Every day we are approached with dozens of questions relating to pianos and organs from customers all over the country. As a service to you, we have listed several of the more frequently asked questions below, along with direct and accurate answers that we hope you will find helpful and informative.
*If you have a question you would like to see addressed on our FAQ page, please send us an email at [email protected]
1. HOW OLD IS MY PIANO OR ORGAN?
In order to get a general idea of the age and type of your instrument, please visit our "Identify Your Instrument" page on this website at http://www.antiquepianoshop.com/identify-instrument. This page has photos and information that will help you identify what age and type of piano or organ you may have.
Encore! The most accurate way to determine the age of your instrument is by its brand name and serial number. There are a handful of historical publications that are used in the industry to cross reference brand names with serial numbers in order to target dates of manufacture.
WHERE TO FIND THE SERIAL NUMBER: In most pianos, the brand name and serial number can be found inside the instrument near the soundboard or strings. Upright pianos usually have this information just inside the lid stamped on the back of the piano. Grand and square grand pianos usually have the information stamped on the soundboard or plate, as well as stamped on the top of each leg, pedal lyre, etc. Organs and melodeons usually have this information stamped inside the cabinet, sometimes on hand-written tags or stickers. Sometimes pianos and organs might show the name of a distributor or retailer on the area above the keyboard instead of the name of the actual manufacturer. Also, if a piano has ever been non-professionally stripped or refinished, chances are that the original name decal above the keyboard was removed with the old finish (these name decals are replaced when professionally refinished). When searching for the brand name of your instrument, keep in mind that the actual manufacturer's name generally appears inside the instrument, and can sometimes be different than the name that appears on the front of the instrument near the keyboard.
Once you determine the brand name and serial number of your piano, email us at [email protected] and we will gladly assist you in determining the age of your instrument. Note that in some case when instruments are more rare or obsolete, we may require photos in order to help establish the age of your instrument.
*While searching for your serial number and brand name, you will likely find various dates and patents listed inside your instrument. It is important to point out that patent dates, dates companies were established, etc., are NOT manufacturing dates.
2. WHAT IS MY ANTIQUE PIANO OR ORGAN WORTH?
Sadly, we see original, unrestored antique instruments selling for only a fraction of their potential restored value. Restoration is not cheap, but it is necessary to make any instrument worth top dollar. If your instrument was an antique automobile sitting on blocks, full of rust and ruining due to Her First Voice Lesson neglect, you wouldn't expect it to fetch a very high price. If you invested in having the automobile restored to make it a show car, you could then expect it to sell for a tidy sum - likely at a nice profit after your investment. Pianos and organs are the same way. Restored instruments sell for high dollars - original, unrestored instruments simply do not.
The term "restored" refers to professional internal and professional external restoration and rebuilding, not just cabinet refinishing and internal cleaning, etc. Many people think that because grandma refinished their piano or organ in the garage 10 years ago that the instrument is "restored" and worth a fortune - not true. Like the antique automobile, piano/organ restoration includes rebuilding the internal mechanisms as well as the cosmetics.
Over the past decade, we have seen the value of antique pianos and organs nearly double across the board. Much of the credit goes to education - folks are now able to go to the internet and learn about what they have, often encouraged to invest and preserve their instruments.
A good way to get a general sense of what instruments are worth (after restoration) is by comparing them against what similar instruments are selling for in the real market. It may be helpful if you go to our online showroom gallery at this link: http://www.antiquepianoshop.com/products/ Here you can see what different types and styles of instruments have been selling for over the past few years.
APPRAISALS: The best way to get an accurate value for your antique piano or organ is to get it appraised. We do offer appraisals services for antique instruments, and you can learn more by visiting the appraisal section of our website at this link: http://www.antiquepianoshop.com/sell-an-instrument/
3. IS MY ANTIQUE INSTRUMENT WORTH THE INVESTMENT OF RESTORATION?
Restoration and preservation of antique pianos and organs is largely considered a very good investment. With the high price of mediocre quality new instruments being produced today, restoration is often a more affordable option than buying new. Sure there are lots of cheap new pianos available in today's market, but you have to consider that they are generally poor quality "throw away" pianos that won't be here 100 year from now! Unfortunately, one has to spend a small fortune to get a quality new piano today, while restoration of a vintage instrument can give them much more dollar for dollar.
