Restoring or selling Steinway S-155

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Restoring or selling Steinway S-155

Post by sunmiguel » 26 Feb 2011, 17:07

Hi there,

I bought a 1959 New York Steinway model S-155 (walnut) last year through pianomart.com and had it shipped overseas. Before buying the piano I had a technician from the piano technicians guilt check it out, but on arrival the condition was not the way he had described it to me. The action was very sluggish and badly regulated, hammerheads worn and hardened, the dampers were also hardened so that I could pretty much play drums on my piano. The sound was very dull and the cabinet looked like if someone had spilled some kind of liquid over it and not cleaned it up.

A piano technician came over and after 3 days on voicing, tuning and a lot of regulating the Steinway sounded and could be played more like a Steinway. However, due to the hardened hammers it is still very difficult to play with a greater dynamic range and it also seems like the piano still needs a lot of servicing to keep it in shape (despite installing a dampchaser)

My technician suggests that I restore the piano step by step, since I cannot afford a complete overhaul. He would start by changing the hammer and damper felts first, then at some point in the future restring it, then restore the action etc...

Since that would not be as efficient as doing the whole restauration at once I am now considering selling it.

Do you guys have any advice for me what to do? I live in Germany and the people here have a huge bias against american Steinways, so I can't get an objective opinion here. I generally like the sound of my Steinway a lot, but what worries me a little is that it seems to need quite frequent servicing and that I might be putting more and more money into it without achieving real sustainable results.

If I could sell my Steinway for £7000-8000 my alternative options would be: Buying a second hand Yamaha C1 (for about £11,000), or a good upright. For 15,000 I could get a 2009 almost new condition Kawai RX-3, but unfortunately I don't have that much money.

So should I sell or should I restore?

Thanks for any advice...


Michael

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Re: Restoring or selling Steinway S-155

Post by Barrie Heaton » 26 Feb 2011, 17:38

sunmiguel wrote:Hi there,

I bought a 1959 New York Steinway model S-155 (walnut) last year through pianomart.com and had it shipped overseas. Before buying the piano I had a technician from the piano technicians guilt check it out, but on arrival the condition was not the way he had described it to me. The action was very sluggish and badly regulated, hammerheads worn and hardened, the dampers were also hardened so that I could pretty much play drums on my piano. The sound was very dull and the cabinet looked like if someone had spilled some kind of liquid over it and not cleaned it up.
Wile getting a tech to look at the piano is good I also insist that the client look at the piano as well sound and touch is soooo personal.
sunmiguel wrote: My technician suggests that I restore the piano step by step, since I cannot afford a complete overhaul. He would start by changing the hammer and damper felts first, then at some point in the future restring it, then restore the action etc...
Since that would not be as efficient as doing the whole restauration at once I am now considering selling it.
That is a good route to take if funds are limited. I assume he will change the shanks and rollers (knuckles) as well. re-bush the keys, and recondition or replace the whippens replace is better

sunmiguel wrote: Do you guys have any advice for me what to do? I live in Germany and the people here have a huge bias against american Steinways, so I can't get an objective opinion here. I generally like the sound of my Steinway a lot, but what worries me a little is that it seems to need quite frequent servicing and that I might be putting more and more money into it without achieving real sustainable results.
Well could be that the German ones are better and a lot of US tuners think so as well
sunmiguel wrote: If I could sell my Steinway for £7000-8000 my alternative options would be: Buying a second hand Yamaha C1 (for about £11,000), or a good upright. For 15,000 I could get a 2009 almost new condition Kawai RX-3, but unfortunately I don't have that much money.
So should I sell or should I restore?

Thanks for any advice...
for me it would be a good tech who is use to doing S&S look at some of the work he/she has done in the past . If you like their work, then do all the action, then the soundboard and strings. But if you go down the C1 route you will be saying for the rest of you playing life.... what if... :!: :!: :idea:

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Re: Restoring or selling Steinway S-155

Post by joe » 26 Feb 2011, 17:51

If you are happy with the sound keep it if not sell it,restringing,new hammers and dampers etc will not always give you the results you want no matter how well the restoration is done always a gamble.There is no doubt that the Hamburg Steinway sound and build quality is better than the New York produced instruments but again remember tuning 2 Model B 1910ish U.S.A built which where excellent pianos.Difficult decision in the long term Steinway always going to be worth more than the Japanese instruments.

