Robert Estrin - piano expert

Can a Piano be Too Old?

Understand how the age of a piano effects its worth.

In this video, Robert gives you some guidelines to understand whether an old piano should be thrown away, or can instead simply be restored and still be "playable."

Released on April 27, 2016

  
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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, this is Robert Estrin at livingpianos.com and virtualsheetmusic.com. The question today is, can a piano be too old? I hate to think that a piano ages out and you've got to throw it away. Sadly, sometimes that's the case. Is it the age, or is it something else? Well, that's a really fundamental point.

The age of a piano has more to do with its life and its upkeep and its environment than it does the date of manufacture. For example, here's a beautiful A.B. Chase from 1883 that plays just beautifully. I've seen some 10 or 15 year old pianos that were thrashed. In fact, I just was talking with a piano technician on the phone who came across a 1906 Knabe upright all original from an estate where it had virtually never been played, where the original strings still have a vibrant tone, the tuning is stable, and the sound board is perfect. That's a really unusual situation, but it does occasionally happen.

There's another facet to this whole discussion, which is the fact that I have seen some Viennese pianos that are actually newer than this piano that still have much older types of technology. That is to say that even though Steinway and other companies were building fully modern pianos in the 1880s, there were some companies into the 20th century still building pianos that were not fully modern pianos, more period instruments from a bygone era.

The age of the piano doesn't necessarily even tell you how modern the piano is. Ultimately, the factors that determine the true age of a piano, not just when it was built, are how much it's been played since pianos wear out. The environment the piano has been in is incredibly crucial because a piano can get destroyed from too much humidity or too dry an environment or going back and forth between those two extremes. And the upkeep. This piano for example has been restored, as most pianos from 1883 would have to be. Occasionally, as I said, you'll find some beautifully preserved instrument from 100 years ago that just needs some refinement like regulation voicing and tuning. More often than not most pianos, even 20 or 30 year old pianos, will require more than that.

Can a piano get too old? Yes, but it's not the age. It has to do with the life it has had. There's something we can all learn from that for our own health, isn't there? Thanks so much for the great questions. Again, Robert Estrin at livingpianos.com and virtualsheetmusic.com.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Tammy Hall * VSM MEMBER * on May 18, 2016 @7:21 am PST
Robert, I bought a well loved upright piano from Goodwill and you can tell where the previous owner had a "sweet spot" on the ivory's. I'm not sure but I think it would cost too much to tune it and replace the well worn strings. Taking all that into account do you think it would be okay to paint the exterior. I am an artist and musician and have been wanting to go crazy with this instrument. What would be your opinion?
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Robert Estrin on May 18, 2016 @1:34 pm PST
There is a program in a number of American cities putting old uprights in public places for people to play. Most of them have elaborate painting on them. If the piano could use refinishing and requires major work which may not be worthwhile, at least you could share your artistic expression!
Michael David Bentley on April 27, 2016 @2:27 pm PST
I was very interested in this item, because I have a Monnington and Weston boudoir grand from just before the 2nd world war which seriously needs restoring - something I am considering. The main point of my comment is that all the way through your video I was hoping you would play something on the piano you were sitting at to hear how good an instrument as old as that could sound, but unfortunately you didn't.
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