- Our piano restoration services
- Reconditioning or restoration?
- Aspects of reconditioning
- Toning or voicing
- Fitting a practice pedal
- Repairing Ivory keys
- Adding a traditional music desk to a modern piano
- How we quote
- Brief ratings after reconditioning
For a quote for work on modern and old top quality pianos please contact us.
Brief information on our piano restoration services (updated 2013)
We are pleased to offer piano restoration of the highest possible standard and are constantly updating our knowledge by attending courses by Steinway, Renner, the Piano Tuners Association and others. We are also grateful to have on our staff what whole piano trade informs us is one of the best traditional polishers they have seen, and are able to offer any finish you require.
French Polished Steinway model A grand piano
A Bluthner style 4a
A fully restored Bluthner style 9
A french polished Bluthner style 4a
Application of French polish
French polished steinway model A legs
Bluthner style 4a restored sound board
Steinway model A restored sound board
Soundboard reparation or soundboard ‘shimming’
Steinway model A hammers
Piano action regulation
Whilst specialising in Steinway, Bechstein and Bluthner we also restore all good makes of pianos, and encourage you to make use of our combined removals and inspection service, removing your piano via our workshop where it will be assessed by Marcus Roberts, the owner of the business, who will write a simple report. Marcus has been a concert tuner and piano restorer for over 30 years and has a passion to see each piano perform to its best capabilities. It’s our experience that the majority of older pianos have been regularly tuned but never or rarely serviced; it’s therefore difficult to achieve a reliable soft touch, and the tone is also inferior. The quote will detail the most important work that needs doing and place tasks in order of priority. We work to a time sheet and you will be billed only according to the hours worked and parts bought.
Fine quality grand piano restoration and French polishing
We specialise in fine restoration of top quality grand pianos, using the best German piano parts and traditional French polishing or modern polyester refinishing as preferred. Before making a decision as to what work your piano needs to have done, we recommend you read the following information:
It worth restoring? Below are some simple guidelines to help you decide whether a piano is worth restoring and what work will most improve it. If you’ve inherited or purchased a piano and need to move it, please see our combined removals and inspection service
At the bottom of this page there is a list of ratings of over 100 makes of piano commonly found in the UK. More detailed information can be found in our “common makes” section.
Comparisons between a modern piano and an older reconditioned piano?
The short answer is that top makes of older pianos usually have a superior tone and appearance to modern ones, though good modern pianos will usually have a good touch, whereas badly restored traditional ones may not. The main reasons for the traditional pianos being superior is that from 1880 to 1940 when the piano was the main mechanical item in the home, there were a hundred times more skilled workers in the trade, competition was strong and time was less important. Good hardwood, ivory and other materials were also more readily available. There have been no significant changes in mechanical design since then, and all parts on older pianos are still readily available. Modern pianos from top makers from 1950 onwards can also be very good. They have the advantage of being usually less worn and therefore need less reconditioning. For good ones see the list of makes at the bottom of this page and also our piano makes page.
Reconditioning or Restoration?
We use the term reconditioning to mean working on the piano as necessary to get the best possible tone and touch. We think very carefully before deciding to change strings or hammers as it is very difficult to reproduce the manufacturer’s desired tone and touch. However, if the hammers are very worn or several strings are broken, then we will always replace them. Hammers, for instance, are very frequently in need of replacement as the old ones, like an old tennis ball, have lost their “bounce”! Conversely they can also become hard as they dry out and as they also get compacted by hitting against the string.
We’ve tried to list the tasks in order of importance, though this order will of course vary according to the piano, and we’re not taking into account simple repairs which you may also need. If your budget doesn’t stretch to major work, then two or three day’s work of adjustments, re-facing and tuning will invariably make an enormous difference to the piano. We offer the service of a free inspection of pianos we move.
Polishing, We have a team of professional polishers and can finish the piano in any style or colour. We try to re-polish the piano exactly as it was originally, though this can be a very lengthy process as “French polishing” requires a very large number of coats. A more basic finish is also available. Costs vary between £1500 and £4500. We can also change the colour of your piano if you wish or do modern polyester finishes if required.
Hammers often get too worn or soft, and cannot be made to reproduce the original tone. New hammers are the only solution. We usually fit new ones which are made in Germany, but sometimes recover the existing hammers, again with German or other top quality felt. The decision as to which route to take for a particular piano is one of the most important we make. After installation, the hammers then need accurate aligning to the strings, “travelling”, and once the piano has been fine tuned, toning or voicing. The new hammer makes a world of difference to the tone, bringing out the full harmonic range of the piano. This usually costs between £1600 and £2200 (2013), including voicing hammers and weighting the action. Please note that replacing the hammers on your piano will make the touch heavier, unless you specify that you want lighter hammers fitted (see also “touch” below).
