06 November 2012

Pianos in the dumpster

“In winter time we burn them,” Mr. Demler, near left, said. “Ashes to ashes,” Mr. Demler added. “Dust to dust,” Mr. Williams, far left, said, unscrewing pins that held the strings.  Credit: Marcus Yam for The New York Times.
I've encountered two articles in recent months about the sad fate awaiting many current pianos.  First from the New York Times in July:
The value of used pianos, especially uprights, has plummeted in recent years. So instead of selling them to a neighbor, donating them to a church or just passing them along to a relative, owners are far more likely to discard them, technicians, movers and dealers say. Piano movers are making regular runs to the dump, becoming adept at dismantling instruments, selling parts to artists, even burning them for firewood...

With thousands of moving parts, pianos are expensive to repair, requiring long hours of labor by skilled technicians whose numbers are diminishing. Excellent digital pianos and portable keyboards can cost as little as several hundred dollars. Low-end imported pianos have improved remarkably in quality and can be had for under $3,000...

The average life span rarely exceeds 80 years, piano technicians say. That’s a lot of pianos now reaching the end of the line. Piano dealers also blame other changes in society for a lack of demand in the used-piano market: cuts in music education in schools, competition for practice time from other pursuits, a drop in spending on home furnishings with the fall of the housing market...

When owners ask where a cherished piano is going, he said, he tries to avoid the subject or tells them it will be put up for adoption. “The last thing they want to hear is that it’s going to a landfill,” he said. 
Similar sentiments are echoed across the pond in a BBC report:
A piano has thousands of moving parts, making restoration a very time-consuming, and specialist business. Just polishing a piano can take 70 hours. "It becomes a money pit," says Gist, and so often the best advice - and advice he doles out several times a day - is just to get rid of it...

"In the 1920s, they were made for the mass market. They were not made to last, they were made to sell," says Marcus Roberts of Roberts Pianos in Oxford. He says, much like a house, a piano needs to be built with good foundations if it is to last. "When you are making cheap pianos to sell, you are going to cut corners. Those pianos were never put together properly."..

But there is one market where the piano is booming - China.  Around 300,000 pianos were made in big factories in China last year, as well as a large share of the world's piano parts for repairs...

Because of the tension in the strings, it is dangerous to dismantle a piano if you don't know what you are doing - and a slow task if you do.  Loosening the strings, and separating the wood from the metal takes around 10 hours, says Hirschfelder. If a piano has really been neglected it might have attracted rats or mice, who like to eat the animal glue used to hold it together and nuzzle up to the felt, meaning that hantavirus - a deadly disease spread by rodents - is a danger.

The keys are made of ebony and ivory, which he has seen made into jewellery, artwork - even exclusive tiling around swimming pools.
More at the links.


  1. I sure wish someone would give me one of those baby grands.

  2. My friend's mom had a beautiful baby grand in Phoenix. She died, and we could not sell the thing no matter how hard we tried. It needed some work, being 75 years old.

    He ended up selling her house with the piano in it. Who knows what the new homeowners did with it. They might have just tossed it.

    To Kenju... check out Craigslist for areas with large numbers of retirees. When they die their children have no room for the baby grands. So they just want to get them out of the house.

  3. We had to smash my grandmother's baby grand to pieces in order to get it out of the house prior to selling. It too was in questionable - but completely repairable - shape; we just couldn't find anyone who wanted it, for free or to buy. It had been installed in the house when they were building it (1930s) by slinging it in through a gigantic bay window which, after an extensive remodeling in the 70s, no longer exists. It would have broken my grandmother's heart to see it reduced to a pile of rubble - she taught countless children to play at that piano. I can still see her hunched over the keyboard, her ashtray perched next to the music stand, smoke curling around her head while she played softly, always with her eyes closed.

  4. I'll never own another piano. The electrics have become so very good ~ are so much more portable, never fall out of tune and yet are easily tune-able (to match another instrument), sing in almost any voice imaginable, often include impressive accompaniment, AND can digitize your performances for playback or post production.
    I will admit that I am biased. My mother was conned into spending an immoral amount of money on a piano - she was a single mom making 15 dollars an hour and some scumbag at church convinced her that she would be a horrible mother if she neglected to nurture my talent. She could not sell the thing when she wanted/needed to and in the end it ended up being donated to a church when it came time to sell her house.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...