So you’ve realized the missing piece to your complete household is a piano – and you’re right.
You know a brand new, fine quality piano is a significant investment, so you decide to start with an affordable used piano, just to see how things go before filling your living room with a concert grand. Makes sense – Everything is looking up.
But you’re approaching a dangerous juncture in your piano romance…many innocent people before you found a screamin’ deal on a used piano, paid several hundred bucks to move it into their home, and over the ensuing weeks discovered problem after problem – broken or malfunctioning parts, an inability to hold a tuning, insect infestations….you name it. Not only is this a financial fiasco – the worst part is that this instrument now becomes a powerful force deterring everyone in the household from developing a positive relationship with pianos and music.
There’s nothing wrong with adopting a used piano – in fact, there are plenty of great deals out there, and given a budget a higher quality used piano with a little wear is preferable to a shiny, but lesser quality, new piano. The ideal is to have a pro check the piano before you make an offer. But if you need to evaluate a used piano without professional help – follow these 7 key tips.
- If you don’t already have your eye on a piano spend some time combing through resources such as Craigslist and Pianoadoption.com. There is no such thing as a “free” piano – expect moving to cost several hundred dollars. You’ll also need to pay for a tuning after the piano arrives – and perhaps repairs…read on.
- Develop a list of pianos you like the looks of – once you’ve collected at least 3 links to potential pianos, run them by a professional piano tech – s/he may be able to rule some out before you even visit, as well as point out the most promising options. Then set up some piano visits…once again, your best bet is hiring a technician – but if you end up face to face with the piano by yourself…
- Approach the piano – consider its size, shape, and “furniture value” – surrounding the musical machinery of the instrument is a wooden case, a piece of furniture that needs to fit, both in terms of size and aesthetic, with your living space. Before visiting the piano, consider its location in your home (outside walls, windows and direct light are not good for piano health/tuning stability – we’ll talk more about this in our next post, but consider these factors when planning your purchase.) – and what size of piano will fit. You may be able to rule out a grand piano (horizontal) in favor of an upright (vertical, sits flat up against a wall), but even within either category sizes can vary significantly. Take a closer look at all sides of the piano, noting any damage. Most likely you’ll find a few blemishes – most of the time this isn’t a deal-breaker, as it goes with the used piano territory, and what’s most important is a fully functioning instrument with a decent touch and tone.
- Even if you don’t play piano – play the piano. Sit down and play every single key from one side of the piano to the other. Make sure they all work – take note of any unexpected sounds or feelings in the keys. Are some keys more sluggish than others? Are any NOT WORKING? These issues, once again, are not necessarily deal-breakers. This is a case where having a piano tech on hand is very useful, as we can evaluate the issue on-site and determine whether it’s a quick fix – or not worth your money. Even if the issues are mild, it’s still good to know about them because they can inform the counter-offer it’s appropriate (and smart) to make in most used-piano transactions. Unless the seller specifically says that the price is fixed, most people selling a used item expect potential buyers to make a counter-offer – and any issues with the piano that will cost you money down the road are valid reasons for a price break. If you’re on your own, take notes of any issues you notice to run by a tech afterwards for advice on whether the instrument is worth it.
- Ready to get a little technical? Let’s take a look under the hood. Even without professional assistance, the untrained can examine the inside of a piano to some extent. Always ask the owner for permission to move items on top of the piano and take a look inside. On both, check the hinges attached to the lid to make sure they look solid and have center pins, and open with care. A heavy lid crashing off a piano is not a fun experience for anyone. The main things you’ll want to check here are all visible from above in a grand piano after opening the lid. In a vertical, you’ll have to remove the bottom panel (in front of your knees when playing) to check everything except the hammers. To do this, look for a flexible metal clasp or two at the top of this panel, and press up to release and remove the bottom panel. Set it aside. In a grand, open the lid, and shine a light down onto the strings.
- Check for missing strings, or shiny new strings that indicate recent replacements, and therefore a potential string breakage problem.
- Inspect all the wooden surfaces you see behind the strings for cracks, which can cause unpleasant sounds and tuning instability.
- On a grand, you may be able to look down through the strings directly in front of the player’s sitting position to see the hammers. A good way to spot them is to hold a few keys down – you’ll see the hammers jump up and stay closer to the strings until you release the keys. Look at the surface facing the strings to check for excessive string wear – anything beyond slight grooves on a smooth rounded surface merits taking a picture to show to your technician. This is the aspect you’ll need to check from above on a vertical after opening the top lid.
- Take pictures/make audio recordings on your phone of potential issues to run by a pro. Also take measurements of the piano to double check its fit in your home.
- Discuss your findings with a technician. If they give you the green-light, contact professional piano movers to get quotes. They’ll need to know what size/type of piano you’re looking at, distance between locations, as well as the stairs involved at either end.
Ideally you’re not in too much of a rush, and can spend some time combing listings until you find a great deal. Please get in touch with us at www.orpheuspianoco.com if you have any questions, need an evaluation, or just want to shoot the breeze about pianos – happy hunting!
Written by Isaac Wynn