Whether or not you should buy a painted piano is a tough question to answer.
The truth is that it depends on a variety of different factors and a blanket answer as to whether it's a good choice or not simply just doesn't exist.
Painting a piano can sometimes increase the value of a piano, but in other instances, it can decimate it.
In this article, we seek to explain when we think a painted piano represents a good purchase and when we don't think it does.
Example of when we think painting is a good idea
This is a 1980's Young Chang which came to us through a part-exchange. It was originally finished in a clear polyester over an imitation mahogany veneer.
The piano had been exposed to direct sunlight on one side for the majority of its life and as a consequence, the colour had faded inconsistently across that side. The polyester finish was also sporting numerous large chips around the feet with deep scratches across the lid and fall board. While polyester is a very tough and hard-wearing finish, which is precisely why it is commonly used on pianos, it can be troublesome and expensive to repair when it is damaged.
The cost of restoring the polyester finish on this particular piano would have greatly exceeded the final value of the finished instrument, so restoration was economically unviable.
As it stood, in the condition it was in, the piano was worth minimal. It was far too good of an instrument to consider disposing of, but it was not of a satisfactory condition for us to consider selling either.
It sat at the back of the workshop until such a time Macauley knew what to do with it.
We decided to gift the piano to the proprietors of a classical music-themed cafe that had recently opened up close to Macauley's home workshop. We wanted to give them a piano that not only sounded great and invited people to play but also complimented the stylish aesthetic of their newly refurbished premises.
Restoring the original finish of this piano was not a viable option... but painting the piano was!
We asked the owners of the cafe to pick a colour from a paint chart and we set to work.
The chips and deep scratches were filled using a high-performance filler and the entire cabinet was smoothed and prepared for its first coat of paint.
The paint we used during this project was not standard furniture paint (which almost all painted pianos on the market are finished with) but rather a high-adhesion polymer coating specially manufactured in Europe to be resistant to wear and tear, plus chemically inert so as not to react with many of the substances that it may encounter in a cafe; substances such as strong cleaning products, ketchup, lemon juice, vinegar, and coffee.
We think most people will agree that this piano looks much better now than it did before.
In this instance, the piano was transformed from something worth very little to something worth a considerable amount more. This is an example of how a good paint job can actually enhance the value and desirability of an individual piano, but we can't call it "restored".
Example of when we think painting is not a good idea
Let us take a look at a brand that has a very special place in the heart of Sykes & Sons, Knight.
The Knight Piano Company was established in 1936 by Alfred E. Knight, a man who dedicated his life to producing pianos of spectacular quality. His commitment to premium standards catapulted the company to international recognition and earned the firm a solid reputation for extremely well-made pianos.
Their dedication and faithfulness to quality did not stop at the sound and performance of the pianos but also extended to the cosmetic appearances. Alfred ensured the most attractive and stable cabinets by fabricating the case components from very heavy, crossgrained laminated wood which was then finished with the most luxurious exotic hardwood veneers.
The Knight Piano Company worked hard to build relationships with suppliers of exotic hardwoods around the world and representatives of The Knight Piano Company traveled, from France, Burma, Africa, and South and Central America, in order to hand-select the veneers that would later be grafted onto the firm's instruments. Knight assiduously trained their craftspeople in the art of veneer cutting, matching, and grafting to enable them to achieve the most flawless finishes.
Here is an example of a restoration that was completed in our workshop recently.
Upon its arrival at our workshop, this Knight K10 was carrying the scars of direct sunlight exposure and minor water damage.
In addition to being attentively overhauled internally, the piano was carefully stripped of its original, damaged finish and Macauley then tended to the areas of veneer that needed repairing, before bringing the finish back to its original splendor through the use of traditional techniques and the same blend of natural, organic oils which Knight themselves used on this piano some 50 years prior.
This cabinet restoration involved us in many hours of exacting work and called upon years of experience working with these materials.
In the true spirit of 'restoration', we endeavored to bring back and retain everything which made this piano very special in the first place.
Had this Knight piano gone elsewhere, that beautiful teak veneer may have been completely covered with opaque furniture paint.
The veneer tells a story of the company's unfaltering commitment to quality and the ambition to represent the best of British piano manufacturing. The casework of a Knight piano is intrinsically linked to the instrument's provenance and this is true for many instruments, not just those made by Knight.
Painted pianos are 'in' now, but will they still be in 10 years from now?
Most factory piano finishes are considered timeless. A piano produced in the 1960s can still easily look right at home in a modern house, but the same can't be said for the numerous home furnishing crazes that we have seen come and go. We remember the "Shabby-chic" phase, where countless pianos and collectible items of furniture were ruined in the name of "up-cycling".
Roll on into the 2020s and the trend is falling out of style. Shabby-chic just isn't as chic anymore.
Most painted pianos from UK vendors have been finished in the paint from a producer well-known for its unusual names for each colour of their extensive palette. While we think their range of colours is impressive, we strongly disagree that their paint provides a satisfactory finish for a piano.
It is simply not hard-wearing enough to withstand high traffic, which is why it typically looks a little unintentionally shabby after a few years.
Polyester, lacquer, varnish, oil, polyurethane, cellulose, and even shellac are much better options when finishing a piano.
What was the incentive for painting the piano?
No retailer, or workshop, will make extra work for themselves by painting a perfectly good piano, so what is that fresh coat of paint covering?
This is why we would never consider buying a previously painted piano because they are a risk.
It is highly likely that the paint was applied to cover up the evidence of a hard life of abuse and neglect. We have found that a good portion of painted pianos on the market are in fact ex-school pianos and the paint is being used to disguise the piano's former life of heavy use.
The value of a piano which is worth very little to begin with can rarely be negatively impacted by being painted... unless the quality of the paint job is really poor. A good paint job can sometimes boost the value of an instrument, but other pianos have no resale value once they have gone down that road.
Many sellers choose to paint because it is easier, it is faster, and therefore cheaper than returning the instrument back to its original state. Painting maximizes profit potential at the point of sale but shows little concern for the resale value in a number of years.