Question about piano maintenance - am I being ripped off?

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Spinball
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Question about piano maintenance - am I being ripped off?

Post by Spinball » 26 Sep 2009, 00:40

Hello folks,
I have commissioned some maintenance work on the action of a 1960s Welmar baby grand we have just bought. I know nothing about pianos and rather foolishly gave the go-ahead on the work without doing any cross checking on prices.
Which is very a-typical of me as I usually do lots of research before buying anything. I'm quite annoyed at myself.
I found the local guy doing the work from Yellow pages and he's in the Piano Tuners association. He seems very knowledgeable. He tells me that the piano appears not to have had any significant maintenance, but is in good condition.
The work being undertaken involves taking the action away, 're-profiling' - £400 and 'adjusting the repetition springs' - £200, putting the action back in and then tuning - £51. £651 in total. 2/3 the cost of the piano.
The guy has had the action for a couple of weeks (we needed this time to reorganise the room where it's going!). When I try to get a description of what *exactly* is being done, he flies through jargon leaving me none the wiser.
I did some digging and spoke to a couple of (not local) restorers I found on Google and am told he is charging 'top dollar' for this service, and that for this kind of money, I should expect the regulation to be done as well, which would take a whole day.
I asked specifically about this and he said he would need about 3 hours to put the action back in and tune it. The regulation has been done in the jig already.
So my question is, am I being over charged?
What should I expect when the action is put back in?
What do I look/listen for to ensure that he has done a good job? Because honestly, he could do absolutely nothing to the action, and I wouldn't be able to tell.
Thanks in advance.

PianoGuy
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Re: Question about piano maintenance - am I being ripped off?

Post by PianoGuy » 26 Sep 2009, 07:12

Depends how well he does it.

The tuning charge is reasonable, and you'd expect a member of the Piano Tuners' association to have at least a good basic knowledge of what he's doing, but in all honestly it's no absolute guarantee. The PTA examination covers tuning and simple upright repairs, not any form of grand regulation or deeper maintenance, so it's no more than an assurance that he knows how to tune a piano and automatically carries standard liability insurance to work in your home. There are some PTA members whose repair work is shocking and priced astronomically, and non-PTA members whose work is stunning and too cheap... And everything in between!

It's certainly possible to do much regulation on a bench provided correct measurements are taken, and finer reg done in the piano, but without seeing the piano it's impossible to tell what needed doing and how long it'd take. If I'm estimating I always assume worst case for time needed and quote high, then charge for actual time taken, then the customer is aware of the maximum they'll be charged and most of the time is happy with a lower final bill. The fact that you're being charged 2/3 the cost of the piano you've bought is an irrelevance since many pianos have a low market value and still need to be maintained which costs according to the work needed not the piano's value. It costs broadly the same amount in labour to put a new exhaust on a new BMW as a ten year old Mondeo. The fact that even at BMW's spares prices the repair is worth a small fraction of the Bimmer's value vs more than 100% of the Mondeo's value is not the issue, since if you want to use the car it needs the work!
PG

The opinion above is purely that of PianoGuy and is simply the opinion of one person ....

If you're buying a piano, try as many as you can and buy the one you like, not a similar one of the same type.

Spinball
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Re: Question about piano maintenance - am I being ripped off?

Post by Spinball » 26 Sep 2009, 08:28

Thanks. So what do you think of the prices and how do you recommend I check the work?

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chrisvenables
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Re: Question about piano maintenance - am I being ripped off?

Post by chrisvenables » 26 Sep 2009, 09:12

Spinball wrote: The work being undertaken involves taking the action away, 're-profiling' - £400 and 'adjusting the repetition springs' - £200, putting the action back in and then tuning - £51. £651 in total. 2/3 the cost of the piano.
So my question is, am I being over charged?
What should I expect when the action is put back in?
What do I look/listen for to ensure that he has done a good job? Because honestly, he could do absolutely nothing to the action, and I wouldn't be able to tell.
Thanks in advance.
If, by reprofiling, he means refacing the hammers then £400 is far too much. Ditto repetition springs. Giving the tuner the benefit of the doubt, he must be doing more work than you have stated. (You wouldn't just re-profile - if, I suspect, that phrase means re-face the hammers and adjust repetition springs, without regulating the piano action and toning the hammers - on site). All the work you have mentioned can easily be done in half a day and should be done, on site. Action regulation and toning are crucial otherwise you're wasting your money.

I'd ask him for exact details of every job he's doing, in writing.
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joe
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Re: Question about piano maintenance - am I being ripped off?

Post by joe » 26 Sep 2009, 12:26

Costing do seem excessive you be able to recover hammers for not much more than re-facing,is he spring replacing or altering tension.Are you able to post photos of keybed with action,the most common problem with Welmar grand is key bushing wear due to the angling of the keys,is it from a private home or had heavy use,better to get a few opinion before going ahead.

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Re: Question about piano maintenance - am I being ripped off?

Post by Spinball » 26 Sep 2009, 13:50

The work is already done on the action and he is visiting Friday to finish off.
It's adjusting the springs, not replacing them.
He says he has done regulation work on the action while it is in the jig.

It was one of those rare (for me) situations where he just hurled some figures at me and I took his word for it. If he does rip me off, I will tell him so, and if he does not rectify the situation to my satisfaction, I will ensure that a Google search on his name will result in a bad report in the first result returned (I'm in the rare position of being able to do that).

