Frequently Asked Questions
Check this out if you have an antique piano!
Much of the information below is from The Piano Book by Larry Fine
How Much Is It Worth?
Ultimately, something is worth only as much as someone will pay for it. Piano prices vary greatly depending on the locale and the particular situation. The value of a piano also depends very much on how knowledgeable the seller and potential buyers are. For every piano, there is what I would call an "informed value" and an "ignorant value." The informed value takes into account the technical quality and condition of the piano, whereas the ignorant value does not, being based primarily on how the piano case looks (if even that). Unfortunately, the ignorant value is more often than not what the piano actually sells for.
Let the buyer beware.
In most private transactions, the seller hasn't the foggiest notion of what the piano is worth, and the asking price is vastly over-inflated, often based on such considerations as that "Uncle Joe liked this piano, and he played all his life, so it must be a fine instrument." In these cases, there's plenty of room for negotiating. If the piano needs considerable repair, encourage the technician to tell you this in front of the seller, as it will better your bargaining position. Even where the seller knows the informed value of the instrument, the asking price is usually set high in the expectation of bargaining, and you can generally expect to agree at a price of from 10 to 30 percent less.
For a comprehensive up-to-date list of prices of current pianos, check out 2007-2008 Annual Supplement to The Piano Book . This handy guide contains "standard" pricing and discount information for thousands of pianos.
But It Is An Antique!
Piano World is often asked if a piano is valuable because it is an "antique" . The answer in most cases is no. Unlike say, a Chippendale writing desk or Tiffany lamp, an old piano is usually just that, an old piano. While restoring a fine piece of furniture usually involves a craftsman restoring the finish, this would only be the starting point with a piano. The piano is a complicated mechanical marvel involving thousands of moving parts, all of which are subject to wear and deterioration. Restoring these many parts to their original condition is a major undertaking for a skilled piano technician, requiring many, many hours of labor. And even this is sometimes not possible due to the lack of available replacement parts.
Should I Invest the Money?
The following is from a discussion on our Piano Forums...
Hello, From reading other posts I take it that it is not worth the money or time to restore an old upright. My piano is a 1898 Weber. It is in excellent condition. I bought it at the Salvation Army for fifty dollars. Should I spend more and get it restored? Thanks!
It depends on what you want. As it stands the piano is probably worth between $0 and $500 and all components have considerable wear. Assuming that the basic structure such as pinblock, soundboard, and bridges are sound, you could spend perhaps about $2500 to $2800 for partial rebuilding and have the piano restrung, have new hammers, damper felt, and bridle tapes put on the action, and have the keys rebushed. If the other action parts such as hammer butts, shanks, and whippens are in fairly reasonable condition and not becoming brittle with age that's the minimum to get you a musical instrument that will probably sound very good and play decently.
Because of the wear that's certain to exist in the other action parts it won't be a piano that can be perfectly regulated or will feel and play like a new piano. If you had to sell it with some effort you might be able to get $1500 for it. If you went the whole distance and had the action fully rebuilt with all new parts you would probably end up spending about twice the previous estimate. Then if you want add in about $1800 to get the case refinished.
By the time you are done you would have a really nice vintage upright piano, but that money would also buy you a really nice new upright. After doing all that if you had to sell the piano you would never get anywhere near what you put into it out of it. That might give you some idea why old uprights such as this almost never get rebuilt. One last comment: you say the piano is in excellent condition - how do you know?
- Niles Duncan, Piano rebuilder, Pasadena, CA
Get the Tuner.
Although it is possible to find a piano built over 60 years ago that is still in reasonable playing condition, we would recommend enlisting the opinion of a qualified piano tuner/technician before investing in one, and the price should reflect the fact that it is an old piano. The period from 1900 to 1930 was the heyday of piano manufacturing during which many fine instruments were being built. A piano from this period that has been well maintained, or is in restorable condition, might be a good purchase (have a piano tuner check it out for you before you invest your money).
Don't be Square.
In particular, we recommend staying away from the "square piano" also known as a "square grand". These instruments were really a rectangular box and were often very ornate, however, they were poor musical instruments even when they were new and most piano tuners refuse to even attempt to work on them. If you insist on buying a square piano, you should look at it strictly as a piece of furniture.