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Are Bluthner pianos from ‘iron curtain’ period poor quality? (Read 2365 times)

Offline creativewriter

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Are Bluthner pianos from ‘iron curtain’ period poor quality?
« on: September 15, 2015, 12:02:04 PM »
Are Bluthner pianos from ‘iron curtain’ period poor quality?

I’m considering buying a mid 1980’s Bluthner model A upright, but after reading the various horror stories around the web about the build quality of Bluthner pianos made during this period I’m having second thoughts.

This particular one is a Mahogany finish with a ‘West German’ made Renner action.

I’m a little concerned as I’ve read lots of horror stories around the internet about the so-called ‘iron curtain’ period in Germany. As most will know, East Germany was ‘nationalised’ in 1972 and the government took control over the Bluthner factory and it is suggested that the parts used to make Bluthner pianos during this period were inferior due to the limitation of parts and the fact that Bluthner had to use whatever materials were available to them and, at the time, East Germany had very limited materials and facilities.

Bluthner pianos made during this time are considered, by many, not ‘real’ Bluthner pianos and only Bluthner pianos made before the second world war or after 2005 are considered ‘proper’ Bluthner pianos. Apparently, it took a few years after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 for Bluthner to get their pre WW2 quality back.

Do I need to worry about ‘questionable’ quality parts in this 1984 model A Bluthner I’m considering purchasing as a used piano, as some piano dealers in the UK are saying they would not touch it with a barge pole i.e. steer well clear of it.

My thoughts are that this particular one from the mid 1980’s has a West German Renner action in it and, if the action is removed, all that’s left is a cabinet, frame and strings so surely it can’t be that bad as most of the moving parts are in the action after all and is it possible that Bluthner of this period would screw up making a cabinet, frame and stringing the thing with strings that they probably didn’t make themselves anyway?

Depending on who, pianists, tuners, dealers, I have spoken to, some have mixed feelings, others say I have nothing to worry about and others say they are total rubbish and not to touch them, but for the most part, people are saying not to touch Bluthner pianos made after WW2 up to the point the Berlin wall came down in 1989, anything in-between during the ‘nationalisation’ period of East Germany is a definite no no.

The particular Bluthner I’m looking at does have some fading to the mahogany finish on the wood strip under the keys, which is noticeable when the lid is closed. This is due to the fact that the previous owner kept the lid up all the time so, when it is closed, it looks dark and new compared to the rest of the wood. I know fading and cracked varnish was an issue for, not only Bluthner, but many other German piano makers during the 1980’s, unlike the Japanese, who’d mastered the finishing process. There is no cracked varnish on this one I’m entertaining, just fading. I’m worried there might be tons of other issues that could run into thousands of pounds to fix if/when they go wrong.

Of course, I could just play safe and get a boring/nothing special Yamaha U3 with it’s bright/harsh sound and sleep easy.

I’d really appreciate your thoughts on this subject.

Offline indianajo

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Re: Are Bluthner pianos from ‘iron curtain’ period poor quality?
«Reply #1 on: September 15, 2015, 12:57:40 PM »
With a Renner action, I'd say let your ear be your guide.  That particular unit might have lucked out an gotten a superior soundboard, or maybe not.  Do give it a good look for cracks, of course.  But give it a listen, after 20 years the aging of the wood will have slowed somewhat. 
We have here a plethora of 2 grades of Baldwin piano, the "Acrosonic" and the "Hamilton" .  Even at 50 years of age the Acrosonics are drawing 3X the price ($600 instead of $200) due IMHO to the superior tone, which has something to do with the soundboard perhaps.  Probably the factory threw a lot of potential soundboards away to get the excellent ones that went into the Acrosonics. 
So your Bluthner may have lucked out and gotten superior wood, or maybe it is generic stuff that should have become plywood.  The thing about communist production, numbers produced counted, not any sort of quality.  So output quality may have been extremely variable in the communist period.  There might have been some of the same craftsmen there as before the war, but what material they had to work with would have been hit and miss. 
As far as it goes, I detest the sound of the Yamaha consoles around here.  I don't find them bright at all, dull and boring monotones is how I would describe them. They produce hardly any ping either .    Of course I've got 1950's Baldwin Acrosonics and my own ultra-bright 1982 Sohmer 39 console to compare them too. 

Offline silverwoodpianos

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Re: Are Bluthner pianos from ‘iron curtain’ period poor quality?
«Reply #2 on: September 16, 2015, 01:36:19 PM »

Every instrument is an individual case and must be judged on its own merits.

Typical of some UK dealers running off at the mouth and generalizing about instruments they have not seen nor inspected at any time.

It is clear from the original posting and the further generalizations found within that the Kool-Aid served up by the dealers has been consumed.

If you want opinions on instruments it is best to speak with a long time technician such as myself or another.

The Renner was fitted to the Blüthner instruments that came to the west. The instruments that remained behind the curtain had another mechanic fitted, usually the Fleming action.

Have the piano inspected by a technician. Make sure the tech is an independent and does not work for the dealers that appear to have an unending desire to demonstrate their ignorance and foolishness.
Dan Silverwood
 www.silverwoodpianos.com
http://silverwoodpianos.blogspot.com/

If you think it's is expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.

Offline creativewriter

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Re: Are Bluthner pianos from ‘iron curtain’ period poor quality?
«Reply #3 on: September 16, 2015, 03:02:21 PM »
Great answer, silverwood. Can I ask you, the Bluthner I'm thinking of buying was made in 1984 and is all original i.e. strings, hammers, felts etc. I've heard that pianos generally need a major overhaul i.e. change of strings, hammers, dampers etc every 30 years. That would mean that all this work will probably need doing on this Bluthner, or is this not the case?

Offline silverwoodpianos

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Re: Are Bluthner pianos from ‘iron curtain’ period poor quality?
«Reply #4 on: September 16, 2015, 04:10:25 PM »
Great answer, silverwood. Can I ask you, the Bluthner I'm thinking of buying was made in 1984 and is all original i.e. strings, hammers, felts etc. I've heard that pianos generally need a major overhaul i.e. change of strings, hammers, dampers etc every 30 years. That would mean that all this work will probably need doing on this Bluthner, or is this not the case?

That is the unknown as I am unable to view or inspect the instrument in question.

Typically and very generally speaking GRAND PIANOS should have replacement parts as a consideration beginning at yr. 35. Unless the instrument is being used professionally or for a concert venue then the majority of the time this kind of work is not completed for the average layman ownership.

A good example of this is look at all of the vintage uprights you can find that are more than 50 years of age all with the original parts.

 Moreover look at all of the vintage grands you can find in the identical condition.

As mentioned previously hire a good technician to assist you with the decision on any used good. I would not encourage you to have a tech look at every piano you find because that will begin to run into considerable funding and quickly.

Short list 3 pianos that you like the tone of and you find the action agreeable to your style of play.

Forget names, because you can’t hear and play a name. Then have the technician inspect and appraise each instrument; what it will require immediately and into the future.

For the Blüthner I cannot give you a definitive answer but the technician you hire to inspect will.

Just keep in mind that in the tech and manufacture side of the industry uprights are considered Volkswagens and grand are Ferraris.  Uprights are the work horses…..

Most just drive the Volks the way it is, but with the Ferrari you have to tweak the thing regularly.

Best of luck,
Dan Silverwood
 www.silverwoodpianos.com
http://silverwoodpianos.blogspot.com/

If you think it's is expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.