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#3172305 11/21/21 12:36 AM
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Has anyone ever commissioned a rebuild,
only to have it go all wrong,
or otherwise disappoint?


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Speaking from the other end... It's the most difficult thing, and over the years I've gone from innovative rebuilding to closely following the original everything. As a result, results are much more predicable.

However, on my own speculative pianos, I may experiment.

With experience and respect for the original, you can predict outcome, but here's a story.

I received famous piano brand B. The owner had a problem with another piano shop, and "here I come to save the day"

She wanted original everything and it was the 1st, and only time I removed ribs from an original board, made repairs and recrowned with original wood.

It actually worked.

After the 4th tuning...l.

Boom. Cracked plate.

So, take that for what it is. Steinways, Masons, Baldwins, Chickerings etc. have almost no history of plates cracking, but some Europe based pianos cannot make that claim

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I heard a second hand account of a disappointed rebuild customer from a new piano salesman - does that count? wink

I'm keen on the idea of getting a rebuild done, so I've 'researched' a lot of videos from Brigham Larson Pianos. In one of them, Brigham was doing a video of a newly rebuilt upright which looked very much like it had a cracked iron plate/frame. Since the plate had been repainted, it must have cracked when the new strings were tensioned. cry


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There is a company in Mexico that does rebuilds on the cheap. They do decent case refinishing and even stringing work, but their action work leaves a lot to be desired, which is a big problem considering the action is the primary way pianists interact with the piano. There's also a prominent east coast rebuilding firm (not represented by any members here on the forums to my knowledge) that also leaves a lot to be desired in their action work. The problem is that the average consumer hears rebuilt and sees a beautiful refinished case and shiny plate and strings and assumes that it must have been a good rebuilding job and is willing to fork over more money than the piano is worth in its current condition, only to realize that the piano doesn't actually feel all that good to play.

Back when I did work for a local dealer, they used this Mexico rebuilding shop for all of their rebuilds. Whenever a piano came back from being rebuilt, it inevitably required a TON of regulation and voicing work. Sometimes they would have put in all new action parts and hammers, sometimes they would just replace the wippens and not the hammers, and sometimes just the hammers and not the wippens, but inevitably parts would not be aligned properly, hammers would not be properly spaced and mated to strings, dampers would be in terrible alignment (in one case the actual damper tray was so severely warped that it was essentially impossible to get proper damper timing across the keyboard), and little attention was given to touchweight and action geometry, so most of the time the actions felt overly heavy. The phrase "slapping lipstick on a pig" came to mind, except most of the time the actual pianos (usually Steinways, Mason & Hamlins or Baldwins) could have been fantastic instruments in the hands of a skilled action rebuilder.


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Originally Posted by adamp88
There is a company in Mexico that does rebuilds on the cheap.

Oy, do I have bad Mexican rebuild stories.

Single worst example, they sprayed cheap gold spray paint out of a can to regild the plate. However, the gold paint got on the original tuning pins and strings, and even on the inside of the rim.

However, it *was* the best case (outside of, anyway) refinishing I had ever seen that cost $250 (mid-80s).

That $250 *included* transport from Alb NM to Juarez and back to Alb.

The client had balked at my $1000+plus price tag for refinishing when rolled into a larger restoration.

I declined to proceed with the rest of the job after seeing what happened in Juarez.

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I rebuilt an action that had just been rebuilt.


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This is an interesting thread.

When I am rebuilding a piano for a customer who has owned the instrument for many years - and perhaps inherited it from their family member, I am very sensitive to the fact that a customer may be used to an instrument that is old, worn, bright, etc. just because that is what they have been playing on. Communication and education is the key to giving that client a piano that is dramatically improved in so many ways. This can sometimes involve changing the scale design, bridge and rib placement, and using high end custom components.

Now when I am rebuilding something for resale, we just make it the best it can be to the best of our abilities.

