Piano Moving

Moving a piano is a pain. I’ve moved a lot of pianos myself, and I’ve paid people to move pianos for me and here are some tips I have on the subject.piano_moving

1. It’s usually worth it to hire professionals

It is spendy, but I think hiring professionals will be be faster and cheaper (if you count your time) compared to doing it yourself. If you’re moving within the Portland area, most movers are going to charge $150-$250 (depending on location, situation and number of stairs involved).

Here are some numbers for when I moved a piano last:

  1. Rent a U-Haul Truck – $100
  2. 2 hours to pick up and return a piano dolly from a friend
  3. 3 hours of my time and 2 hours of a friend’s time moving the piano
  4. $5 for donuts to thank helpers

Valuing time at $20 per hour, that comes to $245 and a lot of pain (imagine two 150lb guys pushing a full-size upright out of a basement and up a frozen hill on a sheet of plywood)! I could have paid movers $150 and they would have done it faster, safer and and I wouldn’t have had to spend my Saturday morning working on it! If you make a mistake and the piano lands on your leg or arm, you pay the doctor bill and 8 weeks of productivity!

 

2. If you’re going to do it yourself, do your research and prepare well.

Know your piano. Measure it and compare those measurements with the space you will be moving into or through. Know approximately how much it weighs and how many people you will need to lift it. Two strong men can handily lift a spinet or small console, but you’re moving anything bigger, or moving it far without a good dolly, you will want four men.

If you have steps to move it up or down, have a plan for getting through them. Don’t rely on the piano’s wheels to roll it. Most piano wheels are very small and not made for rolling more than a few feet at a time. Use a dolly whenever possible. It is much easier on the piano and on the movers. A run-of-the-mill furniture dolly will work for many uprights, but try to get something bigger with larger rubber wheels if possible. The small wheels on furniture dollies don’t go over doorways very well, and are not very easy to turn accurately. Securely cover and protect your piano. You can very easily damage your piano and the repair bill for a couple dings or scratches can easily be higher than what you might have paid professionals to move your instrument. Cover the piano with thick blankets if you can, leaving gaps to reach important handles and handholds.

Don’t use a pickup. Lifting a piano into the bed of a pickup without a ramp is not only very difficult, but unsafe. If not tied down very securely, the piano can tip out of the bed which is not good for the car or piano!

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3. Don’t move a grand yourself.

Grand pianos are even harder to move since you have to take the legs and pedal lyre off and turn the piano on its side to move safely. Grand pianos should be wrapped in blankets or shrink wrapped for protection and strapped tightly so the lid doesn’t open while moving. If you have to navigate any stairs with a grand, a “piano skid board” is a necessity. I strongly recommend you hire professionals to move a grand piano, but if you want to do it yourself, here is a video that shows how to break down and move a baby grand piano.

 

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Here is a list of the professional movers in the Portland area in order of my recommendation:

  1. West Coast Piano Moving  –  I have worked with them several times and they do great work. West Coast does the moving for Portland Piano Company
  2. A to Z Moving  – A to Z Moving works closely with Classic Pianos in SE Portland and I have had good moving experiences with them as well.
  3. Big Al’s Specialty Movers  –  These guys are big! And friendly! I haven’t worked with them, but I’ve only heard good things about them
  4. Michelle’s Pianos  –  In addition to selling pianos (Michelle’s is currently the Steinway dealer in Portland), Michelle’s also moves piano in the Portland area.

“Anytime” and “Silent Pianos”

Sometimes you want to play the piano, or your kids need to practice for their lesson, but the noise is a problem. It could be late at night, or the baby is sleeping, or you just need some peace and quiet. These “Anytime Pianos” solve this problem. Kawai and Yamaha make a high quality upright fully acoustic piano that can be played “silently” with headphones when you need it quiet. A keyboard can offer a similar solution, but it never sounds like a piano or, more importantly for a practicing student, feels like a real piano.
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These “silent pianos” offer the best of both worlds. They sound and feel like a real piano, and you can plug your headphones in and play silently when you need to!
All the normal strings, hammers, parts and felt are found inside these pianos along with electronic sensors under the keys for playing in silent mode. Also, right in front of the “hammer shank,” there is a rubber bar that can be moved forward to block the hammers actually hitting the strings. The rubber creates the feel of the normal rebound of the hammer against the string.

I see these pianos frequently in apartment buildings where using a normal acoustic piano could be annoying to neighbors. I also have seen these pianos in school offices. A piano is an essential tool for a band or choir director in selecting music etc., but their offices are usually connected to rehearsal spaces. These pianos let them use a piano when they need to without disrupting rehearsals.

