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  • Writer's pictureelizabethhoenig

Starck restoration, part 1

Follow along as a vintage piano gets a second lease on life! Join me for the step-by-step details as I rebuild and restore this beautiful 1915 Starck upright.

The first thing you should know about me is that I am a sucker for a vintage upright piano. I learned how to play on one similar to this as a child. My parents bought it from friends of theirs for $25.00. It was a great piano - solid and sturdy. And it made great music, even though I don't think it was ever tuned while we owned it. However, most piano rebuilders aren't interested in restoring uprights because it is difficult to turn a profit on them. They tend to stick to working on Steinway, Mason & Hamlin, and other high-quality grands because of the profit margin they provide. As a result, very few vintage uprights are saved for restoration.

The second thing you should know about me is that I'm not like most rebuilders. While it's true that you have to be at least a little bit on the weird side to go into this profession, it seems I have been blessed (or perhaps cursed) with an extra dose of crazy. I can hardly bear that so many of these handcrafted instruments - works of art, IMHO - end up in the landfill because they are deemed not worth keeping and too expensive to restore. It's true that not every piano can or should be saved. But why not try to save the ones we can and should?

Not every piano technician/rebuilder agrees with me and I know that I'm in the minority on this issue. The way I see it is that pianos aren't made the way they used to be a century ago. In fact, pianos aren't even made out of wood anymore! You simply can't buy a brand new piano with a beautiful mahogany veneer and delicate scroll work. Modern pianos are made out of MDF hidden underneath layers of black lacquer or polyester. Sure, they're sleek and shiny and fun to play. And I admit that these pianos can be quality instruments, make beautiful music, and look great sitting on a stage in the spotlight, but I personally wouldn't want one for my home. A piano is so much more than just an instrument. It's also a piece of furniture. A fixture in a home. A conversation piece. An heirloom.

"Hey, Jim, take a look at this brand new $35,000 piano I just bought. Made in Asia out of solid MDF!" No, thanks. I'm not interested in impressing Jim or anyone else, but I will admit that I get a certain amount of joy and satisfaction out of hearing someone say, "Wow, they sure don't make them like this anymore!" Whose heartstrings remain untugged when someone says, "This was my grandmother's piano. Whenever I play it, I think of her"? *sigh*

Who knows? I might join the ranks of the anti-uprights after all is said and done. We shall see. In the meantime, I hope you'll join me on the journey to breathe new life into this piano - an instrument that has been making music for over a century. My goal is for it to keep making beautiful sounds for another hundred years or more.

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