Piano Restoration and Choosing a piano

Restoration


Our Experience

We are pleased to offer piano restoration of the highest possible standard. We have over thirty years of experience and regularly update our knowledge by attending courses by Steinway, Renner, The Piano Tuners Association and others.

Our Specialisation

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. The cost of a full restoration is about £15,000 +VAT (2014); we are currently offering a 10% discount on this price. There are many options of partial restoration as well. Before making a decision as to what work your piano needs to have done, we recommend you read the following information.

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For an restoration quotation please to fill out the form.

 Piano Restoration and Choosing a piano

French Polished Steinway “old style” model A grand piano

Steinway model a grand piano 0123 Piano Restoration and Choosing a piano

Steinway model A grand piano fully restored in black polyester

bluthner casework Piano Restoration and Choosing a piano

A French polished Blüthner style 4a

bluthner style 7 grand piano01 Piano Restoration and Choosing a piano

Bluthner style 7 showing lyre pedals, pre 1890

polishing Piano Restoration and Choosing a piano

Application of French polish; about thirty coats are applied and then beeswax polish to give an antique style look, bringing out the best grain contrast.

wendl lung hammers e1372767025312 Piano Restoration and Choosing a piano

New hammers; we normally replace hammers, shanks and rollers together, using Steinway, Renner or Abel parts.

voicing Piano Restoration and Choosing a piano

Toning / voicing of the hammers; new hammers are generally too hard and need pre-voicing and then fine voicing.

restringing Piano Restoration and Choosing a piano

An example of the restringing process

photo 4 Piano Restoration and Choosing a piano

Touch is dependent on good action geometry and correct down- and up-weight

action weigh Piano Restoration and Choosing a piano

Weighing the keys. 50 grams down-weight in the centre is standard, though depending on the geometry of the action this may vary.

keybalance Piano Restoration and Choosing a piano

A handy new tool for measuring up- and down-weight of the keys.

ivory keys1 Piano Restoration and Choosing a piano

Repaired Ivory keys. Where possible we repair ivory keyboards rather than replace them with synthetic keys.

Pedals Yamaha and Knight 8 Piano Restoration and Choosing a piano

The middle pedal here is a practice pedal which when depressed puts a felt between the hammers and the strings so that the sound is softer.

General information


How we work

Whilst specialising in Steinway, Bechstein and Blüthner 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.

Is it worth restoring?

Restoration means redoing the whole piano including the wrest plank or tuning block, soundboard, strings, hammers and other felts, and re-polishing. 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.

Are older pianos better?

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.

Quotations

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? Top makes of piano will be well made but with some lesser makes it’s better to consider changing the piano rather than restoring it.

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 is appropriate 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, Blüthner, Bösendorfer, Steinway, etc. German makes such as Lipp, Kaps, some Ibach grands, and some English makes such as Chappell and some Broadwoods 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, Blüthner, Bösendorfer and Steinway.

Aspects of reconditioning


Polishing

This is done by our team of professional French polishers and we 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

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 £2000 and £3000 (2014), 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

This is 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 £250 to £600 (2014). Re-facing will reduce the weight of the action, and may also affect balance on uprights.

Toning or Voicing

This is the fine skill of giving each hammer the correct tension. It 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.

Fitting tuning pins

Loose tuning pins often occur when central heating over time 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 £850 (2014), and it’s a good opportunity to re-string at the same time if this is thought to be an improvement. Restringing costs between £1,800 and £2700; 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 £4000. This is well worth doing on a good piano as it will make the tuning very stable in central heating. (Prices updated 2014)

Strings

Strings are changed less often as it’s extremely difficult to reproduce the appropriate tone with modern strings. In some cases, such as with Blüthner 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.