But I want him to be genuine and to do a good job. I just have no way of checking.
I feel like a dippy, mid-twenties, naive woman (sorry ladies, for the stereotype), taking the word of the garage mechanic that she needed the new clutch, when in fact there was nothing wrong with the car and nothing was done to it except a bit of oil and a bash on the engine with a lump hammer.

Model V
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Re: Question about piano maintenance - am I being ripped off?

Post by Model V » 26 Sep 2009, 14:15

Spinball,

If you give us a rough idea of your location, one of us will probably be able to recommend someone who we could trust to check that the job has been done well for you.

MV

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Re: Question about piano maintenance - am I being ripped off?

Post by Spinball » 26 Sep 2009, 16:08

Model V wrote:Spinball,

If you give us a rough idea of your location, one of us will probably be able to recommend someone who we could trust to check that the job has been done well for you.

MV
We're in Telford. Would appreciate a recommendation.

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Re: Question about piano maintenance - am I being ripped off?

Post by Barrie Heaton » 26 Sep 2009, 20:10

Hangabout you are condemning a guy who has not finished the piano yet and none of us know what state the piano was in or what is being done.

Spinball has no idea what is being done and may have got the terminology backwards. I would wait till the guy has finished, get an itemised invoice as PG as pointed out if at the end of the day you are not happy with the piano. Then contact the PTA but don't think you are being ripped off just because the price is high. As to other tuners saying its a high price they don;t know what he is doing or what state the piano was in.

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Spinball
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Re: Question about piano maintenance - am I being ripped off?

Post by Spinball » 27 Sep 2009, 10:06

I don't want to be unfair to the guy.
But as I stated earlier, I know nothing about pianos. I have no better appreciation of what is right and wrong about a piano than the average non-piano playing person. I.e. I could tell if something was obviously not right. Sticking key, obviously out of tune etc. But, we are paying a significant amount of money, after which I would expect an expert to be happy with the results.
When I listened to the piano *before* the action was taken away - i.e. hadn't been tuned for 10 years or maintained in 40, aside from a few notes which sounded out of tune, it sounded and played fine to me. I'm not going to tell whether the hammers have been reprofiled, I'm not going to tell whether the repetition springs are working or not. And I'm not going to tell whether the regulation has been done.

Here's an example. When I played any of the very top few notes, there was a significant ringing from the other top strings. I asked if this is normal. He said yes. If asked, I would have said this was a fault. I would have said that if you hit any note, you shouldn't hear an obvious sympathetic ringing of the surrounding strings. Apparently not.

When it is finished, the piano will be in tune to my ear or not. The keys will all go up and down the same. Or not. And that's the limit of my appreciation.
It's like my mum taking receipt of a car which has had a major overhaul. Only a racing driver or mechanic would be able to tell that the pistons have been re-bored, or the new spark plugs have cured a timing issue. Or the split CV gator has been replaced. Or not. My mum's never heard of a CV gator. So long as her golf clubs and the shopping fit in the boot and it gets her to the golf club and the shops in one piece, she's happy.

As piano restorers/tunes, you must be all too familiar with this situation. You know with certain customers that you could do a half-assed job and they'd never know. Only professional pride and/or your honest nature motivates you to do the very best job you can even though the piano is just a glorified sideboard for family photos.

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Re: Question about piano maintenance - am I being ripped off?

Post by athomik » 28 Sep 2009, 11:00

Spinball wrote:Here's an example. When I played any of the very top few notes, there was a significant ringing from the other top strings. I asked if this is normal. He said yes. If asked, I would have said this was a fault. I would have said that if you hit any note, you shouldn't hear an obvious sympathetic ringing of the surrounding strings. Apparently not.
If I had a £ for every enquiry I've had regarding this "fault".....

I get this question quite regularly, especially from customers with electronic keyboards. The sympathetic ringing from the top notes is due to the fact that pianos don't have dampers on the top octave or so and is perfectly normal. And since many electronic keyboards use a sampled piano sound, it appears on them as well.
athomik

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Spinball
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Re: Question about piano maintenance - am I being ripped off?

Post by Spinball » 28 Sep 2009, 11:52

athomik wrote:
Spinball wrote:Here's an example. When I played any of the very top few notes, there was a significant ringing from the other top strings. I asked if this is normal. He said yes. If asked, I would have said this was a fault. I would have said that if you hit any note, you shouldn't hear an obvious sympathetic ringing of the surrounding strings. Apparently not.
If I had a £ for every enquiry I've had regarding this "fault".....

I get this question quite regularly, especially from customers with electronic keyboards. The sympathetic ringing from the top notes is due to the fact that pianos don't have dampers on the top octave or so and is perfectly normal. And since many electronic keyboards use a sampled piano sound, it appears on them as well.
There you go - this illustrates my lack of basic knowledge about pianos.

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Re: Question about piano maintenance - am I being ripped off?

Post by PianoGuy » 28 Sep 2009, 20:14

Spinball wrote: There you go - this illustrates my lack of basic knowledge about pianos.
Cars too. Spark plugs have nothing to do with timing, and gators live in swamps.
PG

The opinion above is purely that of PianoGuy and is simply the opinion of one person ....

If you're buying a piano, try as many as you can and buy the one you like, not a similar one of the same type.

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Re: Question about piano maintenance - am I being ripped off?

Post by Spinball » 28 Sep 2009, 20:48

PianoGuy wrote:
Spinball wrote: There you go - this illustrates my lack of basic knowledge about pianos.
Cars too. Spark plugs have nothing to do with timing, and gators live in swamps.
Absolutely true, which is how I could easily make the analogy :)

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