I often work with my students’ families to help them find the right piano for their home.
If a student is more interested in an acoustic piano, there’s usually quite a bit of sticker shock when they see the price of new acoustic pianos.
Understandably, it’s not always in the budget to purchase a brand new acoustic piano. Thankfully, there are many used acoustic pianos that have plenty of life left in them. A lot of times they need a good home and someone to play them.
Also Read: Buying An Acoustic Piano
A quick search on Craigslist or Facebook marketplace will yield a variety of results. You’ll see pianos that look like they emerged from the bottom of a lake to pristine beauties that might have come from a concert hall. Prices will range from take-this-off-my-hands free to the price of a used car.
If you’re not careful, you might end up with a piano that needs a lot of work or that has on-going problems. On the other hand, there are some great pianos out there just waiting to go to a home where they will be truly appreciated and loved.
There is always going to be a level of risk when buying a used piano. If you’re thinking about buying a used piano for your home, here are a few things that will help you to mitigate that risk.
Pianos have an expiration date.
When inquiring into a used piano, be sure to ask for its age.
Antique pianos look beautiful and may be the first to catch your eye in the search. Many older pianos were designed to impress and were built with exquisite craftsmanship. However, that beautiful exterior is likely hiding a host of issues and headaches on the interior.
Some people assume that pianos are like some other instruments and sound better with age, but the opposite is true. The lifespan of a piano is about 60 years. Pianos have thousands of moving parts, all of which can are prone to wear and breaking over time. Unless a piano has been completely restored, you can assume that an antique not be enjoyable to play on. It is unlikely that the piano strings will hold their tune.
Be prepared to maintain your piano
Buying a piano is a lot like buying a car. With both, you have to factor in the expense of keeping it tuned and maintained. Pianos require regular tuning to sound enjoyable. In climates with regular seasons, you’ll want to have your piano tuned in both the fall and spring once the weather and humidity changes. Humidity changes can cause the wood of a piano to expand and contract, affecting the tuning and sound.
Another issue to be attentive to is the status of the felt inside of your piano. It wears down over time, making the keys stick, changing the action of the keys, and a host of other issues.
Wait about one month purchasing your piano to have it tuned. This enables the piano to settle into the humidity levels of its new environment.
I recommend finding a piano technician through the Piano Technicians Guild to tune and maintain your piano. You can search for technicians in your area at ptg.org.
Not all brands of pianos are equal
In your search, you’ll run across many different brands. Some will be immediately recognizable, while others have been out of business for many years. There is a wide range of quality between brands. Yamaha, Baldwin, Kawai, and Steinway are well respected brands that are go-to for many pianists. But there are and were many other small but great brands. Take some time to do a little research to find out about the quality of a specific brand.
Try it before you buy it
If you’re interested in a piano, internet sleuthing for opinions is important but no substitution for trying it out yourself and trusting your ears. Definitely don’t commit to purchasing a piano without playing it first.
If you don’t play the piano yet, bring along a friend who does play. Start out by playing every key to make sure it plays properly with a consistent tone. Test out the pedals as well.
Related: What Do The Piano Pedals Do?
Next, play a favorite piece of music on the piano to see how it feels and responds.
Every piano has a unique sound and every pianist has different expectations for what a piano should sound like. If you prefer playing bold and percussive music, a piano with a very laid -back sound signature might not be for you. If you like to play melodious and lyrical music, a bright sound might be a bit harsh for what you’re looking for. Let your ears be the judge. Be willing to walk away if something is off about the sound or feel of it.
Find A Piano Mover To Help Move Your Piano
If you’re buying a piano from an individual or residence, you will likely be responsible for moving it. But do not try to move it yourself or with your friends.
It is so important that you hire a professional piano mover to ensure that your piano is moved securely and safely without damaging it. Factor this into your budget beforehand, as it is an essential expense.
The cost of a piano mover can vary based on the distance they have to travel, obstacles to moving the piano such as stairs or tight spaces and other factors. Call around to get a few quotes.
Don’t hesitate to ask the seller as many questions as you need to. This is too big of an investment of your money and/or time for you not to try an learn as much as possible about this piano.
When I’m learning about a used piano, I try to get the best sense of the history of the piano as possible. Everything from how old it is, how often it was played and how well it was maintained.
What year was it made?
The owner might not know the year, but you should be able to locate the serial number inside the piano. A Google search of the serial number should reveal the year the piano was made.
How long have you owned this piano?
If the seller is not the original owner they might not be aware of its maintenance history (or lack thereof). This increases the risk level of purchasing this piano.
Has it been tuned regularly?
In the best-case scenario, you want a piano that has been consistently tuned and serviced over the years. If it hasn’t, or if there were any gaps when this wasn’t the case, have a experience piano technician look it over first.
Was it stored in a stable environment?
No matter how nice a piano may look, improper storage could lead to a lot of problems down the road. Basements, attics, garages, and storage units are all red flags. You definitely don’t want a piano that has been stored outside for any length of time. (Sometimes people will stick a piano on a porch when moving or creating more space and this is such bad news for the piano!)
Dampness and temperature swings negatively impact the wood and numerous interior parts.
Has it been moved before?
Pianos are very difficult to move and require professionals to ensure that they are not damaged in transport. Try to find out if the owners ever moved the piano and if they hired professionals to do so.
Are there any issues with it?
Hopefully, the owner will have already disclosed any issues with the piano, but it never hurts to ask. Confirm with them that everything is in good working order. The seller may have forgotten to mention something or left out some details.
Was it played frequently?
This question doesn’t have a right or wrong answer, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. A piano that has sat unused for many years can have a lot of potential problems. On the other hand, a piano with heavy use over the years could have its own set of problems. Either way, it’s nice to know the complete history of the piano.
Happy hunting! Keep in mind that it may take some time to find the right piano for you. Patience is key here. The last thing you want is to be stuck with a piano that doesn’t sound right or isn’t working properly. If you don’t see anything on the local market immediately, wait a while, and something will inevitably pop up that is more suited for your needs.