Piano guy called right…

Piano guy called right after I typed the last entry, so I went and met him at the house. Verdict: grand piano left in house is old, but not a valuable antique; it will cost $5500 - $7500 to repair to good condition. Would cost another $5000ish to refinish to beautiful gloss, but I don't actually care about that; I'm fine with the slightly battered look of it, so that part is irrelevant. Options:

  • donate to Girls Club or some such, take tax deduction, buy good quality used upright ($2500ish)
  • donate to Girls Club or some such, take tax deduction, buy new upright ($2000 for cheapest version, not recommended; starting around $4-5K for good version)
  • repair our piano (assume worst case, $7500)
  • buy a new grand piano ($10K and up to $80K) -- we're almost certainly not doing this
It's tricky because we do want a piano in the house, for me to play and to teach the children, but had planned on just getting an upright. Grand pianos are, of course, much better sound quality and more of a pleasure to play. I studied piano for about ten years growing up; I was pretty decent (able to play and perform from memory a twenty page Rachmaninoff piece, for example), and I'd love to get my skills back and play regularly again. But I also want to be realistic about whether I'm likely to play often -- it's a little hard to guess, since I haven't had access to a piano in my home for twenty years. I think I'd play close to daily, but I'm not at all sure. And of course I have no idea if the children will take to it or not; I'm going to encourage them to play, but I'm not going to be as ardent about it as my parents were. If they're not going to love it, then is it worth getting a high-quality piano? On the other hand, if we get a cheap one now, and they do take to it, then we might end up just spending more money to upgrade, somewhere down the line.

And aside from any music issue, there are space issues -- the front parlor is not the largest room; if we're using it as a music room/parlor, it's fine to have a grand in there (and it looks beautiful in the room). But if it's also my study (which we won't know definitively until December 18th, because it depends on what the village decides to approve from our plans), then there probably isn't room for a grand piano in there too. I guess that means that if we're thinking of keeping it, we should wait until the 18th to decide for certain. But if we're sure we want to just go with an upright, we might as well donate it now and get it out of the house so it doesn't risk accidentally being damaged by the contractors. (Who are great guys, and are being very careful, but nobody is perfect...)

What should we do? So confused!

9 thoughts on “Piano guy called right…”

  1. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Not without repairing it first; it’s been sitting in a cold house for over a year, and is definitely damaged in a variety of ways. The piano guy doesn’t think we could get anything for it in its current shape.

  2. I’d keep it. (I love that wall color too). (If you are donating it, look for a local theater company to donate it to, maybe)

  3. I would keep it, too. In my experience, piano experts are not reliable when it comes to such recommendations. One told my mother in the 1950’s that a grand piano she had was not worth anything much. She found out many years later, when she had gotten rid of it, that it was far more valuable than the piano man had said that it was. He apparently just wanted to make a sale of a newer piano.

  4. Let me add one other option. Get a good electric piano (full range of keys and pedals with a grand piano touch) and a great set of headphones. Then practicing can be done (a) after kids go to bed or (b) in silence so Mom and Dad don’t go mad after the 100th iteration of Ode to Joy. Kurzweil used to do great ones, but I don’t know who is best now. Get one will full midi and hook to old computer. Learn how to compose. Fun fun fun.

  5. Preservation not restoration! Repair the inner workings if you must (in order to make it sound like it should); however, never refinish it! Things are only original once.

  6. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Heh. Good point, Ron. Will try to keep that in mind as the project goes on, although I admit, I’m not a die-hard preservationist. I like old things, and I even like them to show their age, but I don’t love everything just because it’s old. 🙂

    Kirstie, I admit to being dubious about electronic keyboards — I’ve never felt one that felt like a real piano to me. I’m not sure I can get past the ‘not a real piano’ thing in my head. But will keep the idea in mind for the kids.

  7. My husband worked for a piano liquidation company […] for several years as their delivery man and occasional salesman. I used to go and help at the piano shows, so I was exposed quite a bit to the piano industry. A few comments based on those experiences:

    1) 99.9% of piano sales people are total charlatans. Seriously, they are worse than used car dealers. They will use every tactic known to man to sell you something from using leader pianos (pieces of crap advertised at crazy low prices to get you in the door) to buying unbranded Chinese pianos and slapping a label of their own design on them. (Hint: There is no such thing as a Charleston brand piano.)

    2) The piano business is seriously hurting right now, so there are amazing deals out there on new and gently used pianos of all types from classic uprights and grands to digital grands. You just need to do your homework first so that you don’t get swindled. (And don’t let them instill a false sense of urgency. There is NOT another buyer who is going to come back and snatch that baby grand out from under you.)

    3) Restoration can be really tricky if there are problems with the keys, strings or other workings. In general, the older the person doing the work the better. Younger piano techs as a general rule just do not have the same skills as the older generation. However, cabinet restoration is usually much easier than they make it out to be.

    [Paragraph removed here at commenter’s request.]

    I do recommend sitting down at some digitals. A lot of them now have keys weighted so well that you really can’t tell the difference between them and a traditional grand. But in your house I’d go traditional if possible.

  8. Don’t worry about whether the kids are going to love it – if you will love it, get a good one! But an upright, not a baby grand, seems better for your space and budget needs. Get rid of the old one.

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