• Buying a Used Piano

    6 Dec 2016
  • Looking for that perfect gift for Christmas or a birthday?  If you've decided a used piano is direction you want to go the easiest but not the cheapest route is to go to a reputable piano store.  If instead you want to find a private seller through the classifieds the best idea is to bring a piano technician with you to look over the piano and estimate it's worth.

    Not all pianos money are worth a lot of money some of them like cars can be real lemons so do your homework before you buy. If you can't bring a tech with you then you need to ask yourself and the seller a few questions. Once you've agreed to go view a piano make sure you know what to look for. 

  • Questions to Ask Yourself

    1. What's your budget?
      If you have a budget under $3000 you'll need to look at buying a digital piano rather than an acoustic version.   
    2. Where are you going to keep the Piano?
      Do you have a suitable place in your home for the piano to be placed in. Ensure the place you want to put in the room has a stable humidity and temperature otherwise this will effect the condition of your piano.  The room should be free to use everyday, where the sound of a piano will not disturb other family members. Also, the wall that the piano is placed against will not leak sound into other rooms or your neighbours house. 
    3. What size/style of piano are you looking for?  

      There are two basic kinds of pianos: grand pianos and vertical pianos. Vertical can generally be divided into studio uprightsconsoles, and spinets.

  • Grand Pianos

    4-1/2' to 9-1/2' long

    • Horizontal strings
    • Hammers are below the strings and rise to strike them
    • Action sits on the back of the keys
  • Vertical Pianos

    Studio Upright:  over 42" tall 

    Console:  40-42" tall

    • Vertical strings
    • Hammers are in front of the strings and move horizontally to strike
    • Action sits on the back of the keys
  • Spinet

    (the smallest vertical piano) 

    36-38" tall

    • Vertical strings
    • Hammers are in front of the strings and move horizontally to strike
    • Action hangs off the back of the keys and is mostly below them
  • Question to Ask the Seller

    1. Find out the brand, model, year of manufacture, and if possible, the piano’s serial number.  
      This will allow you to do some internet research to find out the pianos value.

    2. Ask why they are selling the piano. 
      The reasons for selling a piano are plenty; make sure those reasons aren’t going to cost you. Watch out for reasons like: “It’s taking up space,” or “I could use the money.” It might allude to piano neglect; and if they need the cash, chances are they haven’t been spending on maintenance.

      You should also ask whether they’ll be purchasing another piano, and if so, why they prefer it to the one they’re selling.

    3. How Often Was the Piano Being Tuned.
      And was the tuning schedule consistent? A piano must be tuned at least twice per year – anything less could mean you’ll soon be paying extra for special tunings or other related maintenance.

      That might not be the kiss of death, although it should make you much more cautious.  Some pianos are so well-made that they can survive abuse and neglect.  Others can't.  If the piano is out of tune, purchase at your own risk! You’ll have no way of knowing if the piano is out of tune because of serious internal issues – or if it’s tunable at all. 

    4. Where Has the Piano Been Stored?
      Beware if a piano has been kept in a basement (especially in flood-prone areas) or a public storage facility. These areas often lack climate-control, and temperature extremes along with humidity fluctuations pose serious threats to piano health.

    5. Has the Piano Been Moved Around A Lot?
      You should find out how much extra stress the piano has endured, and whether any dangerous measures were ever taken during a move (like leg removal). If you go to view the piano keep an eye out for tight corners and small staircases leading to a piano room, because these could up your moving bill.

    6. Who Was Playing the Piano?
      Two pianos of the same make and age will each sound differently twenty years from now, depending on who’s been playing them. Serious pianists are more inclined to keep their instruments in top shape, because they’re more likely to get annoyed at minute changes in sound. On the other hand, those uninterested in playing the piano are interested in testing its volume, or ambushing the keyboard with a merciless series of glissandos.

    7. How Often Was the Piano In Use?
      Was the piano avidly played or was it kept for ambiance? This is important to know so you can find out if it was tuned accordingly. Household pianos used once a week or more should be tuned four times per year, while unused pianos can go up to a year in the right climate conditions.

    8. Who Were the Previous Owners?
      If possible (and applicable), find out how many previous owners the piano has had, and how well they cared for it. The longer a piano’s history, the longer you’re affected by it; get to know your potential investment as intimately as possible, and watch out for signs of damage when inspecting a used instrument.
  • What to Inspect on a Used Piano

    Here are some basic things to listen, look, and feel for when inspecting a used piano.  Again, none of these problems is necessarily deadly, but you need to be aware that they exist before you invest your money and time (and labor) in buying this piano.  The more problems you find, the more work will be needed to make the piano truly playable. 

  • 1. Look at the keys.

