Frequently Asked Questions
In response to the large volume of emails we receive each day, we have prepared the following information. We cannot answer research questions about your piano. If you are considering purchasing a restored antique piano from us and want more information, we welcome your email. Thank You
How much is my piano worth? We cannot provide an appraisal or value without an examination of the piano. For more information, see our page, "What is the value of my piano?"
Is there a price guide for used pianos? Nothing comprehensive exists that provides a reliable value for used pianos.
Are all old pianos valuable antiques? No. According to various customs laws, an antique is something that is at least 100 years old. There is not a direct relationship between a piano's age and worth, as many other factors (size, make, condition, restoration) are considered when estimating a piano's value. Some old pianos are just old pianos.
Is the year stamped on the cast iron plate (harp) the year the piano was built? Probably not. In most cases, piano companies kept those patent dates on their pianos for decades. For example, a 1902 piano may have an 1872 patent date found on the plate.
Where do I find the piano's serial number? It is usually a 5 or 6 digit number under the music desk near the tuning pins.
Why are the pianos on ebay often less expensive than those for sale by piano rebuilders and restorers? They are often unrestored and require a lot of work. Shaffer Pianos will spend anywhere from 8 - 16 months fully restoring an antique piano so that it will sound and function the way it was intended to. When you purchase an unrestored piano on ebay, you take chances. A cracked frame, a bad pinblock, or moth and rodent damage can require thousands of dollars to repair. Often, on ebay you are buying from a person with little or no true knowledge of a piano's condition. The buyer who thinks that a tuning can fix keys that do not work or eliminate a rattle or buzz, is often very unhappy when a piano technician tells him that the beautiful piano he just purchased cannot be repaired.
**In recent months, we have been contacted by people who said they were scammed on ebay when trying to buy pianos. The "seller" did not have these pianos and used photos of someone else's pianos. In addition, in some cases, Ebay has become a dumping ground for unrepairable pianos. In short, use caution when bidding on pianos. **
Are Steinways better than all other makes of piano? Not necessarily. Steinway is known for making high-quality pianos and their vintage uprights and squares are considered among the best ever made. While Steinway has continued to be the dominant piano maker in the U.S. since the late 1800s, other American piano builders such as Chickering built superb grands that produced just as nice a tone. In addition, some prestigious European piano makers such as Bösendorfer and Erard built incredible pianos during the 19th century that continue to produce magnificent tone today. Once a piano is over 50 years old, it matters less what name is on the fallboard, and more the overall condition of the piano and the ability of the restorer or rebuilder.
Are American antique pianos superior to those made in Europe? While American-made pianos of the 19th century were often of very high quality, the same can be said of some pianos made in England, Austria, Germany and France during the same period. Piano craftsmanship in Europe during the 19th century was held in extremely high regard. Only the finest woods were used in piano construction and they were carefully seasoned to ensure durability. As a result, most European pianos tend to maintain their general quality over time.
Differences in feel (touch) and tone are present, but neither can be proven to be superior, as it is subjective. Some people prefer the light touch and noticeable hammer drop present on Viennese pianos to the unnoticeable escapement of a well-regulated modern repetition action. At Shaffer Pianos, we enjoy the deep bass and power of some of the large American grands, but also love the clean, warm tones and sparkling treble produced by Bösendorfers and Erards. We also like the appearance of straight-strung concert grands.
I was told the piano will not hold a tune; is it serious? Probably. If the environment is relatively stable and it still will not hold, it may require restringing with a larger tuning pin which may solve the problem. In other cases, a new pinblock may be needed--both are expensive jobs.
Doesn't restoring an antique piano decrease the value? No. Unlike the furniture seen on the Antiques Road Show, pianos were designed to be functional, i.e. produce music. Without a careful and complete restoration, these instruments will never perform the way they were designed. Therefore, a completely restored instrument is much more valuable than an unrestored old piano.
Can I find parts for my antique piano? For some old pianos, parts are available. However, during the Victorian period, parts were not standardized and piano companies made their own parts. Today, there are only a limited variety of action parts to fit pianos, so the restorer must be able to repair original parts or make new ones if needed.
What does a restoration at Shaffer Pianos involve? Shaffer Pianos only purchases pianos that are very restorable and in mostly original condition. We go through the entire piano from top to bottom and front to back. We apply a complete professional refinish to the case to provide a smooth mirror-like finish. We replace soundboards and pinblocks when they are beyond repair. The actions are totally rebuilt including the replacement of all necessary parts. All brass is polished or replated. We use only the highest quality parts and try to preserve as much historical integrity of the piano as possible. The pianos are regulated, voiced and tuned when they leave our shop.
Does a cracked soundboard mean the piano is ruined? No. Soundboard repairs can be made and the tone of the piano will not be affected. However, many continuous cracks may indicate a board has lost its crown and even after repairs, tone may be compromised. A crack in the cast iron frame is much more serious and in many cases can deem the piano unrepairable.
Is it best to buy a rebuilt piano with a new soundboard? Not necessarily. Each piano is different. Anytime a new soundboard is installed, the original sound of the piano will be altered, sometimes for the best, sometimes for the worst. A careful installation will improve the power of a piano with an old, flat, poorly deteriorated board. However, in some rare and prestigious antique pianos like 19th century Bösendorfers and Erards, we feel it would be a mistake to replace the boards. The European piano makers used a different type of wire than the Americans. The pianos were not under such extreme tension and so the pinblocks and soundboards held up well. So today, 120 year-old soundboards in these pianos can still sing beautifully.
Some of the information on this site is the opinion of Shaffer Pianos. No two pianos are the same, so for answers to questions about a specific piano, you should contact a piano technician in your area who can examine the piano.