Piano Buying Guide
Grantham Piano Services offers
advice on buying your piano.
A family company, established in 1972.
I’m Buying a Piano – Help!
John from Grantham Piano Services, shares his advice on buying a piano, the sort of piano you need, its cost, the choice between acoustic and digital, together with an extensive list of piano makes and his own personal opinion on the more popular piano makes, what to buy and what to avoid.
If you think you have found the right piano for you but are unsure whether it’s a good piano or you are concerned about its internal condition, why not have it inspected by John who will give the piano a full appraisal. For a fee, he will visit the vendor and give the piano a thorough internal and external workout! This could potentially save you a lot of money in the future. The more money you are spending, the more this makes sense and if the vendor refuses an inspection, you would have to ask why? Get in contact with John.
Piano Buying Guide FAQs
The general advice here is: in a room that is stable in terms of humidity and temperature. Pianos hate change, rapid temperature and humidity change plays havoc with a pianos tuning, pianos are based on a wooden frame, so they expand and contract according to the air around them, so, if that is constantly changing, so is your piano and they don’t like it.
What sort of piano do I need?
There are different types of pianos in terms of their construction. The piano has been developed over 300 years to what it is today by trial and error and there are many types of instruments out there that were in the golden age of experimentation. So, the main things you need to bear in mind when buying an upright piano are; Has it got an iron frame? Is it an overstrung piano? Has it got an underdamper system? Is it from a known manufacturer? Once these are ticked off you can move on to the next advice.
I would suggest you also need the best piano you can afford. I’m afraid I don’t hold with the ‘suitable for beginner’ purchase off of a well-known auction site for £1. You will be getting precisely what you paid for, a piano that is probably the most unsuitable for beginner instrument you can think of. I’m not saying you should spend a fortune, far from it, but at least be reasonable about what you are buying. You need it to work, it needs to be even touch across its range, it needs to sound reasonably in tune when you see it (it shows the owner has made effort to keep it in good order) it needs to make a nice sound and if it looks the part as well, it may be a good piano to buy! Depending on the price of the piano, I would always recommend a technician like myself to visit the piano to assess its suitability and condition. Many problems lurk beneath the pristine casework of even the finest piano and you are sometimes spending a lot of money, so get it looked at! It may save you a lot of money.
How much will that cost you?
Well, that depends on your view of what a piano costs and how much you want to spend! You can spend well over £100,000 on a Steinway grand piano if you wish, but lets give some sensible advice here…
We’ll quantify this by saying there are always bargains to be had in most secondhand markets, but with pianos, most people have no idea what they are buying, so here are some generalisations.
Most pianos up to £500 will be of an older type, in varying stages of decay, nearly always needing something doing to them. This is the most popular area for beginner pianos and the easiest price range to get burnt. Buyer beware and try to do a little homework, have a look at my piano list for an idea of quality, have a look at the piano in person (never buy blind) and give someone like myself a ring to get some insider knowledge.
The next price range is the £500 – £1500 pianos. Still in the secondhand pianos, this price range covers a multitude of ages, conditions styles and qualities. It was easily the most popular price band when I was selling pianos and it included modern uprights, rebuilt 1960’s/70’s pianos with some action work, older quality pianos with some more extensive works and the odd grand piano. It would be the price point that most people would look to as their ‘second’ piano, a move up from the old banger to something that you can really get on with, up to or beyond the grade 5 level.
From £1500 – £3000. In this price range you should get some pretty decent pianos. It covers good quality modern uprights, things like Kemble’s and Knight’s, secondhand, young Japanese pianos like Atlas and Apollo and the odd Kawai or Yamaha if you’re lucky, extensively rebuilt older English and German pianos and we start to see the cheaper end of the new pianos from China, pianos like Bentley, Waldstein, Steinhoven and lots of pianos with ‘Stein’ in the name!
