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09 November 2006 @ 11:34 am
The New (Old) Musical Baby  
Let's look at more uplifting things today, shall we?

At the end of August ladyat and I went to a local auction house with the express intent of furnishing the Big Old Victorian House (BOVH).

We bought a LOT of furniture - furniture that looks tiny when moved into huge rooms with 12 foot ceilings, but that's another story for another day.

One of the things we spotted was a beautiful old full-height upright piano. We examined it closely (I even crawled under the keyboard and pulled the cover to examine the bass bridge) and found it to be - in our clearly amateurish eyes - in beautiful shape. We added it to our bid list.

It never came up for bid. ladyat asked the auctioneer and found out that it had actually been sold at the previous auction a month before but the owner never picked it up. Hmm - it was beyond the "hold" time listed in their rules, what would be the next step? If the buyer doesn't pick it up, they refund the money to the buyer and sell it. Would we be interested in it at the price that it had sold for previously? And how much was that, we asked...


With tax and buyer's premium, a little over $200 total.


To make a long story short, we were finally able to get the piano on 10 October. We spent twice that amount moving it home (including moving our old piano to Youngest Daughter's family so that Elder Grandson can learn to play it, so really only half that was for this piano). We then decided to let it settle in and did some research on it to see what we could find.

It is a Knabe upright, serial number 36964. This means it was built between 1890 and 1895, most likely after 1893. Wm. Knabe & Co. (now owned by Samick Music) was one of the top piano manufacturers of the late 19th century, best known for the grand pianos provided to the Metropolitan Opera after a competition with Steinway.

Given this, we might have gotten a bargain.

We scheduled a time for Manny, our regular piano tuner to come in to work on it. Interestingly enough, he had worked on the piano in 1993 (his card was stuck inside with the tuning date). At its last tuning, he had tuned it to relative pitch.

When he arrived yesterday, I led him to the music room and he pulled apart the piano. He confirmed my analysis that it was in very good shape for its age. However, the strings (except for about 8 that had been replaced over the years) were all somewhat rusted and therefore it was very unlikely the piano could be tuned to A440. His recommendation would be to tune it relative one more time, though he gave me a contact for a piano technician who could change the strings if we decided to do so.

He was rather floored when he heard what we had paid for it - then I left him alone to get on with his work.

I heard the tuning taking place, interspersed with longer and longer sessions of various piano pieces being played.

Manny called me downstairs to let me know he was done. He said, "I've fallen in love with this piano."

During the next half hour or so we talked about the piano and what should be done with it. He gave me the names of some full restoration specialists in case I really wanted to put some investment into the piano, as it was clearly worth it. However, he said that trying to set the piano up to play at modern A440 would be like asking a 110-year-old man to train to run a 4 minute mile when he could already run the most beautiful 8 minute mile anyone ever saw in their lives. He had tuned the piano relative to A435 - very nearly the standard for Steinway and others in 1880 - and felt this was the place at which the piano would sound the best.

He knew the period and the style of piano very well, telling me that this was actually known as a "vertical grand" because the string length was similar to that of a grand piano. He pointed out that the string pins were all wonderfully tight with the exception of the places where the strings had been changed without putting in new (slightly larger) pins - they were still fine but just not as tight, to be expected when you back the pin completely out of the Rock Maple pinboard after 100 years. The bass bridge was in extremely good shape, the soundboard was a solid piece of spruce rather than being laminated like modern sound boards, the sides were all naturally aged solid walnut which is basically unavailable today.

In other words, in his opinion, notwithstanding the fact that no one wants full height upright pianos nowadays because they are too big, to buy a piano of this quality today would cost upwards of $10,000.

Sure we couldn't sell this one for that much without a few thousand dollars worth of work and a market for antique full height uprights that really doesn't exist, but still - it makes that $200 investment with $200 for the mover seem very, very worthwhile.

Sometimes it is just nice to have a professional agree and expand on your evaluation.

The piano!

The piano again!

Before Manny left he made a suggestion. Even though I write on the guitar, just once, whatever time of day is my best creative time (when he was writing music with his wife his time was at sunrise, hers was at sunset) grab a snifter of brandy, sit down at this piano, and write something.

