Piano Rebuilding

Is your piano worth rebuilding?

A higher quality rebuilt American grand piano can sound just as good and even better in some cases than a comparably priced new piano. Steinway, Mason and Hamlin, and Knabe are the rebuilt pianos of choice, while Baldwin and Chickering made models that are also quite rebuildable. Other older American makers such as Weber, Hardman, George Steck, and a host of others have made real solid, rebuildable pianos. If rebuilt properly, these American grand pianos can have a deep, rich tone and a responsive touch. Nice veneers and case styles make these better name rebuilt American grand pianos a better investment in some cases than a new piano.

Not every American grand piano is worth rebuilding. Other than sentimental value and very unusual case designs, the criteria for determining whether a piano is worth rebuilding is if it has aggraffes and posts.

Usually agraffes and posts are an indication of a better made, higher quality piano.


Most times, better name American grand pianos are rebuilt because they no longer hold a tuning and need a new tuning pin block. A pin block is a piece of cross laminated hard wood into which the tuning pins are driven, holding the piano in tune.


After the iron frame is re-bronzed, the most important part of piano rebuilding is resetting what is called string downbearing. That means how the string is pushing down on the bridge and the sounding board.


Resetting the plate downbearing means lowering the rigid iron frame a slight bit (1/32″ or 1/16″), so when we stretch strings across it, the strings are pushing down with the right amount of downward pressure to compensate for the fact that the sounding board has compressed a bit.


After half a century or so, the pinblock either delaminates, cracks, or dries out, becoming incapable of holding the torque of the strings (15-20 tons).


While the pin block is manufactured, fit, finished and drilled, the sounding board is either drying for repair, or being replaced.


The new strings will now vibrate the sounding board optimally when the hammer strikes the string.

Piano Action

While deterioration on the string section of the grand piano is a function of time, the deterioration on a grand piano action is usually a function of use (parts wear out). Sometimes grand piano hammers can be saved, but most times the piano’s hammers need to be changed when rebuilding. Other action parts can wear excessively and need to be changed. Hammer shanks and flanges, repetitions, key tops, key bushings, key cloth, backchecks, and damper felts may need replacement, but most times these parts are quite serviceable and will last for decades.

Properly done, key leveling and regulation makes each key feel even and the same up and down the keyboard as if it were new.


Voicing is next – 80% of voicing is hardening or softening the hammer to achieve a brighter or a more mellow tone. A properly rebuilt, regulated and voiced, better name, hand made, American grand piano can produce a unique tone and touch that cannot be found in most comparably priced massed produced pianos.


A pianos finish has traditionally been the highest quality finish available.


Proper varnish removing, veneer preparation, filling, sanding, staining, spraying, and rubbing produces the best finishes.
Lacquer finishes make the most lustrous satin finishes while chemically catalyzed materials are more durable for ultra high gloss finishes.
Not every piano is a good candidate, but French polishing (applying a new finish on top of the existing finish), can rejuvenate a finish at 1/2 the cost of refinishing (usually done on reconditioned uprights).
Just like a guitarist may prefer a Martin from the 40′s or 50′s, and a violinist may prefer a Stradivarius from the 1700′s, some pianists prefer rebuilt pianos from the early 20th century. Indeed, some of these pianos are very well worth rebuilding both from a financial as well as from a musical perspective.