Restoring an antique piano?

Has anybody here ever attempted such a feat? My mother- and father-in-law had an antique Ellington upright that needs help from both a woodworking and a functional perspective, and it's now fallen to my brother-in-law to decide what to do with the thing. I've read that restoring an antique piano can definitely be worth the investment, and Ellington is a decent brand that can fetch a decent price if properly restored. I could handle the woodworking portion of the restoration, and possibly some of the internal rebuild, but he thinks it needs to be re-strung, which evidently can cost $1000, and he is inclined to scrap it. He's tried advertising it locally, but nobody seems to want the thing. I'm intrigued by the idea of restoring it, but I don't want to get WAY in over my head either. If he scraps it he'll try to sell the brass soundboard for scrap metal, and I can keep whatever wood parts are in it, which I'm not sure is worth the trouble. Thoughts?
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Steve Turner wrote:

Antique uprights are found for free on my local Craigslist at least one a month. There is virtually no demand for these things, especially considering electronic pianos that weigh in at 25 pounds.
What you CAN do with the thing - if the exterior is decent and restorable - is turn the whole enchilada into a liquor cabinet.
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On 6/21/2012 2:16 PM, HeyBub wrote:

My wife actually suggested that at one point (something they used to do back in the days of prohibition, apparently). We don't really have the room for it though.
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On 6/21/12 2:08 PM, Steve Turner wrote:

Steve, get in touch with me via email or facebook. I worked under a master carpenter between years at college... he ironically was also my first drum teacher. I'm a better drummer, but he is a far superior craftsman. :-) Anyway, years ago he got into piano restoration and that's all he does now. His work is simply amazing. I'll give you him contact info.
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On 6/21/2012 2:17 PM, -MIKE- wrote:

Interesting that a person could make a living at that. I sent you a FB note.
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On Thu, 21 Jun 2012 14:08:02 -0500, Steve Turner

Generally not worth the trouble.
I've done it. A lot of work to get all the mechanism lined up and adjusted - only needed a few strings and a few ahjusters so my investment wasn't very high - but old upright grands are a dime a dozen around here. The kids used it for their piano lessons, and I think I got out of it what I put into it, less my labour, when we sold it ten years later.
As for the "brass soundboard" - my bet is it is not. The soundboard is generally wood, and the HARP is cast iron, painted a brass colour. Have not seen a brass harp on ANY piano I've worked on or looked at. If that sucker was brass, old pianos would be worth a fortune!!!!!!
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On Thu, 21 Jun 2012 14:08:02 -0500, Steve Turner wrote:

I doubt it's worth it from a monetary standpoint, but it might be fun to do.
I do wonder though, with todays electronic tuners how hard would it be to replace strings yourself? Try tuning first and only replace any strings that can't be tuned. It may well have more than one string per note, a lot of pianos do.
Measure the diameters of any string to be replaced and look up the wire size. You can get wire either precut with ends looped, or you can buy coils and do it yourself.
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On Thu, 21 Jun 2012 23:25:43 +0000 (UTC), Larry Blanchard

An electronically tuned piano, tuned 100% accurately by instrument, does not necessarily SOUND properly tuned. That's where a good tuner comes in - but yes, you can get it acceptable after a few tries. You will need a good set of Mutes as well to do the job.

Correction - ALL pianos do for at least some notes.
As for "can't be tuned", they either CAN be tuned or are broken. Whether they will HOLD a tune is a different story. You will need an assortment of spare tuning pins of different oversizes to replace those that do not hold. Occaisionally you can get away with replacing a pin and not break the string - but you can pretty well count on replacing the string on any pin that "slips". The strings from about an octave below middle "C" on down are copper wrapped steel strings instead of single piano-wire strings. If too many pins slip, the whole pinblock needs to be replaced.

The more difficult part of setting up a restored piano is getting the "action" adjusted properly. There are over 9000 parts in a typical piano action that require precise adjustment. Then there ia all the trapwork and the dampers. These three systems are all part of "regulating" a piano. There are approxemately 24 or 25 adjustments for every note.
I did ONE. Pretty much from scratch. An old Sherlock Manning upright which at some time in it's life had been dropped, throwing the whole mechanism off square. Not about to spend the time to do another one in this lifetime. It's like rebuilding 15 V12 4 valve engines of different displacements and then setting them up to idle in synch, and accellerate smoothly and evenly, with none trying to overtake any other.
When I had it done and got the tuner (who is also a piano rebuilder) in to do the final tune, she asked who had done the regulating, as it was obvious there had been a lot of adjusting done. I told her what I had done - every last key removed, grooved felts sanded, loose felts reglued and the main support parts rebent back to shape, then all assembled, lined up, and adjusted - and said she had never seen a non-professional pull off such a job, and so well.
The voicing was pretty good on it too. Voicing adjusts the TONE where tuning adjusts the PITCH. Tone is affected by grooved hammers and dampers and all that kind of stuff. Even the finish you use on the exterior can affect the voicing of the piano. And if the sound board is cracked you will never get it right. (the sound board is the heavy wooden back - the frame, plate, or Harp is the (usually) cast iron part that takes the tension of the springs.)
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On 6/21/2012 8:10 PM, snipped-for-privacy@snyder.on.ca wrote:

Thank you, that's very good information. I think you've convinced me that I have better things to do than to attempt the restoration myself. I'd still hate to see this particular piano get scrapped, since I think (from what I've read) an Ellington is one of the better brands to have been produced during that era. Maybe we (my brother-in-law and I) can try some channels other than just Craigslist to find the right buyer for the thing and see it down the road to restoration. We'll see.
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wrote:

*applause* Sometimes it is just so damn hard to walk away from an interesting challenge. Smart to be able to walk away.
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There is much, much more then simply using an electronic tuner to tune a piano. Pianos, with the possible exception of one tuned for specific use in a concert composition in a specific key, are tuned using a method known as "tempered" tuning.
Simply put, the strings of a piano must be deliberately mistuned in order to be able to play that piano in ALL keys. While you can indeed use a tuner to do that, you will not be successful without a through musical and technological understanding of "tempered tuning", along with an excellent ear.
A good piano tuner is a must, and earns every dollar he is paid.
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On Fri, 22 Jun 2012 23:06:56 -0500, Swingman wrote:

Interesting. I'll have to find my copy of "Design of Musical Instruments" and see if it talks about that. Thanks.
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On 6/23/2012 11:56 AM, Larry Blanchard wrote:

The mathematics/physics are cut and dried, but the human ear injects a subjectiveness to it all, and that, in nutshell, is where a good piano tuner (human) comes in with his/her ability to know when to "stretch" the tuning in certain octaves of the piano to please the artist.
The very first section (Pythagoras & Music) of the first link below, and in particular the third and fourth short paragraphs in that section, illustrates the mathematical problem, and need for "temperament" when tuning an instrument that covers as many octaves as a piano, clavier, harpsichord, etc:
http://www.jimloy.com/physics/scale.htm
http://www.kylegann.com/tuning.html
http://www.kylegann.com/histune.html
J.S. Bach's, "The Well Tempered Clavier", illustrates all the above nicely, and meaningfully, once you understand why it was written. :)
Had to deal with this constantly in my recording studio days, as many record company recording artist's, and their contracts, were very specific about tuning, temperament, and intonation of the studio piano before and during sessions ... AAMOF, I was occasionally required to keep a piano tuner on call during an entire session just in case.
There is nothing more picky, and anal, than a classically trained musician ... from the weight of the music stand pencil lead (#1), to a perceived shadow on the music stand; and a piano not tuned to perfect satisfaction is grounds for capital punishment in their mind, no matter how liberal their politics. :)
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On Sat, 23 Jun 2012 14:23:24 -0500, Swingman wrote:

Excellent! Thanks. I may learn some musical basics yet :-). I took piano lessons for at least 8 years as a child and got to be quite good (now I'm one step above awful). But my teacher felt no need to teach theory - probably didn't know it herself.
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Steve Turner wrote:
Steve, know a guy who used to restore player grand pianos as a hobby. Drop me an e-mail and I will try to get you in touch with him.
Deb

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Depends on what else is wrong with it. Some friends had a Steinway built in the late 1800's, that was fully strung, and basically playable except for one issue. Moths had gotten into it and eaten all the felt. It would have cost more than a new Steinway to fix. The Steinway dealer took it as a trade-in, possbly for parts.
Doug White
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On 6/21/2012 2:08 PM, Steve Turner wrote:

You may have seen this, but if not, here's some pictures of an 1895 Ellington upright being restrung:
http://www.pianofinders.com/educational/R&R/Strings/index.htm
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As others have essentially said, unless you are absolutely dedicated to the whole restoration, for the piano, itself, and/or for sentimental values, that project can be an albatross for not only your time, but also your money.
On a different note, about 5 yrs ago, I bought an upright at the state auction, for $10, for my brother's 11 yr old, who is studious enough to play several instruments really well. She had often said she wanted a piano. One string was broken and that particular string cost only $12. That turned out to be a pretty good deal and she still enjoys the piano. At the auction, several other pianos, all teaching instruments, so not antique, went for a tad more money and a baby grand went for $600. A few months ago, at the state auction, 2 impulse-buyer idiots got into a bidding war over similar upright school surplus pianos. The winning bidder bid $1500 on the first piano and had the option of taking the other 3, each for the same amount. He took all 4 pianos, probaby thinking he could resell them for a profit. Both those bidders, obviously, didn't know the product market. I'll bet the "winner" is still kicking himself for that mistake.
Sonny
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On 6/22/2012 6:59 AM, Swingman wrote:

Wow. No, I had not seen that. I don't really understand most of what I'm looking at in those pictures, but it does give me a great appreciation for the craft of piano design and restoration. It also makes me with I had about a dozen other lifetimes to explore this and various other fields of artistic endeavor. :-)
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