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oldMH Offline OP
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Hello,

We have an 1899 M+H 8'9" instrument. Walnut with excellent case. No spider. We have had it 20 years during which my spouse has abused it daily. The sound quality is fabulous, given the current state of the unit. It is in need of mostly likely a complete rebuild - new/rebuilt action, pin block, strings, sound board. There is a place we trust in the Bay area to do the work and it would take say 9 months and around $50K. If the result is great, we'll be happy. It is a fabulous piano. They don't make them with the heavy rim any more. If the result is less than great, it will be disappointing but I guess we'll keep the piano as it would be hard to unload at any price.

The alternative is a new or late model Steinway B. This would meet all the requirements of the artist and I would be happier as it is a couple feet shorter and lighter than the M+H (which we have lugged around several continents and six homes). I don't fancy shopping for a piano as the spouse is extremely picky on action feel/speed and sound. Best for us would be huge showroom of perfectly tuned and well-priced newer instruments for testing. I don't even understand pricing on newer Steinways. Cost is not an issue but we do like to maximize value. If we do buy, the piano will be played hard around five hours a day for the next 30 year or so.

I'm sensing from reading here that we are better off buying a Steinway as the results are guaranteed and the price is only slightly more than what the rebuild will cost. I'm pretty sure if we don't rebuilt the M+H it will end up on the scrap heap, which is sad considering it is a good instrument from many perspectives. We would like to rejuvenate the piano and think with the right rebuilder it can be done.

In a further twist, we are currently in Latin America and reimporting the piano (and ivories) may be challenging given the current regulations in the US. I am going to query separately on that.

Any thoughts? Has anyone done a major rebuild on an old piano and fully satisfied a picky classical pianist?

thanks

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Let the pianist make 100% of the decision— you don’t want to be “on the hook” in any way if the outcome doesn’t turn out perfectly...


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Originally Posted by oldMH
They don't make them with the heavy rim any more.
I believe the rims on the latest Masons are the same as the older ones.

Originally Posted by oldMH
I'm sensing from reading here that we are better off buying a Steinway as the results are guaranteed and the price is only slightly more than what the rebuild will cost.
A new Steinway B sells for around 108K, more than double the cost you mentioned for the rebuild.

It may be possible to get a fairly recent Steinway B for around 50K. I don't know how old a B selling for that price would generally be.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 03/26/18 09:14 AM.
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There are some respected rebuilders in the San Francisco area. Believe it or not , 50k for what it would take to make an 1899 M&H concert grand a great piano, if it includes case and finish work, is a great deal. Most rebuilders have never fully rebuilt a Mason & Hamlin concert grand let alone one as rare as from 1899. We have done several but the oldest was 1904 which I suspect was still quite different from your 1899.

If the rebuild is comprehensive and superb not just in materials and workmanship, but in the end result of performance, the 1899 Mason & Hamlin concert grand beats pretty much any Steinway B. Those are some big ifs. Steinway Bs can also be quite inconsistent but there is certainly a higher degree of safety in a Steinway B that can be auditioned.

My hope would be that you have a fantastic rebuilder who does a great job for you on that 1899 Mason & Hamlin because that is a very special piano that deserves to be rebuilt. FWIW, the piano that I would want for myself above any other piano would be a Boston era Mason & Hamlin concert grand fully rebuilt by PianoCraft. Maybe one day I will have that opportunity. I am extremely interested in what you decide to do and how it turns out. Best of luck!


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Originally Posted by oldMH
Has anyone done a major rebuild on an old piano and fully satisfied a picky classical pianist?


I've done half of what you asked (I fail on the picky pianist part). It is definitely a hard decision, and an expensive one if things don't turn out right.

My tech, who maintained my prior piano for 20 years, advised against doing a rebuild. His logic was sound: you will spend all this money and yet you have no idea what the result will be. In other words, you pays your money and you takes your chances.

I ended up proceeding with restoration for two reasons: you get an essentially new piano for ~60% of the cost of a brand new model; and there are characteristics of a vintage piano that you cannot get at any price on a new piano. An example of the latter is the amazing mahogany veneer, from old forest trees, that they constructed my case from in 1922. I've also grown fond of the tactile feel of the ivory.

