Are Bluthner pianos from ‘iron curtain’ period poor quality?

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CreativeWriter
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Are Bluthner pianos from ‘iron curtain’ period poor quality?

Post by CreativeWriter » 15 Sep 2015, 14:43

Are Bluthner pianos from ‘iron curtain’ period poor quality?

I’m considering buying a mid 1980’s Bluthner model A upright, but after reading the various horror stories around the web about the build quality of Bluthner pianos made during this period I’m having second thoughts.

This particular one is a Mahogany finish with a ‘West German’ made Renner action.

I’m a little concerned as I’ve read lots of horror stories around the internet about the so-called ‘iron curtain’ period in Germany. As most will know, East Germany was ‘nationalised’ in 1972 and the government took control over the Bluthner factory and it is suggested that the parts used to make Bluthner pianos during this period were inferior due to the limitation of parts and the fact that Bluthner had to use whatever materials were available to them and, at the time, East Germany had very limited materials and facilities.

Bluthner pianos made during this time are considered, by many, not ‘real’ Bluthner pianos and only Bluthner pianos made before the second world war or after 2005 are considered ‘proper’ Bluthner pianos. Apparently, it took a few years after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 for Bluthner to get their pre WW2 quality back.

Do I need to worry about ‘questionable’ quality parts in this 1984 model A Bluthner I’m considering purchasing as a used piano, as some piano dealers in the UK are saying they would not touch it with a barge pole i.e. steer well clear of it.

My thoughts are that this particular one from the mid 1980’s has a West German Renner action in it and, if the action is removed, all that’s left is a cabinet, frame and strings so surely it can’t be that bad as most of the moving parts are in the action after all and is it possible that Bluthner of this period would screw up making a cabinet, frame and stringing the thing with strings that they probably didn’t make themselves anyway?

Depending on who, pianists, tuners, dealers, I have spoken to, some have mixed feelings, others say I have nothing to worry about and others say they are total rubbish and not to touch them, but for the most part, people are saying not to touch Bluthner pianos made after WW2 up to the point the Berlin wall came down in 1989, anything in-between during the ‘nationalisation’ period of East Germany is a definite no no.

The particular Bluthner I’m looking at does have some fading to the mahogany finish on the wood strip under the keys, which is noticeable when the lid is closed. This is due to the fact that the previous owner kept the lid up all the time so, when it is closed, it looks dark and new compared to the rest of the wood. I know fading and cracked varnish was an issue for, not only Bluthner, but many other German piano makers during the 1980’s, unlike the Japanese, who’d mastered the finishing process. There is no cracked varnish on this one I’m entertaining, just fading. I’m worried there might be tons of other issues that could run into thousands of pounds to fix if/when they go wrong.

Of course, I could just play safe and get a boring/nothing special Yamaha U3 with it’s bright/harsh sound and sleep easy.

I’d really appreciate your thoughts on this subject.

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Re: Are Bluthner pianos from ‘iron curtain’ period poor qual

Post by Colin Nicholson » 17 Sep 2015, 01:39

Welcome to the forum.

Have you seen/ played/ heard this piano yourself? .... or just viewed it online?

I myself have never had any issues with Bluthners around this age; they play well and tune up fine. I also don't know about this supposed iron curtain period of dishing out poor quality action materials.... if so, then the piano would not play properly. "Materials" is a huge subject for a piano action, and you may need to be more specific about which parts you are referring to. All pianos deteriorate with age, so hammer head felts, back checks, leathers etc will wear with age.... any piano, not just Bluthner.

If the piano is highly priced - I would assume it plays OK, tuned to C523.3Hz and the tuning pins are tight? Action materials are not that expensive to replace, but the labour can be more. There is certainly a lot more to a piano than the cabinet, frame and strings - when the action is removed.... you also need to know if the wrest plank, soundboard, bridges, rims and soundboard ribs are in good condition. You also need to check the condition of the hammer head felts for normal wear.

No one here will be able to tell you the condition of this 1984 model A you are considering, nor really compare it to another similar piano. There are also several critical parts of the piano you have not mentioned, which are much more important than action materials and fading of the cabinet - things like tuning pin torque/ stability/ condition of the strings and the above mentioned.

I would suggest you contact a piano technician and book an assessment to have the piano fully checked over - a similar process as though the piano was being checked over prior to a restoration.... this is common practise for a piano with a good quality name. The other issue aswell of course (as you touched on the subject).... is that no matter what name is on the fallboard, the condition of the piano also depends on how often the seller (and prior to the seller) looked after the piano and kept it in an ideal environment/ humidity controlled.... and that the piano has been tuned regularly, and serviced/ regulated every 2-3 years?? .... perhaps receipts will show this. If not available, then you take a chance. Certainly here on this forum will no one slander Bluthner to any degree unless they are selling one themselves - in order to try and gain your custom.

In some circumstances, its not the condition or fault of the piano/ quality of the parts.... it's the fault of the owner not keeping it in tip top condition!

Please don't take this the wrong way, but I would never listen to gossip/ hearsay comments that may be untrue. Best to pay someone to check it over, then hear it from the horse's mouth.


Yes, I have come across a few Bluthner grands with issues.... but these are over 100 years old! .... the odd loose tuning pin/ ivory slightly chipped/ inharmonicity when tuned.... but that is to be expected for a piano of that age. All pianos approaching 40 years of age are classed as being "old" .... but Bluthner in my eyes have good quality wooden parts for the materials to be attached to. A piano of this age (1984) may have issues such as damper spring tension weakening/ hammer head felts becoming deeply grooved - giving off an unwanted tinny tone, weak repetition hammer butt springs/ worn :piano; hammer butt leathers (perhaps worn on one side if not regulated regularly).... and general wear and tear. Hammer butt spring loops may also start to weaken.... all this would be checked during an assessment - even without a potential customer being there.

Best to get it checked out professionally, an assessment takes no more than 2 hours.

Fading occurs with direct sunlight, and in some cases if the lid is closed for long periods of time, this will contrast with the rest of the cabinet. A French polisher would be able to sort that out.

One last thing.... always check for INSECT DAMAGE.... very important. No matter how good the materials are, the may fly maggot (if it rests inside the piano) can cause devastation..... and under the keys. If the hammer heads are genuine, they should have the Renner name stamped on the side - or possibly Abel hammers. No one in the world will be able to know the original source of other materials by looking at them, however, most Bluthner back check felts are a royal blue colour (matching the damper slap rail).... so that part can be checked.

Hope that helps.
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Re: Are Bluthner pianos from ‘iron curtain’ period poor qual

Post by Barrie Heaton » 20 Sep 2015, 19:05

There are 2 problem with older Bluthners
Bass string: the copper works lose making them rattle, twisting them can
fix this in some cases but in most new set of strings.

Action stands: they uses a poor metal which bows over time Wile the 5
brackets are not that expensive the action has to be re regulated from
ground up about 16 to 20 hours in very bad cases its very difficult to
get the action out


Bluthner Patent action: when regulated are very good but on some of the
models the checking wires are a tad thin so checking has to be do a lot
more then normal


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Re: Are Bluthner pianos from ‘iron curtain’ period poor qual

Post by Colin Nicholson » 23 Sep 2015, 12:42

Barrie, does this apply to uprights aswell ?
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Re: Are Bluthner pianos from ‘iron curtain’ period poor qual

Post by Barrie Heaton » 23 Sep 2015, 14:02

Colin Nicholson wrote:Barrie, does this apply to uprights aswell ?
Sorry no. Its me not reading the post correctly My post refers to
Grands.
However, on uprights have had problems with bass strings.


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