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Hi everyone,
I'm a fairly advanced player (I have Bachelor's degree in piano performance) but no longer do music professionally, other than the occasional wedding or subbing in for a church musician. However I still try to learn new music and practice semi-regularly. Currently working on the Chopin Ballades.

The piano I have at home is totaled. Cost of repairing the broken dampers is more than the value of the instrument. I've been dreaming of replacing it with a grand for a while and I've convinced my wife that this is the opportunity.

With a budget of no more than 8 grand, and space for nothing bigger than 5 1/2 feet it definitely puts me in the used market. Here's what I'm considering:
- A 5'4" 1929 Chickering quarter grand from a dealer. His tuner was unavailable, but I've played it. Some notes' unisons are disharmonious but it's still at A440 after six months of no tunings. I like the quieter tone of the instrument - it's sweet and gentle - which would be good in our house. The action probably could use some work, a couple notes tend to double-strike when played quietly. I'll play it tuned later this week. The case matters least to me, but just to note it is an aged darker mahogany. They're asking $4321.
- A 5'2" 1987 Baldwin M. Very nice action, perhaps a little heavy for my taste, but perfectly even and fluid. I particularly like the tone of this scale design, in fact I prefer it over the Steinway S. The upper treble (last notes with dampers) have a beautiful bell-like clarity, and the bass is surprisingly strong for a small grand. It's just a little loud. The downsides to this one are the price ($6000) and the color (white). I also noticed some very small cracks by the pins on the bridges. I played it for an hour the other day and it left me tired, but that's most likely because I am out of practice. This is also from a dealer.
- Today I played a 1949 Baldwin M in dark mahogany. Like every one of these I've come across, the same clear treble and strong bass. It may be even louder than the 1987 Baldwin, but the environments are different so it's hard to tell. The action was definitely lighter, but it was well regulated. It's a private sale about three hours away from me (I'm outside Buffalo, NY - the piano is outside of Cleveland). The owner has had it tuned every six months even though she can no longer play it because of arthritis. The action was regulated and a humidity control system installed in the late 1990s. The hammers were lightly grooved, so it's possible that it could be voiced down a little. There were no cracks in the bridge or soundboard. The asking price is $3750 but they seem open to negotiation. It's going to be tuned Monday, even though it didn't really need it (still at A440 and only a couple of unisons were out) so I think I'm going to go back.

At this point I think the white Baldwin is out. The only things keeping it in consideration are the fact that it likely has more life left as a younger instrument, and the heavy action may be good for my playing technique.
I'm leaning toward the 1949 Baldwin, but I'm reserving judgement until I play the Chickering tuned.

If anyone waded through this post, I'd love to hear your thoughts about these choices. I'd especially like to know if there is anything I should look out for on the older Baldwin.


Peter
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Not enough knowledge to comment on Baldwins and possible issues. The one thing that surprises me is that you think playing on the heavier action will improve your technique. My personal opinion is that heavy actions are a recipe for injury.

Could you say why you think the heavier action will improve you and not simply tire you out and eventually wear you out?


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I have a 1950 Baldwin M, and love it, as do most folks who play it. The consensus is the same as you've noted: surprisingly good bass given its scale length, and nice tone across the compass.

Your preference for it over a Steinway S is shared by many people. Reading that here helped convince me to find one myself.


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Might it be possible to speak to the technician who's tuning that old Baldwin over the phone, after they've serviced the piano? They could comment on the condition of the pin block, action, etc.


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Originally Posted by terminaldegree
Might it be possible to speak to the technician who's tuning that old Baldwin over the phone, after they've serviced the piano? They could comment on the condition of the pin block, action, etc.


I thought of that as well. I'll probably call him after he tunes it on Monday. The sellers said they were going to have him look it over as well.


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The 1949 Baldwin M sound like a good prospect. If you have a technician you trust, I would hire them to evaluate the piano if after talking to the sellers technician you still are attracted to this piano.

The quality of work done at Baldwin in the late 1940's and 1950's was superb.


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Originally Posted by dynamobt
Not enough knowledge to comment on Baldwins and possible issues. The one thing that surprises me is that you think playing on the heavier action will improve your technique. My personal opinion is that heavy actions are a recipe for injury.

Could you say why you think the heavier action will improve you and not simply tire you out and eventually wear you out?


The heavier action forced me to play more efficiently. I had to be more directly over the keys with a more compact hand and use the weight of my arm. A light action allows me to use the fingers more and be more haphazard in my arm positions.


Peter
1949 Baldwin M
currently working on Brahms op. 10 Ballades, f-minor sonata and 2nd concerto
Mendelssohn Songs Without Words and E minor Prelude and Fugue
whatever strikes my fancy today.
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Originally Posted by P3T3R
Originally Posted by terminaldegree
Might it be possible to speak to the technician who's tuning that old Baldwin over the phone, after they've serviced the piano? They could comment on the condition of the pin block, action, etc.


I thought of that as well. I'll probably call him after he tunes it on Monday. The sellers said they were going to have him look it over as well.