£3000+ the choice is now extensive. Higher end Chinese uprights (which can be very good, we sold the Hailun brand which are excellent value for money) Yamaha’s, new and secondhand (a secondhand Yamaha U3 in good order is a great piano) Kawai, new and secondhand, the K-300, K-500 and K-600 are all superb instruments at their price points. There are also high quality rebuilds in this price range, Steinway’s, Bechstein’s, Bluthner’s, generally rebuilt to a greater or lesser degree, depending upon age and wear.
£10,000+ the domain of the high-quality piano. There aren’t many makers left in this range, they are generally German, names like Seiler, Grotrian Steinway, Bluthner, Steinway. But you can also find the hand built Yamaha pianos here, which are superb and the hybrid acoustic digital pianos from Kawai and Yamaha, which are becoming a very attractive solution for the serious piano player who likes to practice late on into the night and export compositions to computer (another world, one that I’m quite familiar with if advice is needed) In any of these price ranges, I would always stress the importance of getting to know any piano you are interested in personally. Play the piano, feel the touch, really dig into it. You will be living with this instrument for a long time, so make sure it’s the one for you, it is an expensive mistake to buy the wrong one, take your time… Obviously, I can give you any help you need in this quest, I have inspected many pianos for people over the years and can advise over the phone or in person if requested, advising on condition and quality etc.
Acoustic or digital?
That is a question I’ve been having to answer throughout my career, never to my own satisfaction! Let’s get some things out of the way right away…NOTHING sounds or feels the same as a good quality acoustic piano…. the interaction of the strings, the dynamic of the tone, the decay of the notes, the control of the tonality through your fingers, the musical performance, these things just aren’t done well on digitals at all. Even an older acoustic piano in good condition is still preferable to me than most digitals.
Can learn the piano to a high standard on a cheap digital?
You can’t, you just can’t, believe me. The amount of times I’ve heard people say that their piano teacher played their Steinbechdorfer keyboard and it sounded ‘amazing’ therefore I can play like that with enough time, no, no and thrice no…Once you have learned the proper technique for playing, you can play anything with keys and make it sound amazing, but you will never get there if you are studying on a keyboard because the technique you are learning is only good for a keyboard, not a piano and unfortunately keyboard skills do not translate well to the piano, but piano skills translate to anything with keys.
Now we’ve got that digitals aren’t as good as the real thing out the way, in the digital pianos defence, they do some things very well. I, for instance, would much rather someone start the piano on a digital, than on an old banger of a piano, why? Because they are generally nice and new and even across the entire range of the keyboard (everything works!) Most digital pianos from the main manufacturers sound like a reasonable interpretation of a piano to most people not familiar with the real thing. They offer facilities that real pianos do not offer, like, headphones can be used for quite practice, they never go out of tune, there are usually different voices on the digital that can be experimented on, which can be fun and keep up the interest, you can generally record your performance to play back instantly, which can be useful and they can be put in upstairs rooms easily or can even be portable if you do outside performances. There are many other facilities too numerous to mention and they keep getting better and better.
I generally used to sell digitals to beginners, older folk looking for something more portable, or occasional piano players that didn’t fancy the maintenance of a proper piano. Funnily enough, most of the digital pianos that I did sell were in the higher price bracket (£1500 – 3000) these instruments are quite serious pianos indeed, the touch on the Kawai CA range in particular was/is excellent.
But, I will still maintain, that once a reasonable standard is reached, say, grade 5 ABRSM, one really should be thinking about upgrading to an acoustic piano for maximum benefits in regards to technique etc.
Here I shall give a quick appraisal of the most common pianos that you may come across in the U.K. maybe you are interested in buying a second-hand or a new piano and it may be useful. Please note that these are my opinions only and are based only on piano makes that I have actually seen, tuned, serviced or rebuilt. I am not going to discuss every maker in the world ever, there are other publications for that, mine is more for the more common pianos, this also includes some information about local makes that are so often overlooked in most publications or web based searches and may well be more useful as you are quite likely to come across these if you are based in or around the Plymouth area.
