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Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Buying a Second-hand Piano

Buying a second-hand piano is a daunting prospect for someone who has limited funds and just wants a piano so their child can learn to play.

Choosing from an array of pianos is bewildering unless there is a structure to your decision-making process. Some people really do just want a piano as a piece of good-looking classic furniture. Whether or not it has any value as a useable piano would be very low down in their list of considerations. I suspect that if you are reading this, you are more serious about a piano's usability.

Without some idea of what to look for and what to avoid, the likely outcome of a piano-hunt is disappointment. Or, put differently, it is extremely hard to buy a good piano cheaply. 

If funds are limited, above all else, avoid being taken in by what just looks good. Descriptions can be pure phantasy - those desperate to sell an old and weary piano will not be very up-front about the fact that half the keys do not work, that the piano will not hold its tune… Think about an estate agent's classic play with words as they go about persuading punters to buy a house. With pianos, the stakes are nowhere near as high, but even so, you can ill-afford to waste your time and money on a heavy and monumental mistake! 

If you can take someone you know to be better informed than yourself, so much the better, but you are the one who has to live with it, you have to make the final choice. Few 'friends' really want to be saddled with a sense of guilt if eventually, there is trouble with your piano.

If possible, professional advice is always a help. Impartial help, if you can find it, will save truck-loads of stress and worry. But if you are still on your own, focus on what the piano sounds like and how it plays. Be fussy and firm in your convictions. Happy hunting!

The Piano World

© Steve Burden

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Pleyel Pianos - A short history

Ignace Pleyel was a student of Haydn for 5 years, spent some time at the court in Naples, moved to Strasbourg where he devoted much time composing. In 1793 he moved for a short time to London appearing in concerts but soon returned to Strasbourg. 
During the French Revolution, to prove his loyalty to the cause of the Republic, he was ordered to compose music to a revolutionary drama. His composition was so well received that his allegiance was no longer doubted.

In Paris, 1805, he began a Music Publishing business. In 1807, opened a piano factory. The piano of the early 1800s was still a primitive instrument but being an accomplished player, Ignace could direct technical developments from a pianist's perspective. 

1824, he transferred the business to his son Camille who spent several years learning the art of piano making in London at Broadwoods and with Collard and Clementi, Camille too, was an accomplished musician and formed a close friendship with Frederick Chopin who became a great champion for Pleyel Pianos. 

When Camille died the business underwent various changes of name: Pleyel Wolff & Co. and late to Pleyel Lyon & Co. Under Gustav Lyon, the company developed the metal frame for the piano. Right up until our modern times, the Pleyel has always been a maker of fine pianos. They recently collaborated with Peugeot to produce a stunning concept piano. 

It is a very sad day when a well established piano maker has to close their operation down. All that history abruptly brought to an end! Pleyel is the most recent of the long line of piano makers who, due to a sharp decline in the demand for new pianos, have 'played through the final few bars' of their masterful piece of piano-making history.

Their passing is a great loss to the piano world. Let us hope that the makers that remain can weather the 'storm' until brighter times return. We must not lose the great diversity the piano world has always cherished

Directory of Piano Makers

© Steve Burden

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Top Piano Manufacturers

The top piano manufacturers like Steinway, Bluthner, Bechstein, Fazioli and Bosendorfer have established their well-deserved reputations by continually building great pianos. They use the best materials and production methods available and go about the business of building a piano using the unique traditions handed down by their founders as the basis for their pianos. The finished product is an inspiration for any pianist!

In any year, a manufacturer can produce thousands of the same model of piano, but no two of them are exactly alike. A particularly good piano will command a lot of interest and mysteriously, pianists will happily agree to play for a recital or use it for a recording. 

There are plenty of superb pianos makers that would not be listed in the Premier-League of Piano Manufacturers, but whose pianos serve their owners faithfully year after year, giving hours of music-making pleasure to all who appreciate piano music.  

In days of old, piano makers used to categorise the various sizes of a grand piano by giving names to the different size-groups, e.g. boudoir grands, semi-grands and cottage grands mini grands. All these charming names, seem to have had precise meanings when the pianos were sold originally, but now, these meanings are not so clear and certainly, the top manufacturers ordinarily categorise grand pianos by size.

The pianos from the top manufacturers will always be expensive to buy, and will need plenty of tuning to keep them sounding good. Most people manage to come to terms with the best of what their own piano can give. But, dreams of one day buying a Steinway or something similar is not so out of place. Ah! One day... 

© Steve Burden