Last week my son and I went out looking for a piano. 3 of my kids have been taking lessons for a year and a half and practicing on what I had named the "Hunk of Junk'. I call it Hoj for short. Anyway, we had been looking at all of the ads online, we went to several piano stores that sell new and used, and we even went to some homes trying to find something that would fit our needs and our budget.
It was discouraging.
Everything I touched sounded like it was coming out of a tin can. The pianos all looked like they had fallen off the back of a truck. There is something you need to know about our Hoj. It is a 103 year old, 57" tall mammoth and it looks very cool. So I was having a hard time with everything I saw and heard, because even though Hoj has seen better days, it looked so much cooler than the squatty little pianos I was looking at. (I even thought to myself that the Hoj even sounded better.)
This story is long so hang on.
I had been told by several piano tuners that our Hoj was nothing more than an intricately carved piece of firewood. They are the professionals, so I was trying to follow the advice I had been given, but ignored for the last several years. So anyway, my son and I finally came across a piano that looked really nice, was only 10 years old, and I couldn't believe the price. The owners hadn't advertised it on the more popular sites, but I found the ad none the less. We went to see it and I was excited. It looked to be in perfect condition, sounded nice and I was ready to strike a deal when I asked where they bought it. (This is where the music would go DUH Dun DUH!)
It was purchased in Wisconsin, then the family moved to Hawaii for four years, and then they moved to the desert that I live in. Hmmm. I had to stop and really consider for a moment. That was a red flag for me. If you know anything about pianos, you will know that humidity and climate change can really destroy one fast. I told them that I would like to find a piano technician to come back with me. We agreed on a day and time.
Stay with me, here is where it gets interesting.
I phoned several piano techs but something in my gut told me to keep looking after each one I spoke to. I followed my gut, searched the internet some more and came across someone with the longest list of credentials I had ever seen. My eyes really popped out of my head when I saw that he is the head technician for 2 major Universities nearby and for the Symphony in our state. I laughed thinking that it would be fun to get him, but it was not likely to happen.
I called and his wife answered. She was very nice, very helpful and thought that her husband wouldn't mind stopping by on his way home from the University to see the piano I was interested in. We talked a bit more and I briefly mentioned that I would need to figure out what to do about my Hoj. She asked me a few questions about it and then told me that she was going to have her husband stop by my home within an hour. I thought it was strange, but agreed to let him come. She also thought it was curious that I had come across her husband since he isn't listed in the phone book. But, she said it was my lucky day because she would have him help me in my search.
He stopped by soon after that. He is quiet and looks like a music professor with round rim glasses, a short, neatly trimmed beard and a presence that demands respect. He began to take my piano apart, plunk around on the keys, tune a little here, tune a little there and then stopped and gave half a smile.
Here is what happened next...
Him: What kind of piano did you want me to look at?
I told him, showed him the picture on line and gave him my reason for real concern.
Him: You asked very good questions about that piano and you were right to be concerned. It could be rusted out, but we will look.
He got quiet and then began again.
Him: Can I ask you a question?
I nodded yes.
Him: Why aren't you going to fix this piano?
me: I was told it wasn't worth anything more than firewood.
him: (laughing) Who told you that?
me: Several piano tuners. All but one and he was 83. He loved this old thing and I thought that he loved it so much because it wasn't that much older that he was.
him: (laughing again) This isn't firewood. This is wonderful. Do you realize that your old piano even with all of its problems has a better sound quality than an entry level Yamaha. (They are 3000.00!) This piano has the sound board space of a 7 foot grand and the string length of a 6 foot grand. You will not get that with these newer pianos. These old piano were also very strong, sturdy, well built and made to last a long time. The newer pianos today are made to be replaced.
me: But I've been told that it doesn't make any sense to sink money into these old pianos. I would never be able to sell it for what I put into it.
him: Why would you ever sell it. Even if you get the other piano you are interested in, you must keep this one. If you got this piano restored it would be the quality of the 16,000.00 Yamahas. Nothing today can compare to these old pianos. Not all of them are worth fixing up, but a lot are and yours definitely is. It is the piano manufacturers who have convinced people to believe otherwise.
me: But this isn't really a name brand that anyone would recognize.
him: I would rather have the quality of sound and performance than a name.
me: What do you play on?
him: A 1901 Steinway grand that I restored. But I just sold it so I could redo the outside of my house. So I am now almost finished restoring a 1910 Weber grand that I think sounds better than my Steinway did.
me: (feeling very confused) Can we still look at the other piano while I decide?
him: Sure, but don't get rid of this one. If you do decide to restore it you should never get rid of it. Pass it down.
me: Ok. I will let you know what I decide after you see the other piano.
I paused for a minute and looked at him.
me: If you were me you wouldn't even bother looking at the other piano would you?
him: No. I would put everything into this one.
me: How much is everything?
him: It can be done in stages, but from start to showroom condition finish you would be looking at about six thousand dollars.
him: That sounds like a lot, but it can be spread out over a few years and that includes the exterior restoration which would be 2500.00.
me: I would be more concerned about the interior right now. The exterior would be the last thing on my list.
him: (smiling at my comment) Glad to hear it. And keep in mind it would be 10,000.00 less than buying a piano that would come close to it sound and performance wise.
me: ok. I'll see you again Thursday.
He left and I was confused. I called my dad who really had got me thinking about getting a new piano to begin with and told him the story. I wasn't sure what he was going to say because you need to know something. We grew up playing on a Steinway grand piano. My dad knows what it means to have sound quality. He got quiet and I told him to go to the computer and look up this technicians credentials and to call me back.
I thought about it for a while a decided that no matter what anyone else said I was going to trust this piano technician whom I had had the luck of coming across. I called his wife back and told her that I had decided I didn't want to go look at the other piano with her husband. I would rather not waste his time and that I wanted to get started right away and spend the money on my piano instead. She laughed and told me that her husband was going to be so excited. When he had gotten home that day he had told her about my wonderful piano! She told me that she was so glad that I mentioned my Hoj when I called her the first time because it would have been so sad to have gotten rid of something so wonderful without really knowing what I had.
After hanging up with her I was so excited and my gut told me that I could trust this guy. Then my dad called.
I was nervous.
me: Hi dad. What do you think?
dad: I think you should trust him.
me: (in total disbelief) Really! You really think that?
dad: I didn't think so at first, but after reading about what this man knows you have to trust him. I am excited for you.
me: (still in shock, you just have to know my dad to really understand this) Thanks dad, I am a little nervous about this, but I feel really good about it as well.
So on Thursday last week instead of keeping my appointment to see the other piano I sent mine off to the piano technicians shop! It will be a few years before I can restore everything, but I am so excited.
When I get it back I will take a picture and post it. If you have one of those old American pianos, don't believe the technicians who tell you to throw it out. Find someone who really knows and who will take the time to look at it. You might just have a Thing Of Beauty! (That is the new name for mine!)