How to buy a Used Piano
"All she needs is a little tune-up."
First of all: DON’T BUY A PIANO AT AN AUCTION, AND DON’T BUY IT BECAUSE IT’S AN “ANTIQUE”!!!!!! It’s a 99.9999% chance it’s junk, regardless of what it looks like.
Watch my videos on Youtube for examples of used pianos and what to watch for. (links)
Pianos are as diverse as dogs. The first step should be to decide on a budget and type of piano. Do you want:
A grand? It will cost more and take more space.
An old upright (80 years or more)? Mostly, they’re worn out and cost a lot to fix, but there are good ones.
A not-so-old upright (1950’s onward)? Many of these are consoles (40-45 inches tall)
Or spinets (36 inches tall)? Many of these consoles and spinets are poor pianos.
A newer upright (1980’s onward)?
How important is the appearance of the piano?
You can check many sites on-line for used (Kijiji, Craigslist, Ebay, to name a few).
You can call a dealer. They may have good trade-ins, and usually you get bench, tuning, delivery, perhaps even a warrantee. It will cost more than if you had bought the same piano yourself, but at least you know it’s been looked at.
Music teachers and technicians may know of some good deals.
If it’s a private sale, in addition to the make and age, find out why they’re selling, when it was last tuned, and how often it was tuned. Once or twice a year is considered a minimum; I’m content if it’s done even once a year. If they say they bought the piano new 10 years ago for a child who never took to it and now they’re moving, it may be a really good buy but badly in need of a tuning. That’s no problem, though it will take several tunings before it stays well. If it’s jammed into a corner with all sorts of stuff piled on top and filthy keys with crayon all over, it’s safe to say it’s neglected, but may still be good for all that.
When you find a piano you’re interested in, take along someone who plays. Beware they may have their own preferences, so try to develop some idea of what tone you like.
Play all the keys, one at a time. Make sure they all work, playing both slow and soft and fast and loud. Listen for noises: buzzes, rattles, clunks, squeaks. Listen for noise when you use the pedals. Listen for the tone in the bass. Do the strings have a bright, clear sound or just a dull tone that dies quickly?
There’s a lot to evaluate in a piano, so it’s best to hire a technician to check it out. He should check:
Tuning pins (tight enough to keep strings in tune)
Bridges and soundboard (splits, cracks, loose glue joints, odd sounds)
Strings (rust, dead tone, strings broken/missing/mismatched)
Action (springs still strong, how much wear and tear on parts, especially action centres)
Keys (warped, loose tops/fronts, worn bushings, side-to-side/in-out play)
And other items.
The evaluation worksheet I use has over 30 items that I routinely check off, so accurate estimates can be made quickly.
Many old uprights reached their peak between the early 1900’s and the Great Depression, 1929, when hundreds of the more than 300 American and Canadian builders were forced out of business. There were many good pianos before then, but they are that much older now, hence more worn out. Most European and English uprights from this and earlier eras are flimsy compared to their North American counterparts and don’t do well in our climate. I’ve found some of the better German grands (Bluthner, Bechstein) held up well.
Pianos were very much the centre of home life from the 1800’s until about 1930. In the 1920’s, radios became affordable and began to displace pianos. Most pianos made in the ‘20s were player pianos. Most of the pianos work, but the players don’t . Often, the entire mechanism has been removed from the piano.
If you can get a pre-1930’s quality brand upright piano in good shape, and there are still some around, they have some major advantages.
They have large soundboards and longer strings.
Ivory keys were the norm. If they’re not chipped, they feel better than plastic, which is all that’s available today.
If they have one of the better- made actions, like a Wessel, Nickel & Gross, they can be made to play almost as well as a really good grand.
They are simply much better crafted pianos, overall, in my opinion.
That being said, they are now considered to be almost worthless and there’s little demand and perhaps less appreciation for them. I’ve heard of dealers telling people to junk the piano without looking at it, simply because of it’s age.
During World War 1 and 2, most builders were engaged in the war effort, so there weren’t many pianos made. Some technicians made munitions; they had a steady hand making bombs and such (not my line of work!).
After World 2, it took some time for pianos to be made again. The majority were consoles and spinets and were meant to be pretty little pieces of furniture rather than serious musical instruments in the little bungalows built for men returned from the war and their families.
In the 1960’s, Japanese pianos (Yamaha, Kawai) began entering the North American market. They didn’t do well in our climate. In the 70’s, Korean pianos followed (Klingerman, Schnabel, Wagner, Samick, etc.). These were based on European designs and could be very inconsistent. Eventually, the Chinese entered the market as well. Nowadays, most pianos sold here are made in Japan, China, Korea, Indonesia and Mexico.
Many more American and Canadian made pianos vanished from the scene around that time. They were dealt a further blow by the arrival of digital pianos and synthesizers. Nowadays, it’s an extremely tough business. In my opinion, the recognition by parents of the developmental and educational importance of music with their children, particularly piano, is what’s keeping acoustic piano sales alive.
ur paragraph here.
Hmmm...they all start to sound the same,
after a while!