I don't know others but the comments from the technicians that service the sellers' pianos are not very helpful to me. They all said that the pianos that they service are very nice pianos and worth buying, it's a good deal...bra bra bra. That lead me wonder why and what their agenda is...I always hire my own technician to check the pianos. But it was interesting to talk to the technicians anyway so I would also encourage you to do so. Just take their comments with a grain of salt...


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Well, P3T3R,

Minna nailed what I was going to say: have any serious candidate examined for condition by your own qualified piano technician, paid for by you, alone, and who has only your interest in mind. This is not to disparage the sellers' techs, but this is no time for divided loyalties. If you need to find a tech in Cleveland, while you live in Buffalo, you could try http://ptg.org, Piano Technicians' Guild, for the local referral. They should be able to give you several to choose from.

Last of all, if at all, take the seller's representations into account. Again, not to cast aspersions on these folk, but the memories of piano sellers are notoriously failing, and many of them do not really know much that can help you. You can imagine how tempting it must be to color up the truth, just a bit.

The other thing which glares out from your post, which was very charming and sincere, was the age of the instruments you are considering. I recall an episode of "Murphy Brown," in which Murphy and Corky were posing as DC streetwalkers, following up a lead about some senators. Murphy expressed mounting exasperation that prospective customers kept choosing Corky, not her. Talk about asperities! One finally told her, straight up, "I'm sure, ma'am, that you must have had a long and distinguished career... but I want her!"

That description would have worked so well, in some other setting! But, "Wanting ain't getting;" so says the sage, so says the senator, and so says the piano technician. At an age of 89, 30, and 69, even a Baldwin (which I like, a lot) is getting on in years. One chicken that will soon be coming home to roost, is, that rebuilding, and not tuning, regulating, and needling the hammers, is what it will take to keep these instruments within a musically useful span of life. I would say, more necessary for a person with a degree in performance, subtracting some points because you've allowed your present piano to be played to rags. But, I can understand about necessities, and priorities.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't get such a candidate, but that you might like to have a conversation with a rebuilder, on the front side of this decision, rather than on the back side. Right here on PW is not a bad place to begin. You might try the Tuner-Technicians' Forum on this site. And, if you are not married to the idea of what you have seen so far, you might re-imagine the whole scenario. How about, imagining a piano younger than 15 years, allowing a more generous 35 years of musically-useful life, before an arbitrary cutoff of 50? [Not everyone is on-board with this rule of thumb, finding it facile rather than handy. After all, condition is king; condition trumps all.] For example, a Kawai RX-2, after the Millennium III action became current.

There are other example makes. Enlist the help of dealers and techs in your area; let them know what you are looking for, check in with them every so often, and play lots of pianos while you are there. Unless you can do so much better shopping in Cleveland, that you save at least $1000 (your travel + its travel), it would be much preferable to shop closer to home. For that matter, surely New York City is closer to Buffalo than Cleveland? Scan the want ads; have a look at the death notices and estate sales while you have the paper open--- the dealers do, and that is where their 100% mark-up comes from. Your personal network must have a fair specimen of pianists, and some of them may be moving up the piano food chain... or moving down.

Wishing you the best of luck! Let us know how it goes. Come back and ask more questions. Be patient; be diligent; be prepared to act decisively.


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8K, 5.5 feet, or less. Musical.

Yeah, a good Baldwin M is going to be your best bet, but I would add a Kawai RX-1. Another piano you just might run across would be a Petrof V (might be able to find a private sale for 8K)


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Thank you all for your thoughtful replies.

-Clef Cleveland is only a three hour car ride from me. I can make it there and back in one day easily. I only went there because I found it for sale online, and I had played a couple Baldwin Ms locally that had the same positive features. The one was a totally rebuilt one from the biggest name in Western NY and he wanted $14k for it. I realize that my options are more plentiful in New York City, but that is the other end of the state and would necessitate an overnight stay. The piano market in Buffalo seems to be quite thin.

-Jolly I've yet to find a Kawai grand of any size or vintage in the local market. We are overrun with Chickering, Steinway, Yamaha, and far too many Wurlitzers.

Just for kicks, I'm going to go play a 7' Weber from the '20s that is only going for $2900. I know it's probably too big, but who really needs a TV cabinet? wink


Peter
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This Baldwin M in your state may still be available - or not. smile

http://www.fordpiano.com/pianos-for-sale/baldwin-m-grand-2001/




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Originally Posted by Carey
This Baldwin M in your state may still be available - or not. smile

http://www.fordpiano.com/pianos-for-sale/baldwin-m-grand-2001/




Thanks, but its out of my budget, and that's a five hour drive


Peter
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Well, the 1920 Weber was 6 foot, and in pretty rough shape. It needs a tuning as it was all sharp. The wood felt very dry and there was a sizable crack crack in the soundboard. A couple of dead strings in the bass, and the damper pedal rod was bent and prevented the dampers from lifting fully. The worst was the action that desperately needs regulation, but listening through the issues, there may be a decent sounding instrument in there - warm and gentle tone, more emphasis on the fundamental than the harmonics. It just needs more work than I would be able to give it.