Kawai has three models that have this system installed, including their flagship K-300. Yamaha offers this system installed on nearly all their models.

If these pianos sound useful to you, I encourage you to take a look at them. You can find the Kawai Anytime Piano at Portland Piano Company and the Yamaha Silent Piano at Classic Pianos.

I got to work with a Yamaha MP-100. It was badly out of tune so I put the headphones on but didn’t engage the silent mode. I got to hear it in tune and out of tune at the same time!

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Case Touch-Up

While rubbing shoulders with some skilled refinishers and touch-up artists, I’ve picked up some skills to help your piano not only sound its best, but look better too! I’ve been doing some case touch-up work that can dramatically improve how your piano looks. Here are some before and after photos of a piano I recently worked on.
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This kind of touch up doesn’t take large amounts of time and I’m happy to include it in a tuning visit for minimal additional cost.

Grotrian Pianos

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Germany has a long tradition of producing high quality products and its pianos are no exception! Germany is home to several high quality piano manufacturers, including Steinway (Hamburg), Bluthner, Bosendorfer (Austria), Bechstein, Schimmel and Grotrian, or Grotrian-Steinweg, to use their German name.

Grotrian pianos have been produced in Braunschweig (Brunswick) Germany since 1856 when Friedrich Grotrian became partner with Heinrich Steinweg (who immigrated to the US as Henry Steinway!). As Henry Steinway began to focus on the American market in New York, the Grotrian family bought out his interest in the Grotrian-Steinweg factory in the 1860’s. The company prospered in the early 20th century producing a peak of 3000 pianos in 1927. The company survived the Great Depression, learned to make aircraft during WWII, repaired the bombed factory and has continued making some of the finest pianos on the market. Grotrian currently produces around 500 upright and 100 grand pianos of various sizes annually.
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Grotrian-Steinweg won several awards at world fairs and exhibitions and was the preferred instrument of great pianists including Clara Schumman, Paderewski, and Eugen d’Albert.
There has been tension between Steinway and Grotrian-Steinweg over the use of “Steinweg” for years and in 1977 the company dropped Steinweg from their name for all pianos sold in America (they still used Grotrian-Steinweg in all European pianos).

But enough history! Grotrian makes a wonderful piano! You should play one!

Grotrian uprights quickly replaced Schimmels (also German) as my favorite upright. Their sound is massive and the action is so responsive it feels like I’m playing a grand. Both their sound and touch is my favorite in any upright I’ve ever played.

Grotrian 57cm Classic Model

Grotrian 57cm Classic Model

Grotrian produces several different sizes of uprights ranging from the more affordable 52cm Freidrich model to the 66cm Concertina model which will costs you a bit over $30,000. And it would be worth every penny!

Grotrian produces several sizes of grands, ranging from the 5’4″ Chambre to the 1,200lb, 9′ “Concert Royal” grand. Their tone is very clear and “German” in quality. The range of dynamic is supurb, and while more aggressive than the Austrian Bosendorfer, the Grotrian is still a mellower piano than the Steinway. The pianos come from the factory precisely prepared and with very little work needed before they are put on the showroom floor.

The Grotrian Concert Grand

The Grotrian Concert Grand

While expensive, they are still a good deal cheaper than Bosendorfer and Steinway pianos in the same class. So if you’re looking for a wonderful, first tier piano, Grotrian is probably the least expensive way to go.

I’ve been able to work on several Grotrians, including a couple odd uprights from the 1950’s, a 9′ concert grand from the 70’s or 80’s and many new uprights and grands at Portland Piano Company.

The 1950's style Grotrian-Steinweg Console

The 1950’s style Grotrian-Steinweg Console

I recently got to tune a newly acquired Grotrian grand at Reed College in preparation for one of Paul Roberts’ master classes in February. Reed college has a new performing arts building and one of their concert spaces now features this 7′ Grotrian, sporting the durable “institutional finish.” It sounds wonderful in its space and I stopped to play for a good while when I was done tuning.

You can read more about Grotrians here on their website, or on Wikipedia. You can walk into Portland Piano Company and play several models of these beautiful pianos, or peruse their selection online here.

I’ll leave you with a couple more pictures of the grand at Reed College.
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I also installed a fallboard lock on this piano.
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Finest workmanship and materials evident here under the “belly.”FullSizeRender

Kawai Upright Pianos

While working with pianos in the Portland area I’ve had the opportunity to work with all three of the piano dealers in town, Classic Pianos, Michelle’s Pianos, Portland Piano Company. One of the great things about working with dealers is the opportunity to really get to know and understand the different piano builders. I’ve now worked with new Yamaha, Steinway (Boston and Essex as well), Grotrian, Young Chang, Bosendorfer, Mason & Hamlin, Fazioli, and Kawai pianos through dealers. At the dealer I see them right “out of the box” from the factory. I get a chance to work with enough of them together I get to learn each piano’s strengths, weaknesses, and eccentricities.

