Craftsmanship is Another Essential Key That Determines the Quality of the Piano
Craftsmanship breaks down into three categories. There is the craftsmanship of how they build a piano at the factory and delivery to the retailer. Then there is the craftsmanship of the dealer in prepping the piano so the piano will work properly in your home. And then there is the craftsmanship of your tuner/technician who will help you preserve and maintain the quality of the instrument so it will work well for you and sound good over the lifetime of the instrument.
All the piano manufacturers such as Steinway, Yamaha, Kawai, Mason & Hamlin, Sauter, Bosendorfer, Bl?thner, that I've mentioned before, have excellent craftsmanship in their factories and work with certified dealers who they make sure know how to correctly prep their instruments for sale. So it is important to go with an accredited dealer when you are buying your new piano - this insures that your new piano will have the proper craftsmanship when you bring it home.
Why is it so hard to know for sure about pianos?
I restored a 6'2" Mason & Hamlin AA some time ago. Judging by the first
appearances, I might have immediately concluded that the soundboard was in terrible condition from all the shimming that it looked like it need and its overall discolored appearance. Prior to the disassembly, there were a number of cracks visible from the top as I looked beneath the strings and cast iron plate. So what made me proceed in repairing the soundboard vs. replacing the board? Why did I restore this piano at all?
Firstly, though the piano was barely playable, I could tell from the sustain of the strings in the bass, tenor, mid-treble and high treble registers when I plucked them, that they sounded good. The sound didn't just fade in a few seconds. It carried.
Secondly, I checked the contact between the main plank of the sound board and the soundboard ribs to see if there was any problems such as visible separation and movement when I applied upwards pressure on the board in the glue joints between the board and the ribs. Had there been such problems I would have had to weigh the alternatives between glue clamping those joints and the outcome and the possibility that the board should just be replaced. As it turned out, though there were a number of surface checking cracks, none of the glue joints were compromised.
I also checked for the crown of the board. Crown is a built in concave curvature of the soundboard enabling the board to oppose the downward pressure of the strings. Without this pressure, the tone of the piano would be weak and thin. Fortunately, there was some to be measured which was perhaps a tribute to the patented and legendary Mason & Hamlin Tension Resonator.
Finally and not to be overlooked was the simple fact that this instrument was a Mason & Hamlin AA, circa 1907. Despite the fact that it had been abused, poorly maintained, etc, it had somehow at the age of 80 held up quite well. This particular make and year of Mason & Hamlin made this piano almost a sure bet being without a doubt one of the best pianos ever made! So good that it sits in my living room twenty years later with a 100 year old soundboard that still works and sounds quite good. Could it be improved with a new board? Maybe, but it works fine now as a senior citizen.
The outcome of this job was that though it needed and received a new pin block, the rest of the job outside of the action was primarily cosmetic. With another piano, it could have easily been the other way around.
My point in this case study is that it really requires a fair amount of experience and knowledge to know about any given piano how good it is and how it stacks up with the competition, new or used. And even more confounding is that each and every situation varies.
So what is the best rule of thumb for the average person in buying a piano? Always go with the highest quality available to you within what your budget allows! If you can work with a top craftsman, you might be better of restoring your piano or purchasing a quality name brand piano to restore or buying a pre - owned instrument. All of this translates into working with and listening to experts as much as possible. Who is an expert? You have to look close and to carefully scrutinize their work, their products and their output. All of this can be done; you just have to be looking in the right direction.