HOW TO BUY A GOOD USED PIANO

FREE IS NOT ALWAYS FREE

Are you in the market for purchasing an acoustic piano? If you are then you need to read this article because in it I intend to enlighten you on how to buy a good used piano as the title says.

I tell people all the time that the very first thing they need to do before the purchase is to educate themselves on what to look for. One very important tip I will give you right off the bat is this .....FREE IS NOT ALWAYS FREE. By this I mean that very often it's the cheap things we get in life that end up costing us the most. 

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For instance, Grammy wants me to have her 105 year old full upright piano. You think, wow, this is great. But is it?

I think if you consider what I have written below you will be quick to say "I love you Grammy, that will never change, but no thanks on the piano." Because free is not always free as you will learn.

THE MAIN REASONS you educate yourself on how to buy a good used piano is at least....two-fold. 

(1) By educating yourself on how to buy a good piano you get the general knowledge of simple facts. Facts like, how old the piano is. Did you know you can download FREE a simple piano app called Piano Atlas.

The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet......
— Aristotle

This simple free app provides the age of the piano right there on the spot. You will learn how to tell if it has been used a lot or what condition the soundboard is in and the action parts like the hammers, the keys, the springs, the felts, the rusty strings, etc. 

You can tell a lot just by pressing the main damper pedal with your foot in terms of does it squeak, push hard, no resistance at all. In old pianos there will be excessive unwanted clatter or rattling of fatigued slow moving parts heard at the press of any key in the third through fifth octaves, etc. and many of the bass strings will have a "tubby" sound as if you were beating on the bottom of an old galvanized tub. 

(2) By educating yourself, even moderately, on how to buy a good piano, you will not be fooled or duped so quickly.

By this I mean, believe it or not most sellers, be they family, friend, acquaintance or stranger, "want to make money" by getting the best price they can. Don't be fooled on this because of love and so called honesty. There are exceptions on this but do know we are all business people at heart. 

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So, when you are educated a little you learn how to determine a pianos condition as said but the big thing to me is you learn to ask the right questions. Not to show off your knowledge or pianos but more importantly "to know the answer you expect to hear back". 

Why does this matter? Because if you have taken the time to be knowledgeable of pianos even a little bit you will get for yourself a better product. 

TIPS THAT WILL HELP YOU

1. Buy a used — not overused — piano.
2. Set a budget for the piano.
3. Where to buy a piano.
4. Hire a piano professional.
5. Will the piano be worth anything later.

I will delve into these tips in various ways as we proceed through the article. For now though, I think  you would do well to use these five tips as a general outline. It will give you a balanced approach.

QUESTIONS YOU NEED TO ASK YOURSELF

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    (1) How do I obtain some quick and easy general knowledge of what a piano should look and work like....on the inside? Yes, that's what I said ....on the inside. 

ANSWER: I am aware of pianists who play like Beethoven himself but have not one iota as to what it is that makes a piano function.  Fear not though because if you are one of those pianists you should know that  obtaining information that is relevant and meets your lack of structural/mechanical piano knowledge is quit literally everywhere. 

Remember this is the age of knowledge but where do I look you may ask.? I always go to U-tube. That's right. Plain and simple u-tube. If you can tap into about three simple u-tube videos pertaining to your subject you will come out of it with much confidence.

I always say that "knowledge is boss" because it is.

Let me point you in the right direction with a link to some u-tube videos that have helped others. Generally, in these videos other questions you have will be addressed because of the generality of the topic. 

    (2) What type of piano am I looking for?

ANSWER: There could be a brand name you are fond of and so you may search for that of course, but what I mean here is 'what size' piano do you want. This is something that you should have in mind when piano shopping.

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Some of the various pianos and their names are, for instance the granddaddy of the vertical pianos that being the Upright Grand Piano which is any piano 68” tall and over. Also you may have in mind the Standard Piano which is around 51”. Then just a tad shorter than the Standard is the ever popular Console Piano claiming any height between 44 and 51 inches tall. The list goes on to the Spinet Piano which is shorter again at 38” and under. 

Maybe you are interested in the Grands and Mini-Grands which have various lengths and names in accordance to those cabinet lengths. It is rather endless but the point to be made here is that it is helpful if you the buyer have an idea as to what you are looking for. 

    (3) What are you willing to pay for a piano?

ANSWER: Great question and you should have an answer that is unwavering. This is so very important to know and I'll answer that by saying first of all that buying a used piano allows you to save a lot of money. This is true. It may also be true that it is the only option you have to owning a good piano on a tight budget. Something to consider if you haven't already. 

Fortunately, pianos have a pretty good life expectancy if they have been well maintained and therefore under those conditions could really give you value for your money. However, since it does not come with the warranty of a new piano, then just as obvious is the fact that you need to take your time to ensure that you make a smart purchase.

    (4) What are the pros and cons of buying a piano from a retail dealer?

ANSWER: When purchasing a new or used piano from a retail dealer, you'll find certain bells and whistles that are intriguing. Things like a manufacturers warranty. This alone is enough to make you sit up and listen. Then you could get a complimentary tuning. They may offer free moving and you may even find a wider variety of colors and cabinet designs. 

Another upside of a dealer purchase is that you can generally select from a wider variety of new and used pianos.

On the downside of buying a piano from a dealer you can expect to pay more for the manufacturer's warranty. It generally will always come down to money.

It's just a fact of life if you want to let someone else take care of certain intangibles like moving etc. then it will cost you more in the end. Really, though, it will cost you anyway whether with the dealer up front or privately. 