Piano Makes in alphabetical order
An American parent company, the Aeolian company were a huge player in the world piano market. They had an American factory, a German one and one in the UK. The majority of Aeolians that you see here are obviously the UK built ones, most of them are overstrung pianos from the 1920’s in mahogany cases. They are reasonable quality instruments; they don’t really excel in any department but do well as a whole. Generally, they have stood the test of time but most are getting on a bit now. I see quite a lot of these on my tuning round and they are generally a welcome sight.
Builders of both grands and uprights, they produced straight strung as well as overstrung pianos. Medium quality English pianos.
Most of these I’ve come across are Japanese pianos, not up to Yamaha quality, but not Yamaha prices either! We used to sell imported large uprights from the 1970’s and 80’s, nearly always in black cases. Good workhorse pianos.
Similar to the Atlas pianos, most of these I’ve seen are large imported second-hand pianos from Japan, I always favoured the Atlas over the Apollo, but maybe that’s just to do with the casework on the Apollo generally being more fancy. Good pianos though.
One of the most well-known American piano companies, I however, rarely see them here. Most of the ones I do see are the 1970’s type ‘console’ piano in a very deep bureau type casework. Generally, well made but small pianos with a very bright and limited tone.
Barratt & Robinson
English piano makers started production in 1880. They have made every type of piano through the ages, grands, uprights, straight strung’s, overstrung’s and in good numbers, so there is every chance of coming across one. Their 1970’s uprights used the ‘Kastner-Wehlau floating action which used plastic inserts in the flange assemblies. These are a major bugbear as they get older as they begin to ‘knock’. There is generally no easy cure for this, so beware!
German quality piano maker covering all types of piano, grands, straight strung uprights (which, although only straight strungs, were not bad pianos at all) and overstrung uprights. Of all the German manufacturers that are world renowned, the Bechstein piano is not my most well regarded. As a piano tuner and rebuilder I have always found them difficult if not impossible to tune accurately due to the phenomenon of ‘false beats’ in the treble sections equally present on both grand and uprights. There are exceptions though, their higher end Model 11 uprights from the 1930’s are wonderful pianos, as are the grands of the same era. Post war they have had their troubles including a government buyout, but these days they seem to be back on form and producing some world class instruments. Their W. Hoffman and Bechstein upright series pianos built in Czechoslovakia are particularly good value for a high spec piano.
English piano maker from the 1930’s until relatively recently building uprights as well as grands (their grands are nowhere near as plentiful as the uprights, which seem to be everywhere!) you see the occasional 1930’s one, but the most plentiful is the Bentley ‘Concorde’. Small, inoffensive, simple and underwhelming pianos, they are plentiful in supply and I have seen thousands of them! Reasonable medium tone and touch make them a favourite starter/intermediate piano. Can be good value too.
English piano maker started manufacturing in 1888. Most of these I see are average at best, no two seem the same. Most of them are mahogany cased traditional pianos, may be good enough as a cheap ‘n’ cheerful piano these days.
Although I have only seen a few of these and mostly older instruments, they are a German quality instrument, well worthy of consideration should you come across one.
Wonderful quality German pianos, always worthy of rebuilding, still with parts available that can make an almost new piano out of an old one. Grands and uprights were made, although it is the grands that you see most often, especially the 6ft3in boudoir grand. Great to work on, great to tune, always good news. They had a quality wobble post war before reunification with some questionable quality pianos (in comparison to the pre-war years) but they are now back in original family ownership and are making pianos albeit in much smaller numbers. A laid-back mellow tone makes these a lovely piano for homes and in the professional circles a piano well suited to accompaniment. Generally, too light in the touch for concert pianists, but very lovely to play nonetheless. Highly recommended.
French piano maker from Paris. Most of the pianos I see are from the late 1800’s, wooden framed and although well-built be the standards of the day, are now way off the pace.
Wonderful Austrian piano maker. Superb quality, superb touch, superb tone. Not plentiful in the UK and have a mystical allure about them because of their scarcity. Seriously expensive to buy, but if you can afford one, a piano to cherish forever. I like them!
The first instrument I ever restored when I was sweet 16 at piano college! It was not a great piano then and I doubt it has improved since…a very average piano.
