but you did ask, and so I gave you a quick run-down of the worst things that may need done to the piano. It may need as much as £10,000 of work on it, but it also may just need regular tuning.

Very recently I played a Richard Lipp piano from 1910, and it was all original. It has a wonderful tone and absolutely beautiful action, like playing on silk. I know I couldn't start practising on it regularly though or it would become completely clapped out within a matter of months or a couple of years. That's often the case with old pianos. But I'm not an occasional pianist, I really punish pianos.

My own piano is a Blüthner grand from 1912, with the original patent action, but it has been completely rebuilt from the ground up.
Posted By: backto_study_piano

Re: What to look out for if considering a 1925 Blüthner upright? - 05/26/19 06:57 AM

I'd suggest taking no notice of the recording - they're not necessarily representative of what it really sounds like. Nor would I take much notice of the "piano sample library" on a digital piano. It's basically taken the sound from a large piano timber soundboard - picked it up with any number of microphones, fettled to make it sound like the digital piano manufacturer wants - and played through speakers.

Go and have a look at some pianos, to ascertain what it is that you would like. Go to as many piano showrooms as you've got time to, and play them all - grands and all, just to get the feel for what a good piano is like.

As mentioned above - overdamper pianos are ... very old school. I had one as a child, and in my teens, we had to replace it when it wouldn't respond fast enough.

Then when first married, I inherited another overdamper piano - and when I started playing seriously again a few years later, it went the way of the first one, as it was just too unresponsive.

This might be an exception - but get a good independent technician to inspect it - 100 year old pianos are ... 100 years old. Unless it's been rebuilt, I'd be very reticent.
Posted By: Matt Mower

Re: What to look out for if considering a 1925 Blüthner upright? - 05/26/19 10:35 AM

Originally Posted by BruceD
only a thorough inspection by a reputable technician would give me any assurance of or warning against a purchase.


I definitely plan to have it examined by a technician before I would go any further.

Thanks.

Matt
Posted By: Matt Mower

Re: What to look out for if considering a 1925 Blüthner upright? - 05/26/19 11:14 AM

Originally Posted by backto_study_piano
As mentioned above - overdamper pianos are ... very old school. I had one as a child, and in my teens, we had to replace it when it wouldn't respond fast enough.

Then when first married, I inherited another overdamper piano - and when I started playing seriously again a few years later, it went the way of the first one, as it was just too unresponsive.

This might be an exception - but get a good independent technician to inspect it - 100 year old pianos are ... 100 years old. Unless it's been rebuilt, I'd be very reticent.


I'm guessing that "rebuilt" is a more serious operation than "regulation". The seller says the piano was regulated recently.

I definitely wouldn't go any further without it being properly examined anyway.

Thanks.

Matt
Posted By: Matt Mower

Re: What to look out for if considering a 1925 Blüthner upright? - 05/26/19 11:20 AM

Originally Posted by joe80
I wouldn't start using this piano for heavy practice because the action will wear out very quickly and the maintenance on it will be a pain.

Secondly, Blüthner uprights of this era can and do have problems with the tuning plank. A friend of mine has one from 1905 which is only a little younger (by the time pianos get to this age...) and for the past 10 years they've had it, and according to this previous owner at least the 10 years before it, it has suffered from slipping tuning pins because the plank isn't holding. In a piano of this age you can't guarantee that the original plank is going to hold well if you start using it for heavy practice.

Generally the soundboards on uprights are OK in the UK, which is down to a combination of the pianos being smaller so the soundboard has less work to do, and the expectations on the piano - uprights are never expected to project masses of tone in large music rooms or concert halls. There could be a lack of tone in the fifth octave, which is a sign that some work needs done. Some people find this lack of tone quaint and think it's character. I think it's annoying.


This is definitely an area that worries me. That no matter how good condition it might be in today, keeping in that condition could be a significant (& expensive) labour of love and that it's not an instrument that could stand up to daily playing over a long period.

Originally Posted by joe80
£1950 is a bit high for a private sale. Whether the piano is worth that is down to a few different factors. As a musical instrument, no I don't think it's worth that and your money would be better going in to something younger, or even a more advanced digital piano. Blüthner uprights are quite rare on the market and can fetch high prices. Ones in good cosmetic condition are even more rare. This one does actually look beautiful and as a piece of furniture may even be worth the asking price.


Yeah, this is very hard to judge, I see so few of them that I can't gauge their value.

Originally Posted by joe80
Yes the piano does have a beautiful tone according to your ears, and that's subjective but I know what you mean. The Blüthner tone is one of the most famous and most revered for good reason, and that's how they built their reputation. How long will it stay beautiful? It depends on what kind of use the piano will get and it also depends on when the piano was recorded, had it just been tuned or was it a more honest situation (six months ago and still holding well?). There's no way you could know the answer to that.

Basically, you may love the piano and it may fit your needs perfectly, but you did ask, and so I gave you a quick run-down of the worst things that may need done to the piano. It may need as much as £10,000 of work on it, but it also may just need regular tuning.


