One of the most common questions that people ask, especially when considering either purchasing their first piano or upgrading their current digital piano to an acoustic instrument is: How long will an acoustic instrument last?
Following on from our guide on how long digital pianos typically last, we decided to do the same review from the point of an acoustic piano, outline the pros, cons and what kind of maintenance may be required during the lifespan of an acoustic piano.
When we often speak about acoustic pianos, we typically refer to them as being infinitely repairable. This is an interesting concept to get your head around when you first hear it and is one of the largest pros that acoustic pianos have over digital instruments.
What we mean by this is that as acoustic pianos are entirely made from natural materials such as woods, felts, leather loops and metal strings, almost any part of the instrument can be replaced or repaired by a piano technician or refurbisher. This is unlike a digital piano, whereby once the motherboard has stopped being produced, or the various electrical components stop working, if there is no alternative, the instrument simply will not work.
Of course, the caveat to this is when it is financially viable and worthwhile to repair an acoustic piano. Whilst basic maintenance may only cost around £100 and be done at the same time as a yearly tuning, for those looking to fully refurbish a piano, this can easily cost up to £1000-£10,000 depending on what works need doing. If this is the case then it is almost always advised to simply find a new acoustic piano unless you can justify the emotional attachment to the instrument.
Why Acoustic Over Digital?
Almost any seasoned pianist will agree that the touch and feel of an acoustic piano is superior to that of a digital piano. This is ultimately because digital pianos are always aiming to replicate the feel of an acoustic instrument so even with the most sophisticated of technologies, they have not been able to match or surpass the real thing.
Of course, that is not to say that digital pianos do not have their place and there are those who think a digital piano may be more appropriate, particularly those concerned with either budget, space or have major noise concerns (although even this can be overcome with an acoustic piano silent system.)
How Long Do Acoustic Pianos Last?
As we have expressed already, we personally believe that acoustic pianos are technically ‘infinitely repairable’ and with the exception of very particular parts, an entire acoustic piano can be repaired and replaced if needed. From the soundboard, the hammers, the polish, even the key tops, it is not impossible to replace any of these parts, they just come at a cost and it is up to you to decide if that cost can be warranted.
We often refer to acoustic pianos more akin to pets than instruments. They almost have a life, soul and energy about them that few other instruments do. For many, they feel as though their instrument has its own personality and charisma that helps make it unique. For this reason, they often generate an enormous amount of emotional value and people are often far less likely to want to see them being thrown away and are happier to pay for refurbishment works. We have even seen plenty of wonderful sentimental instruments put to fantastic use via upcycling projects!
Unlike digital pianos that do have a bit more of a fixed built in shelf life between 10-20 years or so, it is far harder to determine the lifespan of an acoustic piano as there are a variety of factors. Refurbishment works often come at various stages of an acoustic piano’s life, but these numbers dramatically vary based on where the piano is being stored, how frequently it is played or how often it is serviced.
As a rough guideline though, we believe that acoustic pianos can easily last up to (and over) 100+ years with the correct maintenance. It is not uncommon to come across pianos that were made in the late 1800s that are still in perfect working order. That being said, if you are considering purchasing an instrument this old from the likes of Facebook or a secondhand selling site, be sure to read our guide first!
As a general rule of thumb a piano will typically need some minor refurbishment works when it is around 50-65 years old. This will come in the form of a few things, but is typically either:
1) The hammers need refelting: Overtime after hitting the strings after hundreds of thousands of notes, the wool will compress and naturally stiffen. This can be prevented early and prolonged by a technician via shaving or ‘refluffing’ the wool, but will eventually need replacing.
2) The loops need replacing: The loops are found under the hammer on an acoustic piano and are a crucial part of the mechanism as they are what forces the hammer to return after a key has been struck. These loops are typically made from a natural leather and over time, can snap or naturally deteriorate. This typically happens around the 50-60 year mark and is the most common issue we typically see on pianos such as old Reconditioned Yamaha U-Series models from the 1970s or 1980s.
3) String Snapping: Piano strings are different to the likes of a guitar string that typically need replacing after a few months. Because they are so much thicker and put under so much more tension, piano strings are built to last decades. Of course over time and if they are not maintained correctly, if these strings are suddenly put under new tension, they may snap.
Whilst swapping a piano string may sound and seem rather straightforward, the issue predominantly comes from the other string, particularly if the snapped string was in the bass end of the piano as more tension will have been placed on the other strings, which can in turn also damage them. The best course of action here is to ensure your piano is tuned every 6-12 months, this will allow the piano to adjust to its new tension and be constantly maintained in line with the instrument. Leaving it for 2-3+ years makes the string more likely to snap when it is tuned, or prevent the instrument from being able to be tuned to standard concert pitch.
How To Extend The Life Of Your Acoustic Piano.
As we mentioned, acoustic pianos are a little more like pets than you may think, with the exception that they don’t need walking or feeding…All they do need is a little TLC every so often. We generally recommend that for any acoustic piano, you should have a technician visit every 6-12 months depending on how much the piano is played. For instruments that are used almost daily and played for a few hours a day, we would learn more towards the 6 month mark.
Getting your piano tuned is also the perfect time to help fix or put in preventative measures to help prevent future restoration works being required - A stitch in time saves nine after all! For example during your visit your technician will likely also review other aspects of your piano, such as the dampers, string condition and hammer response. If caught in time, these things can all be reviewed well in advance of them breaking and can likely save you a lot of money in the process.
Buying Acoustic Pianos Online
One final point to make before continuing is that of buying second hand acoustic pianos from the likes of Facebook Marketplace, Ebay or some other third party site. Generally speaking, we would almost always avoid these pianos, especially if they are being given away for free.
We have had a number of clients asking us for advise on secondhand acoustic pianos they have brought online, only to find they have broken within a few months and often have an enormous restoration cost. Before making any decision on an online instrument, read our guide to buying secondhand pianos, or visit the piano with an independent piano technician, who will advise you on whether or not this is the right instrument for you. Alternatively, contact your local piano dealer to see if they have a piano that may better suit your requirements.
So there you have it! A quick insight into the world of acoustic pianos and the things to know before investing in one, if you would like to learn more about acoustic pianos for your home, contact our experts today or visit our showroom to learn more!