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Joined: Jun 2013
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All my friends have 30-yr-old Jeeps on cinder blocks in their garages that ever get finished,
and I don't have any projects like that and I'm feeling left out.

I want to acquire an antique piano that's only dubiously justifiable to restore, and work on it with no end in sight for 2-3 years, sinking time and money into it that would never be recouped.
Bill has his jeep taking up his entire garage for years without end: I want a dismantled century-old grand to take up mine and we can complain about our boondoggles together.

I'm here asking for advice on some piano models that would make worthwhile-ish candidates? years, makers, models: forgotten gems to look for, duds to run from?

I hope you enjoyed my introduction, which was attempt at some light self-deprecating humor.
My intent is to stress that I'd be embarking on this with no starry-eyed illusions about restoring an old piano being easy or fast, let alone profitable. I want to do this because I enjoy hobbies that involve working with my hands, I play piano and want to learn and understand more about the instrument I use, and hopefully when done in about 2 years of on-off work on my weekends, have a working piano to take over from the midi keyboard I've been using.

Some eight years ago I started to restore a 1936 Kimball baby grand, but I was virtually unemployed at the time so I didn't have the money, and then I moved 3000 miles (and got a real career) so I gave it away locally to a technician who gave it away to the next hobbyist, I sometimes wonder its final fate. I did gain some understanding for the mechanisms, however, so it wasn't time wasted.


OKAY enough backstory. I have two ideas and I want your feedback:

one. restore a grand piano from the 'golden age' maybe 1890-1929 (great depression)?. advice I'm looking for are major technological shifts that I don't want to be on the wrong side of.

E.g., I already know that I probably don't want a straight-strung grand from 1880.
I also acknowledge that it's less worthwhile to put in all this work on a baby grand, so something 6' would be better.
I'd also want a mostly-modern action both because it's a better playing experience I'll be happy with and because it'll be easier to find parts for and service.
I like real ivory keys: part of the romance of an antique piano. If a piano has curling key tops, were those vintage plastic? or ivory warps too?
I have an admiration for fine woodworking, so I am looking for something with overly elaborate finely carved legs and curly or burled veneers and the like. Not everyone's into the ornamentation, but, I like it-- something I can't possibly find on a modern piano, so it's something that makes the antique even more worth restoring.
I know to generally avoid ampico grands / player pianos, the action is non-standard and harder to find service parts for is what I read.
I'm budgeting about $6000 total: whether that's $0 for the piano and $1000 for movers and $5000 for all-new parts or $5000 for the piano but it doesn't need anything because it was fully restored back in 2004.
The piano is for me and me alone: resale value is a nice ego-booster but I frankly don't have the money for even a project steinway anyway (everyone wants $15,000++). I found myself looking at lots of Knabes and Chickerings or the occasional Sohmer: quality builds for their time? and cheap or even free, the names aren't as household-recognizable as steinway, bosendorfer, mason+hamlin, etc., and that's fine with me.


I live in Maryland so if you're bored and like to browse facebook marketplace/ craigslist/ ebay and see some candidates within 200 miles of Maryland, I wouldn't object to suggestions.
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My other idea was I found some very fine woodworking on square pianos that I relished the appearance of
They're technologically obsolete though.
Have you ever played one? I haven't, yet; and even if I drove out and did the number of restored+tuned ones near me is zero, so it wouldn't be a good representation. There's a neglected Knabe at the piano shop around the corner (they haven't rebuilt it yet) and it sounds and plays like crap. My point is, being so far from what it should be, of course it's a bad piano: so test-driving an untuned antique square piano would be an equally poor representation.
I was considering either actually trying to restore it (the action would be the most difficult part: nothing standard, everything to custom-make at my buddy's woodshop). the soundboard would be a challenge as well since I don't have the equipment to plane such a broad sheet of wood, so it would have to be outsourced to a professional. pinblock too.
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I could also work at turning it into a hybrid midi piano, going two ways with this [I posted an hour ago about this idea] one where I restore the action but chuck the plate, pinblock, and strings and install position sensors in the keys. The soundboard could stay stock because it'll now just be a storage cabinet and it doesn't have to actually function as a domed soundboard anymore.
This has the advantage of saving lots of grief trying to restore the acoustic functionality, sounding like a real piano through the magic of kontakt and 400GB sound sample libraries and really nice speakers, while keeping the antique key tops, but the disadvantage (maybe?) of feeling like whatever an 1860 square piano felt like with its archaic whippens, if whippens were even invented yet. and the disadvantage of still having to restore said antique action.
Lastly, gutting the entire thing keeping the case and soundboard (still just a nonfunctional shelf) and swapping out for an entirely modern keybed/action, where the square piano is kept as a beautiful cabinet and keyboard stand for the antique look, but in place of any of the original hardware is a completely modern grand piano action with sensors as a midi controller. I'm biased towards this last option, but it really hinges on just how hard is it to revive an old square grand and would I be likely to be happy with how it feels or sounds even after it's all said and done? At least as a hybrid modern action+midi, it'll feel like a modern grand (because it IS a modern grand action), and sound like a super high-quality recording of a modern grand too. With the side benefits of weighing less, not needing tuning, and being able to use headphones when the neighbors don't want to hear me in the early stages of learning a piece, lol.
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. . . I might even do BOTH. square grand becomes my midi controller hybrid, and 6'+ modern style grand becomes my acoustic project piano.