Re-facing. When there is sufficient felt on the hammer, a vast improvement can often be made by re-facing it. It will then require toning as well. The cost varies form £150 to £300. Re-facing will reduce the weight of the action, and may also affect balance.
Toning or voicing is the fine skill of giving each hammer the correct tension. This is done by needling the felt, opening it out so that it rebounds off the string at the correct speed. Normally new hammers are too hard and bright and need “deep voicing” to cause them to bounce off the strings at the correct speed. The technician learns from experience what the correct tone should be. Once the felt is at the right tension, then the hammer is fine voiced. On grand pianos, this includes voicing the piano for “una corda” or soft pedal playing, giving it a mellower tone when the soft pedal is depressed. Cost of toning: full toning about £300 – £600.
Touch refers to the smoothness, responsiveness and weight of the action. Top makes of piano can be made to be excellent in all aspects, while it’s often impossible to improve a piano that is cheaply made in the first place. There are, however, basic adjustments that can be made to vastly improve the touch of any piano, such as taking up the slack between the keys and the rest of the movement, adjusting the hammer blow distance or adjusting the “let off” – the distance the hammer travels to the strings before escaping, etc. However, to make fundamental improvements to the touch, extensive work needs to be undertaken. This is because touch is related to two opposing factors: down-weight and up-weight.
Down- weight is measured as the force needed to press the key so that it starts to move. This is normally about 50 grams – approximately five £1 coins and one 5p piece, measured with the sustain pedal depressed. On pianos that have had extensive use, (or some older pianos designed to have lighter touch) this is often reduced to as little as 40 grams. This lighter touch may suit an older or occasional player whose finger strength has been reduced. Changing the hammers will normally make the touch heavier. However, this is only half the story!
Up- weight is the force, exerted mainly by the hammers, which causes the action to return to rest. But the pianist needs to feel an even resistance throughout the travel of the key. Up-weight has to do with friction and geometric balance in the action. The up-weight should be between 20 and 25 grams but varies according to different factors and for different pianos. Worn hammers are lighter and therefore produce less up weight. A good pianist can normally tell instinctively if the action “feels” right. Up-weight can often be corrected by replacing loose hinge pins, springs and felts. We strongly recommend that you try the touch on the piano you are going to buy, or if you don’t have the experience or confidence to do this, then make sure you get expert advice on choosing your piano. Older pianos vary greatly; Steinways tend to be heavier, Bluthners lighter, but all pianos can be customised to suit the player. Modern pianos also vary greatly and cheaply made ones often have heavy up-weight. Thoughtful modern firms such as Feurich pay great attention to up-weight. If you are having a piano restored, make sure you tell the restorer what your preference is.
Loose Tuning Pins sometimes occur when central heating overtime dries the wood on the piano’s pin block, causing the tuning pins to loosen. In most cases this can be cured permanently by replacing the tuning pins with larger ones, though in some pianos, such as the Bechstein upright models I to V, the pin-block itself may need changing. Changing tuning pins costs about £750, and it’s a good opportunity to re-string at the same time if this is thought to be an improvement. Restringing costs between £1,600 and £2400; this is usually combined with refinishing and repairing (if necessary) the soundboard, and refinishing the frame. If the pin block needs replacing too, replacing the pin block, repairing soundboard and restringing will cost about £3200. This is well worth doing on a good piano as it will make the tuning very stable in central heating. (Prices updated 2013)
Strings are changed less often as it’s extremely difficult to reproduce the appropriate tone with modern ones. In some cases, such as with Bluthner or Richard Lipp grands, the bass tone can be inferior with new strings.. However, if your piano has several broken strings already, then changing them may be the best option. Modern grands can often be improved with new bass strings, sometimes because the original strings weren’t very good anyway! Our replacement German bass strings, for instance, will vastly improve a Yamaha grand piano. Replacing all the strings costs between £1500 and £2200, including refinishing the frame and soundboard.
Fitting a Practice Pedal (Celeste mute). Most modern upright pianos have a third pedal which when depressed puts a felt between the hammer and strings, allowing the midnight pianist to practice without disturbing anyone! These can be fitted to most good quality older underdamper upright pianos as a lever situated under the keyboard. The cost is around £200 + VAT.
