A Tale of Two Pianos

My mom’s great-great grandfather Jacob Zech and his brother were piano makers from San Francisco in the 1800’s.  They made grand pianos, upright pianos, and even some beautifully unique square grand pianos.

authentic advertisement for Zech Pianos

authentic advertisement for Zech Pianos

For as long as I can remember, we’ve had one of their masterpieces in our living room… a 9 1/2 foot concert grand, hand-carved from Hawaiian Koa wood.IMG_9278    
In 2007, a piano restorer from Santa Cruz purchased an old Zech piano and fully restored it during the Dot-Com Boom, hoping that someone in San Francisco would want to purchase it as a lovely piece of local history.  However, the economy began to turn and he was having trouble finding a buyer.  He also got a new job and planned to close his shop, so this piano had to go. Somehow, he found out that my mom was a Zech relative, and even though she already had a piano he contacted her to see if anyone else in the family was interested.

I tend to be a bit on the sentimental side, and it suddenly became extremely important to keep this newly rediscovered Rosewood beauty in the family.  So I convinced Ryan to take the drive to Santa Cruz “just to check it out”  (haha!).  We brought my mom and Ryan’s mom along, and when Ryan’s mom played it, she cried.  Neither one of us play (unless you count the brief period of time when I took Suzuki piano lessons around 9 years old), but we wrote a check that evening, and made plans to have it moved to our home in Modesto.IMG_9277When we moved to Chicago we feared that shipping it cross-country (twice) would destroy it, so a friend of ours generously agreed to keep it in (what used to be) his dining room while we were gone.  That was seven years ago.

Matt was ready to have his dining room back, and we had come to our senses a bit (considering we’ll be inheriting my mother’s piano when the time comes) and decided to try to find a new home for ours.  We offered it to family members, but no one was interested.  We even tried selling it to a nearby winery whose owner has a love affair with antiques.  He suggested getting it appraised, and we were dismayed to find that in the current market (which is practically non-existent for a piano of this size) it’s only worth about $1500.  Eek!

That’s when my mother-in-law stepped in and admitted to her growing affection for this massive piece of furniture.  Despite already having two grand pianos and a harp in her home, she agreed to have it moved into her living room.  I was worried she’d regret her decision, but it’s lovely to look at and will be lovely to play once it’s tuned up.  We’re grateful to be able to keep it in the family for at least a few more years, and we’re looking forward to having the boys put it to good use as soon as Grandma starts teaching them how to play 🙂IMG_9206

9 Responses

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  1. Sandra Friesen
    Sandra Friesen August 13, 2016 at 6:33 pm | | Reply

    I enjoyed this entry. I have a family history connection to Erna Zech who was married to Norman Zech and was reading something about her and it mentioned that He was a jazz musician who came from the Zech Piano family in SanFrancisco. So it was a Google search away to find this tender story and beautiful pictures.

    1. Louisa Bedell Foss Riese
      Louisa Bedell Foss Riese August 11, 2019 at 5:03 pm | | Reply

      I want to play that piano with all my heart. Susanna Grass married Jacob Zech and they had Frederick and Augusta Zech and Augusta married Charles Riese and they had Wallis and August. And August was my Grandfather.

  2. Laurie McFarland Jackson
    Laurie McFarland Jackson November 13, 2016 at 4:36 pm | | Reply

    Hello Sandra! Norman was my mother, Doris Riese McFarland’s cousin. I remember her mentioning Erna also. I am stalled with my Zech research… would love to compare notes. Please contact me at macjacks@pacbell.net.

  3. Muriel Amsden
    Muriel Amsden April 5, 2018 at 4:49 pm | | Reply

    Hi Megan, I guess we are related because I am a great great granddaughter of Jacob Zech and I also have a Zech piano. I enjoyed your story and especially was pleased to see the advertisement. I have a photo of Market Street that shows an ad on the side of a building for Zech Pianos. My mom and my cousin also have Zech pianos. Did you also know there is one in the Museum of San Francisco and one in the Haas- Lilianthal House in S.F.? Thanks for sharing your story, cousin!

  4. Kurt
    Kurt September 4, 2018 at 3:37 pm | | Reply

    We are family!
    My mom is great gand daugter to Jacob
    And we still have original pianos

  5. Randy Neiman
    Randy Neiman October 24, 2018 at 9:32 am | | Reply

    Just today, a longtime fellow musician sent me pics of a piano he just acquired – and a bit of research indicated that it was / is one of Jacob’s first models, a square, 6-octave square beauty, likely ca 1856-7. A lovely piece.

  6. Debra ferronato
    Debra ferronato May 20, 2020 at 4:20 pm | | Reply

    I have an upright Jacob zech piano I need to sell. Because we moved into smaller home.It had not been restored on the inside , however I had it appraised via internet. I was told it was one of 3 made in San Francisco. If anyone is interested please notify me .thank you

  7. Maria Edna Daneluz
    Maria Edna Daneluz December 20, 2020 at 5:16 pm | | Reply

    My parents have a Jacob Zech square piano forte in their home near San Francisco. It need to be tuned and has a chip in one leg from when it was moved one time. It is made of rose wood and a beautifully made piano. It is from the 1880’s

  8. Muriel Nicol Amsden
    Muriel Nicol Amsden May 1, 2023 at 4:22 pm | | Reply

    Jacob Zech was my Great Great Grandfather, so, Megan’s mother must be a cousin of mine. My line is, Jacob Zech, father to Caroline Zech Hund, grandfather to Irene Hund Nicol, great grandfather to Walter Nicol, who was my dad, making me Jacob’s great, great granddaughter. I own a Jacob Zech upright piano that had been in my grandmother’s home, in Ross, where she grew up. I’ve recently had it completely restored. My cousin owns a Jacob Zech square grand. I actually looked into getting my Zech restored by the same fellow in Santa Cruz (I grew up in Aptos) but ended up using Steve Benjamins in Lafayette, CA who was overjoyed to work on a Zech. It’s wonderful family history!

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