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I have a 1920 Mason & Hamlin Model A that is in very sad shape and I'm deciding whether I ought to consider a rebuild vs. buying a new piano. The body and soundboard are good, but everything else - including the pin block and action - would need to be replaced. Does anyone have a ball park sense of what a reputable technician would charge for this scale of project?

I'm really torn because I know the potential of this piano, but at the same time I wonder if it would be more financially feasible, less risky, and maybe less stressful to buy a new piano that would still make me happy.

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What you have is a Golden Era Mason & Hamlin. Never made in large numbers, they are rare. I think you will be hard pressed to find a new, equally satisfying piano for the cost of the needed work; if, as you say, the board is good. If the action is played to death, it is only because the piano invited the playing.


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The biggest potential downside is the quality of the rebuild and not knowing ahead of time how the piano will sound and feel. It could be quite a bit cheaper than buying a new piano of the same quality but there is some risk involved. Another possibility would be to find a gently used high quality piano. I think the cost can vary quite a bit by area and quality of the rebuilder.

Do you want to have the case refinished? That would add substantially to the cost. Do you know for a fact that the soundboard is good or do you just see no cracks?

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There are several rebuilders in this forum which have earned a reputation for doing quality rebuilds. I would have no problem with entrusting my 1903 M &H to any of them to complete a rebuild. .. and that would be my first choice over finding a gently used new(er) piano.

Of course, it is a personal decision.


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The case could use work too, but it's not a big concern for me. Yes, I had it fully evaluated by a registered technician and the soundboard is good.

It sounds right that rebuilding would cost less than buying a new 'equally satisfying' piano. On the other hand, what I'm wondering is whether rebuilding would cost more (perhaps MUCH more) than buying a cheaper new piano that would still make me happy - even if it's not as satisfying as the (potential) rebuilt M&H.

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Originally Posted by CompetentJudge
The case could use work too, but it's not a big concern for me. Yes, I had it fully evaluated by a registered technician and the soundboard is good.

It sounds right that rebuilding would cost less than buying a new 'equally satisfying' piano. On the other hand, what I'm wondering is whether rebuilding would cost more (perhaps MUCH more) than buying a cheaper new piano that would still make me happy - even if it's not as satisfying as the (potential) rebuilt M&H.
I think you'll have to test drive some of those cheaper new pianos to find out. Also, you need to get some specific quotes on your Mason A.

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Originally Posted by dogperson
There are several rebuilders in this forum which have earned a reputation for doing quality rebuilds. I would have no problem with entrusting my 1903 M &H to any of them to complete a rebuild. .. and that would be my first choice over finding a gently used new(er) piano.

Of course, it is a personal decision.
There is certainly a good chance that if the piano is rebuilt by a top rebuilder the OP will like the result. But I think a piano can be rebuilt well and not to someone's liking. Perhaps the OP can find a good rebuilder who has another Mason A for sale. If the OP like that piano, he can have the rebuilder use the same hammers, strings and action parts.

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Or if the rebuilder has a similar Mason & Hamlin for sale which you like, perhaps a trade-in could be arranged.


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I always advise clients that if cost is an issue, then you probably should not do it. It is not "worth" the expense economically in that you will never get that money back out of it. The decision must be made from the standpoint of: 1) I have the money, 2) I want to do it, 3) I see it as an emotional/musical investment rather than an economic one. IOW "I don't care about the 'loss'..that's not the point".

If cost IS an issue, better to go find one you can afford and like at the same time.

Just my .02

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As you say, the piano probably has great potential. With a golden era M&H A, you definitely want to choose the best rebuilder you can find to make sure you realize that potential. The right rebuilder is the key. When I looked at having a partial rebuild done on my S&S B, I wanted to make sure I entrusted it into the hands of the best technician I could find. I checked his reputation and played his work before I signed on the dotted line. Of course, I paid for it. I did have a couple of more economical quotes, but I was concerned that I wouldn't be satisfied with the results and end up paying much, much more to have the work redone.

Another consideration is the length of time it would take for a rebuild. In our area, the qualified technicians usually have a backlog of rebuilds in the queue.

So the choice. If you can't afford to have the rebuild done by the best technician, then I'd go the route of trading or selling the M&H and buying another piano. I think research is the key here. Talk to technicians about the rebuild, and shop for new pianos.