My 2 cents,


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Originally Posted by Retsacnal
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And that's a Stuart & Sons, judging by the number of octaves


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Originally Posted by Rich Galassini
When I am rebuilding a piano for a customer who has owned the instrument for many years - and perhaps inherited it from their family member, I am very sensitive to the fact that a customer may be used to an instrument that is old, worn, bright, etc. just because that is what they have been playing on. Communication and education is the key to giving that client a piano that is dramatically improved in so many ways. This can sometimes involve changing the scale design, bridge...

Hijacking the thread here, but that's my situation. If Great Grandfather's piano wasn't in a bad state, there'd be no reason to rebuild it, but of course this means I can only guess how it would have originally sounded. In addition to that, the piano needs at least its bass bridge replaced, so the rebuilder proposes evaluating and changing the scale design, the string wire sizes, the way the strings are tied off etc. I don't quite understand (because I didn't ask) what they aim to improve with their scale analysis and what aspects of the tone could change. Maybe they run today's greater range of wire diameters through a computer model to design the scale such that each string is at x% of its breaking strain where it sounds the best... but does this newfound perfection radically transform the piano's unique old European tone into a generic modern sound? Or does the piano's tonal character come more from the resonant characteristics of the plate/soundboard/wooden structure?


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Ben, if you really want to bring this topic up, I’d consider starting a new thread. I think you’ll likely get more answers that way.
I don’t have much knowledge or insight, but my understanding is that different rebuilders take different approaches, and the best rebuilders will customize the approach in a way that is most in line with your stated goals. You should like the work done by the rebuilder you choose (so you should play examples of their work). But rebuilding costs a lot of money, and given what I understand about your instrument, it may not be ‘recommended’ as it would cost much more than the instrument would likely be ‘worth.’ That said, this is about you and your money and your family piano.

Regarding rebuilt uprights ending up looking/sounding special and faithful to the original design/sound aesthetic, I have to say that when this topic comes up, I continue to think about the 1887 Bechstein upright rebuilt by Cunningham pianos:



Playing starts around minute 3. To me, it sounded like a very special instrument.

To Rich Galassini: my apologies for re-posting this video in a thread about rebuild disasters. The outcome seemed to me to be the farthest thing from a disaster. I only linked it because of the way the thread turned in the prior post.

Last edited by Sgisela; 11/22/21 08:26 AM.
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Originally Posted by Ben_NZ
Hijacking the thread here, but that's my situation. If Great Grandfather's piano wasn't in a bad state, there'd be no reason to rebuild it, but of course this means I can only guess how it would have originally sounded. In addition to that, the piano needs at least its bass bridge replaced, so the rebuilder proposes evaluating and changing the scale design, the string wire sizes, the way the strings are tied off etc. I don't quite understand (because I didn't ask) what they aim to improve with their scale analysis and what aspects of the tone could change. Maybe they run today's greater range of wire diameters through a computer model to design the scale such that each string is at x% of its breaking strain where it sounds the best... but does this newfound perfection radically transform the piano's unique old European tone into a generic modern sound? Or does the piano's tonal character come more from the resonant characteristics of the plate/soundboard/wooden structure?

No worries about “hijacking” the thread. This gets right down to one of the overarching issues: you have a piano that’s significant to you and your family. In my opinion, that’s one of the most compelling reasons to consider a rebuild (if not the most significant)!

You and Rich have touched upon another consideration though: do you aim for a faithful restoration, or attempt to improve the piano? One warning frequently offered about commissioning a rebuild is that the results are uncertain, and a distinction like this could muddy the waters a bit. (FWIW, it sounds like Rich may handle this with more sensitivity that the folks you’ve talked to.)

On the surface it would seem that a faithful restoration might be less likely to go "wrong," but attempts to improve the piano could have greater upside potential (w/more risk?).


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Originally Posted by Sgisela
But rebuilding costs a lot of money, and given what I understand about your instrument, it may not be ‘recommended’ as it would cost much more than the instrument would likely be ‘worth.’
Although this kind of thinking about rebuilds is fairly common on PW, I don't think it's logical even if the piano is not a family heirloom. I think it makes more sense to ask yourself, given the cost of the rebuild, can one get a better new piano for the same or lesser price?

