Thinking of buying a used piano?


On an average week we get several calls from customers who are inquiring as to what it will cost to move a piano from a private source to their home? As the conversation goes along with a few investigative questions we find out that the piano is free or within a few hundred dollars. These characteristics of the “free piano” raises several red flags, which then the customer then begins to question if the purchase is a wise investment.

1000’s of parts-

Pianos have several 1000 parts made of wood, wool, felt and fabric material. We have seen several of these pianos in our restoration/ rebuild center with a tell-tale sign of damage, usually indicated by mouse droppings, hence the deterioration and destruction of parts. For many of these pianos the parts of the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) maybe obsolete or it is not cost effective to replace them. The time and labor to replace these parts then becomes a cost that maybe too much to bear. Many pianos of this magnitude are simply to cumbersome and financially to absorb.

It has London, New York or some other major city on the plate-

There were over 400 piano manufacturers in the United States and Europe. Simply because it has the name of a major city on the plate does not indicate the quality of the instrument. When buying a used piano check to see if the brand is Steinway, Mason Hamlin, Baldwin, Knabe, Clarendon, Bush and Lane or a few other major brands. Again, there were 400 manufacturers and the so called city of origin does not always indicate quality. Unlike the Antique Road Show some of these obscure piano names does not mean that you have hidden financial pot of gold!

Used pianos are not always suitable for beginner students –

We have many people who are desirous of a “beginner piano” for a young student or even themselves. Again, back to the first point, pianos having 1000s of moving parts. If the instrument is heavy this is an indicator that the piano has not been regulated. A piano is a machine, its origin of design is borrowed from the geometry of the clock. A properly “regulated” piano has been lubed, usually with a dry graphite, screws tightened, filed, hammers aligned properly, and hours of adjustments! Many of these used pianos that have been slated as “beginner pianos” will lend to injury of the young pianist! These so called cost effective instruments will not perform. A professor from one of our prestigious music schools said, “If the piano can’t do it, I can’t teach it!” This is so true, whether it is a triple pianissimo or thirty second notes in a descending scale, a poor regulated instrument means that the student is then working against the instrument. A well regulated piano is responsive to the artist touch and a pleasure to play. It’s important when buying a used piano to make sure it’s the right instrument with the right tuning, parts, history, and maintenance.

Used pianos are generally very bright –

The hammer head is generally long wool fibers stretched across wooden hammer head. As the hammers get older it becomes more compact after years of repetitive strikes on the strings. Also, dirt and other contaminates make the hammer head percussive. This over percussive and hardened head lends to a very bright and a tone that is not pleasing. With a percussive and bright annoying sound then requires a technician to come in and “needle” the hammer head. This is done by taking a very sharp tool and “pricking” the wool of the hammer head. Somewhat like fluffing the wool. In some cases we can bring back a warm tone to the instrument but this laborious and costly adjustment does not mean the piano will be pleasant to play.

Unlike wine, a piano does not get better with age –

Yes, perhaps like wine a piano might increase in value but not necessarily get better. In fact, quite the opposite happens. Again a piano is a machine made of several 1000 parts! The sound does not become sweeter. The soundboard is the heart of the piano- the soundboard does not mature, it is dead wood. In fact, the sound board, due to the lack of humidity can develop cracks or it can lose it crown dynamic. The crown dynamic is the ability of the soundboard to magnify and project sound. Again, the hammers do not ripen if anything they become unbearably bright and percussive.

The hidden cost of free –

There are many things that are supposedly free in life… free lunch, free rides, free kittens… there are always costs associated with free. We see many customers that purchased that “free piano” and now are in the quandary of what to do with this albatross called the free piano. It will cost several hundreds of dollars to get it into good working condition.

We would like to invite you to meet with our panel of qualified technicians and piano experts who can help you to:
-What five main components to check for when thinking about the purchase of a piano?
– What to look for in a beginner piano?
-What costs are associated with a “free piano?”
– How to determine the value in a used piano?
-How do I determine if the free piano is of any value either from an investment or playing perspective?
This class will be held on March 21st at 10:00 am here at Michelle’s Piano located at 600 SE Stark St. Portland, OR. If interested in attending please call 503-295-1180.

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