Your profile doesn't indicate where you're located. If we knew, someone might be able to point you to a rebuilder in your area.

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Is there a rating system or something for Piano Rebuilders in the USA?

Grading Rating?


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Originally Posted by brdwyguy
Is there a rating system or something for Piano Rebuilders in the USA?

Grading Rating?

Not that I'm aware of. It's by reputation only I think - people who have played their pianos or had them do their rebuilds. Many of them are concert technicians in their area, so they have credibility that way because of their client base. Others also own piano dealerships around the country, so it's easy to sample their work 1st hand if you're in their area. Several of them are members here on PW and comment on posts often. Other members are familiar with the various reputable rebuilders around the country or know someone who knows someone.

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hi yo. what a lovely discussion thread. I am just going to be stone-cold honest with you. It does not sound like you have a ton of money. Maybe? the type of rebuild this piano needs costs a lot of money. If I am a rich guy, I am going to say, "Absolutely!" and it is only fair to the rebuilder. What I am trying to say is that, sure, if you look high and low, you can likely find a pleasing piano to meet your needs that would cost a lot less money than the rebuild for your MH. So... that is one scenario, find a replacement piano in better condition. Right now I have seen one 1920's Ibach for cheap money sold by an individual just needs to get it out of the house. I am doing some minor teeth grinding over that! I would LUV to have that piano, but it is not the right time for me. Maybe you should hand off / sell / trade your MH to a rebuilder and get something different to play. If you have the $10-20k spending money, then sure, get your MH rebuilt. I spent $200. purchase on my Chickering Quarter Grand and I like it just fine, but sure I would LUV to jump up to a different level, but to honest, I have not fully realized the Chickering. It even has some cracks in the soundboard you can shine a light through, but this does not affect the sound that I can tell. It sounds good. Main thing is the action probably will not ever have anything in common with a higher quality action. Maybe you need some zen, let something fall into place.

Here's my MH story. My high school music director (small school) had a MH as his main instrument in the music room. He used to pound that thing! He was a wonderful music director and did some regional classical conducting. But since he had the MH, I have always wanted something different!! They say if the parents drive Mercedes, the kids want a BMW. If the parents drive BMW, the kids want Mercedes. For this sole reason, I have no interest in a MH. I want something different. Makes no sense, right? :-)

I know where there is a 9' Kawai GS100 for $12k. I had thought that sounds interesting. It is certainly functional, but after I got a Kawai institutional upright with some particle-board pieces on it- Kawai! How could you?~~

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just some abstract commentary:

- cost of rebuild without case-work? mmm $10k (I am just guessing. 15 if you want a new replacement action)

- time without piano during rebuild- at least a year.

- this would need to be a side project and you would need another piano to play in the meantime.

- I've had a synth rebuilt and serviced. Best person did it. It costs, yes. I did not miss it because I have about 10+ other electronic keyboards, so it was a "side project." I have another synth I bought that is getting a full fix-it and check before shipping. This is taking about a year to do before I even lay hands on the thing. It is a rare synth, so I am willing to go this route. It was hard to find, I literally had to call around and beat the bushes to find it. It was not listed for sale.

- I have an irritating lunatic friend who has spent about $5k for training classes and competitions for his little dog. He can afford this. I would not do this, but extravagant things require a lot of money.

- I kind of like banged up keyboards and I am slowly climbing the steps to get a better piano. I would be glad to have one piano to make me forget about the rest. I'm not there, yet.

- I have thoughts of buying a piano in Europe and having it shipped to me. There is a greater selection there of the things I like.

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Originally Posted by P W Grey
I always advise clients that if cost is an issue, then you probably should not do it. It is not "worth" the expense economically in that you will never get that money back out of it. The decision must be made from the standpoint of: 1) I have the money, 2) I want to do it, 3) I see it as an emotional/musical investment rather than an economic one. IOW "I don't care about the 'loss'..that's not the point".

If cost IS an issue, better to go find one you can afford and like at the same time.

Just my .02

Peter Grey Piano Doctor

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I'm reading between the lines that the OP is attached to this piano. But perhaps I'm wrong.