On Wednesday, I'm going to play a rebuilt Vose and the Chickering again now that it's been tuned. The search continues.


Peter
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I'm rooting for you. Surely your diligent work will pay off. A player who says, "...I know it's probably too big, but who really needs a TV cabinet?..." is my kind of musician.


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Jeff, I haven't owned a TV this century.


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For a really old piano as long as the soundboard isn't cracked and there's nothing horribly wrong with the dampers or hammers, I would first be worried about the action bushings. If you're working on Chopin Ballades, the action's performance is pretty important.

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Originally Posted by trigalg693
For a really old piano as long as the soundboard isn't cracked and there's nothing horribly wrong with the dampers or hammers, I would first be worried about the action bushings. If you're working on Chopin Ballades, the action's performance is pretty important.


My main concern is the action. I realize a small grand will have tonal limitations even compared to a high quality larger upright, but the action of a grand is usually better. The Baldwin M in Cleveland was very nice to play. It had action regulation in the late '90s and seemed to not have been played very much since - very even and controllable, perhaps a little light for my taste. My main issue with this instrument was that it is maybe a little loud, but still very pleasing. The Chickering is quieter and mellower, but the action at least needs regulation and maybe some more intensive work, which is why I'm leaning towards the Baldwin - which is also 30 years younger. Both had intact soundboards - ribs and bridges appeared to be fine.

I have also found this Franklin on Craigslist. I may be able to go try it out tomorrow.


Peter
1949 Baldwin M
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Mendelssohn Songs Without Words and E minor Prelude and Fugue
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Originally Posted by Jeff Clef
I'm rooting for you. Surely your diligent work will pay off. A player who says, "...I know it's probably too big, but who really needs a TV cabinet?..." is my kind of musician.


To be fair and honest, I meant that the TV would come out of the cabinet and then be mounted on the wall above the piano. It's the arrangement my wife and I worked out if I acquire a piano over 5'6" long (the max length for our first choice spot).


Peter
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"...the action of a grand is usually better..."

No argument from us. Gravity beats springs, repetition is faster and more reliable. The "soft pedal" which moves the hammers closer to the springs, automatically throws the piano out of regulation for whatever notes are played. And it is not una corda, not by a long shot. The keysticks are longer, the action is--- never mind.

"...Baldwin M in Cleveland... very nice to play... had action regulation in the late '90s and seemed to not have been played very much since - very even and controllable, perhaps a little light for my taste... a little loud, but still very pleasing..."

But we're still looking. Consider Goldilocks' fate if she had played the first two of the bears' pianos, and then stopped before she got to, "...and it was just right!" It sounds as if this piano has a lot going for it, except that you don't like it. It is its misfortune that its distance makes it very difficult for you to give it the benefit of multiple auditions, preferably on several different days, with rested ears and a rested mind. This can have a clarifying effect, extremely valuable in a process which is fraught with tension and plagued by fatigue.

Having been regulated at least 25 years ago is not that impressive, and only beats cases where it was not done at all, ever. Too many of those out there. "Too loud," depends somewhat on the room. It is always so hard to allow just the right amount, to really sense how it would sound in your room. Regulation and voicing for the new room can help somewhat, and the room's acoustic characteristic (and the touch) can be altered, both, to an extent. There is an effective limit.

If the piano has such a big voice that you can never play it forcefully enough, so that the tone registers which depend on a forceful key strike, can come into play... well, it's like sawing off one end of the instrument. I guess most of the time, this is done for accent; sometimes, just for fun. Though I would hate to lose it, it beats having a piano whose action doesn't allow a reliable pianissimo touch. And while we're on the subject, how is the back action? Mostly, they are not much; few work properly, and deficits are hard to correct. But there are pieces which can't be played effectively without this effect, and some of them, like Beethoven's Op. 27, No. 2, are very widely played. Or sort of played.

"...The Chickering is quieter and mellower, but the action at least needs regulation and maybe some more intensive work, which is why I'm leaning towards the Baldwin - which is also 30 years younger...."

Consider buying a lottery ticket, every so often. Cleveland is not so very far from the Charles Walter plant. Their CW 175 and 190 grands, designed by PianoWorld's own Del Fandrich, expressly with the home music room in mind, for pianists who want more color and not so much volume, could be just what you are looking for. Forget finding one used; they never come on the used piano market. But if you do come across one, or even one of their uprights, it's worth taking a look.

http://www.walterpiano.com/pianos/grand-pianos/custom-grand-pianos/

http://www.walterpiano.com/pianos/grand-pianos/

Charles W. Walter Piano Co., 25416 Co Rd 6, Elkhart, IN 46514

Just a pipe dream, I know. You're doing the right thing, as it is. But, a buck for a lottery ticket once a week is not so crazy--- somebody has to win it.


Clef

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