A K15, or "Hobbit Piano"

A K15, or “Hobbit Piano”

Portland Piano Company has been representing Kawai now for about a year so I’ve been able to work with a lot of Kawai pianos! Here are some of my observations on these excellent pianos.
Kawai is a Japanese company that has been making fine pianos since 1927. They are based in Hamamatsu, Japan. Most of their pianos are made there, but they do build some of their more affordable models in Indonesia. Kawai has always been known for their innovative approach to piano building, specifically in the material they use for parts in their instruments.

They have a wide variety of instruments to choose from. On the smaller end they offer a 44″ tall Indonesian-made upright and on the other end of the spectrum they offer the Shigeru Kawai concert grand, a beautiful 9’1″, 1100lb piano handcrafted in Japan. Kawai makes a piano for every space and price range.

Kawai K-200

Kawai K-200

Kawai’s smaller model uprights include the K-15 (I call it a hobbit piano), 506N (a sturdy piano with good wheels often used in schools), and the “professional models” K-200 and K-300. These are their entry level pianos with affordable price points. These pianos compare well with other pianos in their class. They tend to be mellow pianos (true of most Kawais in my opinion) with a responsive touch and pleasant tone. They are much gentler pianos than Yamaha’s equivalent, the T118, or their Cable-Nelson brand of pianos, and the action seems a little faster. The tone quality is clear, pleasant, and interesting but not aggressive. Steinway’s line of Essex pianos is priced similarly but I think the tone quality is better here in the Kawai. The Essex sound is very clear but almost boring. The bass range in these smaller Kawai uprights is not particularly strong, as in most short pianos.

 

k-400

Kawai makes even taller K-500’s and K-800’s but I haven’t had a chance to work with these yet.

Tuning stability is good and while the Yamaha professional uprights are easier to tune than Kawais, I don’t think either has the edge when it comes to the stability and longevity of a good tuning.

New pianos will need to be tuned at least twice a year for the first year or two, and then every 6-12 months after that.

Visually and aesthetically, the Kawai is classic and has nice lines. The polished ebony finish is the lowest priced finish, and is durable and never goes out of style. It shows fingerprints, but is easy to clean and maintain. They also offer satin black, satin mahogany and walnut and a white polish finish on some of their models.

In summary here are my simple pros and cons for the Kawai uprights in order of importance.
Pros:
1. Good value for price.
2. Fast and responsive touch.
3. Solid, mellow, and interesting tone.
4. Easy to play and control.
5. Good tuning stability.
6. Consistent construction means very few problems/sticking keys.

Cons:
1. Mellow tone makes it hard to get huge sound when needed.
2. Harder to tune than some pianos.
3. That’s all I can think of…

Tuning for the Portland Tree Lighting

The day after Thanksgiving I had the dubious honor of tuning the piano onstage for the tree lighting festivities at Pioneer Courthouse Square. This kind of events is always an interesting experience with lots of unknown factors for me as the piano’s caretaker.
The first disadvantage for this kind of event is the weather. Any outside event is going to present a tuning challenge. If it is cold or hot, or humid or dry, the piano will throw a fit and go way out of tune and in most cases, keep going out of tune as fast as I can tune it! This event was cold. High 30’s I think. And it was also wet! I had rain blowing in on me while I was tuning and even hitting the piano occasionally!
The next disadvantage for event tunings is you never know how much time you will have. I got there early and the performing group was warming up and testing the sound system. I was supposed to tune at 4:30 and they were still singing when 4:30 came and went. When I got on stage and started to tune, I overheard the group’s director talking with the TV newsman and learned I only had about 15 minutes to work! It normally takes about an hour to tune a piano in the best of conditions!

7' Steinway B tucked in on the left. the NW Community Gospel Choir onstage.

7′ Steinway B tucked in on the left. the NW Community Gospel Choir onstage.


