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I just read an article from a business newspaper about the decline of acoustic pianos in the UK called "What happened to Britain's Pianos".

Hopefully it is OK to post an excerpt here and a link to the full article.

According to the article, nowadays only around 5000 acoustic pianos (presumably new?) are sold in the UK each year, down from annual sales of 30,000 in the 1980s.

Quote
Whatever happened to Britain’s pianos?

It wasn’t until I’d spent a few years in London that I started to notice the pianos. There were the pianos in the stations — King’s Cross, Tottenham Court Road, Lewisham, the underpass by Herne Hill. There was the piano that I sometimes overheard on the way to the bus stop. There were the pianos in the pubs. One had a sign on the lid, laminated to protect it from spilt drinks, that simply said: “Please do not play the piano.”

This was a city that seemed to have more pianos than it needed. As a mediocre pianist with a repertoire vanishing by the year (I’m now down to the first half of Chopin’s “Nocturne in C Sharp Minor”, the second half of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” and a blues arrangement of “Over the Rainbow”), I thought it might be worth buying one before I’d forgotten how to play anything at all.

When I went on the internet to assess the options, I was met with an unexpected sight: waves of pianos, second-hand, priced at £0. The condition was only that you took them away. Sometimes, the Gumtree ads hinted at the reasons. One said it was because the owner lived in a flat, which was ominous, given that I also lived in a flat. Most of them were in need of tuning or repairs.

This great coastal shelf of pianos, I later discovered, could be traced to the north London factories a century earlier, part of a vast industry as integral to the city’s identity as gin or shipping insurance. The instruments they produced were at the fulcrum of social life; when you got married, you bought a bed and you bought a piano.

In an age of screens and electricity, there were clearly hard questions to be asked of these wooden machines, their underlying technology little changed since the reign of Queen Victoria.


Full article here: https://www.businesstelegraph.co.uk/whatever-happened-to-britains-pianos/


Last edited by 3am_stargazing; 01/12/20 09:52 AM.

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A world of smaller living places, shrinking vehicles and a more mobile population more often moving from place to place. Better sounding and playing digitals. Same old song.

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Houses are getting smaller in the UK, especially in London, new builds are like shoeboxes. Even outside London, since the 1990s, houses have been made with the same number of rooms but to smaller floor plans, and pianos - even small uprights - can be very awkward in spaces like that. Digitals are popular because they don't look as bulky, even if they might take up the same floor space as a reasonable sized upright. A Roland HP 605 takes up probably about a third or maybe even half less space than a Yamaha U1. People who are not musical don't want their pianos to be imposing.

Then there's the issue of the piano tuner in the UK becoming a dying breed. There are so few good tuners - let alone techs. There are few people who actually have the skill to tune a scale properly, and that's before you get anywhere near voicing and regulation. Those big old pianos of the past just don't fit in with the modern lifestyle.

Good piano teachers are few and far between these days, and now even teachers of moderate skill are rare in the UK. Most teachers know how to babysit someone through the first few grades of the ABRSM syllabus but with sometimes excruciatingly bad results. The board as actually made it easier for people to pass with distinction, and I think they end up turning a blind eye to much of the rubbish that's going on.

I'm pretty sure this situation is widespread across much of the Western World.


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Originally Posted by joe80
Houses are getting smaller in the UK, especially in London, new builds are like shoeboxes. Even outside London, since the 1990s

It's true, although I think most British pianos have always been uprights though, and often quite small ones?

That said, the weight, and the cost of even moving and maintaining such old pianos is very high relative to their "resale value" (although not their musical value).

Originally Posted by joe80

Then there's the issue of the piano tuner in the UK becoming a dying breed. There are so few good tuners - let alone techs. There are few people who actually have the skill to tune a scale properly, and that's before you get anywhere near voicing and regulation. Those big old pianos of the past just don't fit in with the modern lifestyle.

I think part of it is the fact that the cost for a single tuning is also often 50% of the cost of buying an old piano. And then the cost of restoring an old upright is more than buying a quite good new one.

It must also be to do with the vastly increased cost of labour compared to the 19th century. I wonder how much tuning a piano cost in 1900 compared to today?


Originally Posted by joe80

Good piano teachers are few and far between these days, and now even teachers of moderate skill are rare in the UK. Most teachers know how to babysit someone through the first few grades of the ABRSM syllabus but with sometimes excruciatingly bad results. The board as actually made it easier for people to pass with distinction, and I think they end up turning a blind eye to much of the rubbish that's going on.

I'm pretty sure this situation is widespread across much of the Western World.
Raising the standards though would also scare people away.

In a diminishing market, it's probably better to lower standards, and encourage more people to play the piano.

Last edited by 3am_stargazing; 01/12/20 06:55 PM.

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As the article says, there's only 1 single piano manufacturer in the whole UK, which the article implies are staff from Kemble pianos.

They've sold 179 pianos so far.

Quote
The trade of actually making pianos, meanwhile, had almost died out in the UK, before coming back to life. Adam Cox launched Cavendish Pianos after the Yamaha-owned Kemble, Britain’s only surviving piano maker, moved production to east Asia in 2009. He employs young workers who have studied at Newark College, one of the last bastions of technical piano education in the UK.

In the middle of his workshop, there’s an opened-up piano. Even though I’ve played the instrument for over two decades, it’s the first time I’ve grasped how they really work. There’s an iron frame, and felt-tipped hammers strike the strings. But the music is in the soundboard — a thin layer of wood cut from trees that grow slowly at great altitude, often in the Alps or Tibet.

Cavendish has so far made and sold 179 instruments. The classic model costs £4,995. When I ask Cox what he thinks of the free pianos on the internet, he says that if there were no scrap value for cars, there would be millions of cars going for £0. It’s an interesting comparison. Cavendish is based in a building that was once a blacksmith’s forge. On the workshop wall, there’s a decorated map of the old piano factories of Camden, but the place feels like a refuge from the city. You couldn’t do this there.


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Most teachers are so.bad they " babysit students through the early grades of ABRSM " The Board has actually made it easier to pass people with distinction ? Is this really true ?
If so the professional teaching diplomas offered must have dropped in worth as well ?
What are the qualifications of the LRSM and LTCL worth today ?

Last edited by Lady Bird; 01/12/20 07:46 PM. Reason: Missing word
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Originally Posted by 3am_stargazing
As the article says, there's only 1 single piano manufacturer in the whole UK, which the article implies are staff from Kemble pianos.


https://www.phoenixpianos.co.uk/

My understanding is they are doing quite well. Do they not count as they are re-manufacturing? It basically winds up a new and different piano when they are done.


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Thank you for this article.

It is not very inspiring, but in the same period acoustic sales went from 30,000 in the 1980's to 5000 today, pianos with technology (hybrids, clavinovas, keyboards, digitals, etc.) have skyrocketed. I do not have numbers available to me but I would think this might account for a surprisingly big number.

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Sadly, I think this is the trend all across western society. frown


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All manufacturing has been on a long decline in the UK for several decades.


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