    (5) What are the pros and cons of purchasing a piano privately?

ANSWER: On the upside pianos purchased privately are generally less expensive than retail. This only works though if the buyer is cognizant of what the piano they are viewing costs in street value.

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Personally, I think a private sale still works if you know piano values. If you need to bring along a piano tech then do so. Also you should remember that you have the right to talk the seller down in price whereas the dealership sale is usually firm and unmovable. 

On the downside, there are several added problems in purchasing privately. Your search requires extra travel to several homes to locate a suitable piano. There is no warranty. The moving cost is usually the responsibility of the buyer. Less selection in furniture cabinetry and finish.

QUESTIONS TO ASK THE SELLER

Why are you selling it?

I think this is a fare question to ask a seller of anything let alone a piano. Who knows you might shock them into revealing the truth so pay real good attention immediately after you ask them.

In reality though there could be multiple answers to this question ranging from the kids moved out and no one plays it now to we are getting a newer piano to I need the money. I believe that if you sum up their answer(s) with remarks they probably have made thus far you can put together a fairly good scenario. 

Some sellers, for instance, do actually need cash and they need it right away or they may be moving and do not want to take the piano. Therefore don't miss your chance to talk them down in price.

Another good question to ask right about now especially if you know the price the seller is asking is "Have you had many interested parties to this point"? If the answer is no then this is another clue that you can get the price down significantly. I would even offer a price at this point and see what they say.

How old is the piano?

Know one would be surprised by this question. In fact the suprise would come if a buyer "didn't" ask this question. Although, wouldn't it be a surprise to the seller if you, through the downloaded Piano Atlas mentioned earlier, said to them "your piano was made in 1963 says right here on my app".

Now, you would have the sellers attention and the sale will be easier, so might the discounted price.

Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind it doesn’t matter.....
— Mark Twain

No matter how you come to the age of the piano by app or word of mouth, it is very important to know how old it is for various reasons.

Such as, at this point you should be looking ahead in terms of if the piano is already 40 years old and you will want to get a long run out of it, well, it's already quit old. The parts are already quit fatigued. Don't you think? But that may not be a factor if it has been well looked after in terms of maintenance and scheduled tunings. 

Personally, I have fixed, maintained and tuned many older pianos and some of them hold up quit well. There are important decisions to be made when you are in this predicament but bottom line is this "You are looking for a good used piano BUT not an overused piano."

If you purchase this piano you want it to last so this is the reason you ask such questions or check your app. Am I getting through to you? This is why you will need to be somewhat educated in piano conditioning. Remember, "Knowledge is boss....."

Who was playing the piano?

You know it doesn't hurt to ask who played the piano mostly because if it's little kids especially unsupervised most of the time then you know it has taken some abuse. Sometimes a lot of abuse.

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Then again it could have been played by a professional pianist, Mozart's cousin or something and if so you can imagine it being in top order. Fish around with this question until you get the right answer. 

Case in point, I came from a piano today that is the product of a child banging on the keys and damaging the hammer butt springs among other parts. There are many of these springs that have pulled away from their mount rendering some of the keys quit useless.

This could be the situation here. So, don't be afraid to ask your questions and your follow up questions. It may be worth it to you.

Who tuned the piano?

If you can get this information....bonus. Now make a quick call to this tuner/tech and you will learn a lot about the piano. One of the reasons for this is that somehow we techs do not forget a piano. We may forget the people, their names and their faces but the piano we remember. That may sound weird but it is true. Besides who knows that they may have been getting 'daddies-mechanic' to do it to save money.

Again, I just tuned one recently that was in such a mess in many ways and it was because the lady's grandfather was bored one day and took at the piano to "get it straightened out". It ended up costing the lady a lot more money after I was done with it than if he had left it alone. It pays to ask this question.

Has the piano been moved around a lot?

It doesn't hurt to ask this question. I tuned a piano for a fellow one time who gave me the history of his piano. He said it was made in 1937 and spent some time in a bar in Chicago. I'm thinking well here we are 80 or so years later in a camp by a lake on the east coast of Canada.

Hmmm, makes you wonder where all this piano was shipped to before it showed up here. Every move, if not done professionally, is very hard on the structure of a piano. Not to mention the weather conditions it would have been exposed to. So, you might as well ask the question.

How much do you want for it?

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At this point you should be sure of two points. One, you are either "in-love" with this piano you have been discussing with the owner about or two, you are now convinced that this is not what you want you have determined there are just too many issues. 

So if it is the piano and you are convinced....now, take the bull by its nose ring and ask the question which should sound something like this ".....what is your bottom line price for this piano?" 

Are you ready to dicker with the seller? You should be. Don't forget that you will be incurring additional costs for shipment being a private sale. There will be the cost of tuning when it is landed.

Hopefully not but potential damage could happen in shipment. All this should determine what you feel is a fair price. 

CONCLUSION

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I think that if you will take the time to read this article and apply the principles therein you will be well on your way to achieving the goal.

The goal hasn't changed. It is being prepared to purchase the very best buy can make. Your knowledge of the subject will be impressive to whomever you deal with. Also, you will be amazed and very proud of yourself when it is all said and done. 

Who knows after all this you may want to start a business whereby you advise others the ins and outs, pros and cons of "How to Buy a Good Used Piano." 

Congratualions, you did it.

Written by Duane Graves of Duane's Piano Tuning & Technology.