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Re: Restoring or selling Steinway S-155

Post by Colin Nicholson » 26 Feb 2011, 18:19

It of course must be your decision if you sell it or not, and its always a good idea to be present for all inspections, and not rely on just the spoken word. I can however offer you some free advice regarding the restoration, as I have restored several Steinway grands - including just recently a 1930's Model 0 - fully restored (complete action overhaul, new hammers & shanks, keys re-bushed, new dampers, cast frame resprayed & lacquered & completely restrung - and pedal lyre & fittings restored).

Firstly you say that the hammers were in bad condition and hard? Then your technician 'toned' them to make them sound better? I think personally, first of all, all the hammers should have been unscrewed & removed from the action rail and 'for a start' - refaced, to remove all the deep grooves caused by the strings. Toning is then done afterwards.

You mention a liquid split? If this has leaked into the action (seen my brown stains - usually coffee or tea!!) - then the hammer head felt & damper felt will become 'crusty' and harden - and must be replaced with new. No point at all in trying to tone hard hammers if drinks spilt on them - bit like trying to revive an old tea bag.

If you decide to keep the Steinway and have it restored, there is no point in having the dampers restored first, then restringing much later...... how much later?
If you then decide to have it restrung, the 'new' damper felt will need to be replaced again. There is also little point of restoring the dampersto then be seated back onto old and possibly tarnished strings. The bass strings especially will have built up years of dust & corrosion between the copper coils. The hammers could be restored first, and then refaced later after re-stringing, but then again - nice new shiny hammers pounding away on old strings???

Presuming the wrest plank is OK (but sometimes they can crack in the extreme bass), I would wait until you can afford to have it restrung, then have the rest of the mechanism done aswell. Alot of problems with sluggish actions are the key bushings, and tight/seized centre pin bushings on the flanges. I would also have the repetition springs replaced - they make a huge difference. The rollers may also have #flattened' over the years, and best fit some new rollers. A job like that, inc. stringing shouldn't cost more than about £7K - £8K.

A good French polisher should be able to sort out the spilt liquid markings.

If you would like to see any of my photos of Steinway restorations, feel free to email me: aatuners@hotmail.com

Hope that helps....

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Re: Restoring or selling Steinway S-155

Post by sunmiguel » 27 Feb 2011, 12:14

Thank you to everybody for their input!

Looks like y'all are supporting a restoration, unfortunately I will have to do it step by step.

I see it like this now, the value keeping aspect is important to me and I do like the sound of my Steinway to begin with, especially when it was freshly tuned and voiced.

My technician used a pipe wrench to soften the hammers and the dampers :idea: , then he shaped them and voiced them. It sounded great for a while. Today, the dampers still don't bang on the strings like they did before but the hammers hardened again. The technician said that it looks like they were purposely hardened with some kind of resin, who knows why...? He also did a fine job regulating the action, the sluggishness is gone, the response is much better as well, but of course there's also room for improvement and I think bushings, springs, rollers etc could be the second step.

For now the thing that bugs me most is the fact that it is very unsatisfying to play with all the lids closed all the time and pressing the una corda to play pianissimo. My technician (and my piano teacher) say that that could be taken care of by putting new felts on the hammers. Do you think that can be done without replacing the shanks?

Step number three would be strings and dampers, brassplate etc., tuning pins are tight, and it looks like the wrest plank has no cracks. I don't know why the piano doesn't stay tuned for very long though...

Step number four the cabinet...

Does that sound feasible?

Thanks a lot again,

Michael

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Re: Restoring or selling Steinway S-155

Post by hammer man » 27 Feb 2011, 14:06

Dear Michael

Which part of Germany do you live. I have a few contacts in the BDK and can find a good technician for you.

David

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Re: Restoring or selling Steinway S-155

Post by vernon » 27 Feb 2011, 15:14

sunmiguel wrote:Thank you to everybody for their input!

Looks like y'all are supporting a restoration, unfortunately I will have to do it step by step.