FAQ


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

This is simply the weight needed to make the keys, but the pressure also needs to be smooth, which is related to good regulation and up-weight (see below). Normally down-weight is set to about 50 grams in the middle with it graduating to 48 in the top treble and 52 in the lower bass. This is ideal for study and powerful playing, but if you are an occasional player you may prefer a lighter touch, down to as little as 40 grams. Indeed, the touch of pianos has increased over the years. Pianos were originally modelled on the harpsichord with very little weight; in 1900 the average would have been about 40 grams.

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; Steinway pianos tend to be heavier, Blüthners 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.

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.

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 under-damper upright pianos as a lever situated under the keyboard. The cost is around £200 + VAT.

Adding a traditional music desk to a modern piano

Musicians often 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!

Recondtioned pianos


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 in the UK” page.

Ratings of pianos after they have been reconditioned

makeRatingComments
Adam60-70Overstrung. Generally well made pianos
Aeolian50-60Varied. They made many player pianos.
Allison50-60Varied – low to medium quality; some baby grands quite good. Please see our piano makes list for more details
Amyl40-50The CWS brand name. Honestly made but mostly basic straight strung over dampers.
Apollo50-59Japanese; generally below Yamaha and Kawai quality.
Army and Navy40-50Usually straight strung over dampers, but quite well made.
Atlas50-59Japanese; generally below Yamaha and Kawai quality
August Foerster50-70Old ones well made. Went through “Iron curtain” bad patch. Post 1990s recovered in quality.
Baldwin55-68Varied. Most of the ones imported to the UK were basic models.
Barratt and Robinson50-60One of the last London factories. Satisfactory mid range uprights
Bechstein60-85Prolific 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.
Beulhoff50-60Grands OK. Very varied, poor to medium quality
Bell50-60Generally overstrung. Very varied, poor to medium quality
Bentley45-60Very varied, poor to medium quality. Since 2007 the Bentley name has been used on Chinese pianos.
Berry45-55From very basic overdampers to medium quality overstrungs. Many 6 octave pianos made
Bishop30-40Common, mostly very old overdampers, good looking but not worth reconditioning
Bluthner70-90Prolific 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
Bord45-52Generally Straight strung overdampers. French piano; small, pretty with mellow tone, but usually need repinning
Boyd (of London)35-55From very basic overdampers to fairly good overstrungs
Bosendorfer50-95Austrian 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.
Branston50Mostly basic pianos
Brasted50-65Honest well made British pianos
Brinsmead50-70Very varied prolific English maker
Broadwood White45-48Mostly basic straight strungs
Burling Mansfield35-40Mostly old and not worth reconditioning
Cameo (see Lindner)35-45Plastic action. Parts no longer available
Challen50-68Can be quite reasonable but vary. The UKs most common baby grands
Chappell50-70Varied but generally good. Old ones can be quite basic. Please see our piano makes list for more details
Collard and Collard40-68Extremely varied prolific British maker spanning over 200 years. Get advice before buying one. Please see our piano makes list for more details
Cramer45-68Plenty of variety. Good baby grands and post 1900 uprights. Please see our piano makes list for more details
Crane35-50Mostly basic uprights
Dalmaine35-50Mostly basic uprights and baby grands
Dale Forty35-50Mostly basic uprights and baby grands
Danemann44-68Varied. Made many pianos for schools
Duck Son and Pinker35-50Mostly basic uprights
Dale Forty40-50Basic British pianos
Erard40-68Very varied
Eavestaff35-68Mini Pianos generally basic. Baby grands fair. Other uprights medium to fair
Elysian45-60Name used mainly by Morleys of London. Varied
Fazioli85-95Fazioli 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
Fazer55-68Modern Finnish pianos. Fazer are generally good with rich bass and firm touch
Feurich65-75Old and modern ones well made
Forster, August55-70Vary varied in quality – passed through “Iron curtain” phase. Best older and very modern ones are excellent
Fuchs and Mohr40-55Modern Eastern block pianos
(George) Rogers55-70Good factory with long history. Older ones may not be worth reconditioning
George Russell50-55Mostly basic straight-strung overdamped pianos, well made with a good tone
Giles50From the same factory as the very common Zender
Godfrey35-48Mostly basic uprights
Gors and Kallman50-70Older uprights overdampers but good tone. Baby grands generally good
Grotrian Steinweg60-90Prolific 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.
Hellas50-60Hellas are similar to Fazer but action generally not as good
Hickie and Hickie35-48Mostly basic uprights cheaply made
Hoffmann50-75This name is confusingly used on both basic British and high quality German pianos
Hopkinson45-65Very common British make. Older ones overdampers. Please see our piano makes page for more details
Hupfeld45-60Older ones good. Modern ones “Iron curtain” pianos and poor quality
Ibach50-80Older ones overdampers but good. Grands generally fine quality; modern Ibachs well made
John Broadwood40-80Inventive 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
Kaps55-80Mainly 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
Kawai55-85Japanese 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
Kemble55-78British 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
Kirkman30-55Mostly very old British pianos. Many grands
Knight58-80