Yeah, it's this, the spectre of it needing a £10k rebuild that gives me the most pause for thought. The seller says it has been regulated recently and, from my research, that seems to be replacing commonly worn items like felts. I'm guessing rebuild is action, soundboard, etc…?[/quote]

Thanks for insights.

I'm not sure in my mind about how to proceed other than that I need a good technician to give me a view before I'd take any further step.

Unfortunately, my taste towards younger pianos runs to well-out-of-my-budget Schimmels smile

m@
Posted By: backto_study_piano

Re: What to look out for if considering a 1925 Blüthner upright? - 05/26/19 11:57 AM

"... daily playing over a long period ... ". To be honest, I don't think an overdamper piano of that vintage (any vintage) would be something which you'd want to be playing regularly - and ... long life, I suspect not.

" ... a £10k rebuild ..." - I don't think you'd do a rebuild at all on an overdamper piano - even a partial rebuild would be £ wasted, I'd suspect.

An overdamper piano today is like a Model T Ford today on a Motorway - yes, it can be done, but, in reality you would only want to do it for a Classic Car rally.

I'd suggest to go have a look at some second hand pianos in piano stores to see what else there is around. As I mentioned earlier, Mum&Dad got rid of my childhood, very good condition physically, but poor to play, German overdamper piano.

They traded it for a quite basic 1967 KAWAI upright which was a far, far better piano. They bought it new, all 5 of us children played it extensively, as did Mum - and it's still going strong at my brother's home.

Yes, an upright Schimmel is a magnificent piano, as are many other German uprights - but, you're right, they're lots of ££££.

Don't exclude used YAMAHAs on the basis of what you heard on your digital piano - the sampling is poor and played through small speakers, you need to play the real thing. There are some great YAMAHA (and KAWAI) uprights out there for good prices, and they'd be far better than any overdamper piano. I bought a new YAMAHA UX in 1977, it's still going strong at my daughter's place.
Posted By: Matt Mower

Re: What to look out for if considering a 1925 Blüthner upright? - 05/26/19 02:01 PM

Originally Posted by backto_study_piano
"... daily playing over a long period ... ". To be honest, I don't think an overdamper piano of that vintage (any vintage) would be something which you'd want to be playing regularly - and ... long life, I suspect not.

" ... a £10k rebuild ..." - I don't think you'd do a rebuild at all on an overdamper piano - even a partial rebuild would be £ wasted, I'd suspect.

An overdamper piano today is like a Model T Ford today on a Motorway - yes, it can be done, but, in reality you would only want to do it for a Classic Car rally.

I'd suggest to go have a look at some second hand pianos in piano stores to see what else there is around. As I mentioned earlier, Mum&Dad got rid of my childhood, very good condition physically, but poor to play, German overdamper piano.

They traded it for a quite basic 1967 KAWAI upright which was a far, far better piano. They bought it new, all 5 of us children played it extensively, as did Mum - and it's still going strong at my brother's home.

Yes, an upright Schimmel is a magnificent piano, as are many other German uprights - but, you're right, they're lots of ££££.

Don't exclude used YAMAHAs on the basis of what you heard on your digital piano - the sampling is poor and played through small speakers, you need to play the real thing. There are some great YAMAHA (and KAWAI) uprights out there for good prices, and they'd be far better than any overdamper piano. I bought a new YAMAHA UX in 1977, it's still going strong at my daughter's place.


I've actually played quite a few pianos already, including several Yamaha's so my judgement on sound is based on hearing them in the wood, so to speak. Action wise I've found one I liked, most I found a bit spongy for my taste.

For reference, my digital is a Kawai ES8.

I guess the reference to a model T Ford is well taken. Something to cherish but possibly not a daily driver.

Thanks.

Matt

Posted By: joe80

Re: What to look out for if considering a 1925 Blüthner upright? - 05/26/19 05:47 PM

Exactly - you *could* do a £10k rebuild on *ANY* piano, but it's not going to be worth it on an old upright, even a Blüthner, even if you ended up swapping out the over damper action (a modification that does happen, believe it or not).

I was kind of being gentle in my assessment. If this piano is for practising on, and you want to use it regularly, I'd say it's not the piano for you. I'd say take your £2000, save some more, and get a Yamaha U1 used, or even get a Kawai CA98 or whatever it is now.
Posted By: Lady Bird

Re: What to look out for if considering a 1925 Blüthner upright? - 05/26/19 09:13 PM

Kawai uprights have a darker more mellow
sound if you want something different to
a U1.The best known are the K300 or the
K500.
It is interesting reading about and listening
to the old Bluthner !
Posted By: j&j

Re: What to look out for if considering a 1925 Blüthner upright? - 05/26/19 10:56 PM

Originally Posted by joe80
Exactly - you *could* do a £10k rebuild on *ANY* piano, but it's not going to be worth it on an old upright, even a Blüthner, even if you ended up swapping out the over damper action (a modification that does happen, believe it or not).

