Buying a Used Acoustic Piano - 7 things to consider

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Published: 11th July 2012
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In a tough economic climate, more and more people are trying to cut costs by purchasing a piano from Craiglist, Ebay and so on. Here are 7 helpful tips you should read before putting down your hard-earned money.
The piano is a very complicated instrument made from a variety of materials. We recommend hiring a technician to inspect the piano. But before you even do that here are 7 things to consider:

1. Age of the piano
2. Physical Location
3. Case and Parts
4. Bug Infestation
5. Mechanism (Action)
6. Soundboard and Bridges
7. Pin Blocks


1. Age of the piano
The age of a piano is a good indicator of the piano’s condition. Usually, old pianos need repairs after purchase. We don’t recommend buying a piano that is over 30 years old online (or from an individual). Often a piano will have major problems around this age, such as hard hammers, loose tuning pins and sluggish action.
To find out the age of a piano, you need to find it’s serial number, which is located inside the piano or on the back of the piano. If you know the name of the brand and the piano’s serial number you can find out it’s age, by checking the “blue book of the pianos” online (http://www.bluebookofpianos.com/) where you can find major manufactures’ serial number lists. It also gives you values and average selling prices of major brands.

2. Physical location of the piano
To move a piano will cost you easily $150 and often more on top of the piano’s price. If the seller’s apartment is on the 5th floor and does not have an elevator, you could be charged over $500! Always ask if the piano is located in a walk up building if the piano is not located on the ground floor.

3. Case & Parts
This is easy, just look at the finish of the piano and see if there are any obvious scratches or other damage to the case. (Any missing legs, music desk, bench etc.) Open up the top and look inside for any missing parts. Play each note and check for abnormalities. Remember that refinishing and repair are expensive.

4. Bug infestation.
Check for any obvious signs of mice or roaches in the piano. Mice can eat the felt in the piano, while roaches will lay eggs which you will be transferring to your home with the piano. Open the kickboard and check for droppings. Yuck!

5. Mechanism (action)
The main task of the piano mechanism is simple: when you press a key it activates the hammer to strike the string and produce a sound. It is important that all the components (there are hundreds of parts) that make this happen are working as they should. When you look inside the piano you will most likely see the hammers first. These range in size from a small teaspoon to a large tablespoon. Notice that the hammers are teardrop shaped with small indentations on them. This is caused by the strings as the piano is played. Deep grooves in the felt (1/8” or more) mean that the piano was used quite a lot.

6. Soundboard and Bridges:
The Soundboard amplifies the sound of the piano and is the most misunderstood part of the piano. We often hear that the soundboard is cracked and the piano is now worthless, but nothing could be further from the truth! In fact there are many pianos in daily use and full functioning with cracks in their soundboards. In most cases the crack is just a cosmetic flaw where the soundboard has separated from a previously glued joint.
If the soundboard, however, has separated from the bridges which pass the sound from the strings to the soundboard , that is a serious and costly repair. To check the soundboard, bridge and string combo play each note and listen to any dead, dull or buzzing sounds (a note that dies very quickly).

7. Pins and Pinblocks
An average piano has over 220 tuning pins that are held tight by the pin block. This is by far the most critical aspect of your impending purchase since a piano that won’t hold it’s tuning is a serious and costly problem.
An experienced technician using a tuning lever is by far the best method to check the tuning stability, however in choosing from many potential pianos it is not always practical and can be costly as well. What you can do is listen to the piano and hear if it is extremely out of tune in one area or another. Pianos that are not tuned for many years will go out of tune but should do so evenly throughout.

Hopefully you found these 7 tips helpful and are on your way to finding a piano that is right for you!


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