Many people buy their own piano on the second-hand market, where good-quality used instruments are widely available in various states of disrepair. Many of these instruments perform at a level far below their potential, and require some degree of refettling to bring them to playable condition. However, some may beyond repair.
The need of restoration
Unlike a violin, a piano can only deteriorate with age; with its massive string tension of up to 20 tons. With thousands of moving parts, many of which are continually rubbed or hammered, it is no surprise that the action should become less responsive and the tone lose dynamic range with the passing years.
Regular adjustment can correct these problems in the short term; but after extended and heavy use, strings lose their resonance and leathers and felts wear thin,resulting in wobbly keys, poor repetition, and noisy connections within the action and trapwork.
Routine maintenance such as tuning, regulating, and voicing reach the limit of their effectiveness when the hammer heads are too marked to produce a sharp, clear tone, and the other action parts too worn to operate free from friction and noise.
Wooden soundboards, bridges, and pin blocks or wrest planks may begin to split, causing tuning instability and a further lose of tone. Most pianos can be played for many years without the need of major repairs, but when tuning, regulating, and voicing can no longer achieve their goal, the piano must have drastic surgery.
Why restore a piano?
The nature and extent of any reconditioning work may depend on factors other than the piano’s condition. An instrument’s monetary value is often more closely linked to its make and model number than its musical worth, so spending vast sums rebuilding a piano by a lesser-known maker may not make financial sense.
But there are other ways to value a piano: in its potential to be a fine instrument with a tone color of its own, and with a beautifully weighted and controlled touch, for example. It may also have sentimental value.
When not to restore an old piano?
The age of the piano must also be taken into account before embarking on any work. Many old-fashioned pianos were designed and built in such a way that they will never produce the touch or tone color of more recent models. Some instruments may be so old that care should be taken to preserve them for historical reasons.
The future demands to be made on the piano also need to be assessed. Bearing in mind the cost, age, and user’s requirements, a good technician can offer three alternative options to rejuvenate an old or worn piano: restoration, rebuilding, or reconditioning.