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AndraK Offline OP
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Hello, thank you for adding me to the forum. I'm hoping for some input:
I have the opportunity to bid on a 1930s Steinway model M. It is part of an estate sale. The description includes a note that there is a crack in the soundboard, but it "still sounds good."
I'm interested in the piano to enjoy playing and for possible re-sale in the future.
The photos give the appearance that the piano is a little dinged up.
As Steinways go, what is the reputation of the M model?
What is a ballpark fair value for a good condition Model M?
I have my personal cut-off point in mind but I think this is going to go super under-market, just based on the location and small audience.
Any input would be appreciated.

Last edited by AndraK; 10/24/16 04:30 PM.
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The M's certainly have a better reputation than the S's. The age of the piano, probably means a significant amount of repair will be required (action, hammers,strings,sound board repair, refinishing etc.). You also have to pay to move it. It's a matter of how much you want to put into the piano. Also remember, it's a lot easier to buy a piano than to sell one. I would treat this as a piano core for rebuilding as I did my Chickering. If you do rebuild it ($20,000???), then what do you pay for the core, and what's the market price for a rebuilt M?


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I have a 1929 M that I adore--it sounds wonderful and plays like a dream. It was completely rebuilt and came with a "new piano" warranty because of the total rebuild. I bought it from the Steinway dealer in St. Louis but the rebuild was done by the owner of Premier Piano Services in Iowa. As everyone here always suggests, it would be a good idea to get a technician to go over the piano and tell you what needs to be done before you place a bid.

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have heard about excellent vintage steinway M's, and they were no doubt good examples when new and revived with top notch restoration work. my own experience, have never been impressed with them, especially relative to the next longer model [L or O], probably because the rebuilds or restorations weren't the best, or the dealer prep was indifferent, banking on the brand name selling the piano. never played one that could really 'sing'. for s&s it has been one of their best selling grands over many years, so there are many in circulation, which probably contributes to my perception of a rather diluted standard for a steinway grand. the L's and O's were also designed some years after the M and have more of the trademark power and depth.

as far as the market, nice vintage M's still command stiff prices. retail dealers sometimes ask $30 k.+ for them. one big variable, steinway rode its popularity by offering options in fancy cabinetry and decoration with M's and these are more usually seen in the ones before 1940 or so. dealers almost always expect to get more from the gussied up M's. if you want to get the (likely considerable) restoration/rebuild investment back in future resale, the finish, decoration, style of design (chippendale or faux french two examples) are factors.

the professional pianist Joey Calderazzo shared his experience on this site, having a vintage M rebuilt, and he didn't keep it very long, compared to the steinway upright he had prior to it for seventeen years. for him the M lacked both power and tonal variety.

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"Still sounds good" is utterly irrelevant. I think the only way you should pay anything for it is if you both play it and have it inspected by a good tech beforehand.

How much are you willing to spend on some degree of rebuilding? The idea of having it rebuilt and then selling it for a profit is probably foolhardy unless it is some fancy art case and you get it for a song. And a top rebuild can cost considerably more than the 20K mentioned. Even if you're willing to put 20+K into a rebuilding, there's no guarantee you'll like the tone after the rebuild.

Don't be swayed by name on the fallboard! You probably won't even be able tell if you like the tone since it's probably way out of tune. IOW you'll probably be taking a big chance whether you want it for your own playing and certainly if you plan to sell it for a profit.

A Steinway or any other top piano, if in poor condition, does not still sound good just because it's a Steinway.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 10/24/16 06:25 PM.
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an estate sale dealer is not likely to be a piano professional. my experience with the non professional sellers, the majority don't even care to address what a serious buyer looks for, and will pass off 'o.k.' or 'pretty good' as very good or excellent in the marketing write ups.

