Truth, Inspiration, Hope.

All You Should Know About Piano Selection & Maintenance: Fredrick Schaeffer

Tips from a distinguished third-generation piano specialist of the DC area's century-old Schaeffer's Piano Company
Published: December 12, 2023
Rick Schaeffer with his nephew Tim, the fourth-generation piano specialist at their shop in Rockville, Maryland. (Image: Vision Times)

Piano has become more than just a timeless musical instrument renowned for its mind-soothing melodies; it is a symbol of prestige to many people. But how do you maintain its exquisite sound or even get your hands on a new piece of highly priced hardware? Fredrick Schaeffer explains what it takes to keep a piano in peak working condition.

Mr. Schaeffer, who also goes by Rick, is a distinguished piano specialist with expertise and passion for restoring, repairing, and tuning old and new pianos of different brands. However, his professional career success is never complete without mentioning his family background — a critical foundation to his booming piano business.

“My grandfather started the business in 1901,” Schaeffer told Vision Times in a recent interview. “He was a piano tuner and started a store on 8th Street, Northeast. And they were there for 40 years. And then, they moved to Silver Spring in 1948. It was called “Schaeffer’s Piano Company.”

Born and raised in a family with a profound love for the art of piano, Schaeffer developed an interest in piano in 4th grade. He could go to his father’s store and help with the cleaning work after school. As a result, his affinity for piano grew steadily.

Through years of dedicated study and practice, he found his place in the intricate world of piano craftsmanship, ultimately becoming a connoisseur of the instrument in the third-generation in his family-owned business that has existed for over 100 years.

A trusted dealer

As the third-generation piano specialist in Schaeffer’s Piano Company of Rockville, Maryland, a family-run local full-service piano center in its fourth generation in the Washington D.C. area, every piano at the store holds a story to tell. From broken Steinways to brand new Yamahas, every piece of instrument at the store is an opportunity to learn.

Since looking for a good piano without prior knowledge of features to look for seems intricate as it requires proper vetting of the sellers and the quality of products they offer, Schaeffer says buyers only need a dealer they can trust to get the right product for their needs.

Schaeffer’s Piano Company at 105 N Stonestreet Ave, Rockville, MD 20850. (Image: Vision Times)

Buyers can check for the piano they are looking to buy on online stores such as eBay to evaluate each piano and its features and understand the pricing margins before going to physical stores to look for the product. However, buying such products from online stores comes with its own share of problems.

“The problem with that is the job he’s doing right now on that little black piano right there. That’s $ 1,500,” says Schaeffer, pointing at the piano being fixed by one of his colleagues. “So, anything you buy for $1,000, you’ve got to put $1,500 in to make it right,” he warned.

According to Rick, the type of piano someone should buy depends on many factors. 

“First of all, you want to see what kind of music you’re playing. If you’re going to play classical music, you want a little higher-end piano. If you want just to get started, you can just go with a little starter piano or a digital one. That’s just fine. But if you really end up playing piano and you really want to learn, you have to go with a higher-end piano.”

He added, “For digital, you just have to make sure they practice more for some reason.” But it doesn’t have the “artistic feeling.”

Rick also revealed that Fazioli, from Italy, is the best piano, often used by a significant number of artists. The company only manufactures 70 of them per year, with a total of 4,000 Fazioli produced so far. He also mentioned Yamaha as an alternative to those who cannot afford the elite Italian model.

Fire and water

While it takes a lot of money to buy a piano, it takes great care to keep the priceless instrument in good working condition. According to Rick, two main things can destroy any piano: water and fire.

“Fire and water are the only things that really destroy a piano. I mean, I just worked on a 1757 player from France. It’s like new. It was a nice shape,” he recalled, revealing that most of the repairs they work on are related to water damage.

“If you could keep a piano in a room that was 42 percent humidity, it would last forever,” says Rick, revealing the ideal condition for storing the instrument. Keeping a piano in the ideal humidity can help increase the longevity of a piano, especially in moisture-rich places, and save thousands of dollars that could potentially be needed for repairs.

“Buying a piano is like having a child. You have to watch everything about it. You need to regulate it every year, which most people do every 50 years,” Rick said.

Pianos should be tuned after every six months of regular use. However, no tuning is needed if you don’t use it.

With reporting by Min Xiao.