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MMD > Archives > April 2004 > 2004.04.09 > 02Prev  Next

Restoration Costs vs. Restored Value
By John A. Tuttle

Hi all,  Although it might seem like I'm 'beating a dead horse', it's
clear from Karen's question and from the numerous inquiries I get every
week that the facts concerning the economic reasonability of restoring
a circa 1920's upright player piano aren't well known by the general

As one rebuilder who has been saying the same thing for at least the
last 25 years, I find this a bit frustrating.  However, I feel that the
only way to 'get the word out' is to keep repeating myself.  So, I'll
say this again.

There is no economic benefit to be gained by having a regular circa
1920's 88-note upright player piano professionally restored.  Likewise,
player pianos, of any type or manufacture, are generally NOT an
economically wise "investment".  In fact, they can be quantitatively
compared to 'investing' in a pleasure boat.  Regardless of how well
a player piano is restored, it is a machine, and all machines must be
maintained on a periodic basis if they are to be expected to continue
working flawlessly year after year.  Every single manufacturer of
player pianos has stated this fact in writing at some point in time.
So it only stands to reason that a restored player piano is no

Quoting from one player piano service manual, "Because of the added
wear and tear a piano receives from the player mechanism, its tuning
and overall regulation stability can be somewhat reduced, depending on
how much play it gets.  We recommend that you have the piano tuned
three times during the first year (its "break-in" period).  After that,
twice a year should suffice.  Again, this is dependent on the amount of
play the piano receives.  After about six (6) months of average use, we
recommend that a piano technician check the general regulation of the
piano action and keys and make any necessary adjustments."

For those needing another reason as to why player pianos are not a wise
investment, consider the following.  Player pianos are a consumer good,
and like all consumer goods they are generally 'worth' about one half
of their purchase price.  This is simple economics.  The person or
company selling the good has to make a profit to stay in business.
Successful business generally operate on a minimum profit margin of
about 35%.  So, something that you pay $1,000 for today is actually
worth about $650 or less.  As soon as that item is 'used', it's value
decreases accordingly.  (All rebuilt player pianos are "used
instruments" before they get rebuilt, and regardless of the degree to
which the instrument gets restored, it can never be a "new" again.)

At some point in time, most consumer goods become collectibles.
At that point, their value sometimes stops decreasing.  Further down
the road, they become antiques.  At that point in time, their value
generally starts to increase.  Unfortunately (or perhaps 'realistically
stated'), pianos and player pianos have a very long "life span" as
compared to most other consumer goods.

Although others may disagree, I was taught, as an apprentice in the
early 1970's by a 90-year old piano company owner, that pianos become
antiques when they are 125 years old, and that player pianos become
antiques when they are 100 years old.  Considering that the vast
majority of all player pianos were made from 1910-1925, they have not
yet reached antique status.  Therefore, at best they are considered
collectibles and their real fair-market value is no longer decreasing.

However, the word 'investment' denotes something that is increasing in
valve, and therefore player pianos cannot be considered an investment,
let alone a wise, or economically profitable investment.  Naturally,
one might conjecture that within the next couple of decades, player
pianos will start increasing in value because of their antique status.
This may or may not become the case, and only time will tell.

So, to the question; "Is it 'worth it' to 'invest' in a regular circa
1920's upright player piano?" The answer is a resounding "NO!" if you
are only looking at the economics.

That said, then why do people spend thousands of dollars to have
a player piano restored? And why do they spend hundreds of dollars
maintaining them? The answer is relatively simple.  Just as the owner
of a pleasure boat loves being out on the water, most player piano
owners love the music that a player piano makes.  And just as the owner
of the pleasure boat knows that his pleasure is increased when the boat
operates flawlessly, so too does the player piano owner know the
'value' of keeping the instrument in good repair.

So, in closing I'll say this again, the only reasons for spending hard
earned cash on a player piano are (a) you love the music and/or (b)
you have a sentimental attachment to the instrument.

Musically Opinionated,

John A. Tuttle
Brick, NJ, USA

P.S. -- Amendment

Most people probably noticed the absence of any numbers (concerning
actual costs or values) in my posting above.  I didn't actually do
that on purpose, but now I'm glad I did.

In reading over some of the other postings on the topic, and in looking
back through other previous postings, it dawned on me that actual (or
real) numbers could be very misleading or even wrong.  The fact is,
labor costs vary quite a bit all across America.  And although I don't
have any hard evidence to support this supposition, it seems highly
likely to me that someone who lives in a part of the country, where
labor costs are very high, could hire someone in an area, where labor
costs are very low, and come away with an item that is worth more (in
their part of the country) that what they paid (in another part of the
country).  I think that makes sense -- or cents!  ;-)

While this is certainly not rocket science economics, it does open the
door to the possibility that someone could "invest" in a player piano
and make a profit, making the whole deal "worth it".

So, I'm writing this 'amendment' to my previous posting, and changing
my "Resounding NO!" to "It's very unlikely"....  :-)

(My Mother still says, "Shop Around".)


John A. Tuttle
Brick, NJ, USA

P.P.S. Portions of the posting may be used in the creation of another
web page at Player-Care concerning the "Value of a Player Piano".

(Message sent Fri 9 Apr 2004, 18:51:04 GMT, from time zone GMT-0400.)

Key Words in Subject:  Costs, Restoration, Restored, Value, vs

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