Kathleen Cilker asked, "Would 'you' ... install a solenoid player
on a piano like this?"
I am a Registered Piano Technician and certified PianoDisc digital
player installer. Over the years I have installed, in all types of
pianos, somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 and counting of these
systems. Most installations have been pretty basic, some have
bordered on the ridiculous.
The general rule is that the player can only make music as well as
the piano is capable. In other words, the best system in the world,
meticulously installed to exact perfection, will still play only as
good as the piano can. The piano has to be in good shape to start with.
I would agree that an 88-year-old piano is not the ideal specimen.
Even if the piano had only modest use throughout it's life, age takes
a dramatic toll. Leather becomes less playable and rough, hammer felt
turns to powder when shaped and it's impossible to get good hammer
voicing, the felt bushings in the keys and center pins become soft and
wear away quickly, the dampers become compressed and "leak" sustaining
strings, the hide glue becomes old and brittle causing parts to work
loose, the bridge pins loosen and there are false beats abound, and the
list goes on. They become difficult to regulate, don't stay regulated
very long, and difficult to tune. There are exceptions every now and
then, of course, but these are the cold facts. Pianos do not last
Install a player that is going to play the piano regularly after decades
of modest use and it could potentially deteriorate before your eyes.
This is not intended to scare you, but consider this before diving in.
Have a technician crawl inside and inspect the piano completely in
every respect before deciding.
If the piano needs rebuilding, so be it, but expect to open your wallet
pretty wide. Generally speaking a complete and "proper" rebuilding
costs anywhere from $10,000 to $12,000 without refinishing. Note that
I put proper in "quotes". Unfortunately there are a lot of people out
there calling themselves rebuilders that might tell you they can do the
job for something ridiculous like $3,000. That wouldn't even cover the
wholesale cost of the action parts. They give the profession a very
bad reputation and I've heard plenty of horror stories.
As far as devaluing the piano, I wouldn't be particularly concerned.
Yes, a Bösendorfer is a fine piano, but it isn't particularly rare.
There are thousands of them out there and they are not really
collector's items. The system can be removed if so desired later.
Just in case you decide to do that later, have the installer save all
the trap work (pedal parts under the piano), for you. It will be much
easier to convert it back to original if you have these.
Now the flip side. If you don't want to put a lot of money into
a rebuilding job and you still feel uneasy about installing the system
for family history reasons, buy another piano and start from scratch.
You could actually do that for less money.
I'm not talking about a particularly special high-end piano, mind you,
but there are some decent Asian built pianos out there in which you
could get a PianoDisc installed and walk away for around $14K. Nothing
fancy, just a plain black polyurethane finish with a basic spade leg,
but it will be new and with a warranty and you will have a better piece
of mind. For a little more you could get something bigger with a
nature wood finish and fancy legs. Just something to think about.
Rob Goodale, RPT
Las Vegas, Nevada