There are, unfortunately, many myths and fiction circulating about what exactly constitutes piano rebuilding versus piano reconditioning versus piano restoration. Sometimes this fiction is propagated by lack of clarity on the part of the rebuilder when communicating with a client. Other times, actual mis-information is provided.
We hope to clear up what these terms mean within the piano industry to better equip you as you potential client as you consider, and hopefully decide, to move forward with your piano restoration project.
So what does it mean when a piano is rebuilt? Piano is Refurbished? Piano is Restored?
Rebuilding involves complete disassembly, inspection, and repair as necessary, including replacement of ALL worn, damaged, or deteriorated parts. This piano is then reassembled, tested, and adjusted to the same or similar tolerances as new. COMPLETE REBUILDING includes the entire pianos structure — including soundboard, bridges, pinblock, and strings — as well as the action, keyboard, and case refinishing. PARTIAL REBUILDING includes only one or two of these areas, for example rebuilding of the action and structure, but not case refinishing.
Rebuilding restores the piano to original condition or better. Such comprehensive work is usually most practical for high-quality instruments here maximum performance and longevity are required.
Reconditioning is the process of putting a piano back in good condition by cleaning, repairing, and adjusting for best performance with parts replacement only where necessary. This is most appropriate for a piano with only moderate wear or those of medium value with average performance requirements.
Reconditioning does not involve replacing major components such as the soundboard, bridges, pinblock, and most action parts. This means the performance and life-span of an older piano will not be restored to new. Instead, reconditioning is designed to improve a piano’s performance, keeping in mind both costs and benefits.
Restoration is a difficult term to define. It is often used as a “catch-all” phrase to describe elements of both rebuilding and reconditioning. It is for this reason that we strongly recommend that when discussing piano rebuilding, restoration, and/or reconditioning you ask very specific questions about the scope of the work to be performed. A reputable piano rebuilder will welcome your questions, and will gladly provide specific details.
When we provide a quote for a piano restoration project, we provide the entire scope of work upfront and in writing. We also discuss the entire scope with our clients either via phone or in person.
One unfortunate example of either miscommunication or deceit in process
A client phones us and informs us that his piano was fully restored inside and out. Only problem is he is not happy with the resulting feel of the piano during playing. The client was under the impression that his piano had been completely rebuilt—including the entire action (hammers, shanks, whippens, etc). We gladly accepted the clients request to fine regulate the piano’s action and make necessary adjustments to suit his preferences. Unfortunately, upon our initial inspection, we found the entire set of all internal action parts to be original—almost 100 years old.
The moral of the story: Ask specific questions, require the scope of work in writing, and if you do not feel comfortable for any reason…move on.
In short, when referring to piano restoration, we are referring to returning the piano back to its original condition (or better) as designed my the piano maker. In a perfect world, piano restoration would include the following major components: complete restringing, replacing the hammers, replacing the action parts, restoring the keyboard and keybed to its optimum state, repairing or replacing the soundboard, repairing/recapping/replacing bridges, and so on. In a not-so-perfect world, piano restoration many times becomes a balance between budget and need. There is nothing wrong with this approach as long as the complete scope of the piano restoration is understood and agreed upon by the rebuilder and the client.