*When it comes to rare and historical instruments, there is no question that restoration is a good investment. Over the past two decades we have seen historical pianos and organs appreciate nearly double in value, a trend that will only continue!
(Quoted From The Founder Of Antique Piano Shop) - "It seems as if there are 2 basic mindsets in the piano industry: Those who love antique pianos, and those who think they are junk. It is a much divided world of opinions, and it is rare that we encounter those who seem to take much of a middle ground on the subject. Day Dreaming With Her Favorite Song
I have clients approach me asking "is my antique piano worth restoration?" My immediate answer is unequivocally "Yes!" because of what I have seen in the real marketplace over the past several years. I realize that there are a lot of piano tuners and technicians out there who do not believe that antique pianos are worth restoration. There seems to be common school of thought in the piano world that "new is better". However, there are those who love and cherish these vintage instruments - those that want to restore and preserve them for future generations.
Being a professional pianist is what got me so involved with piano restoration and preservation. I approach these vintage instruments from a pianists' point of view first, and from a technical point of view second. I have personally sat down and played Beethoven Piano Sonatas on a restored Pre-Civil War square grand piano. I got chills down my back because of the experience, knowing I was hearing the music the way Beethoven's audience heard it first hand. I have played Chopin and Schumann on restored turn-of-the-century uprights and grands, from which the power and warmth was incredibly moving. I suspect that many new piano dealers have not had the privilege of that experience. To me, the thrill was totally lost, almost sterile, sitting down to a new Yamaha. I admit that this is my own opinion as a pianist, and those who disagree are entitled to say so.
The fact is that the market has historically supported antique piano restoration and preservation, and seems to be a fast growing trend. We have experienced this first hand, as have many of our colleagues around the country. As restoration costs steadily increase, values of these antique instruments are steadily increasing as well. How can an instrument that cost hundreds of dollars a century ago (the cost of a house!), not to mention that the instrument has survived 100 years and is still functional and in one piece, be the equivalent of a useless, worthless piece of furniture today? While respecting the differing opinions of others, those who prefer new pianos over restoration are simply not our customers, just as those who are passionate about having an antique instrument restored are not likely to go out and buy a new piano. People who love and appreciate antique and historical instruments are the people who create the very real market for these instruments. People who do not share this love and appreciation will tell you the market isn't there, and although we see it quite differently, we choose to respect their opinions".
-Michael Stinnett, Founder
Antique Piano Shop, Inc.
4. HOW OFTEN SHOULD MY ANTIQUE PIANO BE TUNED?
After being moved hundreds of miles by wagon and train, his piano arrived in tune! Most manufacturers suggest that pianos be tuned every six months at the change of seasons. Pianos built today are a bit delicate compared to pianos built 100 years ago, and are often more sensitive to changes in heat and humidity. In our antique ephemera collection, we see countless testimonials from clients 100+ years ago talking about how their piano was shipped from New York City to the wilderness of the midwest by Horse & Buggy, only to arrive in perfect tune! Pianos back then didn't have the luxury of central heating and air condition, and they were usually exposed to the harshest of elements like frigid winters by a wood stove and sweltering summers in open windows with direct sunlight.
*For most folks, a piano can go a year or two without being tuned and sound just fine. Others swear by the 6 month rule.
5. HOW DO I KNOW IF MY PIANO OR ORGAN IS AN ANTIQUE?
We generally consider an antique piano or organ to be built prior to the Great Depression. Some dealers dictate that furniture must be at least 100 years old to be considered an antique, so the line is a bit vague.
*Pianos & Organs are not like most antiques - they are functioning machines like antique automobiles...and like antique automobiles, they generally don't adhere to the same rules as antique furniture, etc.
6. IS IT TRUE THAT REFINISHING MY ANTIQUE PIANO OR ORGAN WILL RUIN ITS VALUE?
NO! In fact, professional refinishing is almost always necessary for an antique instrument to be worth top dollar.
