Let’s face it, vintage is in vogue. We are loving it. Vintage cars, vintage hairdos, vintage bikes. We love the style, the romance, the charm. It makes sense that we would want to go vintage with our piano. There is so much character to older pianos and you can almost imagine some of the great composers sitting at them, composing their masterpieces.
The Cambridge english dictionary gives the meaning of vintage as something of high quality and lasting value, or showing the best and most typical characteristics of a particular type of thing, especially from the past.
Don’t be deceived
Pianos made anytime from the late 1800’s through to the 1940’s have a style and aesthetic that satisfies our quest for vintage, but what about the mechanics? Are they all of high quality and lasting value? The answer is no.
Makers of vintage pianos
If you’re looking for a vintage piano, here are some of the brands to look out for: Steinway & Sons, Richard Lipp & Sohn, Feurich, Bechstein & Bluthner. This is not a comprehensive list, but these Companies made some of the better quality instruments around the turn of last century. Different makers had peak periods of excellence in manufacture at different times.
Owning an old piano that is not by a high quality maker may still be satisfying, but pumping money into it will be discouraged my most technicians unless it has a sentimental value to you (It was mother’s piano for example).
An inspection is essential
The brand is not the only consideration. The condition of piano is important too. The age of a vintage piano means the mechanics will most likely need some work – if not a complete restoration. If you’re going to invest in one of these pianos, you really need to know what you’re in for. Yes, it’s an investment even if the piano is free to take home. Just because all the keys are working, does not mean the piano is trouble free.
Be particularly careful if you aren’t 100% certain of the piano’s history. If the piano has been exposed to unfavourable weather conditions, it can be much more costly to repair and maintain. Getting a quote before committing to a purchase will give you peace of mind, and could save you some heartache and some significant money in moving costs.
An understanding piano technician
Owning a vintage piano, you’re going to become good friends with your piano technician. It will need work, and much more than a newer piano.
A word of warning: Many piano tuners/technicians will not even look at a piano over 75 years old. I can see their point. I have felt the same way at times, especially earlier in my career. Older pianos need special treatment and care. It’s not until you see a lot of them, that you can get a feel for what the results will be when you work on them. Not all technicians are interested in that type of work.
The other reason for a technician’s reluctance is some customers who own vintage instruments have unrealistic expectations of them in terms of performance. If you’re after a vintage instrument, it’s important to understand your own requirements and capabilities as a musician, so you can consider if a vintage piano is going to fill your needs.
Now you have a better understanding of how to recognise a vintage piano, you may be interested in some restoration case studies and the ins and outs of owning a vintage piano.