English piano maker with very nice case works but not particularly nice actions. Quite often mistaken for John Broadwood pianos, but very different pianos. They built both uprights and grands and most that you will see are now getting old.
John Broadwood & Sons
One of the oldest piano makers in the world, their legacy cannot be questioned. They built harpsichords and square pianos and fortepianos and grand pianos and uprights starting production in 1775 and the name still exists today. As a testament to their quality you can still come across pianos from the 1800’s today that are still playable (which makes buying one quite tricky…just how old is this piano I’m looking at?)
Although they made some major improvements to the instrument over their tenure, they were never considered a world class quality piano, the German instruments were always considered superior in tonality. They were out of business by the late 1920’s and the name continued to be seen on Challen pianos, which were not as good as the Broadwood. By the 1970s they were being made by Kemble pianos and in the 1990’s and beyond there were a number of manufacturers using the name, which makes judging a Broadwood interesting! The question will be ‘well, just who made this piano?’
Polish piano maker also makes Legnica. Most of these you see are from the 1990’s. we used to sell them as a cheap piano. All uprights, lots of wooden caseworks, not great quality but may be worthy of consideration if the price is right. Their frames have appeared in lots of other makers pianos as a point of interest, including Woodchester pianos.
Massive quantity English piano maker. They made uprights and grands. Established in 1850, the name still survives but the company doesn’t. Good uprights were made in the 1920’s and there is still a plentiful supply in the small ads. Their grands were two tier, baby grand furniture pianos with English ‘Simplex’ type actions (pretty awful now) and a better-quality type grand with a roller action in it and they aren’t too bad.
I’ve seen some of these pianos made in the Far East with good quality actions in them, not bad pianos at all…
English piano maker of both grands and uprights. Their uprights are good steady pianos with a good even overall tone unlike the Challen piano (which they are often confused with) which has a more singing treble.
Collard and Collard
A well-regarded English piano maker of both grands and uprights. One of the earliest piano makers, starting out making square pianos. I used to see lots of Collard grands with rounded sharps at the front (most odd when you are used to the modern piano)
But I haven’t seen a Collard for a long time now (maybe they’ve all gone to the piano shop in the sky?)
English piano maker of uprights and grands. Average quality, popular as school pianos with oak caseworks. Not particularly plentiful in numbers, but some interesting caseworks.
Duck Son & Pinker
Generally straight strung pianos, a cheaply made piano for the masses.
English piano maker of grands and uprights. Although you may come across a traditional 1950s upright, most people’s experience of these pianos is via their ‘Minipiano’ series. There are masses still in circulation from the 1960’s and 70’s. as per its name it squeezed a reasonable tone from a tiny (in height) case by virtue of an action that is dropped below the level of the keyboard. The later pianos are actually quite good as a cheap second-hand piano, but they are a bit of a nightmare to work on as the action is so inaccessible, which makes owning an older one somewhat of a potential financial burden if you get a bad one.
Finnish pianos. I actually have a soft spot for these little unassuming modern upright pianos. Great tone for a small piano, good actions and easy to tune. A good second-hand buy.
An Italian piano maker of very high quality. I have only actually tuned two of these pianos! Both concert grands, so not exactly representative of their entire output, but they were both wonderful quality pianos. It is very difficult to establish your name in a traditional market where your reputation was gained 120 years ago, so hats off to them for achieving such a fine reputation in such a short time.
German piano maker of both grands and uprights. Very well-made high-quality pianos, always a welcome sight in the workshop. If you can find one, they make a fine second-hand buy, although some may be getting on a bit and will be requiring restoration.
Julius Feurich sold the name of Feurich some time ago, so modern Feurich pianos are made in the Far East by Hailun pianos. Nice quality for the price but incomparable to the real deal.
German piano maker pre-war, GDR piano maker post war. The pre-war pianos are really good, I have restored some and they are fine pianos. Post war, not so good, typical East German fayre with suspect action quality.
