FAQIs My Piano Worth Restoring?

To our most frequently asked question, from the practical
to the theoritical, we give you our in-depth response.


— SINCE 1974 —
— SINCE 1982 —

The most frequently asked question at Sweeney Piano
for the past 35 years:

"Is my piano worth restoring?"

We at Sweeney Piano almost always say "yes, most likely" to this number one question from our customers. Even before seeing your piano, we venture a "yes" because our experience over the past thirty-five years has confirmed the fact that most pianos can be restored and with wonderfully satisfying results.

"But, is my piano worthy of restoration?"

There are good reasons for saying "yes" to restoration. Some will say yes because the piano is a family treasure. Some will say yes because the piano has been played by famous hands. Others will say yes because their piano has "incredible curves" encased in outstanding veneers. Parents will say, "Our kids grew up on this piano." Musicians will say "It's been my good friend all these years, my stage companion" Some simply say, "It's just my piano; it needs to be fixed."

"My tuner told me my piano's a 'piece of junk' and impossible to tune."

If someone tells you your piano is junk, we at Sweeney Piano suspect that judgment to be wrong. We recommend a second opinion. We would be surprised to actually find that your piano is a piece of junk. It might be true that your piano is difficult, or currently impossible to tune, but that difficulty probably means your piano needs repair. Of course, we could be wrong -- maybe your piano really is unredeemable, but we would be surprised.

"I love this piano, it's been in our family for generations, but my new technician told me to buy a new piano."

Over the course of our thirty-five years in the piano restoration business, we have encountered would-be technicians who would condemn a piano because it needs new parts. As silly as that sounds, it's true. We find this, especially, in those new to the field, or those solely reliant upon digital tuning devices, or those who refuse to do repairs because they don't want to do anything other than tune. For this very limited type of service, the tuner must find the piano in good working order. If anything is in need of repair, the tuner cannot proceed. "Your piano is worthless; it won't keep a tune. You need a new piano," is often the response.

We rarely agree with such an assessment. In the hands of an experienced restorative technician, what was judged to be dead wood and worthless, might very well be brought back to life.

"The cabinet and mechanics seem fine, and it stays in tune, but the soundboard sounds muddy and dull, and it buzzes when certain notes are played."

Some piano technicians will say it's time to consider a newer piano if the piano in question has a severely cracked or 'shredded' sound board. But again, this is not always the only option. Soundboards are often repaired, buzzes removed, and if the piano is otherwise in good shape, even an irreparable soundboard can be replaced. This is an option to consider, especially, if the cabinet of the piano is important to you, or if the history of the piano is significant.

Let us help.

"What is the limit? When is a piano truly beyond repair?"

We conferred with Robert Callaghan, former technician at Sweeney Piano, now resident keyboard technician for the University of Nevada's Reno campus, "When is a piano truly beyond repair?"

"The worst case scenario..." said Mr. Callaghan, "is if the piano's frame or cabinet is severely damaged. An unusual event might do it, like if the thick wooden frame has been broken or shattered from falling off a truck, or if the metal plate has been broken or warped and repair would only weaken it further and there are no replacement frames available due to a lack of models sold. But these are rare cases."

We at Sweeney Piano agree that the cases are rare. Over the course of thirty-five years we have found it rare, indeed, to find a piano that isn't worthy of refurbishing. It is almost always the case that worn and damaged parts can be replaced, the cabinet can be refinished, the soundboard repaired, and the piano "brought back to life."

"If you understand the technology and the particular piano's design, if you have a mind for connecting and adjusting hundreds of mechanical parts, if you use high quality glues, paints and materials, and have plenty of space in order to work with good tools, almost any piano can be brought back to life."

"Why are you at Sweeney Piano interested in piano restoration?"

This one last question is of a philosophical type with a romantic response, inspired by the relationship between instrument and artist. It's about the love of music, mathematics, logic, and the mechanical arts and crafts. It's about being fascinated by this amazing invention, the piano. As technicians we become 'The Keeper of the Design,' the ones who know how to return a piano to its intended state of equilibrium, and who know how to maintain that state. It is like an incredibly complex puzzle in a beautiful wooden box. What's more, the technician brings the artist and instrument together, from inside with the knowledge of how it works and how to fix things 'underneath the lid,' and outside with an understanding of what the piano is meant to be for the performer and the audience. The end result is music which brings people together and makes them happy. What could be better?

We also like to restore pianos because sometimes we see reflected in the piano the structural beauty of an interesting design, invented, perhaps in some family owned shop in 19th century Boston, Philadelphia, or New York. We enjoy the romance that surrounds the piano, its invention, its history, its abilities, its place in musical instrumentation, and we feel that in our own piano restoration business, we participate in the rich American tradition of piano making.

Over the years we've seen many amazing recoveries. Your piano could be an amazing recovery, too.

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