Respected British maker. Best between about 1960 and 1980.

Knauss50-55German maker of medium quality
Krauss50-55German maker of medium quality
Legnica45-55Polish maker, common in the UK 1980-1990
Lindner

35-50

Irish pianos with revolutionary plastic action for which no spares are readily available
Lipp55-90German pianos made with great integrity. Rich warm tone. Baby and boudoir grands generally excellent
Lambert48Basic British overdamper
Marshall and Rose50-65British pianos of medium quality
Minstelle40-50Small pianos made by Barratt and Robinson
Monington and Weston50-65Many low quality baby grands made with “simplex” actions. Uprights can be very good
Murdoch35-55common basic British pianos
Moore and Moore50-58Fair quality British pianos
Morley, Robert50-55Fair quality British pianos
Neumeyer50-65mid-range German pianos. Best ones have rich warm tone
Niemeyer45-55Low to mid range German pianos
Papps35-50Mostly basic uprights. Portsmouth firm with specially designed metal wrest plank for environments with varying humidity
Petrov50-80Wide range of quality in uprights. Some early baby grands are outstanding
Pleyel45-68Much varietly in quality from this French maker
Psalmist55Made by Bentley
Reid Sohn45-60Large Korean factory
Rippen60-65Consistent Dutch maker of modern pianos. Rich bass
Reisbach50-65Fair quality British pianos made by Rogers with influence from Grotrian Steinweg
Rogers (George)50-70Good quality English pianos. Baby grands worth reconditioning
Ronisch45-75Older ones very well made. Modern ones more varied
Russell (and Russell)45-58Honestly made cheaper uprights mainly from early 1900s
Samick45-60Large Korean factory
Sauter58-78Well made German uprights and grands
Scheidmayer58-78Well made German uprights and grands
Schimmell55-68Mid-range German uprights and grands
Seiler58-78Well made German uprights and grands
Spencer45-62Common British maker from about 1900 to 1940. Modern ones from different factories
Squire (and Longson)50-60Mid range British pianos
Steck55-70Uprights have warm tone; baby grands vary in quality
Steinway60-95Best known of the top makes. Mostly German Steinway pianos 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 Steinway pianos 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.
Ströhmenger50-65Good quality British pianos
Waddington45-55Basic British piano, can have a reasonable tone. Grands basic
Waldstein45-58Name used by British, German and Chinese pianos at various times. Modern Chinese Waldsteins are nothing to do with the older pianos
Wallace Ash35-48Mostly basic uprights
Weber46-68Older ones well made. Modern ones made in the Far East
Welmar55-75Good quality British pianos. Older uprights varied. Baby grands copy of Bluthner. Please see our makes list for more details
Witton and Witton45-55Basic British piano. Grands not well made
Woodchester45-55Uninspiring pianos made by Bentley in the late 90s
Yamaha48-90Most 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 Chang45-60Large Korean factory
Zender48-60Sidney 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
Zimmerman45-70Pre 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.