Fuchs & Moir
There are lots of these small uprights in this area, sold in great numbers in the 80’s and 90’s by Minns Music. Nearly always in wooden cases, their tonality is generally warm or very woolly, but their main issue is the action which used an early version of poor-quality action parts which led to sticky actions. I have lost count of the amount of these things that have needed complete overhauling just to get them to work, not a wise buy.
Goetze & Co
Nice big old German pianos.
Gors & Kallmann
Another piano that seems quite prevalent in this area, lots of them, uprights and grands. What I would call a B grade German piano, but that’s not a bad thing, they are not bad at all, although most are very old now.
One of my favourite piano makers, the model 120 upright I consider to be one of the very best uprights ever made and I have been privileged to work on many of them. There is something very right about the action geometry on this piano that makes it beautiful to play (if in good order of course!)
The grand pianos are not so well considered, but they are still a fine quality piano. You can still get a new Grotrian today, please do it, you deserve it…
A Chinese piano maker, trying to establish a name for themselves using their own name, rather than using a defunct name bought from elsewhere, or a made up name from other makers..introducing the Steinbechdorfer…the greatest ever piano!! Fair play to them. They do actually produce a very fine piano for the money, the HL121 and H-9p models are really worthy of a look, a really good sounding piano for at least half the price of a similarly sized Yamaha. They also build pianos for other makers notably Feurich (Wendl & Lung) and Zimmerman (the Bechstein group)
Built in Europe by the Bechstein group, they are a good quality piano for a reasonable price considering its specification.
An English piano make of reasonable to better quality. Mostly uprights but I have seen some grand pianos. Most of them are pre-war so therefore getting on now.
German piano maker of Uprights and grand pianos. Good quality. A slightly different style to the normal piano makers, Rud-Ibach-Sohn pianos are always a bit quirky, some are very quaint and delicate with ornate caseworks and some are big bruisers of pianos built like tanks. Their uprights can be excellent or very average depending on the model.
Kaps (Ernst Kaps)
Another favourite of mine, but you will only find old Kaps pianos now. German pianos of great quality, very well built with lovely caseworks, especially the burr walnut ones. A great piano to restore.
Japanese piano maker making a vast array of pianos from affordable small uprights right up to the handmade Shigeru series grands, which are amongst the most respected pianos in the world. I was a Kawai main dealer and digital piano reference centre for many years, so know my way around these pianos intimately. Lots of uprights on the second-hand market, imported from Japan with a bewildering number of different models, they are generally a solid buy, being cheaper than the Yamaha pianos, but no lesser in performance. Things really started to stand out with the ‘K’ series pianos introduced around 2000. These pianos K-2, K-3 and upwards used the new ‘Millenium’ action which was a composite action made of ABS Styran with a carbon fibre weave. Strong and light and completely stable, these actions are excellent and all the models using this action can be recommended as a firm used as well as new purchase. The pick of the upright bunch for me is the K-500.
English piano maker of mainly upright pianos started production in 1930. In recent years Kemble had the rights to use a vast array of names on their pianos, they were also part owned by Yamaha and built the ‘P’ series Yamaha pianos that were sold throughout Europe from their state-of-the-art factory in Milton Keynes. Early Kemble pianos were pretty average, the later ones (post 1993) were better, this was because they were actually Yamaha innards with a Kemble casework on the outside. Later models are a good second-hand buy.
Not to be confused with Kemble above. Kimball were an American piano maker. We don’t see many here, but I have seen the odd 1970’s and 80’s ones. Very similar to the Baldwin pianos, they were small spinet type instruments with very bright tones.
One of the best English manufacturers, started production in 1936. Nearly all uprights, I have owned and sold a grand Knight Grand , but I think they are pretty rare. The Knight K-10 is the most common piano you will see, and they are a good piano to buy second-hand. They restore well and use quality parts in their construction with all mahogany braced backs. Try to avoid the bright ones (unless you like that tone) and the later models, once they were being built by Welmar pianos, are not as good as the 1970’s ones.