Repairing Ivory Keys. In order to avoid a line appearing between the front and the back part of the ivory, it needs clamping. If the ivories are very yellowed, they may benefit from scraping and polishing. Ivory keys (and plastic) need regular buffing on a buffing wheel. We can usually repair or replace chipped ivories with a good match.
Adding a traditional music desk to a modern piano. Musicians find that modern upright pianos don’t have a user-friendly music desk. We offer the service of fitting an old-style desk to your piano, with book holders to keep the pages open. We can also fit book holders to modern desks, though if you try this yourself be careful as many modern pianos such as Yamahas have plastic music desks that easily break!
When we are asked to quote for work, we take into account the following points, working within your budget:
How well made is the piano? Do you want a full restoration or simply that the piano will perform well enough for a child to take up to, say, grade 8? We will tone the piano according to the kind of room and type of tone you require.
What kind of touch do you require? Generally, a lighter touch for older occasional users but a down-weight of at least 50 grams is necessary for beginners as they need to develop their finger muscles and will take exams on a piano having this touch weight.
Will the piano hold its value? There is no question of this if it is one of the top German makes – Bechstein, Bluthner, Bosendorfer, Steinway, etc. German makes such as Lipp, Kaps, some Ibach grands, and some English makes such as Chappell and some Broad woods will fare well in terms of value too. Modern pianos such as Yamaha and Kawai are not built with reconditioning in mind, though good German bass strings make a vast tone difference, and changing worn hammers is a possibility.
Restoration includes the above, but implies much more fundamental work such as major casework repairs, tuning block and even soundboard replacement. Replacing the soundboard considerably alters the underlying tone of the piano and is not recommended except where it has lost its “crown” or is severely damaged in some way. A piano that has lost its crown produces a thin and sometimes harsh tone in the mid treble, particularly around C to F in the octave above middle C (notes 52 to 57).
We restore all good makes of piano, though our main full restoration work is on grand pianos by Bechstein,Bluthner, Bosendorfer and Steinway.
Brief Ratings of piano makes, once reconditioned
Here is a very rough guide of common makes available in the UK. Please note that this is the rating of the piano once fully reconditioned. un-reconditioned pianos may have much lower ratings. An example of this is a Kaps upright we recently purchased and restored. I rated the piano at 35 when we bought it and it had a rating of 78 when it was finished! It cost us £150 and we spent the equivalent of £4000 on restoring it.The ratings are out of 100. For a more detailed list please see our “common makes” page.
Rating when reconditioned
|Adam||60-70||Overstrung. Generally well made pianos|
|Aeolian||50-60||Varied. They made many player pianos.|
|Allison||50-60||Varied – low to medium quality; some baby grands quite good. Please see our piano makes list for more details|
|Amyl||40-50||The CWS brand name. Honestly made but mostly basic straight strung over dampers.|
|Apollo||50-59||Japanese; generally below Yamaha and Kawai quality.|
|Army and Navy||40-50||Usually straight strung over dampers, but quite well made.|
|Atlas||50-59||Japanese; generally below Yamaha and Kawai quality|
|August Foerster||50-70||Old ones well made. Went through “Iron curtain” bad patch. Post 1990s recovered in quality.|
|Baldwin||55-68||Varied. Most of the ones imported to the UK were basic models.|
|Barratt and Robinson||50-60||One of the last London factories. Satisfactory mid range uprights|
|Bechstein||60-85||Prolific make of top quality uprights and grands mostly made 1890 to 1930. Bechstein upright Models I to V often suffer from central heating and need new pin-blocks. Models 6 to 10 are very well made and have a rich tone. Modern ones good but varied. See grands and uprights pages for more details.|
|Beulhoff||50-60||Grands OK. Very varied, poor to medium quality|
|Bell||50-60||Generally overstrung. Very varied, poor to medium quality|
|Bentley||45-60||Very varied, poor to medium quality. Since 2007 the Bentley name has been used on Chinese pianos.|
|Berry||45-55||From very basic overdampers to medium quality overstrungs. Many 6 octave pianos made|
|Bishop||30-40||Common, mostly very old overdampers, good looking but not worth reconditioning|
|Bluthner||70-90||Prolific make of high quality pianos. All well made, (except for the “Iron curtain” phase from about 1958 up to about 1995), but often very worn and need extensive reconditioning. Rating is for fully reconditioned pianos. Unreconditioned ones may carry a very low rating. Please see our piano makes list for more details|
