This 1895 Victorian Sohmer grand powerhouse piano just came in. I had never before seen or heard of a 6’6″ Sohmer, yet last week I saw two for sale. This one, and one from the later 1920′s.
Sohmer had a symbiotic relationship with Steinway. Sohmer uprights were often sold at Steinway dealers due to their high quality and complementary sound palette.
Today’s luxury boutique pianos, such as Steingraeber and Stuart and Sons offer special bridge agraffes. Steingraeber makes a lighter soundingboard with less string down bearing. These are great innovations, which one would expect on a 5’7″ piano costing $140,000.00. However, Sohmer had these innovations 125 years ago. This model does not have the bridge agraffes, but the other one I saw did. It does, as most Sohmers, have a light board with little crown and downbearing of the strings. They accomplished this by placing a second bridge on the bottom of the soundboard to hold its shape. The result is gobs of power, and control for pianissimo.
If you look at piano brochures, one of the ‘features’ is how long the bass strings are. Both Chickering and Sohmer did not follow that, as too with many German pianos. Instead, they have shorter speaking lengths, but much longer lengths behind the bridge. This allows the bridge to be placed on a more resonant point of the soundboard, and also allows less ‘choking’ of the bridge, thus superior bass with a strong clear fundamental. You would have to hear it to believe that this piano has better bass than many new 7’4″ instruments. These innovations and more make this a must see.
Pianos for a musician is often a problem. In the piano business, it is well known that those who can play, can’t pay. Yet, they require better instruments than most. Many of the beautiful vintage pianos are now at an age where they need a full re manufacturing. This is very costly to do right. We have a selection of these pianos. However, most pianists who need these cannot afford them.
We offer a solution. Some of these vintage pianos do not need a new soundboard or bridges, and the actions still can be mostly used. Although when done, they play as well as the fully restored instruments, they cost half as much, or even less in many cases. Some of the things we do to control the costs without effecting quality are:
We clean and polish the cast iron plate. They look like new but save a lot of labour.
Soundboards are restored, but careful and meticulous shimming of the cracks are avoided. These serve only a cosmetic purpose and do not affect the tone or sustain. Proper shimming is very labour intensive.
We restore most of the action with new cloths, felts and leathers and replace the high impact and friction wearing parts. Although the labour costs exceed the new parts cost, the very labour intensive rebalancing and setup of the action with new parts are avoided, as we can reuse the factory setup.
These, and a few other decisions, save about 150 hours of labour, and the resulting piano is at 100% potential.
Currently, we have in this category: A Heintzman upright, a Mason and Hamlin grand, a Chickering concert grand, and a small Mason and Risch grand. These range in price from the cost of a used Chinese upright to the cost of a median sized Korean grand piano.
Just think: For about the same price as a new Korean made upright, this Steinway has been restored (not rebuilt) to allow yet another generation enjoy its charms.
Scroll further down this blog to see this piano before we started the work.
As can be seen in the fourth photo below, Steinway made a perimeter around the soundboard the same way they do in their grand pianos. It’s a bent laminated rim. Heintzman also did this, thus their term “Grand Piano in Vertical Form”. The difference is that the Steinway here has this grand rim the same thickness as their grand pianos. It’s massive.
In the second photo, you can see the high quality tuning pins and period style piano hammers.
This piano also has an elegant sostenuto system for the middle pedal.
We just received one of the very first original vintage Steinway O grand piano. The 1st model O was made on July 30, 1900 and this model was made in October 1900. This is slightly different than the later 2 models of O.
This one has the duplex scale cast into the plate instead of the later adjustable ones. This required extra care and time to ensure that the bridges and the cast iron plate were perfect, or else they would not work. Later they switched to the movable duplex bars and eliminated this problem. This is the forst, and probably only one of a few, that used wound strings on the bottom of the tenor bridge. I have only ever seem them with regular wire. In the classic rebuilder’s book “A Guide To Restringing” by Johm W. Travis, this scale is not listed. Many rebuilders add the wound strings there to improve the scale. Amazingly, Steinway did too originally. This piano has the Steinway ‘Magic’ and has its original intact ivory keyboard.
Here is an example of one of the best post-war console pianos.
This Knabe has been restrung, new dampers and the keyboard and bushing rebuilt. Having 6 backposts, this is a strong structure.
However, the cabinet veneer and design set this apart. It has a grand lyre system modeled after the Knabe grand lyre. The bookended matched tiger mahogany veneer is if a quality not available today from old growth forests. There is a high quality hand rubbed finish. Compare to a new piano made from particle board and styrofoam, if you can.
In a very few new pianos in the high end (such as Fazioli) and in some vintage pianos, tunable aliquots were installed in the duplex scale. The tuning of these is tedious. Here are some photos of aliquot tuning on our Mason and Hamlin model B.
How to Safely Buy a Piano on the Internet
If you only read the next sentence, you will eliminate fraud and deceptive practices 100%
Always under every circumstance, hire a non-affiliated (to the seller) piano technician to inspect the piano before ANY purchase.
Here are some red flags:
Price is too good to be true.
Piano is claimed to be ‘rebuilt’ ( an honest rebuild on a 100 year old piano is usually at least $20,000.00 and often much more).
Piano seller does not endorse an inspection and tries to prevent it.
Often, beautiful looking pianos will have been infested with mice, moths, or have had serious structural glue failures or cracks which cannot be seen. Some of these problems may render the piano useless, others mean a possible expensive repair. If you cannot recognize the signs of these problems, get someone who can.
Other issues are with private sellers. Most private sellers are well meaning. However, after thousands of inspections, I have learned that the piano is usually 2 to 3 times older than they think, and has not been serviced. They are usually described as being in ‘mint’ condition or ‘beautiful’. This usually refers to the cabinet only. Unfortunately, a piano is a beautiful piece of furniture, but its main function is of a complex musical instrument made of thousands of parts. These parts wear and fail over time, wood dries and cracks, felt gets damaged by pests.
Here are some things you can check out on your own before calling in an inspection:
1) Look at the keys. They should look even across the keyboard.
2) Press a black key. If it goes below or level with the white key, this is a red flag for sloppy work.
3) Get a simple guitar tuning app for your phone. Play middle C. It should come very close to middle C. If not, the piano needs extra work and has not been serviced for decades.
4) Play each note, black and white softly. They should all play. A little sluggishness may be OK.
5) If an upright, look at the back of the piano, if it is a grand, look underneath. The big wooden panel is the soundboard. Cracks are usually not a problem. Look for cracks that have become unglued, or a lot of screws put there. This may indicate more serious problems.
6) Try to play some simple songs. If it is badly, or wildly out of tune, the piano may have serious structural problems.
Here are some good online resources to checkout before you purchase
This is the most popular Mason and Hamlin model. This one is from 1918, and has received a new custom crafted soundboard, pinblock, bridges and action. It has just returned from the finisher and is being prepared for final regulation and tone building. The soundboard was crafted at our shop from red Norwegian spruce, obtained from Italy. Bridges are crafred from rift sawn hard Canadian maple. Perfect piano for advanced student, professional, venue or recording studio.
A customer has sent this very interesting 1891 Steinway for restoration work. It is almost 100% original, as no parts have been replaced or modifications made. 1891 was a transition time for Steinway uprights, with the Victorian models updated, and the more modern uprights just beginning. Since 1890, they stopped using Rosewood veneer as the default, and this one has high quality mahogany. It also has a proper working sostenuto pedal. Our goal is to leave it as original as possible with no changes to the factory workmanship or design.