It is true that some furniture - very old and historical furniture - is worth more with the original finish intact. These antiques had shellac or French Polish finishes that stay beautiful for centuries if well cared for. Pianos, on the other hand, had primitive varnish finishes that rot and deteriorate over time. These varnish finishes crackle and become rough to the touch like old leather, and turn so dark that you would think the piano is black under the old finish.
*Again, like antique automobiles needing new paint jobs to be show cars, antique pianos and organs almost always require professional refinishing to be worth top dollar.
7. IF MY PIANO HAS A CRACKED SOUNDBOARD, IS IT RUINED?
How many times have you heard "that piano has a cracked soundboard so it's no good"? CRACKED SOUNDBOARDS ARE COMMON AND NOT A PROBLEM! The vintage article listed below will give you real and accurate information about piano soundboards. This article has been widely used and circulated in the Piano Industry as a credible resource for accurate information:
"THE SOUNDBOARD OF THE PIANO"
From an article by Dr. William Braid White,
Chicago School of Pianoforte Technology
"IN THE PIANO the function of the soundboard is to take up and repeat the vibratory motions of the strings, and thus to set up in the air sound waves of vastly greater size and power than could be generated by the strings alone. The more faithfully the sound-board performs this function, the better soundboard it is. The layman will better understand this amplifying function of the soundboard if he will think of the relatively enormous area of the board when compared with the very small area of all the strings taken together. Hence, when the piano is played, the soundboard, repeating the vibratory motions of the strings, sets in vibration vastly more air than could the strings themselves.
The more than two hundred strings that constitute the tone-generating element of the piano are stretched, at high tensions, over wooden bridges, or supports, which are rigidly fastened to the surface of the soundboard. Thus, within a small fraction of a second any motions of the strings are transmitted through the bridges to the soundboard, which as it were, accepts them, and faithfully reproduces them over its entire surface. These tiny but intensely complex motions, originating at the strings, are transmitted to the large body of air surrounding the front and back surfaces of the soundboard, thereby setting up powerful sound waves which immediately register on the ear-drums of all within hearing.
So faithfully does the sound. board perform this difficult function, that no matter how many strings may be sounding at one time, their almost incredibly complex motions will always and un-failingly be taken up and reproduced. Thus, the soundboard of the piano acts just as does the parchment head of a drum or the thin steel diaphragm of the receiver element in a telephone. It should be remembered, however, that it is the strings, and not the soundboard, that originate, by their vibratory motions after they have been struck, the sound which the soundboard amplifies.
In order to obtain these very remarkable effects of amplification, the soundboard of the piano must be constructed with exquisite skill. Its length and breadth depend of course, upon the size of the instrument, while its thickness, with some variations between one end and the other, averages one-quarter inch. The pieces of spruce wood from which it is made are matched in such a way that the grain runs roughly parallel to the line of the great bridges upon which the strings rest.
FACTS LITTLE UNDERSTOOD
It is strange but true that these simple facts about the effect of the strings upon the sound board and about the soundboard's responses to the strings, are still very little understood. Thus there persists a common notion that a crack in the wood must in some way cause a deterioration of the tonal output. Actually, no such effect is to be expected. The erroneous idea that a crack in a soundboard reduces the tonal output is undoubtedly due to the equally erroneous theory that sound "vibrations" in some way travel transversely across the soundboard. But, as has been shown here, the movement of the board is that of the movement of the strings, up and down in the case of a grand, backward and forward in the case of a piano of vertical construction. The glued-up strips of thin spruce, reinforced by bridges and ribs, which constitute the soundboard, become in fact a single unit, so that the whole board vibrates with the playing of even one single note anywhere in the scale.
EFFECT OF CRACKS AND CHECKS
For this very reason a crack or check in a soundboard reduces the soundboard's ability to amplify the vibrations of the strings only to the extent to which the crack reduces the vibrating area of the board.
