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Piano Adventures!

This past week brought a nearly insurmountable challenge to help a 90-year old sell her 7-foot Baldwin grand piano. Sight unseen, I’d enlisted a volunteer effort while facing a built-in pressure cooker deadline of 30 days to sale. The owner’s move to Assisted Living could not include a lion’s size instrument.

With less than a trace of optimism, I packed a tripod with an iPhone mount and walked an easy 10 blocks to the location.

Greeted by a craggy, narrow, winding staircase to the first floor apartment, I instantly realized the difficulty of getting a huge grand DOWN to ground level. My hopes dwindled.

The piano, stored in a dark lit room, took up most of its space. And with the lid up, a cast iron plate laden with dust precluded a soundboard assessment, while the music rack had a glaringly missing bolt.

From my preliminary interview with the owner’s daughter, I discovered that the instrument, an SF-10 (1976-77), had resided for twenty-five years in Cleveland, Ohio, one of the least piano friendly areas of the country. Raw, often sub-zero winters alternated with sizzling hot, humid summers that were the norm during my years at the Oberlin Conservatory. (not far from Cleveland) Extreme seasonal fluctuations would normally have adversely affected the “Con pianos,” but for its instituted climate control measures.

I further learned from the owner, that the SF-10 had been moved to Berkeley in 2005, stacking up 13 years in a piano positive environment, though not ameliorating the damage of its previous housing.

Once I sampled the piano, I knew my work was cut out for me.

It was plainly obvious that the instrument needed re-stringing and a new set of hammers. Even with its big projecting sound and long chord decay, etc., I could not create a varied palette of dynamics. Regulation-wise, it was a bumpy ride over the 88s. Some notes glaringly popped out while others spoke barely in a whisper. Given this less than ideal condition, the only way to showcase it on video, was to dig into the keys at a forte (loud) level and exaggerate its projection. (In truth, however, the strings were shot, with an obviously “tubby” bass.)

Following a brief recording session, I committed myself to in-depth research of this model by first cruising you tube postings, Googling the model, and logging-in at Piano World.com, With a stroke of luck, I stumbled upon a thread encircling a Baldwin SF-10 (1986) that had been advertised for $64,000, but properly assessed by a technician at $14,000.

Deep into this thread, I noted the purchase of this piano, (SF-10, 1986) by “Allan” a PW member. Dead center in the thread, the new owner linked to his own you tube post, showcasing the piano. With original strings and hammers, the instrument soared to ecstatic heights in the hands of “Allan,” who chose not to have his head filmed, just his arms down to fingers.

As impressed as I was with his newly acquired 1986 model, I remained unconvinced that the 1976-77 Baldwin in Berkeley would sell, mostly due to its large size, ill-playing condition, and its emblem not having name recognition. While the old Baldwins were in the league of its towering competitors, the company suffered some notably shaky years.

Meanwhile as my research continued, I’d come upon Robert Estrin’s Living Pianos You Tube Channel which often featured Baldwins, including the SF-10, and the larger concert size SD-10. Estrin had boasted to viewers about owning an SF-10, swearing to its excellence.

Given the Baldwin spotlight, it made sense to connect up with Estrin and send off the video I’d uploaded to you tube. (Unlisted)

At this juncture, Living Pianos vied for the piano, while “Allan” did the same after seeing my Piano World post where I mentioned having played a Baldwin SF-10 housed in Berkeley that was up for sale. Ironically, Allan had a “friend” looking for this model and wanted to ascertain my opinion of the one I tried. His contact had a child prodigy daughter who needed a piano, and admired an SF-10 her teacher owned. Allan emphasized that the family’s budget was low.

To cut a long story short, Good Samaritan Allan became the intermediary in a potential sale of the Berkeley Baldwin, as he competed with Estrin (in Santa Ana) who seemed to want the piano in ratio to his escalated emailings to me, and to the seller.

Allan meant business when drove nearly 100 miles to Berkeley, sampled the piano and made an offer that factored in the cost of rebuilding. At that point, Estrin, who knew the piano only from my you tube video, would not commit to a buy-out or consignment without a “14 day” on site evaluation. The piano might be sent back at the seller’s expense. (Later he reduced the waiting time.)

After much back and forth over just a few days, Allan upped his offer, and claimed the piano as the seller was under time pressure, and could not equivocate further.

To celebrate the sale, I met up with Allan in Berkeley right after he’d packed the Baldwin action into his van, bringing along two piano-loving pals.

Along with his two starstruck piano friends we four took a jaunt over to DC Pianos in Berkeley to test what was rumored to be a magnificent 9 foot Steinway concert grand, 1936, that had original strings, and hammers installed in the 1990’s.

This time I was privileged to hear Allan play this treasure in person with his head attached to his body, though I filmed him from his arms down in respect for his “camera shy” wishes.

The incredible-sounding Steinway grand piano priced at $35,000 will undergo rebuilding, hopefully preserving its original character.

Finally, amidst this past week’s piano adventures, I’m greatly relieved that the Baldwin SF-10 will be going to a family who will properly maintain it.

For my part, I’m gratified that the deadline to sale was met, and the piano, once resuscitated, will enjoy a new lease on life.
***
P.S. Allan will keep me updated on the SF-10 rebuilding process. He promises to send a video when the piano work is completed. It will be fascinating to compare the Before and After.

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