Which one to keep

Which One to Keep?

Two Old Uprights – which one to keep?

I went to a home recently that had two pianos; one to sell and one to keep. Only they didn’t know which one they wanted to fix, so they needed an evaluation to fill in the data.

The first one was a very old tall Tiger Oak upright made sometime between 1895 and 1900. It didn’t have the huge solid oak music front panel and fancy carving like some Ivers and Pond models of that era, but it was surprisingly sound inside, had a decent outside, and had a couple of nice features.

One was the full cast iron harp.

Most pianos built before 1920 or so had a cast iron harp (the gold colored metal you see inside) that only went up to the pinblock, making what we call an exposed pinblock. An exposed pinblock isn’t a big problem (the wood where all the tuning pins anchor), it just isn’t the standard anymore. (It seems to add a bit of tuning stability to have it anchored under the plate, as its commonly done these days.) I was surprised to see a fully covered pinblock in such an old piano with an unknown name.

The other was that it had all wood parts.

Many pre-1920’s piano makers experimented with brass parts, flanges primarily. Steinway is still know for a brass rail in most old grands that vexes rebuilders.

Understandably brass was a strong malleable material at the time. They just didn’t anticipate it becoming brittle in a hundred years – or maybe they didn’t expect the piano to last 100 years!

Nonetheless, these brass parts are now crumbling and, unfortunately, the week link in the actions. W.W. Kimball’s are the worst because the parts are so small and difficult to access that it costs more to fix/replace them than the piano will ever be worth.

This one had hammers that needed replacing very soon, and dead bass strings. These are both fixable, but expensive. Given that the pinblock tuning torque and bridges were in decent condition, it could be a playable piano with those things fixed.

The second one looked much younger initially since it was shorter and unadorned case. It also had some interesting features.

This one had been refinished and had a nice mahogany case. Most of the action was decent and the bass strings weren’t quite as dead. It was from 1923, which made it small for its era, though not necessarily lacking quality in many parts. The pinblock and bridges and hammers were all in good shape. I would say the color of the inside wood parts was roughly equivalent.

However, it had brass hammer flanges. The style is not as hard to replace, and none were failing yet, so it has promise. All of them were sluggish, so a good cleaning (it was thick with sawdust inside and out) could possibly help. That’s something you don’t know until you try. Worst case scenario is finding you need to replace each centerpin or flange – very labor intensive and expensive.

That is the quandary I left them with – six of one, half dozen of another – let me know if you want a project piano

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