Some Tips on Buying a Used Piano without Wishing You Hadn’t


I frequently get calls from people thrilled that they just got a piano cheap or free.  It is now sitting in their garage or living room waiting for someone like me to come and, as one man said to me, “Work your magic on it.”  Unfortunately, I have no magic, and when I get to the person’s home, I often find that the piano is suffering from major decrepitude, and there is little to be done for it except to rebuild it, if it isn’t beyond the hope of that possibility

 

A free or cheap used piano in this condition is far from a good deal.  Most people who purchase used pianos are not looking to spend a lot of money to get it in shape and are greatly distressed when the piano tech opens their piano and gives them the bad news: The tuning pins are loose, which will make a nice tuning difficult if not impossible; the pitch is a hundred and fifty cents low;  the strings are brittle and ready to break at any attempt to raise the pitch to standard; the action is badly out of regulation, and the parts are worn to the point that trying to do a decent regulating job would be an exercise in vanity.  I have charged people a few hundred dollars to get such pianos to “work” – using “work” in the broadest possible sense of the word.  They want their children to have piano lessons, and this piano is the best they can afford for now.  To be faced with the reality that to do everything that needs to be done on their poor old instrument can cost them into the thousands must be very discouraging.  So, I do the best I can for them on what they can reasonably afford.

 

Now to the point of this essay.  This sad state of affairs does not have to happen to anyone who will follow the steps I want to outline here.  These steps are not complicated or difficult or terribly expensive, but you will need to invest time and patience and a little money in the process.  You will also need to refuse to take short cuts.

 

Here is the gist: First, don’t be in a hurry.  Second, educate yourself.  Third, search carefully for an instrument, applying everything you have learned to every piano you look at.  Forth, call a piano technician to check your work.

 

DON’T BE IN A HURRY.

Time is a friend when you are in the market to buy a piano — new or used.

Haste truly does make waste more often than not, so make up your mind from the beginning not to be in a hurry.

 

EDUCATE YOURSELF

I cannot stress this point enough.  Even if you are a seasoned pianist, you probably know little about pianos beyond your tactile and auditory experience with them.  I have been playing pianos since I was six; I have two degrees in music with a piano minor;  as a music educator in public and private schools and in studio teaching I have used pianos in a professional capacity for most of my adult life.   However, it wasn’t until I began my course in piano technology on my sixtieth birthday that I realized how ignorant I was of this complex instrument.  As I look at the Yamaha that sits across the room from me as I write this, I smile at how utterly clueless I was when my wife, Nancy, and I picked it out in the piano store many years ago.  It was purely by the mercies of God that we chose such a fine piano.

 

But you don’t have to be clueless.  Go to https://pianotuning.com/ and click on “Store.”  Scroll down and click on How to Buy a Good Used Piano by Willard Leverett.  This is a wonderful book, and I hope it never goes out of print.  It will cost you about twelve dollars plus shipping.  It is only seventy pages long with lots of pictures, so it will take you only an hour or two to read.  When you are done, however, you will know everything you really need to know to be a wise used piano buyer.

 

If you want to build on the education you will get from reading this book, you may want to investigate www.pianobuyer.com by Larry Fine.  There is a wealth of information here for any potential purchaser who wants to dig deeper.  It is “The definitive Piano Buying Guide for buying new, used, or restored pianos and digital pianos…” and you can explore this site online or get it in print.  It includes current prices, specifications, ratings of pianos in the market place, and help on how to buy pianos.   It is not a two hour read, but you will find it an invaluable reference tool.

 

Finally, you may want to go to http://bluebookofpianos.com/ and look around for a while at the services they offer.  This is a valuable site for piano buyers and sellers.  Its title accurately describes it.  It is a good site to know about when a seller seems to be high on the asking price.

 

If after doing your homework, you are puzzled about something in the material you read, don’t be afraid to ask the teacher – me.  I think I was born to teach, and I don’t mind questions.  You’ll find my contact information on the home page.

 

SEARCH WITH ATTENTIVENESS AND PERSEVERENCE

You are now ready to begin your search.  You should by now have a brand name or two and a model or two in mind.  Make sure you have a target.  Don’t be ready to grab any old piano that comes along.  Have a goal – a make, a model, and a price you believe is equitable for both you and the seller—a price that you are willing to pay.  You may have to flex a little as you search, but if you have something specific in mind before you begin, you will flex more wisely.

 

Go ahead and look on craigslist.org or other such sites.  You can Google “used pianos,” but predetermine that you are not going to buy anything (or even take it free) if you have not examined it.  Make sure that you do everything that Willard Leverett teaches in How to Buy a Good Used Piano.  Do everything on every piano.  Skip nothing.  Take your time – even if the piano you are looking at is free.  You do not need someone else’s hopeless junk in the middle of your living room because you “felt funny” about carefully inspecting it.

 

Be patient.  You may have to look at several pianos, and it could be discouraging for you and your family, but you will not regret it if you persevere.

 

One more thing.  I don’t remember if Willard Leverett mentions this or not, but there is something crucial that you must look for in any used piano: Evidence of mice.  Mice love pianos, but if pianos were alive, I can assure you that the feeling would not be mutual.  Mice are not good for pianos, or you, or your house; so if you see evidence of prior or present habitation in a piano you are looking at, I recommend saying, “No thank you,” and looking elsewhere.

 

CALL A TECHNICIAN

You will do this only after you have diligently scrutinized your potential piano.  You don’t want to pay a technician to evaluate every piano you look at, only the one that comes out on top of the heap after you have done your own research.  If you do everything you are supposed to do before you call the technician, it is far more likely that after his inspection he will say to you, “I think you’ll be happy with this piano.”

 

Avoid using a technician who does not charge enough for this service.  This is not a five or ten minute twenty-five dollar job.  I have a forty-three point inspection I go through, and I do a rough tuning just to make that the instrument is thoroughly tunable.  This process takes me about two hours, and I charge $90 for it.  I takes such pains because I don’t want to recommend a lemon.

 

CONCLUSION

I sincerely hate to see anyone get a bad deal on a piano, but I also believe that if you will follow my suggestions here, you can avoid such a letdown.

 

Let me know if this article is helpful  to you.

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