A special mention for Lindner pianos and a word of warning for anyone who has the misfortune to be considering one of these small, compact, unassuming pianos. Please take my advice and run, far, far away. A so called ‘revolutionary’ piano, they used all plastic actions (including the keys) and lightweight frames with a laminated soundboard (the inside of the soundboard is honeycomb cardboard!)
They break constantly and there are no spares to fix them, please avoid. As a further bit of advice, even whilst they were still in production they were getting a bad reputation, so they started using different names on the front. I have seen them also called ‘Cameo”. You have been warned!
Richard Lipp and Son are a German quality piano maker. Most of the Lipp pianos I see are elderly now, from the 1920’s era.
Marshall & Rose
Good quality English piano maker, they made some fine upright pianos in the 1920’s era. They also made grands, but I have not been particularly impressed by these.
Monington & Weston
English piano maker. I see a lot of school pianos from this company, there are also a lot of small modern uprights made by them, which are not particularly inspiring.
German maker, latterly East German and recently made by Perzina in Yantai, China. I have visited the Yantai factory and was impressed by their consistency even though their pianos are made largely by manual labour rather than the robotic labour of the more modern piano factories. We used to sell these pianos new and they were good value for money using mostly European parts in their manufacture.
Made in Czechoslovakia, they are the biggest European volume maker of pianos. More recently, their grand pianos have had a big uplift in quality using Renner actions and as such they are producing a very nice piano for the money. Most of the ones you see however will be from the 70’s and 80’s. These vary in quality and tone but, on the whole, they tend to have a mellow tone with some pretty dodgy looking caseworks!
French quality piano maker widely cited as Chopin’s favourite, although I think the pianos he played were somewhat different from the piano of today! No longer in production, like the majority of piano makers mentioned here. I am more likely to come across a grand than an upright which is quite unusual.
George Rogers & Sons were an English piano maker. They made some pretty decent pianos, some of their 1920’s large upright pianos really were very nice indeed. They made a grand piano who’s frame was so over engineered, it was said it could withstand a 30 ton strain (most grand frames have to withstand strain of between 15 – 20 tons as a constant) I haven’t seen a Rogers on my tuning rounds for quite a while.
Korean piano maker. Builder of mass-produced good value grand and upright pianos. Most of the time you would, however, not realise you were playing on one as they rarely have the Samick name on them in the UK. I have seen a variety of names on these pianos but the most often seen name in this area is Reid-Sohn. This is the name put on by Reids pianos in London and you will find these pianos in great numbers. Not a bad piano at all and a good second-hand buy.
German piano maker. Most of these I see are grand pianos, but the uprights are a very nicely made piano. In the modern era the name briefly found its way onto other piano makes pianos, much to the chagrin of Elaine Schiedmayer, the owner of the name. I have seen and sold a modern Schiedmayer made by Kawai, just to make life confusing. It was a good piano though…
Not to be confused with Schiedmayer, but I get confused because the pianos are so similar! Again, I have seen more grands than uprights and have restored many of them as they make a nice piano.
German piano maker of grands and uprights, still in production. Very nice pianos, well made with Renner actions and high quality strung backs. Not prolific in the UK as they are a costly piano.
Steinway & Sons
Little known American piano maker! (Joke). They also have a factory in Hamburg which are the pianos that we generally come across. I did once hear an anecdote that the American factory build the best pianos in the world, but the Hamburg factory build Steinway’s.
There’s very little to say about Steinway pianos that hasn’t already been said, wonderful quality, superb tone and touch, their pianos grace the most prestigious concert halls in the world. For all the plaudits and justified praise, their uprights are not so well regarded however and as such, you rarely see them. For such an expensive and premium instrument, I am always amazed at just how many there are in people’s homes, I see more Steinway grands than Kawai’s for example. Always worth restoring and always worth considering second-hand (if you can afford it)
Strohmenger & Sons
Despite the Germanic nature of the name, these pianos are actually English. Most of the ones I see are from the 1900-1930 era and are decent pianos, getting old now though.
