Newsletter September 2010


Meet Our Pianos….

A Knabe piano was played by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky at the opening of Carnegie Hall and was also historically enjoyed by the White House Residences.  The Knabe Piano Company, started by German immigrant William Knabe (1803-1864 ), became a celebrated name in the U.S. in the middle of the 19th century.   
The Knabe Piano Company actually started out being called the Knabe & Gaehle Piano Company.  It was established in Baltimore, MD in 1837.   William Knabe was a German immigrant with an interest in piano making who came to the United States and apprenticed under Henry Hartje, who was best known as an inventor.  Taking a more conservative approach, Knabe spent some time learning the English language and studying business in the Unites States before he decided to enter into the business of piano making.  When he set out to establish a company in 1839, he formed a partnership with Henry Gaehle, another German piano maker.  This partnership only proved to be modestly successful.  The partnership lasted until Gaehle withdrew from his position in the company in 1854.  

Knabe continued on with piano production and applied all he knew as a piano maker and businessman to his work.  His  skills and perseverance proved very successful.  By 1860 he practically dominated the market for pianos in the Southern United States.    Then, through the Civil War and the passing of William Knabe, the Wm. Knabe Company endured much hardship.  William Knabe’s sons, William and Ernest, took over the business when the future of it looked quite grim.  But with William managing the factories and Ernest doing much of the foot work, the company kept its head above water.
Knabe pianos from these earlier years have a very poetic and sweet tone that sets them apart from other pianos.  It is no wonder that they had been used not only in homes and schools, but also by concert pianists worldwide.   

Today, the Knabe piano is far different than what it was in former years.  The size, shape, and quality of parts have drastically changed with the changes in ownership that took place in the 1980s.   Pianos named “Wm. Knabe” are now made by Young Chang in a facility in Korea.  Pianos named “Knabe” are produced in a facility in Tianjin, China.   Most new Knabe pianos are now sold with Pianodisc player systems installed. 
ANR Piano recently rented out a beautiful Knabe grand piano that was built in 1900!  It was completely rebuilt with a new soundboard, bridge cap, bridge pins, pin block, tuning pins, strings, damper felt, hammers, shanks and flanges.  This piano was completely refinished as well.  It’s was a great looking and sounding piano and a true gem from the turn of the century.  We love getting these kind of gems and offering them to you at a reasonable price.  Stop by and see what kind of pianos may be available – you may be pleasantly surprised!




Fix up the family heirloom?

“I just inherited Grandma’s grand piano. Her parents bought it for her when she was just 10. My mom also learned on it and so did I. I would love for my daughter to play it. But it is in such bad shape. The last tuner said he couldn’t tune it. Is there anything you can do?” So goes a typical phone call into our rebuilding shop. Sentimental value aside, how do we decide what is the best approach to these family heirlooms. Sometimes, money isn’t an object, but more often we need to figure out how to recreate a musical instrument inside a very dead carcass.

There are several hundred manufactures of pianos from the early twentieth century, some were cheaply made and it is a wonder they are still standing after a hundred years or more. And there is surprising number of completely unknown brands who were carefully manufactured representing the great craftsmanship and abundant natural materials present in our country back then.

How can you tell if the dead piano in front of you can be rebuilt to service many more generations? As a rebuilder of pianos there are certain structural elements I need to make for an effective rebuilding project if we are going to keep costs under control. Though it is possible to take a substandard structure and stiffen the frame, redesign the soundboard, and redesign the action with brand new keys, the costs will add up extremely fast.

Some of the superficial elements anybody can see are such things as a substantial set of struts under the soundboard. These provide the structural support and stiffness to the frame. I have added these in some projects, this can be a costly, but important part of the rebuilding of a lesser instrument.

Another consideration is length. The longer the better. Small pianos are loaded with compromises in the scale and design. Once you cross the 6’ size these compromises become less and less noticeable.

The presence of agraffes through about 60% of the strings also suggests a well designed piano. Agraffes are located at the string termination closest to the player marking the near end of the speaking length of the string. Agraffes are made of brass and cost more to use than just a big piece of cast iron found on cheaper piano. (Though some manufactures such as Chickering Bros (not Son’s) from Chicago developed a pretty sophisticated improvement in this design.)

I really don’t care about what is covering the keys, but it is very helpful if the key stick is in good condition. If more than one or two keys have broken at some time, we really need to consider a new key set. If the wood used, the angle the keys were cut, or the angle of the grain were such that a few keys have broken, then this will be a very unreliable set of keys, prone to ever more breakage through the year. A new key set can cost between $4,000 and $5,000. They can be well worth it, but it is an expense which is best to avoid if possible.

Every piano has a unique situation.  In most cases, we are able to breath new life into your old piano.  Remember – it’s what we do!  So if you’re ready to revive Grandma’s old piano or are curious about pricing out a fix-up, don’t hesitate to ask!