People often ask me why I advocate so readily for the purchase and restoration of a 80+ year old piano. Why not buy new and support the industry that exists today? Why not buy a beautiful piano right from the maufacturer without having to put all of that time, effort and expense into repairs and restoration? To me, the answer is simple: If you have the cash and want to purchase a new family heirloom from Steinway and Sons: go for it.
My philosophy is slightly different however. As soon as I restored my first piano, I was set on the fact that I would tout the restoration of any piano to anyone that will listen. Here’s the facts:
Pianos built before the 1940’s-50’s have major advantages over even the most well built pianos today.
1. These pianos were built completely by hand, with a great deal of care and craftsmanship going into each one. That isn’t to say that pianos today are completely built by machine. Makers of high end pianos still work with the time honored traditions of hand building most of the instrument–that much hasn’t changed from then until now. However, there are certain parts of the piano action that are made by machine, instead of being carved and cut by hand–on many vintage pianos you can still see the pencil marks where craftsmen made their cuts by hand.
2. Most pianos made before 1950 have real ivory keys. Before the ban was placed on ivory, it was a common material used to make piano key coverings. Ivory gives many advantages over even the highest end modern day plastics–more about this in another post. But the fact still remains, you cant even write to the Steinway company and request their highest end model “D” with ivory keys. They can’t do it.
3. Maybe I’m a sentimental old fool, but I love looking at my 1909 Hobart Cable Cabinet Grand and thinking to myself: This old girl is 103 years old….she’s been through a lot. I cant help but wonder where she’s been in her life, other than the sketchy history I’ve pieced together by myself. I just love thinking what might have happened in those 103 years, who might have played her, what songs have been played…what notes those strings have heard. These pianos are the pianos of Joplin, of Gershwin, of Rogers and Hammerstein…and that’s a cool feeling.