I see it like this now, the value keeping aspect is important to me and I do like the sound of my Steinway to begin with, especially when it was freshly tuned and voiced.
My technician used a pipe wrench to soften the hammers and the dampers
:idea: , then he shaped them and voiced them. It sounded great for a while. Today, the dampers still don't bang on the strings like they did before but the hammers hardened again. The technician said that it looks like they were purposely hardened with some kind of resin, who knows why...? He also did a fine job regulating the action, the sluggishness is gone, the response is much better as well, but of course there's also room for improvement and I think bushings, springs, rollers etc could be the second step.

For now the thing that bugs me most is the fact that it is very unsatisfying to play with all the lids closed all the time and pressing the una corda to play pianissimo. My technician (and my piano teacher) say that that could be taken care of by putting new felts on the hammers. Do you think that can be done without replacing the shanks?

Step number three would be strings and dampers, brassplate etc., tuning pins are tight, and it looks like the wrest plank has no cracks. I don't know why the piano doesn't stay tuned for very long though...

Step number four the cabinet...

Does that sound feasible?

Thanks a lot again,

Michael
used a pipe wrench? Must mean something different in Deutschland. We use pipe wrenches to fix drains in UK
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Re: Restoring or selling Steinway S-155

Post by Johnkie » 27 Feb 2011, 16:27

Yes I'm confused too - Pipe Wrench ??? God knows what the Hammers are like !! :?
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Re: Restoring or selling Steinway S-155

Post by Barrie Heaton » 27 Feb 2011, 17:10

Johnkie wrote:Yes I'm confused too - Pipe Wrench ??? God knows what the Hammers are like !! :?
Its called the squeeze method you can use Mole grips or pliers you squeeze the heads to brake up the fibres of the felt, very effective on very hard hammers. Myself I don't like it as the results can be unpredictable it can bugger up the dynamics of the tone, plus you have to reshape the head. I prefer stem you have more control and your are not damaging the under felt as you can do with the squeeze method.

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Re: Restoring or selling Steinway S-155

Post by Colin Nicholson » 27 Feb 2011, 17:16

Fitting new dampers & hammers on old strings is not a "step by step" approach - perhaps financially wise, yes, but the approach you are taking is more like:
'step by step' then in a few years time.... "leap back 10 steps" and then move forward, re-tracing the same old steps,,,, and costing you twice as much in the bargain!

For a slightly cheaper job that involves less labour (from your technician's side), the original hammer heads (still attached to their shanks) can be sent away to be recovered in new felt. However, it is only marginally cheaper. If you order new hammer heads, eg. from Abel in Germany (through an agent), then when they arrive, your technician then has the very long task of re-shaping/ narrowing/ thinning, then 'roughing-up' the hammer tails - so they 'check' properly against the back-checks, but again - all this huge amount of work is fruitless, and may not improve the tone that much on old & tired strings.

"Pipe wrench" ?? is this a new Steinway regulating tool? or a plumbing tool.

Anyway, good luck with your decision....
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Re: Restoring or selling Steinway S-155

Post by Bob Pierce » 28 Feb 2011, 15:58

[quote]For a slightly cheaper job that involves less labour (from your technician's side), the original hammer heads (still attached to their shanks) can be sent away to be recovered in new felt. However, it is only marginally cheaper. If you order new hammer heads, eg. from Abel in Germany (through an agent), then when they arrive, your technician then has the very long task of re-shaping/ narrowing/ thinning, then 'roughing-up' the hammer tails - so they 'check' properly against the back-checks, but again - all this huge amount of work is fruitless, and may not improve the tone that much on old & tired strings.[/quote]

Think again Colin, recovered hammers now cost more than a new set from both Renner and Abel. It is cheaper to buy a new set of hammers (bored to pattern) and you can have them pre toned. Tailing and bevelling can be done during the boring process. A decent technician will fit them in a morning and tone them in a day.
I would also recommend that the touch weight is changed to the new hammers which is another half day.
Bob

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Re: Restoring or selling Steinway S-155

Post by joe » 28 Feb 2011, 18:12

Better with complete new hammer head on this occasion as the resin may have gone thru to the bore so recovering may be hit and miss.Done a grand where the hammers had been doped and tried recovering made no much difference replacing the head done the trick.As a rule always prefer to recover,but if hammers been doped full head replacement.

