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Acoustic piano


dongna

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I have the opportunity to be on the receiving end of a baby grand piano at no up-front cost to me other than moving. The piano belongs to my uncle, who has owned it for 20+ years or so strictly as a piece of furniture i.e. no one in his family ever played it. I don't know the brand or other details yet, but I have to make a decision on it soon as he wants to get it out of his house.

 

My question is to those here who own such pianos. I'm interested to know what kinds of costs I could expect to incur for ongoing tuning and maintenance. I'm certain it will require at the very least a tuning, perhaps more. I will have an opportunity to play it, but I'm not sure even what to look for.

 

Like most here, I have an electronic keyboard setup in a spare bedroom which basically satisfies my keyboard needs in every way. But the darn thing is free-- kinda hate to pass it up.

 

Also wondering if anyone would have a piano tuner/technician in the Chicago area they would recommend.

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Check out my experience for starters.

 

Generally, it's really hard to say. The piano could be anywhere from near junk to simply needing a tune. Your best bet is to get a tech to check it out, preferably one you would consider using. Your next best bet is to read Larry Fine's Piano Book, especially the section where he talks about what to look for in used pianos.

 

At base cost, it will cost you around $100 per tuning. This varies by region and tuner. There have been threads here about how much do tunings cost in your area, so do a search for those.

 

Also, if it hasn't been tuned for a very long time, it may need a "pitch raise" in order to get it into tune. That's where the instrument is so out of tune it takes a couple of passes to get it into tune. You don't want to try to bring it into tune all at once because it won't work. A pitch raise costs more than a regular tuning due to the additional work involved.

"I'm so crazy, I don't know this is impossible! Hoo hoo!" - Daffy Duck

 

"The good news is that once you start piano you never have to worry about getting laid again. More time to practice!" - MOI

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We'll need to know more about the piano to give you the best answers. It will undoubtedly need to be tuned at least once a year, maybe more depending on issues such as brand, make and model, location in your residence, and how much you play it. If it hasn't been played much in the last 20 years it may have no mechanical issues at all. On the other hand, moths may have eaten the hammers, rail felt, etc, down to the wood.

 

Chicago is full of competent tuners. Who you call will depend on how much you can afford and whether the piano needs or deserves the treatment that one of the best can provide. Steinway of Chicago (really they're in Northbrook), for example, can and will happily recommend tuners for anybody's piano in any neighborhood or suburb. They will, however, probably be more expensive than somebody with a hammer, mutes, and an electronic tuner.

 

Find out more about the piano and let us know.

 

Larry.

 

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If the piano is not absolutely destroyed and it's a good quality baby grand, I'll get it eyes-closed if I were you. I've seen 50 year-old grands sounding as they were just out of the factory.

Everything can be fixed, tuned and restorated, with patience and money. But even the hardest and heaviest restoration would be cheaper than getting a new one -if it's a good brand & model. If the piano has not been used, it's probably in a fair condition, so a good revision & tuning would probably make it shine.

Of course, you should check brand and model and its condition, but sure it's a great opportunity to have a "real" piano.

Regarding tuning, if you play quite a lot on a daily basis, to have it perfectly tuned all the time will involve a tuning every quarter. If you're not that kind of heavy-user once a year would probably be okay.

All in all, seems like a great opportunity :thu:

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I'd take it almost regardless of condition.

 

I have a baby grand that on an objective test falls way short of being a "good" piano sound: the lowest two octaves have a kind of weird, clunky sound, and while the mid range sounds lovely it's a bit harsh at the top and rattles a little due to a crack in the soundboard...

 

... but the experience of playing it is miles away from playing an electronic keyboard. I love it! There's no comparison in how it feels to have acoustic sound all around you.

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Get a tech to check it out first. Or perhaps two techs to get a different opinion. The piano could be anywhere between the extremes of "fine" and "junk". Nobody on an internet forum will be able to determine where it falls in that spectrum. You need to have a qualified professional technician look at it.
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Get a tech to check it out first.

Enough said. And pay him/her a fair fee.

If you end up buying it, he will probably apply a discount on the first tuning/maintenance session.

 

If that piano isn't total junk, I would tend to take it, even if it isn't perfect. Free pianos, especially grands, are not found every day, and the experience of practicing on a real piano is irreplaceable.

 

 

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+1 on the recommendations to absolutely have a qualified tech do an appraisal on it.