Soundboard areas vary with the size of various pianos, but consider for example a board with an area of 4,000 square inches, counting both surfaces. Now assume that there is a crack in this board 35 inches long and one eighth inch wide, which would be an enormous crack. That crack would have an area (counting both surfaces) of 8 3/4 inches, and so would reduce the air disturbing area of the board by less than of one per cent, all amount utterly negligible. Here we have considered the effect of an enormously big crack. A dozen ordinary cracks, even if they extended from end to end of the soundboard, might have about as much effect, certainly no more. So long, in fact, as the structure of the soundboard re-mains solid, with ribs and bridges adhering correctly to the surface of the soundboard, and with the entire periphery rigidly fastened into the frame of the piano, the question of cracks is utterly unimportant. "
-Dr. William Braid White
Sadly, the "cracked soundboard" ploy has generated countless dollars for unscrupulous piano tuners over the years that use it as a scare tactic to earn extra money. As discussed in the above article, a crack in a soundboard is not detrimental to tone and is more cosmetic than anything. In fact, the nature of the soft spruce wood a soundboard is made of needs to be able to expand and retract with changes in heat and humidity. This is why so many pianos have separations and "cracks" in the soundboards but still sound good. Almost any piano with a little age on it will likely have soundboard issues which can be corrected and repaired properly.
*The soundboard and the harp (plate) are not the same thing. The soundboard is made of wood, and the harp is made of cast iron painted gold (usually) which holds tension on the strings. A cracked harp is an important issue, but in most cases can be remedied by new technologies in welding and mending.
8. HOW DO I KNOW IF MY PIANO OR ORGAN KEYS ARE REAL IVORY? When We Fell In Love
Most instruments built before about 1960 had real ivory key tops. Keep in mind that an actual key itself is made of wood, and only the thin covering on top is made of ivory (or plastic in new pianos).
Ivory can always be identified by the hairline separation between the head and the tail of the key. Because of the way ivory was harvested, it was necessary that one piano key be made with two pieces of ivory, not just one. The head of the key is the part that sticks out in front of the black keys, and the tail is the thinner part of the key that is between the black keys. A second way to identify real ivory is that it has a grain-like texture similar to a human fingernail. Often times old ivory will turn yellow with age, but so will some early forms of plastic. Celluloid was also a very popular key top material, and was supposed to be the "key top of the future". Unfortunately, celluloid is very flammable and the slightest cigarette ash will burn an unsightly hole completely through the key top. If your keys have cigarette burns, you most certainly have celluloid keys, not ivory.
*Plastic and celluloid keys were used on instruments as far back as the 1880's, so it is possible that some antique instruments may have original plastic key tops instead of ivory!
9. I'VE ALWAYS HEARD THAT MY UPRIGHT PIANO WAS REALLY AN "UPRIGHT GRAND". WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
Most large upright pianos built before the Great Depression had string length and soundboard area much larger than baby grand pianos. As a result, makers would often call their upright pianos "Upright Grands" or "Cabinet Grands", and even some makers hailed their instruments as "Concert Grand Uprights", etc. Simply put, these were the largest upright pianos, and generally were the higher grades and the most expensive models. However, they are all upright pianos regardless of what they are called. Upright pianos are always strung vertically, top to bottom, and grand pianos are strung horizontally, front to back.
*The typical full sized upright piano has longer strings and a larger soundboard than a baby grand piano. For example, if a baby grand piano is 5 feet long, at least 12 inches of that length is going to be the keyboard before the strings and soundboard begin. Therefore, a 5 foot long baby grand piano has the string length of a 48 inch console piano, and a 58" upright has the string length of a full grand piano nearly 6 feet long! Daddy, How Does It Play By Itself?
10. SHOULD MY UPRIGHT PIANO BE KEPT ON AN INSIDE WALL?
Today, most homes are well insulated and have central heat and air conditioning. As long as your piano isn't exposed to moving air, heat or humidity, a well sealed outside wall should be safe for your piano. Always avoid contact with direct sunlight, heat registers, fireplaces, radiators, air conditioning vents, etc. The more stable the environment, the longer your piano will give good service.
How many times have you heard the notion about how bad it is to place your piano on an outside wall? It's true that an outside wall was not the best choice for a piano 100 years ago when houses had little or no insulation. In those days, walls were not sealed from the outside elements. Somehow, now in the 21st Century, the idea that an outside wall is a bad place for a piano has still managed to be a popular misconception!