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Greetings,
If you can buy a Steinway grand for $1,000 per foot, you will usually be ok. Perfect ivory will add another $100 per foot, exotic woods, even more. This price will allow you to resell it immediately if you decide you don't want to spend the $25,000 and up it would take to return it to as responsive a condition as it was when new.
It is possible to spend half of that and have a great piano, if the block and strings are viable. Disregard the crack in the board, nearly all pianos this age will exhibit that. If it rattles, it can be fixed, but the crack itself is of little importance to the performance of the piano. It is more important to ascertain the length of sustain in the fifth octave, which is a quick illumination of the board's health. Hold a damper off the strings, and pluck them, counting how many seconds you hear the full tone of the note. 2-3 seconds is the sign of a dead board, 5-8 would be really good for a board this old.
If this is the original action, I would bet my toolbox that it has deteriorated, losing at least 50% of its original sensitivity. Steinways gum up with verdigris. This will require replacement, not repair.
If the plate is cracked but usable, or the case really delaminating, none of the above makes any sense to consider, so you might offer 10% of the above prices and try to limp along with it.
regards,

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Take heed of Ed Footes price guidance.

I have an estate sale 5'7" M variant, original, aesthetically perfect board, sounds great, plays fine.

Ultimately, you will have to understand what you are looking at and the price to get it into the shape you want, so you may need to study-up, or hire help to evaluate.

Best wishes-


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Thank you all for the comments.
I did go see the piano and play it. The key action was sticky, which I am sure is in part from the accumulation of dust and dead moths. The auction company didn't even bother to take a dust rag to it. I will assume the sticking of keys can be remedied. What concerns me is more of a personal preference for weightier keys. I didn't feel much "push back" from the keys. Is that an aspect anyone cares to comments on as relates to this model?

It has been many years since I've played a high end piano. The Steinway I'm most familiar with was an upright. Is there a great difference in key weight with the uprights?
I am probably just enamored of the idea of having a Steinway in my den, but the price is hard to ignore. The auction ends in 2 days, and the highest bid has been sitting at just over $1,000.
I have time to call a piano technician for additional comments, but the open viewing period for the auction has closed.
Could I get some advice on what specific questions I should ask of the technician?

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For $1,000, if the plate and rim are completely intact, and it hasn't been fire or water damaged, there's not a lot of risk, and you might be able to "flip" it for a modest profit by just cleaning it up and having it tuned. If you want a great playing action, you should be prepared to spend several thousand dollars to get it back into shape. If you want it to play and look great, you can increase that guesstimate to the 5-figures.

Read Ed Foote's advice carefully and completely - he knows of what he speaks.


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I'm pretty sure that the sticky keys are most likely due to the "verdigris" Steinway action problem from this era. It's not really fixable other than installing new action parts. Others have more experience in this area. Ed Foote already mentioned it. You can search the forum for more detailed information on the verdigris situation.

Lighter, faster actions were more common when this piano was made. I'm not sure when the aesthetic shifted to heavier actions being more prevalent. My Baldwin from the 1910's has a light, fast action, too.

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Ok I see now about the verdigris. I would think most (probably better to do all) would need replacing on this piano.

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I always love to see an old piano brought back to life!


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Originally Posted by AndraK
The auction ends in 2 days, and the highest bid has been sitting at just over $1,000.
I have time to call a piano technician for additional comments, but the open viewing period for the auction has closed.


Well, if there is no chance for further inspections, the question is how much of a risk taker are you, and are you a wheeler and dealer if it ends up requiring more work than you anticipate and you want to unload. The price certainly seems right.

Best wishes-

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So I have other questions after reading about Steinway piano serial numbers. There is not a number where my reading tells me there should be one - on the frame, right above the keyboard. It looks like someone wrote a note and date in pencil there ('86). At the far curve of the frame are characters that are part of the cast: 8/23. Z then below that is 80 then below that is * then a few inches to the right is 9
Does that mean anything significant?
Do all Steinways have a serial number above the keyboard?
Is there a way to add an image saved on my computer (not a URL)?

Last edited by AndraK; 10/25/16 08:10 PM.
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Steinway serial numbers are in many places on a piano. The most visible is the triangle between the bass and tenor tuning pins, followed by the front of the keyframe, just behind the keyslip, which is the strip in front of the front of the keys. That just slips upwards to remove.

There are Steinways which do not have serial numbers. They were reserved for their Concert and Artists program, and get sold later. But I doubt that would be the case of an M.


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Thank you for the reply. I am learning so much that never occurred to me before now.


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