The main factor when buying any used piano is, who made it? The top quality common modern British piano makers are Knight and Welmar. The most common good makes of pre 1940 British pianos are Chappell, Challen, Rogers and Broadwood. Pre -1890 British pianos may not have a full iron frame. Avoid these, unless you want an early music sound. They will often be unstable with central heating unless you use a good humidifier.
Knight is an English piano manufacturer established in London (1936 – 2003)
Traditional English grand and upright pianos
The main problems with these older British pianos is that they have often dried out and then the tuning pins are loose, so that they don’t hold their tuning for long. The cure for this is larger tuning pins costing about £850 including fitting, though if the piano is restrung at the same time, the cost will be at least £2200 (2013). Better still is having the tuning block or Wrest Plank replaced with a modern one. Add about £1000 extra for this
Other problems are that they are often worn, and need extensive action reconditioning. This can cost from £350 for a basic regulation to £2500 if the hammers and other felts are replaced. Good traditional British pianos have a characteristic sound which is usually brighter than German ones but it is much richer than a cheap to mid range modern piano.
Used English grand and baby grand pianos available in the UK
By far the most common of these is the Challen baby grand, which measures between 4ft 4in and 5ft long. They vary a great deal and fluctuated in quality, the worst being passable and that best good. the 4ft 4in ones have a “simplex” action which was good when new or not extensively used, but wears more quickly than the normal roller action.
Other good makes which are relatively common are Broadwood, Rogers, Chappell, Cramer and Steck . These also vary considerably. From about 1895 to 1910 Broadwood and Chappell made some very fine 5 to 6ft baby grands, every bit as good as top German ones. Traditional English upright pianos The most common good quality British upright makers are Broadwood, Chappell, Challen, Steck and Welmar. Again, there is a great deal of variety of British pianos, so consult a good tuner before buying.
Modern used English upright pianos from 1970
The best of these British upright pianos are Knight, a superbly stable rich toned small upright, and most Welmars, though these vary a lot more. After about 1987 the quality begins to become less refined. If you’re buying any of these, it’s best to enlist an expert. Kemble uprights also vary. They made an excellent very small 85 note upright called the “Kemble compact”. For a full list of common English makes see our Common Makes in the UK page