I have to admit that I liked the idea of restoring the voice of an increasingly rare "golden era" piano - but I wouldn't have done it just for that reason.

After the restoration was finished and the piano returned to me, both my tech and the local Steinway tech said the restored piano sounded and behaved like a new Steinway. One caveat from it being new, though, is that there is a fairly long break-in period that I didn't expect. For example, the strings even after a year had not reached a point where they are completely stable (as the new strings' tautness relaxes, notes go flat and you have to re-tune).

In your case, I think the decision should revolve around whether your spouse can find any new/recent piano that can fulfill his playing requirements like the M&H did. If not, I can see him pining for the M&H.

Oh, I agree with pianoloverus...not sure how you can buy a new or slightly used Steinway Model B for $50K? Unless the incremental $50-60K is what you mean by "slightly more," in which case, I congratulate you on being one of the primary beneficiaries of the new Federal tax law. ;-)

John


Last edited by jcgee88; 03/26/18 10:56 AM.

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Originally Posted by oldMH

I'm pretty sure if we don't rebuilt the M+H it will end up on the scrap heap, which is sad considering it is a good instrument from many perspectives. We would like to rejuvenate the piano and think with the right rebuilder it can be done.


Your 1899 M&H sounds like a beautiful instrument and definitely needs to be rebuilt by someone for someone. The question is, is that a process you are willing to take on now -- the time and the money? You might even be able to pick a great deal on a beautiful M&H, Steinway, or Baldwin concert grand in great condition or already rebuilt within your budget without sacrificing size. However, M&H BB's and S&S B's can be very nice along with other semi-concert grands.

If you choose to buy another piano, I encourage you to look for a rebuilder who is willing to buy your M&H for restoration. It would be a shame for such an historic, majestic instrument to end up in the scrapheap. You could offset the cost of a new piano by selling the M&H to a rebuilder for restoration.

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Is your M&H a "screw stringer"?


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I don't know about M&H, but I am a very picky pianist, and any doubts I had about rebuilds disappeared when I dropped by Faust Harrison in Manhattan and played one of their rebuilds. It played so much better than most of the new Bosendorfers and Bechsteins on their floor (nevermind the Steinways, they were not good), despite being only an A3 (6'4").

I'd say go for the rebuild, as long as you get the best person to do it.

Last edited by trigalg693; 03/27/18 01:23 PM.
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Ed asked if it was a screw stringer. Do you know what a screw stringer is? I am pretty sure they were phased out by then but cannot be sure.

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It has normal tuning pins. Thanks for all the input!

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I would recommend rebuilding your M&H if you know the rebuilder can do a great job.


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Not sure that one more ‘me too’ will make a difference but I am the owner of a 1903 BB. If I am faced with a situation where it needs to be rebuilt, rebuilt it will get. I would audition rebuilders who have rebuilt vintage M & H, play some of their rebuilds and proceed.

I will admit that I am not capable of spending 120,000 on a new piano, so my perspective might be different if I could. But I find the M & H to be a wonderful piano, and I’m not convinced it would be easy for me to find another piano that would make me so happy. I am convinced that I can find excellent rebuilders that would preserve the original quality

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Originally Posted by trigalg693
I don't know about M&H, but I am a very picky pianist, and any doubts I had about rebuilds disappeared when I dropped by Faust Harrison in Manhattan and played one of their rebuilds. It played so much better than most of the new Bosendorfers and Bechsteins on their floor (nevermind the Steinways, they were not good), despite being only an A3 (6'4").

I'd say go for the rebuild, as long as you get the best person to do it.


I popped in there last year and was also blown away by a golden age Steinway.

Last edited by cmb13; 03/30/18 11:28 PM.

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Originally Posted by cmb13


I popped in there last year and was also blown away by a golden age Steinway.


My theory is that given you can find some workmanship defects on a lot of new Steinways (and other pianos too), maybe good rebuilds sound so good because as a custom job, they are paying a little more attention to detail and getting everything the way it's meant to be?

It's certainly not the original piano's merit, because everything that vibrates and moves was thrown out and replaced.

Last edited by trigalg693; 03/31/18 12:33 AM.

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