One other consideration could be that when a piano is rebuilt one cannot be sure about whether the outcome will be pleasing for the customer. But by sampling other similar rebuilds done by the rebuilder one is planning to use one can be reasonably certain of the outcome.

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My understanding is that the piano IS a family heirloom (belonged to his great grandfather and handed down) and that Ben_NZ has a significant attachment to it (based on threads from several years ago). I believe at that time, he contemplated having it restored or rebuilt but instead decided to buy a Kawai k500 and keep his family piano more or less ‘as is.’ Yes, it would certainly be sensible to think about upgrading the Kawai rather than pouring money into rebuilding his piano. But I’ve not seen any indication that he is dissatisfied with his Kawai or interested in upgrading it. The fact that he is bringing up rebuilding the piano again, after he entertained this idea more than 5 years, when he has a pretty new and serviceable Kawai suggests to me considerable emotional investment in the piano and the idea of restoring it to a better state.
Some of us are more sentimental than others, and I find it understandable to want to breathe new life into an instrument that has meant a lot to you and your family. If he decides it is worth it to him to have it rebuilt or restored, I don’t see a problem with this, and I can also understand that for some people, that emotional connection with the instrument is more valuable than going to a store and picking a piano (new or rebuilt) that has your preferred touch/tone.
I just think he really needs to do his homework and find people who will give him the information he needs to make an informed decision about what his options are, what is the spectrum of expected results, and what it would cost him, so he can decide if it would be worth it to him.

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Originally Posted by Sgisela
My understanding is that the piano IS a family heirloom (belonged to his great grandfather and handed down) and that Ben_NZ has a significant attachment to it (based on threads from several years ago). I believe at that time, he contemplated having it restored or rebuilt but instead decided to buy a Kawai k500 and keep his family piano more or less ‘as is.’ Yes, it would certainly be sensible to think about upgrading the Kawai rather than pouring money into rebuilding his piano. But I’ve not seen any indication that he is dissatisfied with his Kawai or interested in upgrading it. The fact that he is bringing up rebuilding the piano again, after he entertained this idea more than 5 years, when he has a pretty new and serviceable Kawai suggests to me considerable emotional investment in the piano and the idea of restoring it to a better state.
Some of us are more sentimental than others, and I find it understandable to want to breathe new life into an instrument that has meant a lot to you and your family. If he decides it is worth it to him to have it rebuilt or restored, I don’t see a problem with this, and I can also understand that for some people, that emotional connection with the instrument is more valuable than going to a store and picking a piano (new or rebuilt) that has your preferred touch/tone.
I just think he really needs to do his homework and find people who will give him the information he needs to make an informed decision about what his options are, what is the spectrum of expected results, and what it would cost him, so he can decide if it would be worth it to him.
I think it's always reasonable to rebuild a family heirloom, and that applies even if the piano is not a stellar make. My point was that I don't think the fairly often mentioned idea that "it's not worth it because it would cost more than the resulting instrument is worth" is logical. To determine if "it's worth it", one should compare the cost of the rebuild and the expected result to what one can buy with the same amount of money. And, if one is rebuilding a family heirloom, the chances that the owner would even consider selling are very small.

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Yes, the financial considerations on the "heirloom" path are different than someone who simply wants a nice like-new piano, but who might also like it to be vintage or historical, or just older. On the heirloom path, the financial constraints are simply these: can you afford it and is it worth it to you? (I think Peter Gray has expounded on this some recently.) For someone who just wants a nice piano, then already-rebuilt pianos factor into the equation like any other piano (what do you get for your money?).


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Perhaps a tech with experience with rescaling could confirm or reject my understanding of Ben's question about the tonal affects of rescaling, but as I understand it's unlikely to cause "radical" change in tone. Replacement of hammers might be more likely to do that (is that included in your rebuild work?). A rebuilder described the changes achieved by rescaling as subtle and incremental. However, if you're concerned about it, you should be able to request the rebuilder use the original scale.

