The piano technician gave us some bad news today. He said it was no longer possible to tune our piano. What should we do? He said we could rebuild it, but is it worth it? Should we just replace it? I just don't know.
There comes a time in every pianos life where this question must be asked. What is the best course of action? The answer is not always easy to arrive at. Many piano owners have a lot of sentimental attachment to their piano, and that's a legitimate factor. Others do not, and just want an instrument that will function so they can play. Let's break down the possibilities.
If you have a vertical piano that needs a lot of work to bring it up to musical par, the answer to whether it's worth spending thousands of dollars on is almost always no, assuming no sentimentality. If a vertical piano will not hold tune and therefore needs to have the pinblock replaced and to be restrung, the cost of the repairs will likely exceed the cost of replacement. Strictly from a financial point of view, the piano's value will likely not increase by the amount of the repairs. In North America, most people own a vertical piano for one reason; they are not willing or able to afford the cost of a grand. This means that the vertical piano they bought was a relatively low cost item. The vast majority of vertical pianos sold in North America cost well under $10,000. Spending $6,000 in repairs on a piano that will then be worth $3,000, just doesn't make sense, especially when it is possible to buy any number of decent quality instruments for that same amount. When a reputable rebuilder gives you an estimate, they will typically be up front with you about this. Once you have received an estimate, do a little shopping to see what you can buy for similar money. The advantage to replacing a dying vertical piano with something else is that you can play the new piano and decide immediately if you like it. When you have a piano rebuilt, you won't know if you like the finished product until it is indeed finished. Keep in mind that this is not factoring in the sentimental side of the equation. If you rebuild a vertical because of personal attachment, just be aware that you are spending money, not investing.
With grand pianos, things are often different. Not all pianos are created equal. A visit to a rebuilder's shop will show this in an instant. What kinds of pianos are being rebuilt? Without discussing brand names, the answer will be high dollar and high profile American and European instruments. It is not uncommon for a pretty thorough restoration of a grand piano to cost over $20,000. It's also not uncommon for a piano that is worth $5,000 as-is, to be worth $50,000 or more when the restoration is expertly completed. Suddenly, it's a good investment.
Do your homework before committing to anything. It this internet age, anyone can put up an impressive looking website. That doesn't mean they are a quality rebuilder. Ask to see examples of completed instruments. Play them. Tour the workshop. Compare pricing with more than one rebuilder and ask very specifically what type of parts they will be using. Ask about warranties, and what exactly will be done if there is a warranty problem.
Thousands of pianos have been rebuilt for any number of reasons. Sometimes it was sentimental, sometimes it was financial, and many times it was musical. There are no wrong reasons, just wrong expectations. Be honest with yourself as to what your expectations are. If you are realistic, you have a great chance to be happy with the piano once it has been well restored.
Don't hesitate to contact me with questions or comments.