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Seven Important Steps for Buying a Used Piano (What to Look For)

Audrey's love for piano began at age six. She's a professional pianist for cruises, hotels and community events. Teaching is her passion..

A piano is one of the best learning tools ever invented and brings hours of  musical pleasure to one and all.

A piano is one of the best learning tools ever invented and brings hours of musical pleasure to one and all.

Seven Steps to Help You Buy a Piano

Do you know what you're doing when shopping for a piano? Be prepared to ask the right questions and learn at least the basics about pianos. I've prepared seven steps to help you do this. You'll save money and avoid buying the wrong type of piano:

  1. Consider the size of your room.
  2. Decide on a color or wood grain.
  3. What's your budget?
  4. Do you want a used piano or a brand new one?
  5. Is the piano for a beginning student or a professional pianist?
  6. Consider the sound you prefer.
  7. Will the cost of the piano include moving expenses? (Prices increase when you have steps or stairs).

There is something about a piano that brings warmth to a room and joy to the heart. Some people have no intention of playing piano yet regard the grandest of pianos as the centerpiece of a room. I find this very sad. But then, I'm a professional pianist, teacher and love the piano.

If you're seeking information for the express purpose of decoration, no need to read any further. You can stop here. However, if you're in the market for a used piano whose ivory's will be tickled by little fingers yearning to discover music, or an advanced pianist eager to play a Chopin Prelude, then please read on.

Now, allow me to share a few tried-and-true pointers to help you find the best piano for your hard-earned dollar.

Author, Audrey Hunt, performing on an old baby grand piano. An older piano can still have a beautiful tone if it has been well-cared for.

Author, Audrey Hunt, performing on an old baby grand piano. An older piano can still have a beautiful tone if it has been well-cared for.

7 More Things to Consider When Buying a Used Piano

Why are you buying a piano? Is it to fulfill a life-long dream, or is it to take little Billy taking his first piano lesson? Are you a professional pianist or a teacher? Maybe your reason is simply for show.

Consider why you want a piano before you start looking around. Your reason will influence the type and size of piano you're looking for.

Here are some things to consider before you buy your used piano.

  1. Who will pay for the moving expenses? Is this included in the price?
  2. Does the purchase include a piano bench? It should.
  3. Is the purchase guaranteed? If there is any guarantee, it's most likely limited.
  4. When dealing with a private seller, it's okay to ask why the piano is being sold.
  5. How many previous owners have there been?
  6. When was the piano tuned last?
  7. It's a good idea to take someone along to check out the piano when you're looking around. A piano tuner is best as this is their specialty.
Pianos must be regularly tuned to maintain a lovely tone.  Depending on the condition of the instrument recommended tuning is 2 to 4 times a year.

Pianos must be regularly tuned to maintain a lovely tone. Depending on the condition of the instrument recommended tuning is 2 to 4 times a year.

About a Used Grand Piano

Two factors will determine the size of your used piano. Your budget is one, and the size of your room is the other. If your room is big enough and you can afford a larger instrument, go for a grand piano. The larger the piano, the better the sound.

Pianos come in a variety of sizes. Let's look at the grand piano first. There are six basic types of grand pianos.

  • The petite grand is the smallest of grand pianos and ranges from 4' 5" to 4' 10".
  • The baby grand ranges in size from 4'11" to 5'6".
  • The medium grand is 5'7".
  • The parlor or living room grand ranges in size from 5'9" to 6'1 inches.
  • The semi concert or ballroom grand is 6'2" to 7 ft.
  • The concert grand is around 9 feet long and is the largest of the grand pianos.
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Read More From Spinditty

Vertical pianos come in all styles.  The taller the piano, the bigger the harp and sounding board will be.

Vertical pianos come in all styles. The taller the piano, the bigger the harp and sounding board will be.

The Vertical Piano

Vertical pianos are available in four different types:

  • The spinet is the smallest and ideal for those living with limited space. It stands at around 36 to 38 inches with a width of about 38 inches. It has less power due to its size.
  • The console is a little larger than the spinet, has about 40 to 43 inches, and is approximately 58 inches wide.
  • The studio is around 45 to 48 inches in height and about 58 inches in width. You'll find these pianos in schools as well as some churches. You're going to get a better sound from this model because of its larger soundboard and longer strings.
  • The upright has a range of 50 to 60 inches in height with a width of approximately 58 inches. The upright has an excellent tone and puts out more power.
The sounding board on a grand piano

The sounding board on a grand piano

Examine the Sounding Board on a Grand Piano

I will get a bit technical here because this is the most crucial step in looking at used pianos. Unfortunately, this problem is seldom, if ever, mentioned when the buyer examines a piano. It has to do with the sounding board.

The sounding board is the surface that the strings vibrate against to produce sound. It's the heart of the piano. Usually made of spruce, the shallow dome of wood amplifies the strings as the hammers strike them.

If the sounding board has a crack in it, the sound may be compromised. Even though these cracks can be repaired, unless you are ready to spend some extra money, you may be better off buying a piano with a solid sounding board.

