Buying Used Pianos Can Be a Smart Move But Caution Is Advised
Should I be looking at used pianos instead of new pianos? That is the dilemma a lot of first time piano buyers face. There is nothing wrong with buying a used piano if it is in good condition. Good used instrument are hard to find but it is not impossible. It will probably take a lot of time and patience to find a good one but there are some out there.
A WORD OF CAUTION
I don’t want to discourage from buying a used one but you need to approach the task carefully because there are a lot of old worn out instruments that people want to get out of the house. They will probably tell you it is in good or excellent condition if all the notes make some kind of sound. They are not trying to mislead you but they probably don’t have the expertise to make that judgment.
I get quite a few calls from people wanting to sell me their used piano. I do occasionally buy used ones but not very often. Most of them are not of the quality I want to sell and stand behind. Sometimes I am offered a used pi for free. All I have to do is pick it up. This is almost a sure indication that the piano is not worth much. The owners are just trying to get it hauled away so they don’t have to do it themselves or pay to have it moved. Keep in mind that for some pianos the appropriate location for them is the local dump.
Two of the worst places to get a used piano are schools and churches. Most schools sell their pianos because they are worn out and have been abused by the students. The cabinets are usually trashed. Churches on the other hand often have older pianos that were well worn when that received them. Many people that have old worn out pianos are unable to sell them so they donate them to a church and get a tax deduction and those are the ones they want to sell.
Free Is Not Always Cheap
Everyone likes a good deal. A free used piano or a cheap one from a yard sale may be hard to resist for an unknowledgeable buyer. A free or cheap piano is not always free or cheap when you have to move it or pay someone to move it and then find out it will require hundreds or thousands of dollars to make it work properly.
Something else you will want to avoid is antique pianos. Pianos that fall in this category are “square grands”, grand pianos from Europe with “Viennese” actions, and upright pianos that tuners call “birdcage” pianos. These pianos have beautiful cabinets and are a tempting buy but they are best left to collectors. They are not good pianos for practicing, even for the beginner.
I’ve said all this not to discourage you from buying a used piano (I sell new and used) but merely to get you to use caution you if you decide to buy one. Here is some information that may help you find the right piano. If you are not familiar with the piano mechanism (called the “action”) and the names of the parts, it would be impossible for me to tell you here how to determine the condition of a piano.
Here are some things you might look for
• Cabinet scratches and damage – Does it need to be refinished? Very expensive
• Chipped or missing keytops
• Keys not level – could indicate moth-eaten keybed felt
• Keys that don’t play – could mean some moving part is tight or broken
• Keys should repeat quickly after being played – if they don’t it could mean parts are tight due to exposure to excess humidity
• Notes that sound way out of tune with the rest of the piano – could be loose tuning pins and a bad pinblock
• Missing hammers or other parts in the action
• Uniform spacing of all action parts
• Check pedals – the pedal on the right is the sustain pedal and it must work. The others you can do without.
• Touch – How does it feel? Is it heavy or sluggish when you play it? If so there may be a problem.
This is just some very basic information to help you to check out a used piano. There are books available with much more information and pictures. One book you might consider is “The Piano Book” by Larry Fine.
If you really want to know what you are getting in a used piano and want to be sure you are not wasting your money, then it is absolutely necessary that you have a qualified piano technician evaluate the piano before you buy it. I would recommend using the services of a Registered Piano Technician (RPT) member of the Piano Technicians Guild. You should expect to pay a fee for this service but it can save you a lot of money by preventing you from making a bad purchase. It can also help you buy a used piano with the confidence that you have found a good one. In addition, the information you get from the RPT may also help you negotiate a better price.
The reason you would consider buying a used piano is to save money. Obviously you can’t pay a piano technician to look at a lot of pianos or you will be defeating you purpose. You need to check out the pianos the best you can with the information I have given above. When you have narrowed it down to one or two pianos then it is time to call a qualified piano technician to help you make the final decision.
I have given you a lot of information and a lot of things to watch out for and to avoid. A lot of the things I have said may sound negative but it is really intended to help you have a positive experience buying a used piano. If you use the information I have given you, then you should be able to find a good used piano that meets your needs.
If you need help in this area, please contact me.
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