 

strictly as a piece of furniture i.e. no one in his family ever played it.

 

This is a huge red flag; if it's a piece of furniture, it's never been tuned or maintained as an instrument, and undoubtedly humidity and temperature changes over 2 decades have had a pronounced effect on the pin block.

 

People often overpay for a free piano. :snax:

 

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Thank you all for the insight.

 

I spoke with my uncle on the phone, and he informed me that the piano is a Kurtzmann. From what I have been able to research, these are considered to be pretty high quality pianos, even though they may not have name cache. He said it needs tuning badly (no surprise), and "has no idea" if it needs any further work or not. As far as he knows, it is in great shape. But as Sven points out, neglecting it as an instrument all these years may have caused harm that is not apparent to the average person.

 

I have already taken to heart the many suggestions to have a tech look at it, and have been referred to a good one who has told me it would be around $100 for him to make an evaluation. That seems to me to be money very well spent. My plan is to go see it and play it myself first (and also take some measurements to make sure we have the space for it). Unless the thing has obvious major damage that he is oblivious to, I'll ask him if it would be OK to have a tech look it over (I'm just hoping my uncle is not insulted by this request.)

 

Is there anything in particular I could/should look for when I go to check it out?

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Like I said, Larry Fine's The Piano Book has a great section on what to look for in a used piano. You can get slightly scuffed copies of the book from his web site at a great discount.

 

http://www.pianobook.com

 

If you're serious about buying a used piano, additional information in The Piano Book may be useful to you, including:

How to remove the outer cabinet parts to look inside the piano

How to do a preliminary inspection of a piano to rule out those that are not worth hiring a technician to inspect, including an extensive checklist of potential problem areas

"I'm so crazy, I don't know this is impossible! Hoo hoo!" - Daffy Duck

 

"The good news is that once you start piano you never have to worry about getting laid again. More time to practice!" - MOI

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Is there anything in particular I could/should look for when I go to check it out?

 

This is something my piano tech told me when I had her check out a Hardman Peck I was considering.

 

She said that a good piano will go out of tune in a "predictable" way. If a piano's tuning are chaotic, then that's a red flag and may indicate that the pinblock won't allow it to hold a tune.

 

Run up and down the chromatic scale on the instrument. If you find any bizarrely detuned unisons or half-steps that are so bad that the frequencies are nearly inverted, then you may be looking at a piano that is not worth the price of moving it.

 

 

 

 

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Personally I would not accept a baby grand piano unless I were paid to take it. 5'8" is the length that I would start at. Shorter than that and they are typically a pain to play, listen to, and take care of (IMHO). Okay, so maybe I'm a bit of a perfectionist, though I've been tuning pianos since 1978 and I've seen more than a few bad ones in my day... I already have a digital piano that sounds better and plays more evenly than any baby grand I've ever come across.

 

Above 5'8" the piano starts to become an instrument in its own right. Even then, I'd consider very carefully how well it played, how well it stays in tune, how good the keys feel, and how the whole range of sound fits in with itself.

 

Now many people will find that even an upright spinet feels good to the soul, just because it's acoustic and full of anomalies. You may fall into this category and if so, by all means go for it. I'd put a lot of stock in what everyone has said so far in this thread.

 

Stephen

 

 

 

 

.

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The piano length is the total length from the edge of the wood under the key bed to the corner of the wood at the far end where the curve is. Basically it is the largest out-to-out dimension perpendicular to the keys. It is the furniture dimension. Check out the yamaha page dimensions.

http://usa.yamaha.com/products/musical-instruments/keyboards/grandpianos/c_series/c1/?mode=model

 

Don't listen to the guy that said he wouldn't bother with anything smaller than 5'-8". Maybe if it was 4'-3" or so, but I've played pianos in the 4'-10" to 5'-3" range that sounded nice sure you lose a little clarity in the bass but the middle of the piano sounds great, you can practice and play with real grand action and it looks good.

 

I'd get it unless it was in real bad shape and needed new hammers or the soundboard was cracked. Tuning will run about $100 twice a year if you play it. If you don't really play it much, once a year is okay. If it is old and has been played a lot you may need to have it voiced which is $200 or so ( they fluff and smooth the hammers).

 

Free is nice. Don't be lookin' no gift horse in da mouf,

D.

 

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You will find some piano manufacturers measure the length slightly differently, but what marsalone posted is basically true. The variance I'm talking about is like an inch or so.