You also never know what the background sound level will be when tuning for an event. I’ve tuned over sound checks, white noise (the worst), or even pressure washers! In this case the newsman was riling up the crowd and making them scream getting ready for his clip he was going to take in a few minutes. The bass player made eye contact with me and just shook his head.
So I had 15 minutes, the environment was horrible for the piano, and I could hardly hear to tune over the high noise level!
I just had to stick my head down inside this poor Steinway and work through the piano, tuning the worst notes until I ran out of time. In this kind of scenario, if they haven’t planned well for the tuner, I just have to do the best I can with the hand I get dealt! The piano sounded decent when I was done, but certainly wasn’t perfect. But, even if I had done a perfect tuning, within 20 minutes, there would have been notes out of tune just because of the cold!
Oh well. It was an adventure.


This video was from last year’s ceremony, but Pink Martini performed this year as well. I hope the piano sounded good for them!

Working with Old Pianos

I recently had the opportunity to tune an 1888 Vose & Sons upright. Its amazing to play an instrument that has so much history! My Great-Great-Grandmother could have played this instrument! This particular piano was shipped around the horn of South America (before the Panama Canal) and sold from San Francisco in the late 1880’s.
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As interesting as old pianos are, there are plenty of tricks and risks when working with them. Most pianos made before 1900 weren’t actually designed to be tuned to our modern A440 standard of pitch. The combined high tension of 200 strings on a modern piano creates about 40,000lbs of pressure on the iron plate. Smaller, lighter metal plates and weaker (and often corroded) strings on old pianos often can’t hold up to that kind of tension. They weren’t created to withstand that amount, and they have over 100 years of wear on the original materials.

So when I start to tune an antique piano, I have to decide where to tune it. First I will check to see if there are any missing or replaced strings which would indicate a history of strings breaking. Then I will measure the pitches of several notes through the piano to find out approximately where the piano’s string tension currently is. If all looks good, no broken or replaced and no or minimal corrosion on the strings, and it is fairly close to pitch, I will carefully tune it to our modern A440. That way the piano can be played with other instruments and it helps the player develop a good sense of modern pitch. If there are broken, replaced or corroded strings, I will usually tune the piano to a lower standard, usually (but sometimes a good deal lower) A435 or A432.

Deciding what pitch standard to use is the most stressful and dangerous part of working with older pianos. If I choose incorrectly, strings could break which mean costly repairs and several return visits to tune brand new strings which go out of tune constantly while the new piano wire continues to stretch over 1-2 years.

Old pianos also have odd and non-standard parts which are often brittle and fragile with age. So not only do they break easily, but they are hard to replace or reproduce.

This well-built 1888 Vose & Sons had some replaced strings and was a good bit lower than A440. I chose A435 as a good place to tune and it sounded great when I was finished. I eased a couple tight parts to help the action move faster, and everything responded well to my work. The piano sounded and played much better when I was done! The owner was happy and I was satisfied in “doing no harm” and keeping a beautiful old piano working well for its owners.

Tuning For a Teacher

I always enjoy tuning for piano teachers, partly because I know the piano is being used and enjoyed, and partly (being a piano teacher myself) because I get to see how another teacher runs a piano studio! I tuned for an excellent teacher in Portland this week with two pianos (in addition to the harpsichord). A newer Kawai 6′ grand, and an older, elegant Knabe grand of the same size. This teacher had an extensive sticker-based tracking system to keep track of which scales and arpeggios each student had mastered at different metronome markings. Three different charts! Some students probably had up to 100 stickers!! I was impressed. But I won’t be doing that. I don’t get along with stickers…
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But this teacher is doing it right! She has consistently had excellent students completing, performing and composing in the Portland area since I was taking lessons as a teenager (at least). It was an honor to tune these pianos.

Working on the New Kawai Pianos

Through the ever changing piano-dealership situation in Portland, I have been able to have a lot of hands-on time with brand-new Kawai pianos recently. Kawai, a long standing Japanese piano manufacturer has been making quality instruments for a long time at a price that people can afford. They come in a cut above the Chinese and Korean pianos, but are still much less expensive than European or the few American piano companies now left in business.
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After new pianos are un-crated, I get to take out all the protective foam, makes sure all the screws are tight, the hammers are perfectly aligned to the strings, ease the keys to reduce any extra friction, the fine-tune the regulation so it will play its very best before it is shown on the floor. Pictures is a Kawai K-200 console piano with the case parts removed. The regulation is complete and I’m part the fine tuning, the very last step.

Another Double Tuning

I recently tuned for a customer with a magnificent custom built home. The whole end of the main living area was devoted to two beautiful pianos, a 1973 Steinway B and a vintage 1939 Baldwin F, both around 7′ long. The room had wood floors, walls, and 20′ ceilings: great acoustics! I didn’t get a great picture, but you can see the glass wall at the end of the room. You can enjoy a view through the trees and over a deep valley while you play one of these wonderful pianos.

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