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Striking A Chord: Used Pianos

With the Prices of New Grand Pianos Reaching the High Notes, High-Quality Used Pianos Have Become an Increasingly Attractive Alternative
Miles Chapin
From the Print Edition:
James Woods, May/Jun 97

(continued from page 3)

His efforts are paying off.

"I think now, after four years, there's a definite trend," he says, "partially because of the work that we've done in professional communities--musicians, interior designers, architects--where art-case pianos are regaining interest and growing in popularity. You can see it. For example, you see that Steinway is now making Victorian-style legs again, and doing a wonderful job."

Recently, Steinway quickly sold out its 143-piano limited edition "Instrument of the Immortals," a re-creation of a model it first produced in 1885. The company plans to create more of these special limited-edition pianos in the near future, including a model this year that will celebrate the 200th birthday of Henry Englehard Steinway. For Steinway & Sons, the market is definitely coming full circle. Rutten has many Steinway pianos in his showroom, including a 1929 "75th Anniversary" model designed to look like a harpsichord from the 1700s. And Steinway continues to work with individual designers on one-of-a-kind pianos, as it has for many years. Its first art-case piano was made in 1857, three years after the company's founding, and some people at Steinway's New York factory expect to see that instrument come back for refurbishing any day now.

Miles Chapin is a fifth-generation descendant of Henry Englehard Steinway. Fine Tuning

Pianos are built to last, but it is inevitable that age will leave some mark--pianos by both nature and design do not endure forever. It is not easy, therefore, to assess the value of a particular piano either as an instrument or as an investment without a certain amount of knowledge of both pianos and the market for them.

To find out more about how a piano is made and what to look for when examining a used piano, The Piano Book by Larry Fine ($16.95 paperback, Brookside Press, Boston, revised 1994) is a good place to start. Fine also offers a candid assessment of the various nameplates available as new and used instruments. A photographic history of the piano is available in David Crombie's Piano ($35 hardcover, Miller Freeman Books, 1995). This large-format book contains information on many historic instruments, plus detailed photographs of contemporary pianos. Eighty Eight Keys: The Making of a Steinway Piano by Miles Chapin, with illustrations by Rodica Prato (Clarkson Potter Books, 1997) shows how a Steinway piano is manufactured, and gives an overview of the history of the piano and of Steinway & Sons.

In most cases it is best to use the services of a reliable dealer. Maximiliaan's House of Grand Pianos is located in New York City; phone (800) 742-6607. In Boston, the venerable firm of M. Steinert & Co. can be reached at (617) 426-1900. In the Midwest, Schmidt Music in Minneapolis (612/339-4811) carries a full line of new and used pianos. On the West Coast, Fields Pianos, in Santa Ana, California (714/622-2117), is gaining a reputation for quality pianos and service. Steinway & Sons maintains a large inventory of used Steinways (both refurbished and not) and rebuilds its own instruments. You can contact the company at Steinway Hall in Manhattan at (212) 246-1100.

If you choose to go it alone, the services of an independent, trained piano technician (look under "Piano" in the yellow pages in your area) can help you avoid the pitfalls of shopping for a used piano from a private individual, at auction or at an institutional sale, such as from a music school. As for major auction houses, pianos are usually thought of as furniture and included in that type of sale. However, Sotheby's of London has an annual auction of high-end keyboard instruments. Be forewarned, though--you will be bidding against experts, and the quantity of super-premium pianos available is very small.


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