New is probably the safe route, if that's what's most important to you. If you go that way, though, I'd encourage you to keep the Mason stored somewhere, because you may regret not having it rejuvenated (and I'm picking a deliberately vague word).

If the soundboard is good, then I think worries about tone after the rebuild are mitigated significantly (if it's not replaced, that variable is removed from the equation). Touch can be dialed in by a technician who's competent in regulation, so replacing the action is relatively low risk.

Something else to consider is that you don't have to have it all done at one time.


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Being a New England rebuilder, I have seen a lot of Boston Mason & Hamlin A's. I have rebuilt at least a dozen A's amongst the amongst the other models that have come through my shop. There have been 9 or 10 scales of this model, and I think I have done 7 of them - an interesting travel through their design evolution. I have an A in my shop presently.

In terms of quality, Mason & Hamlin is regarded second only to Steinway, and not distant. In the right hands, using the finest materials and craftsmanship of the first order, the musician can end up with a superb piano.

Your piano is now 100 years old, so the soundboard should be closely examined by any rebuilder you contact. Whether or you not you should consider replacement will depend on the kind of life the piano has had and what the original board can still offer. Obviously, the cost of replacing a board will bear on any decision you make.

The great musical value of a Mason & Hamlin has not changed, even as the monetary value of most things piano has gone upside down.

You will need a good rebuilder who will not skimp to assure a good result. That will involve a leap of faith on your part. You alone can determine your comfort level with that. Not everyone can make that leap, but I and so many others have spent our entire working lives meeting expectations.


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Thanks to everyone for the thoughtful replies!

Originally Posted by P W Grey
I always advise clients that if cost is an issue, then you probably should not do it. It is not "worth" the expense economically in that you will never get that money back out of it. The decision must be made from the standpoint of: 1) I have the money, 2) I want to do it, 3) I see it as an emotional/musical investment rather than an economic one. IOW "I don't care about the 'loss'..that's not the point".

If cost IS an issue, better to go find one you can afford and like at the same time.

Of your considerations, cost is the only issue for me. I'm not worried about the resale value or economic investment side of things.


Originally Posted by GC13
When I looked at having a partial rebuild done on my S&S B, I wanted to make sure I entrusted it into the hands of the best technician I could find. I checked his reputation and played his work before I signed on the dotted line. Of course, I paid for it. I did have a couple of more economical quotes, but I was concerned that I wouldn't be satisfied with the results and end up paying much, much more to have the work redone.

Yes, I believe I'd have similar concerns and end up wanting a rebuild I couldn't afford.

Originally Posted by GC13
Another consideration is the length of time it would take for a rebuild. In our area, the qualified technicians usually have a backlog of rebuilds in the queue.

Your profile doesn't indicate where you're located. If we knew, someone might be able to point you to a rebuilder in your area.

You and MichaelET raise a good point that timing is another issue. Rationally it makes sense that a quality rebuild would take time (not to mention the backlog), but I hadn't considered just how long I might be without an instrument.

I am in the Houston, TX area.

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Originally Posted by Retsacnal
Something else to consider is that you don't have to have it all done at one time.

I'm curious about this. The action could be replaced on its own, but it seems like most of the other work would have to be done after the pin block is replaced. In any case, I suspect doing a little a time would just stress me out.

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I would advise you talk to a couple of rebuilders: get an estimated cost and timeline. Once you have that information, go piano shopping and see what your $$ will buy. I think you will have a decision with some homework.


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Dear Competent Judge:

Although this might seem a contradiction, I believe that BOTH Craig Hair AND Peter Grey have given you very good advice. Their comments resonate with me, deeply.
I write from the perspective of being a vintage Mason fanatic. If you share a profound love of that sound, then nothing else will do. If not, it's surely best to follow Peter's well-considered advice.
In the case of the action, I personally have no particular attachment to the OLD, ORIGINAL, W, N & G actions. To me, they were generally both heavy AND slow. l can take heavy, but heavy AND slow is really TOO much. Replace all with the NEW generation W, N, & G.
As far as the belly is concerned, you will have to find an experienced rebuilder who truly understands and appreciates the beauty of those pianos with their distinctive and unique colour, and has no particular desire to paint a moustache on it.

Karl Watson,
Staten Island, NY

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