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Get yourself an old S&S. At least it will be worth the time and cost.

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I’ve done an old Knabe and an old Chickering. I was happy with both results.


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If you can find one, a Julius Bauer would be interesting. A.B. Chase specialized using high quality wood with gorgeous veneers. Both of those companies mastered their designs by the late 1890's. A square, although pretty cabinets, might just be throwing the money away.

-chris


Chernobieff Piano Restorations
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If you want a digital piano in a fancy wood case, why not just remove the action and slide a cheap keyboard in?

Square pianos have no market value. The pinblock is mortised into the case, so replacing it requires disassembling the whole piano.

A previous poster commented that many John Broadwood pianos were imported to the US in the early 20th century for their pretty cases. There's one for sale 40 miles from here for $800, for example. Getting one of those back to playable condition would be plenty of a project, I think.

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Ohh, I didn't know that about the squares [mortised pinblock permanently locked in]. I was remembering the Kimball, and pinblock removal was straightforward on a conventional grand. I knew a square would be a different beast.
The reason to 'digitize' the existing action is more about keeping the authentic look externally. It's something I've got to practice with on my own before applying to an old square. You're absolutely right, just sliding in a ready-made MIDI controller would be the very easiest thing! There's a new thread here with someone else with an 1850s square grand, and it was something I suggested to him, unsure if I saw it. If restoring the square means $10,000 that will never be recouped, but he wants to keep a playable piano as an heirloom, gut the internals find a cabinetmaker to widen the opening to fit a kawai or yamaha keyboard, and there you go. antique look, modern feel, no maintenance, and only 200-300# in wood, LOL.

OKAY so I'm looking at Knabe grands. partly, I grew up in baltimore so that appeals (made in baltimore), partly, they have many rosewood ones and I like the looks, and largely, they're simply more available and in full grand and concert grand sizes.

Steinway&Sons would be economically justified from a resale perspective but even the neglected project pianos, people are asking like $15,000++, sheesh. I could get a wholly restored knabe for that price.

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Originally Posted by berninicaco3
Steinway&Sons would be economically justified from a resale perspective but even the neglected project pianos, people are asking like $15,000++, sheesh.

Ok, you are correct! Those crappy old Steinways that nobody wanted a few years ago are now going for too much dough. I just checked frown

So here is a beautiful old Broadwood. A large grand, almost an art case, updated to playable condition. I am so tempted for a project I do not need.

https://reverb.com/ca/item/34230052...ns-no-9-boudoir-grand-piano-in-satinwood

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Look for an A. M. Hume grand.
It is a Morris Steinert product, but they are totally traditional.
They have normal actions and flat, simple pinblocks.
They are the best pianos Steinert ever made.

Craig


Craig Hair
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I'm really fond pf Webers, the NY Webers. I'm on my third, the first was a "cabinet grand", a huge upright, the other two are squares. They all had a lovely voice before restoration, they just didn't play till I had a chance to go through the action.
I'm obviously not prejudiced against squares like a lot of folk but I have heard some lemons that I wouldn't bother with. I'd have to hear the Knabe. I didn't like the Chickering square that I heard.
I think it's important to hear the piano before bringing it home, even if it doesn't work well, you'll get a sense of what you'll end up with.

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Looking at the Baltimore area Craigslist, this Chickering is the best one suited to your wants. It is a little small, but close enough that it will have decent sound, and if you screw it up, it will be no great loss.


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Wow, just looked at the ad - seems like an ideal candidate. $100.

Maybe the OP can make it sound like Diana Krall's Chickering: thread with video and details

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That Chickering is just what you are looking for.


Craig Hair
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Conservative Piano Restoration
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