Not a make that you see a lot of, but I thought they should get a mention as we sold quite a few of them as second-hand pianos, imported from Japan. They are Japanese and are of good quality. I thought they were in the same ballpark as Yamaha, but without the bright tone of the Yamaha.
Originally an American maker, latterly made by Young Chang pianos of Korea. We used to sell these as a slightly cheaper piano than the Young Chang and despite the Young Chang being the better specified piano, the Weber would sell well, mainly I think because of the more Germanic name.
Nice quality English piano, about the best we had in the modern era of piano making. More known for their uprights, they make a fine second-hand buy from anywhere in their production cycle. No longer trading.
Japanese volume piano maker. A mass of different products, uprights, grands, digital, entry level products up to the best pianos in the world. They also produce pianos from different factories around the world, but the Japanese ones are the most renowned. A whole host of second-hand imported pianos are available from most piano shops in the country, so you will be spoiled for choice. The favourites are always the ‘U’ series pianos. U1 and U3 are the most popular choices, but don’t forget the U2, its a bit different in the casework and has a very good tone but is much rarer. I have sold and tune so many of these pianos and are a great quality, durable piano for the price. I am not so keen on the Chinese built ‘B’ series pianos as I feel the Kawai pianos offer a better quality for the price, but, at that end of the market, they offer good value.
Korean piano maker. Mass producer of reasonable pianos with a wide range of products and finishes. Grands and uprights. Also made Weber pianos.
English piano maker. Most of the Zender’s I see are small modern uprights of the 60’s and 70’s. but by far and away the most popular models are the little six octave pianos that they produced in wooden caseworks. I can’t really praise these instruments on any level other than them being not bad for their size. They sold in big numbers so you may well come across one of these on the second-hand market.
Plymouth Piano Makes You May Come Across
Most piano shops in the country in the ‘golden age’ of pianos 1900 – 1930, when the piano was at the height of its popularity, sold many brands of pianos at all price points. It worked like this..at the top were the quality German pianos, Steinway, Bechstein, Bluthner. Then came the lesser quality German marques, Schiedmayer, Gors & Kallman, Schimmell. Then came the English pianos, John Broadwood & Sons, J. Brinsmead etc. Challen, Chappell, Sir Herbert Marshall & Rose. Then came the lesser quality English pianos, Danemann, Hopkinson, Brasted. Then came the English pianos with transfer names on them, things like Berry, Ajello, Amyl, Graham, Normelle etc.
Lastly and at the bottom of the quality pile was the so called ‘own brand’ pianos, generally with the shops name on them. These were cheaply made pianos, nearly always straight strung and normally bought by the customers with finance over a five-year period. They served a purpose, as the piano was the ‘must have’ purchase of the time and hundreds of thousands were sold in every city in the UK.
Each area had its own brands, unique to their geography. They were not great pianos when they were sold and now a hundred years have gone by, so you can imagine the state they are in! Because they were cheap, there were more sold than expensive pianos, so, unfortunately for you, there are still lots of them around. Here is a brief comment on the most common ones in this area.
Hocking of Devonport
Somewhat unkindly, one customer of mine used to call her piano my ‘Shocking Hocking” and it seems to have stuck. Nearly always straight strung.
Moon & Son
The largest piano and music shop in Plymouth pre-war, they had branches in Plymouth, Exeter and Truro. There are masses of Moon pianos out there, still. Many sit unloved as family heirlooms. They weren’t the best pianos of the four here and they were nearly always straight strung uprights. But there were a few exceptions I’ve seen in the shape of imported German overstrung pianos circa .1900 in Walnut cases. These were actually not bad! They also had some 1920’s overstrung upright pianos with Moon names on as well which were ok.
These were about the worst of the makers here, very poor pianos.
Parker and Smith
Similar to the P.A. Norman, very basic pianos.
Turner and Philips
Turner and Philips were the quality piano seller in Plymouth and as such even their cheapest transfer named piano was better than the others. If you are unfortunate enough to be considering one of these marques, this one is the best one of the worst (if you see what I mean) still mostly straight strung though.
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