I was kind of being gentle in my assessment. If this piano is for practising on, and you want to use it regularly, I'd say it's not the piano for you. I'd say take your £2000, save some more, and get a Yamaha U1 used, or even get a Kawai CA98 or whatever it is now.


+1 thumb a used but has many years left Kawai or Yamaha upright (or some of newer improved Chinese brands that Norbert talks about) once it has a good check by an independent tech, should be a wonderful, dependable practice partner for at least the next decade or more ( age and condition dependent of course).
Falling in love with a very old piano, long past it’s useful life is a common piano nerd hazard. Serious continued piano shopping is the only cure. Even that doesn’t always work. grin
Posted By: Lady Bird

Re: What to look out for if considering a 1925 Blüthner upright? - 05/26/19 11:27 PM

Any used piano needs to be checked.It's not a bad idea even for
some new ones.Some as young as 2 years could have sustained
serious damage.(eg water damage)
Posted By: backto_study_piano

Re: What to look out for if considering a 1925 Blüthner upright? - 05/26/19 11:33 PM

Originally Posted by j&j
[quote=joe80]Exactly - you *could* do a £10k rebuild on *ANY* piano ... Falling in love with a very old piano, long past it’s useful life is a common piano nerd hazard. Serious continued piano shopping is the only cure. Even that doesn’t always work. grin

I have an acquaintance who is an excellent pianist (diploma) with his grandmother's Broadwood upright, it's huge, it's awful. His pianist wife refuses to play it because it's so difficult. I agree - it's strident, tinny, the bass "notes" just rattle rather than ring and no tuner will attempt to "tune" it any more. He keeps saying that he'd love to overhaul it - but I think it's dead really - at least $$$ wise.

But - because it was his grandmother's, he feels an "obligation". Though - I think his wife has finally got through to him, he did ask about something like a used YAM-AWAI to replace it with recently.

Oh - and that reminds me - another friend with 2 pianos - both horrid, but cherished because they belonged to an aunt and a mother ...

And ... that reminds me again - another ... yes, grandmother's piano. But fortunately, they have a newer SAMICK piano which is playable.
Posted By: P W Grey

Re: What to look out for if considering a 1925 Blüthner upright? - 05/27/19 01:04 AM

Matt,

Ask the seller who did the regulation and call them for an assessment (not a complete one but a general one). If they "don't know or remember" who did this work, that will tell you something. Then make sure you hire someone else to fully assess it.

Pwg
Posted By: PhilipInChina

Re: What to look out for if considering a 1925 Blüthner upright? - 05/27/19 10:26 AM

PM sent to the OP.
Posted By: Jim Rickson

Re: What to look out for if considering a 1925 Blüthner upright? - 05/27/19 03:54 PM

Fallacy: "This or that piano brand is too bright." Your technician can easier make your instrument as dark as you want via "voicing".
Posted By: BruceD

Re: What to look out for if considering a 1925 Blüthner upright? - 05/27/19 05:55 PM

Originally Posted by Jim Rickson
Fallacy: "This or that piano brand is too bright." Your technician can easier make your instrument as dark as you want via "voicing".


Accumulated wisdom on this forum and my own personal experience don't agree with "as dark as you want." In other words, there are limits to how much voicing will change the tonal character of a piano, depending upon the type (brand) of hammers involved.

This is why experts often advise: "Buy the piano you like for what it is, not for what you hope it might become."

Regards,
Posted By: WeakLeftHand

Re: What to look out for if considering a 1925 Blüthner upright? - 05/27/19 06:00 PM

Originally Posted by BruceD
Originally Posted by Jim Rickson
Fallacy: "This or that piano brand is too bright." Your technician can easier make your instrument as dark as you want via "voicing".


Accumulated wisdom on this forum and my own personal experience don't agree with "as dark as you want." In other words, there are limits to how much voicing will change the tonal character of a piano, depending upon the type (brand) of hammers involved.

This is why experts often advise: "Buy the piano you like for what it is, not for what you hope it might become."

Regards,


OT: I couldn't help it, but that goes for choosing a husband as well. wink
Posted By: NobleHouse

Re: What to look out for if considering a 1925 Blüthner upright? - 05/28/19 11:47 AM

Originally Posted by WeakLeftHand
Originally Posted by BruceD
Originally Posted by Jim Rickson
Fallacy: "This or that piano brand is too bright." Your technician can easier make your instrument as dark as you want via "voicing".


Accumulated wisdom on this forum and my own personal experience don't agree with "as dark as you want." In other words, there are limits to how much voicing will change the tonal character of a piano, depending upon the type (brand) of hammers involved.

This is why experts often advise: "Buy the piano you like for what it is, not for what you hope it might become."

Regards,


OT: I couldn't help it, but that goes for choosing a husband as well. wink


or wife grin
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