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Re: Restoring or selling Steinway S-155

Post by joe » 28 Feb 2011, 18:49

Also if piano is holding pitch and no slipping pins why not have the tuner/tech steel wool the strings and give the grand a good clean minus the action

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Re: Restoring or selling Steinway S-155

Post by Colin Nicholson » 28 Feb 2011, 19:44

see your point, but if the customer needs to save money, recovering is a quicker option from our point of view. I ordered a full set of Steinway hammer heads from Abel recently, they came bored, but because they were going back on the old shanks (customer's request, again to save money!) - the hole bored were too big for the shanks, and they didn't come pre- bevelled & tailed either.... and with ordering them through an agent, sometimes there is a lack of communication & language barrier. So yes, if you get everything prepped for you, it can save messing around & extra labour. The model 0 hammers were originally more narrow than usual, and I think there will always be the need for some adjustments & fettling.
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Re: Restoring or selling Steinway S-155

Post by sunmiguel » 28 Feb 2011, 22:17

Wow, that is some wonderful information you're giving me there. I feel good about my decision to keep the piano and will try my best to restore it in a way that is good for the piano and somehow bearable for my wallet.

I do have a couple of questions about what some of you posted, but i just got back home from a 48 h shift and my wife wants to see me a bit :D . So I would really appreciate if you can hang on there for me until tomorrow to answer a couple of questions.

Btw...Barrie is right about the pipe wrench, it's not a new german piano tuner tool, my technician used it to soften the hammers, then he reshaped them/filed them down to shape. The result was awesome at first, that's also why i don't necessarily see the point in restringing right now, but then within a couple of months they hardened again, and now its back to old bar piano sound :sad:

I live in the Cologne/Bonn area btw, my wife is from Washington, D.C. and that's where the piano is from as well. We've got two girls (3 and 5) and the older one has started taking piano lessons, the reason why I would like to have a good sounding piano as well.

Ttyl,

Michael

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Re: Restoring or selling Steinway S-155

Post by Bob Pierce » 28 Feb 2011, 23:36

Ah, buying hammer off the shelf is not a good idea. Older Steinways have a lighter hammer and the bore dia is 5.1mm.
Abel offer the most popular makes ready bored, however to save time it pays to have them bored to pattern.
Recovering is in my opinion the last option. Older hammers warp under the pressure of the press, the technique for removing the old felt twists the shanks. It also takes 4-5 weeks which ever company you use, it is worth checking on the current price.
These days the only people who only offer recovering do so because they lack the skill to fit and prepare new hammers. Even recovered hammers need to be toned and the touch weight adjusted.
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Re: Restoring or selling Steinway S-155

Post by sunmiguel » 28 Feb 2011, 23:59

Ok , neat ...my wife and I just did a romantic piano tech study while reading your comments together, trying to understand things from an german-american-layman's point of view.

So we figured out most of it, my only questions (of course if anybody else has some thoughts, go ahead...)
joe wrote:why not have the tuner/tech steel wool the strings and give the grand a good clean minus the action
I started doing that (I like taking an active part in my piano's maintenance where I can, hence my idea to team up with the french polisher), but my tech said that I shouldn't waste my time. Do you think it makes a difference for the sound or is it purely optical? And then how do you clean the part that traverses under the bass strings and the bass strings themselves?
joe wrote:Better with complete new hammer head on this occasion as the resin may have gone thru to the bore so recovering may be hit and miss.Done a grand where the hammers had been doped and tried recovering made no much difference replacing the head done the trick.As a rule always prefer to recover,but if hammers been doped full head replacement.
Wow, what a revelation. I will see how much it would cost to replace the shanks as well, would you recommend original Steinway? My tech said that for my american Steinway it doesn't make a difference to have the Steinway label on them, if they're ordered from Abel (Abel apparently produces Steinway hammers anyways, right?)

If that gets too pricey I will probably opt for new hammers, having to refit them seems less of a risk if replacing them don't do the job because of the dope :mrgreen: and you have to get new ones after all!

@David: Like I mentioned, I live near Cologne/Bonn. The tech I so far found most competent is Mr. Ulrich Busch, he's the tech for the Beethoven concert hall in Bonn. He's also spent a couple of years working for Steinway in the U.S. as a technician. Would you recommend anybody else?

