Aluminum-wound strings

Aluminum-wound strings

Those extra shiny strings are aluminum-wound, somewhat of a novelty in the late 1960’s when this piano was built. Though these have held up well, aluminum-wound strings as a rule have never caught on and are all but extinct now. In this case, the aluminum winding was seen as a “transition” from the copper-wound bass strings to the plain wire treble strings. Manufacturers have tried dozens of different ways of bridging this transition point over the years, with varying results. Gordon Laughead was a small, family-run, Michigan-based piano manufacturer that operated from the 1940’s until the 1970’s. They made good quality pianos, and this particular one was a testament to that fact. Unfortunately, like hundreds of other piano manufacturers, they eventually succumbed to an over-crowded market.

Mezzo-thermoneal stabilizers (Or: Marketing Gimmicks)

Mezzo-thermoneal stabilizers (Or: Marketing Gimmicks)

What’s a “mezzo-thermoneal stabilizer” you ask? That’s a great question. In the post-WW2 era, when the piano market was really taking off in America, manufacturers started coming up with all kinds of new patented techniques to make their pianos stand out from the competition. Or, at the very least, to make them sound special. “Mezzo-thermoneal stabilizers” are a great example. No one really knows what it means, but it sure sounds cool. Almost like your piano was designed by NASA! Most of these kinds of labels, unfortunately, are little more than marketing gimmicks. This particular piano is a 1979 Kimball Console. It’s actually a good little piano, but the mezzo-thermoneal stabilization probably has nothing to do with it!

An 80-year-old spinet?

An 80-year-old spinet?

This 1938 Lester spinet doesn’t have any resale value, hasn’t been serviced or tuned in over ten years, and frankly was a low-end piano to begin with. So why am I writing about it? Because it never ceases to amaze me that pianos like this still have life left in them. When I finished tuning (twice over) and doing some minor regulation, this piano sounded pretty good! In fact, it hit me that it sounded and felt better than most mid-price electric pianos I’ve played. Some of which cost several thousand dollars. I think that’s pretty impressive for an 80-year-old bottom-of-the-line piano from Lester. There truly is no comparison to quality craftsmanship and acoustic sound. (Don’t get me wrong here: there are WAY better acoustic pianos than this! Don’t settle for an 80-year-old spinet if you can afford something better.)

Hyundai makes pianos too?

Hyundai makes pianos too?

They’re probably better known for cars than pianos (and rightly so), but my car and this piano have the same roots! Hyundai was a huge conglomerate in South Korea that broke apart in 2003. Hyundai Motor continues to make and ship cars all over the world, but Hyundai Music, a division of Hyundai Development Company, continues to manufacturer and distribute pianos all over the world! Like many large companies, Hyundai’s pianos are manufactured under a variety of brand names. On this particular piano, the “Aeolian” name was used and this Hyundai logo was visible only on the plate. On some other models, the Hyundai name may not appear at all.

Piano decals – is my piano really that old?

Piano decals – is my piano really that old?

Piano manufacturers often use decals from prestigious competitions and events for decades afterward. Piano owners sometimes assume these decorations are indicative of the age of the piano, but they’re not. Sometimes they may even be from a prize that was won more than a century earlier! This decal was on a 1961 Baldwin L grand piano. It’s a well-made instrument, but it’s not at all the same instrument that won a grand prize at the 1900 Paris Grand Prix! Still, if I had won a grand prize at the Paris Grand Prix I would probably put it on everything I owned too…

Old serial numbers & other markings

Old serial numbers & other markings

 This serial number on an old Jacob Bros. upright traces to 1907! Serial numbers are sometimes hard to find, but typically on American uprights and grands they can be found in a plate cutout like this, somewhere in the tuning pin area. Even more interesting here are the dates etched into the plate above the serial number. In days gone by technicians would often write or etch the date of each service call. Hopefully 1930 was not the last time this piano was tuned!

Plastic parts – not as bad as you might think

Plastic parts – not as bad as you might think

If you tell people their piano has plastic parts, most don’t think of that as a good thing. When plastics first became mainstream in manufacturing in the 20th century, they were used in all kinds of ways they should not have been and have a bad track record for durability. Early plastics became brittle very quickly and had poor shelf life. However, in recent years a number of piano manufacturers have developed advanced polymers that are used for specific action components and are actually more durable than wood. They are also far less susceptible to seasonal temperature and humidity swings, helping the piano’s regulation remain stable longer. This picture is of a “plastic” repetition jack in a Yamaha upright that’s just a couple years old. For decades this part would have been made out of wood. It is a quality part though and no cause for concern! You’ll notice other… Read More

Stencil pianos – what are you actually getting?

Stencil pianos – what are you actually getting?

This is a great example of what is known as a “stencil” piano. The name “Brahms” appears on the front of the piano, but in fact the plate (visible in the background) is stamped with Winter & Company, the actual manufacturer of the piano. I couldn’t find any background information on this particular customer’s piano, but it was very common in the mid-1900’s for piano stores, dealers, and others to have a run of pianos manufactured by an established company with the dealer’s name stamped on the front. Winter & Co. was one of the larger piano manufacturers in the 1940’s, when this piano was built, and had arrangements like this with dozens of companies over the years. If you own a piano with a name on the front that is unfamiliar and hard to find any information on, one possible explanation is that it’s a stencil. They are not… Read More

Steinway M Grand Piano

Steinway M Grand Piano

1969 Steinway & Sons model M (5’7″) Henry Steinway, a German immigrant, founded the Steinway company in 1853. It quickly became one of the leading piano manufacturers, and for the past century Steinway pianos have been the instrument of choice for a majority of performing artists. All Steinway instruments are still manufactured by hand in one of two factories: New York City (supplying North and South America) and Hamburg, Germany (supplying the rest of the world).