How to Buy a Used Piano
A well-made piano can play beautiful music for decades, and so it’s often an economical and ethical choice to buy a used instrument instead of a new one. However, pianos are delicate and complex, and some of them don’t wear their age as well as others. It will be helpful to understand how to sift through the used pianos you’re looking at in order to find the perfect one. It is also good to know what brands of pianos are reliable, how to check a piano's age and working parts, and when to contact professionals for advice and services.
Determining Your Needs
Know why you need a piano.Are you a recent conservatory graduate seeking to pursue music professionally? You probably have favorite brands and features, so focus on the preferences you have. Are you simply looking for an instrument for your elementary-age children to practice on? You will probably have more flexibility, but will still want to focus on quality and durability. Buying a piano is a commitment, and no matter who you are, the instrument you purchase should be in good condition and in tune.
- Think about if you’re settled in your current dwelling. It’s best to buy a piano if you don’t plan to move for a while, since they’re tricky to transport.
Nail down your budget.Buying a used piano is usually cheaper than buying a new one, but it’s still more expensive than a harmonica. Furthermore, there are hidden costs in acquiring a piano that need to be considered.
- Expect to spend a minimum of 00 on a well-made used piano.
- How will you get the piano home? You probably can’t strap it to the roof of your car, and most movers don’t specialize in transporting pianos. Your best bet is to book a trained piano mover, which can cost as much as a few hundred dollars.
- Consider the other professional help you’ll need. In some cases, you may seek the input of a Registered Piano Technician (RPT) before you buy, and in others, you may need to make an appointment with a piano tuner to get the instrument in ideal condition before you play it.
Decide where the piano will go.You probably already know if you’re looking for a grand or a modest upright piano, but use a measuring tape and make sure you have plenty of space for it. While you’re at it, measure your doorways and stairwells (if applicable). It’s no use finding a perfect piano if you can’t get it into your home.
- An average upright piano is 60 inches long, 44 inches tall, and 24 to 30 inches deep.
- A baby grand is around 5 feet in width and depth.
- Remember to leave extra room for your preferred seating.
Know your brands.You might already have a good handle on which piano brands you like and don’t like. A brand’s quality can vary a bit from model to model, but a well-known brand’s name on the piano is generally an encouraging sign.
- You can generally rely on Yamaha, Kawaii, and Pearl River for solid budget pianos.
- If you want to get really fancy, look into Steinway & Sons or Bösendorfer pianos.
Find a Registered Piano Technician.If you don’t quite trust yourself to check everything, the input of a piano technician can soothe your mind. A piano can look like it is in good condition, but require more repairs than it’s worth. For example, replacement of the pin block that holds the pins at the correct tension can cost thousands of dollars. A good way to find a technician is through either your local store, tuner, or from the Piano Technicians Guild.
- Ask your technician to accompany you to a sale or store. Say "I'm hoping to go to Alison's Piano World next week to pick out an upright piano. Are you free to come with me to advise?"
- You can also ask your technician if they’ll tell you about a piano based on pictures that you text them. Say "If I can show you photos of a baby grand from Alison's, will you be able to tell if it's in good shape?" If they say yes, ask "What parts of the piano should I focus my pictures on?"
Visit a piano store.This will give you a good perspective and plenty of options. Piano stores generally have used pianos that they have taken on trade or consigned from people in your area. They’ve usually checked and tuned the pianos for you, and they may have technicians and tuners on hand to help you purchase.
- If you haven’t visited the store before, read up on online reviews first.
- A good store will let you take time to inspect the piano, and won’t rush you to make a sale.
Be wary of private sellers.These are tricky. You might be able to find a good deal on Craigslist or another public forum, but the pianos sold by regular people probably haven’t been through all the stringent vetting that a piano in a good piano store has.If you’ve got your heart set on a particular piano, check if it’s a reputable brand, and bring an RPT with you.
Ascertain the piano’s age.So you’ve found a piano you think you might like! The first and easiest way to learn about it is to check its age. Find the serial number by looking between the bass and tenor strings (on a full size) or beneath the lid (on an upright). Then, feed it into a Piano Age Calculator like .Ideally, it should be under 30 or so.
Inspect the piano.Take a deeper dive into the piano you like, and carefully examine all the parts. It’s best to have an RPT to help you do this, but you can certainly do it by yourself. In general, think smooth. The piano should be even in texture, movement, and sound.
- First, look at the piano’s case. Does it have a musty smell or termite holes? Avoid it. Is the finish cracked? It might’ve been standing near a window, and the atmosphere that damaged the finish probably also damaged the tone.
- Next, look at the keyboard. You want keys that make a straight line (or curve slightly up in the middle), move easily, and sound fairly consistent in tone. Play each key. Do you hear any rattles or wobbles? If not, that’s a good sign.
- Now, open the lid. Check if the hammers are worn and the strings are evenly spaced. All fabrics (like the felt and strings) should look fresh, not frayed.
- Get down on the floor and check the pedals and bridges. The pedals should move easily, not loosely. There should be absolutely no cracks in the bridges.
Make sure it’s in tune.How can you tell if you like the way the piano sounds if it does not sound the way it should? If the piano is not in tune, it probably means the owner or store has not provided any maintenance to the piano, which is a red flag.
- A piano store should have a tuning fork so you can check. You can also use a tuning app on your smartphone.
Ask plenty of questions.Whether you’re buying from a store or a private sale, ask as many questions as you want to. A piano is a big purchase, and a reliable seller will be more than happy to answer some of your queries. Here are some important ones:
- How old is this piano?
- Do you know what maintenance has been done on it?
- Who plays or played it? (Students, kids, family…)
Move the piano with a trained piano mover.As you’ve learned from your research and examinations, a piano is a beautiful and complex instrument! Therefore, it’s best to find a mover who has been specifically trained in pianos to transport it for you. You can check your phone book or local online listings, or ask the store if they have any recommendations.
QuestionWhere can I buy the cheapest piano?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou could try using online services like Craigslist or Ebay. It's a riskier choice but it will be cheaper.Thanks!
- Take your time. A piano is a big purchase, so make sure you find one you feel committed to.
- The cost of replacing a pin block for a piano that will not hold a tune is thousands of dollars.
- Take care of your new instrument! Some people buy a piano and provide no maintenance to the piano whatsoever.
Video: Buying A Used Piano on Craigslist - What to Look For
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