So I tune my piano strings once or twice a year, but eventually the strings will wear out and I will need to replace them, right? Well maybe. It turns out that the cost to restring a piano is high, and probably not worth it unless your piano is particularly valuable. In this article we will explore:
- cost of restringing a piano
- how to restring a piano
- how often you should do it
- other repairs you should try first
Cost to Restring a Piano
To restring an entire piano it will cost $1,000 to $10,000 + dollars. An upright might cost $2000 to $4000 to restring, while a baby grand or grand might cost $4000-$10,000. If only certain sections of strings are damaged, then you might not need to restring the whole piano.
I saw one technician offer services for $55 per bass string. With 40-55 bass strings this would still cost $2000 dollars for the bass octaves of a piano alone.
With these prices, you may be better off looking to purchase a new piano unless your current piano is of particularly high value.
How Much do Piano Strings Cost?
Piano strings cost as little as $2 per string, perhaps less if the technician creates the string from piano wire. How much does a set of piano strings cost? You can find sets of piano strings for $250 – $400. Costs vary depending on the quality of string.
If you restring your piano, your bill will be dependent on several factors such as:
- technician experience
- upright vs baby grand vs grand piano
- restringing just a section, or a whole instrument
- going rates in your area
An amateur can successfully restring their own guitar, so why is restringing a piano so expensive? To answer that, let’s explore the process.
How to Restring a Piano
A technician must follow a series of physically challenging steps to restring a piano. David Mann, a technician from lapianotuning.com said that restringing a piano was “one of the most physically challenging tasks I have ever attempted.“
First, the technician needs to expose all the strings of the piano. If it is an upright this means flipping the piano on its back with a dolly and removing the entire front of the instrument, including the keys, action, and panels!
In the following video the technician removed everything but the wooden and metal frames to begin working on the restringing process.
Next, the technician loosens all the strings over several passes. Why? A typical piano holds over 30,000 lbs of pressure in its strings. From basic physics we know that the strings are pulling in a cumulative 30,000 lbs while the pins that hold the strings pull out a cumulative 30,000 lbs (with the help of a cast iron plate).
Thus, clipping a string while it is tight releases 100+ lbs of tension all at once, enough to damage the piano. (Fun thought experiment: imagine snipping all strings on a fully pressured piano at once. What would happen? Would the piano explode outward as a cumulative ~15000 lbs of pressure releases on both the top and bottom of the instrument?)
After the technician loosens the strings sufficiently she can clip them. They replace old tuning pins with larger ones, as they have probably loosened over time in the pin block, and need a larger size to fit.
Finally, the technician adds strings to the instrument. The strings are much thicker than guitar strings, and require strength, and finesse to effectively place them in the piano. As David Mann says, “it typically feels like you are wrestling a large snake and that snake is doing everything it can to overcome you” (source here). Over several passes strings are retuned. Tuning them at pitch immediately would damage the instrument.
This process takes 20+ hrs. It makes sense that the labor, plus material cost, wrack up into $1000s of dolars.
How Often Should You Restring a Piano?
You would only restring a piano that is a minimum of 30 years old. A single piano string can last several decades, and if they break they can be individually replaced. It’s only when there are many damaged or rusted piano strings that you would consider restringing it.
The main situation you would restring a piano is if it is:
- high quality. You don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on a low quality instrument.
- old. The necessity to restring a piano arises only after years of use.
- in bad condition. Perhaps there are many broken, corroded, or rusty strings. Or the pin block has tuning pins that don’t fit their holes, so a lot of them need replaced.
Instead of restringing an entire piano, often a technician can replace single strings here and there. So instead of restringing a piano, you may want to invest in other repairs, or just buy a nice used replacement for the same cost of restringing.
Is It Worth Restoring an Old Piano?
For similar reasons, restoring your piano is probably not worth it. Restoring a piano is an extensive process that may involve repairs to the veneer, and fixing the internal mechanism such as replacing strings, tuning pins, and a tune block. Only if your piano is valuable enough, and old enough, is it worthwhile.
Other Repairs to Try First
Before investing in restringing your piano you can try tuning it for $100-$200, regulating it for about $500, or voicing it for about $500. Regulating and voicing will especially improve the tone and evenness of the keys. Voicing the piano involves adjusting the hammer felts for a softer, or brighter strike (depends on needs). Regulating the piano will even out the action so that each key is similarly easy to strike.
Check with a trusted technician to see what they recommend for your piano.
How to Re-purpose a Piano
If you struck out on all options to save your piano, but don’t want to stick it in a coffin yet, there are creative ways to re-purpose it. You can turn it into a book shelf, desk, coffee table or more.
Restringing a piano is very very costly. For that reason, you probably don’t need to do it ever, unless your piano is old, high quality, and in poor condition.