Michael

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Re: Restoring or selling Steinway S-155

Post by Colin Nicholson » 01 Mar 2011, 01:30

What a load of ***** I have read!
Taking sandpaper to the strings? don't know who suggested that, but what about the bass string windings? Even if you un-hitch them, and wind them in and out (like a zip fastener), and do all the costmetics on them.... and meths!! (tried that), it doesn't make a "hape of difference".

Next thing ---- TOUCH WEIGHT? Every piano is different in touch weight, and fitting new hammers - assuming they are profiled right.... why adjust it? Half a decent technician will leave that alone (but it needs to be mentioned from an ego point of view). Then there are the whippen flange springs? How are these tensioned so it gives the optimum touch weight? What if you replace the springs, but the tension is then far greater than the 1920's steel/copper used in those days?

Well, I'll explain. I went to a Steinway convention back in 2004, met all the guys there including John Ross, and I took the trouble to ask Ulrich about the tension of the whippen flanges, and how much it affected the touch weight, and were they really necessary? Answer:...... they didn't have a clue, and no one came up with a feasable answer.

I am of course very passionate about my work, and as far as I am concerned, the customer comes first. If they can't afford brand new hammers (which were incidentally ordered in the UK as "Steinway" hammers, and stamped 'Abel' on the side of them) - then so be it. In the ideal world, all techs want perfection - and "old for new" - like double glazing, but sometimes these heated conversations are just to see who can show off the most!

Afterall, this piano is for a 3 & 5 year old!!!! so if anyone wants to challenge me about my workmanship, expertise and lack of being a decent technician, then my cards are on the table - full photography also available of my instruments carefully restored, and every customer more than happy with the results.

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Re: Restoring or selling Steinway S-155

Post by Barrie Heaton » 01 Mar 2011, 20:39

Bob Pierce wrote:Ah, buying hammer off the shelf is not a good idea. Older Steinways have a lighter hammer and the bore dia is 5.1mm.
Abel offer the most popular makes ready bored, however to save time it pays to have them bored to pattern.
Recovering is in my opinion the last option. Older hammers warp under the pressure of the press, the technique for removing the old felt twists the shanks. It also takes 4-5 weeks which ever company you use, it is worth checking on the current price.
These days the only people who only offer recovering do so because they lack the skill to fit and prepare new hammers. Even recovered hammers need to be toned and the touch weight adjusted.
Bob
There is the other option pre hung hammers

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Re: Restoring or selling Steinway S-155

Post by Bob Pierce » 02 Mar 2011, 22:10

Touch weight, should be 52 gms in the bass, 50 gms in the tenor and 48 gms in the upper treble.
I disagree that just fitting a set of hammers should suffice even if they are prepared correctly. If you are replacing a worn out set which have been on the instrument for 60+ years the action will have been regulated to make up for the wear and tear (eg refaced hammers which over the years can reduce the hammer weight by grams!). It is not ego but the correct way to do the job.

Abel do not make Steinway's hammers. They make a copy along with copy shanks as well.
Louis Renner make all of Steinway's action parts in Germany for the Hamburg made pianos. Steinway out source the manufacture of the action frames to an engineering company.
Steinway in New York use US made action parts for their actions.

Suspention springs are a much discussed subject. Some say they alter the touch too much and do not enable the player to feel the touch. Some say the assisstance they give can reduce the amount of lead fitted to the key. I prefer not to fit them.

I also agree with Barrie, buying a set of pre-hung hammers is also a good option. Steinways sell them, as do Renner and Abel.

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Re: Restoring or selling Steinway S-155

Post by Johnkie » 02 Mar 2011, 23:22

Interesting points of view here on this topic - I'm sure everyone has their preferred method, but surely one must also take into consideration the huge variation in cost associated with each suggestion. In an ideal world where cost doesn't matter new pre-hung sets would be fabulous, but sadly the extra cost can't be met by the average "Mr or Mrs cannybody" who merely requires the best that can be obtained for their instrument at a reasonable outlay according to what they can afford.
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Re: Restoring or selling Steinway S-155

Post by Bob Pierce » 03 Mar 2011, 21:23

I agree that some client have to work to a budget, however if you want to own a Steinway be prepared to spend a little more money when its time for restoration.
There is a reason why they are expensive pianos in the first place (R&D, quality of parts used etc)
I agree with Barrie, make sure the technician who gets the job has the required experience to do the job. If in doubt ask him to provide a reference. Ideally someone who has used his services before.

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