I think I'll do that.
Current Mood: excitedmusical
Bill Roperbillroper on November 9th, 2006 05:05 pm (UTC)
It looks lovely and I'm glad it sounds the same. Congratulations!
typsygypsytypsygypsy on November 9th, 2006 05:11 pm (UTC)
oh it's beautiful!
FilkerDavefilkerdave on November 9th, 2006 05:12 pm (UTC)
Wow, that's EXCELLENT! :)
Steve Simmonsscs_11 on November 9th, 2006 05:21 pm (UTC)
Beautiful, just beautiful. Thanks for sharing.
אליזהkestrels_nest on November 9th, 2006 05:29 pm (UTC)
How lovely! I have a Chickering vertical grand of only slightly more recent vintage in my livingroom as we speak. (Other people have portable heirlooms. I have a piano.) It's not in as good shape as yours, (the sounding board has a crack at the treble end) but I love it dearly. It has a tone I've never heard from a modern piano. Enjoy yours, my friend.
Highstonehighstone on November 9th, 2006 05:46 pm (UTC)
Those old vertical grands certainly do sound a lot better, a friend of mine was lucky enough to get one cheaply as a music student, the tone alone was something to treasure. I'm sure if Mich visits you she will be hard put not to rush straight at it and start playing...
Jimpoltr1 on November 9th, 2006 05:46 pm (UTC)
Debbie's Blatheringsohiblather on November 9th, 2006 05:55 pm (UTC)
How very cool!!!!!!! I can't wait to see it!

And Manny sounds wonderful.
Gypsy Youngravenyoungraven on November 9th, 2006 06:33 pm (UTC)
Lovely. Do you know the 'Maple Leaf Rag'?
Bill Suttonbedlamhouse on November 9th, 2006 06:49 pm (UTC)
My piano playing is probably best compared to the description of Amos Hart's lovemaking in Chicago: workmanlike but seldom satisfying...

It could also possibly be compared to that famous scene in When Harry Met Sally - i.e. I fake it pretty well...

In simple terms - no, that's well over my head *grin*
markbernsteinmarkbernstein on November 9th, 2006 09:02 pm (UTC)
My piano playing is probably best compared to the description of Amos Hart's lovemaking in Chicago

You play piano like you're fixing a carburetor? Or do you just keep saying "I love you, baby, I love you, I love you"?

That's one beautiful bargain. Congrats.
Bill Suttonbedlamhouse on November 9th, 2006 09:08 pm (UTC)
You play piano like you're fixing a carburetor? Or do you just keep saying "I love you, baby, I love you, I love you"?

The former. Though with this instrument the latter is entirely possible.
Shaddow Waltershaddow on November 9th, 2006 09:01 pm (UTC)
Now I want to go snag my parents upright grand. My mom seldom uses it and my dad never finished the restoration job that was started on it. I believe it is a 1909-1917 vintage. Not as pretty as yours though. It's got a white wash to it... but still.

They'd never let me though. I don't know if they value their son or that piano more..... And I'm not gonna test that out either. :D
Shannachieshannachie on November 9th, 2006 09:07 pm (UTC)
Congratulations! Lovely instrument.
I gave my piano away when I could not find room for it in my student apartment - way back then.
I gave it to a family with three musical kids.
I remember I cried for hours when it was gone.
Cat Sitting Stillcatsittingstill on November 9th, 2006 09:48 pm (UTC)
Wow. Very, very cool.
Ericacatalana on November 9th, 2006 10:42 pm (UTC)
Phil Parkertigertoy on November 10th, 2006 02:45 am (UTC)
You play the piano too?

catalana: smart, beautiful, talented, and too nice to hate for it.
Michael Pereckasbeige_alert on November 10th, 2006 01:58 am (UTC)
Oh wonderful!
birder2 on November 10th, 2006 03:07 am (UTC)
In the pictures, at least, it looks almost exactly like the one we used to have, which had been in somebody's attic for many years before we bought it (for almost nothing.) We never got it to concert pitch, but it sounded fairly decent, although I'm sure yours is much better. After my husband died, I finally concluded I'd never play it and it was occupying way too much space, so I essentially gave it away (I think Mary paid me $5) to a friend. It was still sitting in her house the last time I was there--don't know if she ever played it.
SurrDavesurrdave on November 10th, 2006 04:33 am (UTC)
Many days I just drop the mail on the counter, skritch a cat, and hit the piano for ten or fifteen minutes to break from the day. Sometimes I play the same songs I played twenty years ago, sometimes scales, sometimes work out something new. It's an easy habit to get into.
infobitsinfobits on November 10th, 2006 07:47 pm (UTC)
Mmmn. Love the sound of competent piano playing. Even workman-like piano playing. I have 1 (nominal) piano student and half the fun is sharing some of my favorite music with her. Like musicals, which I adore.

Enjoy muchly!

note to self ... must get piano tuned ... must practice some and build up muscle strength ... annoying finger stiffness, not withstanding! :)