11. IS MY ANTIQUE PIANO OR ORGAN MADE OF SOLID WOOD OR VENEER?
Many people seem to think that a piece of furniture that is veneered must be cheaply made and of poor quality. Nothing could be further than the truth! Veneer was commonly used in the finest furniture making of the 19th and 20th Centuries, and was actually more expensive and labor intensive to produce. Veneer is a thin slice of wood glued over the top of a solid piece of wood, often glued in multiple layers. The veneer serves 2 purposes. First, it is nearly impossible to get a fancy burl or "ribbon cut" grain from a solid piece of Veneer Selection From Marshall & Wendell Piano Catalog, Circa 1920 wood. Veneer is cut against the grain of the log, and this type of cut is what produces the beautifully detailed wood grain in most fine furniture. Second, veneer adds substantial strength and durability. In antique pianos (and less commonly in antique organs), the cabinets were made of solid wood like oak, poplar, chestnut or maple. Then, 2 or 3 layers of a thick cut veneer would be glued over the solid wood, with the grain running in opposite directions. This kept the solid wood from being prone to shrinkage and warpage, and increased the strength of the case.
Almost all antique pianos were veneered - we estimate more than 95% of them. Antique organs, on the other hand, were sold at a fraction of the cost of antique pianos, and their cabinets are usually solid woods like oak or walnut. Veneer was too expensive to apply to the typical Victorian parlor organ (although most 19th Century melodeons are rosewood veneer).
12. HOW DO I KNOW IF MY ANTIQUE PIANO OR ORGAN ORIGINALLY CAME WITH A STOOL OR A BENCH?
We frequently have clients that specifically want a bench or a stool to go with their antique piano or organ. Sometimes it is difficult to match a 20th Century bench to a 19th Century instrument per a customer's request, so we hope this information will help explain why such a match it not a good idea. Proper 19th Century Piano Stool Etiquette
Benches are good for seating two people side by side and storing sheet music underneath, and stools are good for height adjustment and rotating around from side to side.
Historically, however, benches were rarely put with instruments until well into the 20th Century. During the 19th century and turn-of-the-century era, the women of the family were often the pianists - and consider what they wore. Fashion of that era consisted of anything from hoop-skirts to bustles and corsets, long flowing skirts and heavy tapestry. Imagine a Civil War era Southern Belle sitting on a bench and her hoop skirt flipping up over her head - It would have been impossible for the Victorian lady to sit on a bench without seriously compromising her modesty! The piano and organ stools of the Victorian era were mean by which an elegant lady could "perch" with her crinoline draped unspoiled while she sat at the keyboard.
In the early 20th Century, as fashion trends changed and less restrictive garments (including pants) came into fashion, the piano bench began to become popular for it's more utilitarian use.
*In summary, stools were used in the Victorian era up until the first part of the 20th Century. The piano bench as we know it today became popular after the first decade of the 20th Century when fashion trends allowed more flexibility.
13. CAN MY ANTIQUE PIANO BE TUNED TO MODERN CONCERT PITCH?
In the early 20th Century and before, there was no real recognition of "standard pitch". Standard pitch means that a note on the scale sounds exactly the same across the board with no variance whatsoever. Right around 1926, Universal Standard Pitch was adopted as A-440, meaning that the A above middle C on the piano keyboard vibrated at 440 HZ. All piano built after 1926 (and many before) were all designed to be tuned to today's modern pitch of A-440.
Since many pianos built prior to 1926 were not designed with the A-440 standard pitch in mind, many clients question whether or not their antique pianos can be tuned to today's standard A-440. In order to be tuned to this modern pitch, the strings must be pulled tighter, increasing the tension on the frame of the piano. The answer is YES - as long as an antique piano is properly restored, the majority of them can be tuned to standard pitch and be expected to withstand long-term tuning stability. The fact is that most antique pianos are built so much heavier and more durable than delicate new pianos that they can often take the extra stress of the tighter strings better than new pianos! It is important, however, to realize that 100 year old strings and felts will have to be restored and replaced in order for the piano to be expected to hold tune.
*In summary, a restored antique piano can be tuned to standard pitch as long as it is in restored condition. Some earlier historical instruments, including most early and mid-19th Century square grand pianos, were designed to be tuned at a lower pitch and may not be built to withstand the extra tension. Consult your piano tuner before having one of these early instruments tuned.
19th Century Concert Symphony Orchestra