How To Buy a Used Piano - KeyboardMag

How To Buy a Used Piano

A buyer's guide
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Robert Friedman tuning a 1942 Steinway Model L piano once owned by famed songwriter Hugh Martin, who wrote the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” first performed by Judy Garland in the movie "Meet Me In St. Louis." Photo by Ronnie Rosenberg-Friedman.

Robert Friedman tuning a 1942 Steinway Model L piano once owned by famed songwriter Hugh Martin, who wrote the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” first performed by Judy Garland in the movie "Meet Me In St. Louis." Photo by Ronnie Rosenberg-Friedman.

In my four plus decades of buying, selling and hunting pianos, I’ve watched people make a plethora of mistakes on the road to their own instrument purchases. Buying a piano is like buying a house: You need to know what’s under the roof! Here are five things to remember when buying a used piano.

1. Hire a Qualified Technician
No matter how much money you are spending, it’s always best to hire a credited piano tuner to make sure the instrument will hold its tuning at A440 pitch. If the tuning pins are slipping or the pinblock is damaged, it is likely to not hold a tuning. If you are still willing to buy the piano, a qualified technician can tell you what work and expenses will be involved. If you're not interested, just walk away. There are plenty of pianos for sale that don’t require major repairs.

2. It Starts with the Soundboard
Keep in mind that a piano’s soundboard is equally as important as its pinblock. If the soundboard has any cracks running underneath the bass or treble bridges, they can cause loss of tone and possibly buzzing to occur. Repairs to a piano’s soundboard are very costly, so unless you are buying an instrument that will be of great value after such work is completed (e.g., a Steinway), paying for such work is not a good investment.

3. A is for ACTION
The “action” of a piano refers to the moving parts inside of the instrument. These parts propel the hammers so they strike the strings and make your music come alive.
Piano hammers are made of felt and will become worn after many hours of play. They can be reshaped, but only up to a certain point. There are also a myriad of wood and felt action parts that work in concert with the hammers. These will also become worn over time, requiring refurbishment. If you look down into the piano and see that the hammers have deep grooves, or the mechanism sounds very noisy, the action most likely needs reconditioning or replacement. This can be a costly endeavor, so again, it’s only worth pursuing for a premium grade instrument.

4. You Can Judge a Piano By Its Cover!
A piano’s exterior cabinet should have a clean finish that is mostly free of cosmetic defects. If it looks good outside, it’s a sign that it was protected from sunlight, pets, children and other environmental factors. A piano needing exterior repairs is evidence that its owners may have been careless with its inner workings, too.

5. Hire a REAL Piano Mover
If you do decide to buy a used piano after receiving a good report from a qualified tuner, always hire a qualified piano mover to move it from its old home into yours. This can be one of the single most important decisions you will ever make. Accidents can happen, and that’s why accredited movers carry insurance. Ask for references. And if you need a mover you can trust, feel free to contact me. I know them all!

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Robert Friedman is a professional trader of Steinway and other premium grand pianos. His wealth of piano knowledge comes from over four decades of working alongside some of the most highly trained piano craftsmen of our time. Friedman has bought, sold and supplied to the world more used Steinway grand pianos than any other service. Watch for his upcoming collection of short stories entitled “The Steinway Hunter,” recounting the people and pianos Friedman found during his 45 years in the piano business. Find out more at virtuosopiano.com.