Monday, February 11, 2008

See Sharp or Be Flat?

Here's the next installment of the continuing saga of the 1911 Lester piano I'm contemplating giving a good home to (I keep this up, Jeannie and Aaron might question whether this is truly a house blog anymore!):

Last night, I sent a link to my last post, along with a filled-in worksheet, to a piano tech in New Jersey. I made the virtual acquaintance of this person through purchasing a used piano buying guide from him on eBay Thursday night ($2.99 Buy It Now). The price included follow-up advice, so I took advantage of it.

Early this morning, his reply came in. He strongly recommended I not take this piano on, even as a giveaway. The buzz in the one key, he wrote, is a hard damper felt. The lost motion in some others would be missing felts or loose jacks coming unglued. The bottoming out in the bass notes is likely a cracked bass bridge. The same, he said, was likely true for the treble bridge. The fact that the pinblock had been doped (chemically treated to make the wood swell to keep the tuning pins in snugly) was a bad sign that the pins are probably still loose.

It would, he said, cost around $6,600 to regulate and repair the piano to playable condition (including replacing the pinblock to the tune of $4,700). And even then, I'd have a 97 year old piano with mostly 97 year old parts. And that doesn't include moving and tuning.

"Lester pianos," the Jersey tech wrote, "are quite good – but the age and condition is working against this one." I could, he said, buy something much younger and better for a lot cheaper.

With this advice in mind, I've done some objective thinking on the subject.

I'm not dead set on acquiring this particular piano. It just happens to be available. If it doesn't work well enough, it'd be taking up the space of another that'd suit me better.

Late this afternoon, then, I called back the local tech/piano tuner to see about getting a second opinion. I've forwarded him all the info I sent the tech in New Jersey, including the NJ tech's reply, and asked him to quote me a fee to meet me at the church to look at it himself.

But the local guy is a lot more optimistic. He feels the tech in New Jersey has to be painstakingly conservative on the advice he gives me, in order to cover his rear. That is, any one symptom can have any number of causes, more or less critical. Someone giving advice via email has to assume the worst. The local tuner, being able to see the instrument in person, can afford to be more optimistic.

So we'll see. If the local tuner/tech tells me it'd cost me too much to fix, forget it. Hey, if I want to sink thousands of dollars into a handsome piece of woodwork, I'd rather go broke buying the 1698 Jacobean tridarn dresser an antique dealer up the Beaver River has for sale.

And of course if the piano's an outright junker, then it's for the dump. In that case, I'd like to get with the church to see about their allowing me to salvage the wooden casework for reuse in a new project. And try to convince them to recycle the harp and wires and other metal parts. There's a metal scrap yard just up the Ohio River from me I could refer them to.

But all this is contingency thinking. I'll wait to hear what the local tuner/tech says.


Jennifer said...

Definitely go with the local person's advice.

I have to say... I am a professional musician, and our piano is not the best out there. It's very old... 1900's, and has a LOT wrong with it. No broken soundboard or buzzing keys, but the damper pedal is not dampening the last two octaves. We picked it up for free knowing this, and still play it. We haven't even tuned it, since it kept a reasonable (for professional ears) tune, and we didn't have the money. It looks VERY nice in our house, and gives us a piano to play and use. Good enough for us!

I guess what I'm saying is... even if all of that stuff IS wrong with it, it still may be the right piano. Talk with the piano tuner and see what they say. :)

Kate H. said...

Jennifer, I take it you listened to the vid of this one in all its out-of-tune glory? Allowing for distortion in my camera's sound and on line, how did it strike you?

Jennifer said...

Unfortunately, I can't view the video on my computer... I've never been able to figure out why I can't look at most videos! It's a mac with Firefox... LOTS of people use it. I'm running on your descriptions of it. :)