|Bord||45-52||Generally Straight strung overdampers. French piano; small, pretty with mellow tone, but usually need repinning|
|Boyd (of London)||35-55||From very basic overdampers to fairly good overstrungs|
|Bosendorfer||50-95||Austrian pianos of high quality. Older ones often have “Viennese” actions which are not suitable for all-round playing. Concert pianos have extra notes in the bass and are first choice for many musicians.|
|Branston||50||Mostly basic pianos|
|Brasted||50-65||Honest well made British pianos|
|Brinsmead||50-70||Very varied prolific English maker|
|Broadwood White||45-48||Mostly basic straight strungs|
|Burling Mansfield||35-40||Mostly old and not worth reconditioning|
|Cameo (see Lindner)||35-45||Plastic action. Parts no longer available|
|Challen||50-68||Can be quite reasonable but vary. The UKs most common baby grands|
|Chappell||50-70||Varied but generally good. Old ones can be quite basic. Please see our piano makes list for more details|
|Collard and Collard||40-68||Extremely varied prolific British maker spanning over 200 years. Get advice before buying one. Please see our piano makes list for more details|
|Cramer||45-68||Plenty of variety. Good baby grands and post 1900 uprights. Please see our piano makes list for more details|
|Crane||35-50||Mostly basic uprights|
|Dalmaine||35-50||Mostly basic uprights and baby grands|
|Dale Forty||35-50||Mostly basic uprights and baby grands|
|Danemann||44-68||Varied. Made many pianos for schools|
|Duck Son and Pinker||35-50||Mostly basic uprights|
|Dale Forty||40-50||Basic British pianos|
|Eavestaff||35-68||Mini Pianos generally basic. Baby grands fair. Other uprights medium to fair|
|Elysian||45-60||Name used mainly by Morleys of London. Varied|
|Fazioli||85-95||Fazioli was established in 1981. they are of a consistently outstanding quality, with great care given to each piano. As with Steinway, they are a powerful piano and need a room that can cope with the volume|
|Fazer||55-68||Modern Finnish pianos. Fazer are generally good with rich bass and firm touch|
|Feurich||65-75||Old and modern ones well made|
|Forster, August||55-70||Vary varied in quality – passed through “Iron curtain” phase. Best older and very modern ones are excellent|
|Fuchs and Mohr||40-55||Modern Eastern block pianos|
|(George) Rogers||55-70||Good factory with long history. Older ones may not be worth reconditioning|
|George Russell||50-55||Mostly basic straight-strung overdamped pianos, well made with a good tone|
|Giles||50||From the same factory as the very common Zender|
|Godfrey||35-48||Mostly basic uprights|
|Gors and Kallman||50-70||Older uprights overdampers but good tone. Baby grands generally good|
|Grotrian Steinweg||60-90||Prolific make of high quality pianos. All well made, but often very worn and need extensive reconditioning. Uprights from 1900 to 1930 outstanding. Rating is for fully reconditioned pianos. Un-reconditioned ones may carry a very low rating.|
|Hellas||50-60||Hellas are similar to Fazer but action generally not as good|
|Hickie and Hickie||35-48||Mostly basic uprights cheaply made|
|Hoffmann||50-75||This name is confusingly used on both basic British and high quality German pianos|
|Hopkinson||45-65||Very common British make. Older ones overdampers. Please see our piano makes page for more details|
|Hupfeld||45-60||Older ones good. Modern ones “Iron curtain” pianos and poor quality|
|Ibach||50-80||Older ones overdampers but good. Grands generally fine quality; modern Ibachs well made|
|John Broadwood||40-80||Inventive British firm with extreme variation in quality of upright and grand pianos from very old ones that aren’t really worth reconditioning to very good grands from about 1893 onwards, mixed with indifferent ones. Modern Broadwoods are made in a variety of countries. Please see our piano makes page for more details|
|Kaps||55-80||Mainly one style of upright piano made from about 1898 to 1930. They often have decorative cases and an excellent warm tone. Grands are generally older and more variable and we don’t usually deal in them|
|Kawai||55-85||Japanese pianos (later ones made elsewhere too) of generally good quality though upright actions can be a bit “choppy” and rely too much on plastic. Best small Kawai grands made 1975 to 1985 and can be of very high quality|
|Kemble||55-78||British firm still making pianos (2006). Varied in quality but best are very good. Some older ones overdampers. Kemble Minx minipianos well make but have “spinet” actions and therefore the keys are too short to give much control. Please see our piano makes page for more details|
|Kirkman||30-55||Mostly very old British pianos. Many grands|
Respected British maker. Best between about 1960 and 1980.
