Restoration Services



Northside Music Company specializes in everything about keyboards -- the restoration, building, and selling of old instruments as well as the retailing of new high-tech electronic pianos. Co-owners John and Dick Mills make a point of maintaining the state of the art in keyboards, even while they are restoring older models.

"If Mozart was alive today, he might be writing on one of those fancy electronic Yamaha computers," says John Mills. "Everything new is better than ever, especially the new technology."

John Mills started working at Northside Music in the 1950s. In the early 1960s, he and his brother Dick bought the company. Then in 1971, they purchased Gordon Laughead, a small Michigan-based piano manufacturing business.

A major part of Northside's business is in the restoration of fine pianos made during the 1920s. There is a two-year waiting list for this work. During restoration, the piano is torn down to the wood cabinet. The cabinet is carefully stripped. The strings are often sent to New York where an identical new set is custom made. The action is redone, all leather and wool parts are replaced, and new hammers are installed. The iron casting is taken out, sanded and guilded. Finally after everything has been redone or replaced, the piano is reassembled.

After reassembly, each restored piano goes through several quality checks, including eight to ten tunings. "Northside Music restores most pianos so they will be good for another 50 to 60 years of hard use." Mills says.

Pipe Organ Restoration

Northside Music boasts a full range of services up to, and including, church pipe organ restoration. Obviously, a pipe organ can't just be pushed out the front door and loaded onto a truck to be brought back for repair. We are well versed in doing restoration of larger organs on site. While it is true that some of the pieces of a pipe organ can be brought back for rebuilding in our shop, a large majority of this work must be done on site and Northside has the experience to get it done right.

Museum-quality Restoration

Some pianos, though, are restored more for the museum quality rather than music quality. Because pianos made before 1890 are of a lower technology, Northside Music takes special interest in returning them to their "new" condition, and in getting customers to understand and anticipate the resulting differences with contemporary instruments. When they do accept older pianos, such as the 1790 piano they recently rebuilt for a family in Rhode Island, it is often for the antique and historical value.

"The finest pianos were manufactured between 1890 and 1930," Mills says. The manufacturing changed in the 30's because of the demand for inexpensive pianos in smaller middle-class homes. "Every kid was supposed to try the piano and get some basic musical experiance."

In 1923, there were 2000 piano manufacturers in the United States. Today, there are eight. "It would be physically impossible to completely manufacture a piano in the United States," said Mills. "No one makes actions. No one makes keys." In building or restorations of pianos, Northside Music orders many parts from overseas. Most piano manufacturing has moved to Europe and the Orient.
Text by Laura Mathews
Copyright © March 31, 1988 The Lafayette Leader.
Reprinted by permission.
All rights reserved.

Appraisals and Proposals for Restoration

Access to custom restoration services is made only through a system of appraisals and proposals. This would entail a thorough asessment of the original instrument design, specific parts and labor costs, warranty, time, and shipping details.

In general, grand pianos are completely restored at well below their replacement cost and yield an instrument competative with contemporary pianos. Upright pianos, though many are excellant quality instruments, often include very developed "period antique" cases that identify them as having a special, unique personality. Player pianos are dominated by the player systems, though the greatest variance in these instruments is the quality and condition of the piano underneath the player. Reed organs, though often traded for their antique cabinets, are less expensive to remanufacture and, once done, very durable as compared with most contemporary musical instruments.

Costs for the proposals and appraisals typically range from seventy-five dollars up, to include charges for travel and more immediate responce. The typical charge in the Indianapolis area is one-hundred and twenty dollars. In Chicago, we usually charge two hundred and fifty dollars for these services.

Pierce Piano Atlas is an excellent resource for finding a piano's age.