Many are often surprised to learn that pianos simply do not last for an eternity. The useful life expectancy of a well made piano is 30-50 years before needing a quality reconditioning or even complete rebuilding. Unlike violins, which have a total tension between 50-70lbs for all strings, a piano holds over 18 tons on the instrument. That level of stress crushes wood fibers over time. Humidity swings work to undo glue joints over the life of an instrument – other instruments can be re-glued for a quality fix, the strain on a piano is too much for such a repair in many cases. Action parts and Hammers wear out and need replacing to function as new.
These are repairs I love making. I also love taking an instrument from barely working and remaking it into a lovely, performing instrument. This often keeps me busy throughout the summers when my customers are away on vacation- since they wouldn’t have missed their piano during their trip.
On the other hand, some pianos are simply not worth the cost of restoring. Many pianos, spinets and small uprights in particular, were sold as entry level instruments in the 50s-70s. I cannot, in good conscience, recommend extensive work to instruments such as these. Some of them sold for as little as $400, to invest over $2,000 for it to work better and still not be “New,” this should only be a value to those instruments with great sentimental value. Even so, I’d recommend getting a photo of your loved one at the piano hung on the wall over a new instrument. They would most likely want you to make beautiful music on a good piano rather than struggle and begin to get bitter about music because the piano doesn’t perform well.