Generally speaking, restoring a piano refers to repairing existing parts with minimal replacement whereas rebuilding a piano replaces critical parts with new parts to make the piano like new. The two main reasons for selecting restoration over rebuilding are: 1) budget, or 2) historic value.
Although It is usually less expensive to restore a piano, like all generalities, there are exceptions. A historic restoration can be a quite costly approach as the total hours required to restore existing parts to their best original condition can be double or even more than that of a total rebuild job. That’s why we come up with an individual approach for each piano based on many different factors.
Rebuilding the piano’s belly includes at a minimum disassembling the piano, repairing and refinishing the existing healthy soundboard, crafting and installing a new pinblock, restringing and repairing the bridges. More comprehensive belly rebuilding will also include a new soundboard and new bridges.
Rebuilding the piano’s action includes replacing all action parts with new with the exception of possibly the backchecks and keyset if they are in good enough condition. The keyset will still undergo repairs and rebalancing against the weight of the new action parts. All action felts will also be replaced with new. More comprehensive action rebuilding also includes an entirely new keyset as well as new backchecks.
Restringing a piano with oversize tuning pins in the existing pinblock would be an example of restoration compared with restringing a piano with a newly crafted and installed pinblock which would be more of a rebuilding approach.
Reshaping the original hammers and keeping the original hammer shanks with repairs would be restoration as compared with replacing the old hammers and shanks with new hammers and shanks which is a rebuilding approach.
Full refinishing of a piano includes stripping the original material off completely down to bare wood and building up an entirely new finish.
Restoring the existing finish may include simply making spot repairs and detailing the finish to sanding off the top layers of finish and building a new finish over the old finish which is now used as a base.