    • Are they level from one end of the piano to the other? (A very slight arch in the middle is a good thing.)  Any keys that are "bottomed out", just sitting there, have broken parts. Thank the nice people and leave....
    • Can you move the keys far enough sideways that they hit each other? That's a sign of dried-out or missing felt and will need fixing eventually.
    • When you push them, do they go down about 3/8"?  Any more than that, and the piano will be tiring to play and won't work correctly.  
    • When you look at their vertical ends, do you see a square or a rectangle?  The more square, the better.  
  • 2. Play from one end to the other with a very light and consistent touch.

    • Do all the notes make a sound? If not, the piano needs regulation, at least.
  • 3. Play those notes again, but listen carefully to the sound this time.

    • Play the same note in three or four different octaves simultaneously to really check for tuning consistency. 
    • Are there many notes that are badly out of tune with themselves?  You'll know when you hit one - it will sound like howling cats....
    • Is the tuning pretty consistent from one end to the other? 
    • As you play from one end to the other, is the tone quality pretty consistent? That's what you want!  (It's hard to tell "out of tune" from "badly voiced".)
  • 4. Now open the piano and examine the strings and action parts.

    • Are any strings missing? Are the broken strings in the bottom of the piano so they can be spliced back together?
    • Do the wooden parts of the keys looks as though they have been chewed? Are there stains on the wood or the strings? Mice have been living in there.
    • If there are no grooves in the hammer (if the end of the hammer is flat and looks as though it has been shaved off), parts are loose.
    • Do the hammers look as though little bits of them are missing? Are there holes in the felt? That is insect damage.  If they ate the hammers, they probably ate other felt parts.  And the piano has sat without being played for some time. (Playing kills the bug eggs, and it's bug larvae that do the damage).
    • Watch for wobbles/bobbles in the hammers when playing softly. Not a good sign. 
    • Does the piano have all its hammers and dampers?  (Note, dampers only go so far up, and the top 20 or so notes don't have any.) 
    • Feel the hammers for softness (if they feel dry and hard, the sound will be thin and hard) and look for wear. If the grooves are more than 1/8" deep, they can't be reshaped very successfully.
    • All vertical pianos need "bridle straps" narrow strips of woven material that run from every hammer assembly to a curled wire.  They can be replaced, but better to buy a piano that already has good ones. In this picture, one bridle strap is broken, allowing the hammer's catcher to sag. That note will not play correctly.
    • Listen for clicks and buzzes while playing at a moderately loud volume. Clicks can indicate loose glue joints. Buzzes can point to separated soundboard ribs.
    • Do you hear a "zing" when you release the key? Often means that the dampers are hard and need to be reconditioned or replaced.
    • Are all the dampers there?  The highest octaves won't have dampers, but all the other notes should.
  • 5. Open the bottom of the piano and inspect the pedals, the bridges and the general condition of that area.

    • Pedals should move freely and quietly.  By the time you push down 1/2", you should feel resistance and see movement in the action (dampers lifting, the hammer rail moving).  It's usually no problem to adjust, but it's a sign of maintenance.
    • Look for any signs of mildew or water damage.  If a piano has been flooded, this is where you'll find the evidence.  It's more common than you might think....
    • Check the bass bridge for cracks around the pins.  Small cracks are usually not a problem, but big cracks affect tuning and tone - and they indicate that the piano has lived in a dry environment, which might affect the pin block and other important parts.  If the bass bridge isn't cracked, don't worry about the other bridges.
  • 6. If you didn't get this from the owners then look up the piano's serial number so you really know how old it is.

    • Owner's usually know when the piano came into their household, but they rarely know its true age.  Where to find the serial number? 
    • Vertical piano:  inside, near or on the top, near the tuning pins, often stamped into the wood.  Newer pianos might have a metal plate on the end/inside or have the number stamped on the back/outside.
    • Grand piano: originally on the metal plate, near the tuning pins.  If the plate has been repainted, the number might be gone.  In that case, look on the soundboard, near the hinge closer to the keys.  Not there?  You'll need to remove a leg....
    • With the maker's name and the serial number, you can have your technician look it up in the Pierce Piano Atlas.
  • Christmas Present Special

    Really?  All of this to buy a piano?  You bet!  And it's worth it, too.  Who wants to haul home a ton of junk?  And if you're going to buy one, make sure it's the best you can get.  Else, why bother?

    If your looking at buying a piano for your loved one for Christmas Calgary Piano Movers is offering a great special right now. Register now and we will deliver your piano on Christmas eve with a beautiful red piano cover to help you surprise your loved one on Christmas day.  Call us today at (403) 805-3427 to find out more details about our great offer and to schedule your piano move.