|Knauss||50-55||German maker of medium quality|
|Krauss||50-55||German maker of medium quality|
|Legnica||45-55||Polish maker, common in the UK 1980-1990|
|Irish pianos with revolutionary plastic action for which no spares are readily available|
|Lipp||55-90||German pianos made with great integrity. Rich warm tone. Baby and boudoir grands generally excellent|
|Lambert||48||Basic British overdamper|
|Marshall and Rose||50-65||British pianos of medium quality|
|Minstelle||40-50||Small pianos made by Barratt and Robinson|
|Monington and Weston||50-65||Many low quality baby grands made with “simplex” actions. Uprights can be very good|
|Murdoch||35-55||common basic British pianos|
|Moore and Moore||50-58||Fair quality British pianos|
|Morley, Robert||50-55||Fair quality British pianos|
|Neumeyer||50-65||mid-range German pianos. Best ones have rich warm tone|
|Niemeyer||45-55||Low to mid range German pianos|
|Papps||35-50||Mostly basic uprights. Portsmouth firm with specially designed metal wrest plank for environments with varying humidity|
|Petrov||50-80||Wide range of quality in uprights. Some early baby grands are outstanding|
|Pleyel||45-68||Much varietly in quality from this French maker|
|Psalmist||55||Made by Bentley|
|Reid Sohn||45-60||Large Korean factory|
|Rippen||60-65||Consistent Dutch maker of modern pianos. Rich bass|
|Reisbach||50-65||Fair quality British pianos made by Rogers with influence from Grotrian Steinweg|
|Rogers (George)||50-70||Good quality English pianos. Baby grands worth reconditioning|
|Ronisch||45-75||Older ones very well made. Modern ones more varied|
|Russell (and Russell)||45-58||Honestly made cheaper uprights mainly from early 1900s|
|Samick||45-60||Large Korean factory|
|Sauter||58-78||Well made German uprights and grands|
|Scheidmayer||58-78||Well made German uprights and grands|
|Schimmell||55-68||Mid-range German uprights and grands|
|Seiler||58-78||Well made German uprights and grands|
|Spencer||45-62||Common British maker from about 1900 to 1940. Modern ones from different factories|
|Squire (and Longson)||50-60||Mid range British pianos|
|Steck||55-70||Uprights have warm tone; baby grands vary in quality|
|Steinway||60-95||Best known of the top makes. Mostly German Steinways found in the UK. Some older Steinways don’t recondition well (especially uprights). Grands excellent from 1877 onwards but may be very worn indeed. Modern Steinways lack the richness of tone of the older ones, but make up for it with a superb action. One of the best concert grands. NB beware of buying a large Steinway if you are putting it into a small room. they are an intrinsically loud piano. Please see Steinway page for more details.|
|Ströhmenger||50-65||Good quality British pianos|
|Waddington||45-55||Basic British piano, can have a reasonable tone. Grands basic|
|Waldstein||45-58||Name used by British, German and Chinese pianos at various times. Modern Chinese Waldsteins are nothing to do with the older pianos|
|Wallace Ash||35-48||Mostly basic uprights|
|Weber||46-68||Older ones well made. Modern ones made in the Far East|
|Welmar||55-75||Good quality British pianos. Older uprights varied. Baby grands copy of Bluthner. Please see our makes list for more details|
|Witton and Witton||45-55||Basic British piano. Grands not well made|
|Woodchester||45-55||Uninspiring pianos made by Bentley in the late 90s|
|Yamaha||48-90||Most prolific maker in the world. Huge range in quality. When Yamaha first hit the world stage in the 60s, they made a concerted effort to copy good German pianos, making excellent uprights and grands. As competition gradually increased, so the basic Yamahas were cheaply made to try to keep the market share, some being of very poor quality. On the other hand, the top quality ones improved in quality and at the top end they produced an outstanding concert grand. See our Yamaha pages for more details|
|Young Chang||45-60||Large Korean factory|
|Zender||48-60||Sidney Zender contracted different factories with instructions to make a small piano. There were over 70,000 made in the UK, mostly in the 60s to 80s|
|Zimmerman||45-70||Pre 1940 ones good, but mostly modern baby grands and uprights of low to medium quality. Lately they have been taken over by Bechstein, who produce a fine piano with the Zimmerman name.|