 

Ideally, yes, a piano about 6' or so is better, but is also louder. If you're putting it in a small space, there is the consideration of volume as well as size.

 

Probably the biggest concern of an older piano is the condition of the pinblock. If it's cracked and won't hold a tune, it's a costly repair because the strings and plate need to be removed, a new pinblock needs to be cut and drilled, then it all needs to be reassembled, and you might as well get new strings at that time, etc. etc.

 

OTOH, a cracked pinblock isn't the end of the world. Mine has an area that doesn't hold a tune as well as it should, but it's not terrible and I can live with it. It just depends on how bad it is, and if you can live with it.

 

Cracked soundboards can be okay, too. If the piano sounds fine, then it's not a big deal. If that crack is bad, it vibrates or buzzes, then it's a problem.

"I'm so crazy, I don't know this is impossible! Hoo hoo!" - Daffy Duck

 

"The good news is that once you start piano you never have to worry about getting laid again. More time to practice!" - MOI

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a piano about 6' or so is better, but is also louder.
Actually, no, not necessarily. There have been several discussions about this at PW. Manufacturers have measured the SPL of different sized pianos and found the larger soundboards do not produce a statistically significant increase in volume. I can't find one post I was thinking of, but here's a few different ones.

 

One of the myths that just will not die is that larger pianos soundboards will somehow inherently produce better or louder sound. They do not.

 

The tone quality produced by any piano is a combination of many factors. These include, but are not limited to, the string scale design, the design (not just the size, but the actual design) of the soundboard assembly, the design and construction of the supporting structure, the design and construction of the hammers, etc.

 

All of these factors play a role in determining the ultimate tone quality of the piano. The shape of the soundboard, the number, location, sizes and crowning of the ribs are far more important than its overall size.

 

Click

The longer string of the longer piano does--or at least, if the piano is designed to take full advantage of its length, it should--give a clearer and more articulate bass. But it will not necessarily be louder than its smaller counterpart. It does--or, again, should--put more energy in the fundamental of the bass note being played and this should help the bass notes carry through better. But the smaller piano will (should) be capable of essentially the same acoustical power through that part of the musical scale most commonly used. (Keep in mind, also, that acoustical power has to be either doubled or halved for our ears to discern any change.) And, even in the low bass some smaller pianos can generate a considerable amount of acoustical power. It may not always be very pleasant to listen to, but the numbers will be there.

 

My point is simply, all things being equal and through most of the musical scale, larger pianos are not necessarily capable of significantly higher power levels as measured by a sound pressure level meter.

Are large pianos louder than smaller pianos?

Large piano vs. Decibel level

Estonia 190, Korg TrinityPlus, Yamaha P90, Roland PK-5a
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Don't listen to the guy that said he wouldn't bother with anything smaller than 5'-8".

 

Except that I prefaced my remarks with a rather obvious IMHO. :)

 

And then encouraged the OP to go for the baby grand if his or her concerns were different than my own. :):)

 

I am very aware that my opinion in this matter is not the generally held one. And yet the greater diversity of opinions about this particular topic can only benefit not hurt us all. I certainly learn things here in ways that I'd never imagine.

 

Vive la différence

 

Peace,

 

Stephen

 

 

 

 

.

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a piano about 6' or so is better, but is also louder.
Actually, no, not necessarily. There have been several discussions about this at PW. Manufacturers have measured the SPL of different sized pianos and found the larger soundboards do not produce a statistically significant increase in volume. I can't find one post I was thinking of, but here's a few different ones.
Oh, okay. I've never checked that for myself. I'll stop saying it. :) Thanks.

 

I'd rather practice on a baby grand (if in decent shape) than on any other keyboard, except for a full-size grand.
This. My piano is small, but I way prefer playing her than any other DP I have. The only pianos that beat it are other acoustics. I used to think that a great DP was enough, and that I'd probably never own a real acoustic. Now, it's the other way around. I can't imagine not having an acoustic.

 

I am very aware that my opinion in this matter is not the generally held one. And yet the greater diversity of opinions about this particular topic can only benefit not hurt us all. I certainly learn things here in ways that I'd never imagine.

 

Vive la différence

I'll accept that. :thu:

"I'm so crazy, I don't know this is impossible! Hoo hoo!" - Daffy Duck

 

"The good news is that once you start piano you never have to worry about getting laid again. More time to practice!" - MOI

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