For me and my current rebuild, the tone I get currently is a result of parts being old and worn. I'm not expecting (or hoping) that the piano keeps it's current tonal qualities as it's far from optimal as it is. I think it's key to feel comfortable that your rebuilder knows the desired tone you enjoy (or the qualities you'd like to retain), and they can make choices to work towards that. One way I've found is to play a bunch of pianos your rebuilder worked on while your rebuilder is beside you and tell them what you like and what you don't on each piano. Some of it will be objective (X hammers instead of Y hammers), some will be be more subjective (warmer tone, lighter touch).


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Originally Posted by Ben_NZ
I heard a second hand account of a disappointed rebuild customer from a new piano salesman - does that count? wink

I'm particularly interested in first-hand accounts, but second-hand accounts are good too. Heck, any account is interesting.
But I would take what a dealer who doesn't do rebuilds says with a grain of salt... wink


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Originally Posted by Sgisela
Ben, if you really want to bring this topic up, I’d consider starting a new thread. I think you’ll likely get more answers that way.
I don’t have much knowledge or insight, but my understanding is that different rebuilders take different approaches, and the best rebuilders will customize the approach in a way that is most in line with your stated goals. You should like the work done by the rebuilder you choose (so you should play examples of their work). But rebuilding costs a lot of money, and given what I understand about your instrument, it may not be ‘recommended’ as it would cost much more than the instrument would likely be ‘worth.’ That said, this is about you and your money and your family piano.

Regarding rebuilt uprights ending up looking/sounding special and faithful to the original design/sound aesthetic, I have to say that when this topic comes up, I continue to think about the 1887 Bechstein upright rebuilt by Cunningham pianos:



Playing starts around minute 3. To me, it sounded like a very special instrument.

To Rich Galassini: my apologies for re-posting this video in a thread about rebuild disasters. The outcome seemed to me to be the farthest thing from a disaster. I only linked it because of the way the thread turned in the prior post.
Thank you for reposting the video of this piano which sounds so lovely.How wonderful to have an old Bechstein restored so successfully and with such great consideration for the family.

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Originally Posted by Sgisela
My understanding is that the piano IS a family heirloom (belonged to his great grandfather and handed down) and that Ben_NZ has a significant attachment to it (based on threads from several years ago). I believe at that time, he contemplated having it restored or rebuilt but instead decided to buy a Kawai k500...
Yes, that's all correct - maybe I've posted this too many times? wink
Buying the K500 hasn't solved the problem of what to do with the old piano. Getting rid of the latter has proven about as easy as casting the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom. So it's still around, poisoning my mind. Did you know, it's the only burl walnut Marshall and Rose on the internet, and therefore definitely the last one in the entire world? wink
I am attached to it / overly sentimental.

Originally Posted by Tyson Armstrong
Perhaps a tech with experience with rescaling could confirm or reject my understanding of Ben's question about the tonal affects of rescaling, but as I understand it's unlikely to cause "radical" change in tone. Replacement of hammers might be more likely to do that (is that included in your rebuild work?).
Hammer replacement would absolutely be included. The original hammers are a bit past it after 100 years! I would assume that replacing them in isolation would be more of a fix than a change, as the new hammers would mean a return to proper hammer shape and felt hardness. The piano might get mellower / warmer and more consistent with new hammers, but its tone wouldn't fundamentally change character e.g. from a saxophone to a trumpet.

Originally Posted by Retsacnal
I'm particularly interested in first-hand accounts, but second-hand accounts are good too. Heck, any account is interesting.
I'd like to have heard from the customer directly as to why they were dissatisfied with the results of their rebuild. Then I could judge whether they had unrealistic expectations, or whether they knew what they were talking about and there was a genuine problem like notes that wouldn't sing/sustain.
This has reminded me of a relevant video of a real rebuild disaster. The structure of the piano was starting to collapse - you've gotta see it. shocked


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Originally Posted by Ben_NZ
I'd like to have heard from the customer directly as to why they were dissatisfied with the results of their rebuild. Then I could judge whether they had unrealistic expectations, or whether they knew what they were talking about and there was a genuine problem like notes that wouldn't sing/sustain.

I vaguely remember Chris posting this story before, and I thought near the end of the video there was a clip of the father and sons helping break the piano down (for disposal?). But I didn't see that in this one. Perhaps it's a different piano. confused


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