If, of course, you are purchasing an old antique piano and want it for that purpose, remember to figure in the cost of replacing/repairing several parts of the piano, including work on the sounding board, pins, keys, and strings, etc.

The Sound and Brilliance of the Piano

How the piano sounds are the top priority in purchasing any piano used or new. The sound is dependent on the parts of the piano. If everything is in top condition with your used piano and is "out of tune," a qualified piano tuner can bring it up to par.

The length of the strings determines to a large degree the sound. Every note sounded on the piano results from a string or set of two or three strings, vibrating at a specific frequency, determined by the wire's length, diameter, tension, and density.

A shorter, lighter string, under more tension, vibrates faster and produces a higher-pitched sound.

The shape and size also determine the piano sound. There are two classifications of pianos. ( The digital piano is another classification that would make three. We are only discussing the acoustic piano in this article.)

The vertical or upright piano is suited for smaller rooms or areas. The upright pianos are also easier on the budget, depending on the maker. The console is preferred over the spinet because the length of the strings is longer on a console, providing a bigger sound.

What You Should Know About the Piano Keys on a Used Instrument

Make sure that all the keys are even, without chips or discoloration. Scrutinize the keyboard, making sure all the black and white keys are in place, and none are missing. Check every single key to ensure that a clear sound is produced upon striking each key.

If the sound is "tinny," or even worse, if a piano key is missing altogether, you are looking at additional costs for repairs.

Ivory keys are found on older pianos, and some may show a yellow discoloration. Ivory keys can be replaced.

There are 88 keys on the piano—52 white and 36 black. Knowing this will help you to see if any keys are missing quickly.

A full keyboard in top condition. If liquids are spilled on the keyboard,  you're in for a costly repair.

A full keyboard in top condition. If liquids are spilled on the keyboard, you're in for a costly repair.

What About the Piano Pedals?

Grand pianos are equipped with three pedals that alter the sound of the piano:

  • Una corda or soft pedal is found on the left and reduces the volume of sound, timbre, and color.
  • The sostenuto pedal is found in the middle. This pedal selectively sustains notes so that certain sounds can ring out while others usually fade. Only the grand piano includes this pedal.
  • Damper or sustain pedal: This pedal prevents the dampers from hitting the piano strings, which results in a lovely rich sustained tone. It's the most commonly used out of the three piano pedals. It is located at the far right and is used with the right foot. The sustain pedals allow the pianist to extend the sound of a note far longer than they could by simply pressing the key.

Upright pianos only have the una corda and the damper pedal. Be sure to examine the pedals to make sure they are working.

Mastering the pedals is a work of art requiring proficient study with a qualified teacher.

A grand piano pedal board consists of -  the una corda (left) sostenuto (middle) and damper (right).

A grand piano pedal board consists of - the una corda (left) sostenuto (middle) and damper (right).

Avoid placing food or drinks on the piano. Cover the keyboard when not in use.

Avoid placing food or drinks on the piano. Cover the keyboard when not in use.

Set your piano on piano coasters to prevent marks and worn out spots on the floor.

Set your piano on piano coasters to prevent marks and worn out spots on the floor.

8 Top Tips for Caring for Your Piano

Once you select your used piano, you will want to care for it properly. Failure to do so can result in costly repairs and interfere with the sound.

Here are some excellent tips for caring for your piano:

  1. Never, ever eat or drink while sitting at the piano. All it takes are a few crumbs of food to fall into your piano, and you can kiss your nice little savings goodbye. The same goes for placing food or drink on the piano.

    After I purchased my brand new Steinway L Grand Piano, I celebrated with a party and invited my college piano students. Someone placed a glass of red wine on the piano. It spilled onto the sounding board and felt hammers. That party cost me 1,500 dollars.
  2. Avoid placing anything on the keyboard, such as books, gadgets, clothing, or toys. Always keep the keyboard clean and keep the lid closed when not in use.
  3. No banging by children or adults on the keyboard.
  4. Clean the keys when needed with a soft cloth and a little warm water, and be sure it's well rung out.
  5. Dust the piano inside and out at least once a month.
  6. Avoid placing your piano by a window, draft, or heat, such as a floor furnace.
  7. To protect wood or carpet floors, place a furniture coaster under each leg, as shown in the photo above.
  8. Have your piano tuned at least twice a year and more if it is used regularly.

A Bonus Tip for Finding a Used Piano

I recommend searching for used pianos from private parties. You can get some great deals this way. Stores have a significant mark-up on instruments, even used ones. Search for a used piano on Craigslist, the newspaper, the internet, and even eBay.

Enjoy your piano, and thank you.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Audrey Hunt


Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on January 17, 2015:

Au fait

Hello my friend. How nice it is to see you here. While putting myself through college I sold pianos at the top rated piano company in the country. What I learned about pianos and sales was invaluable! I'm always eager to help anyone in the market for pianos. So I really want to thank you for sharing this information as well as the generous vote up and ratings.

C E Clark from North Texas on January 13, 2015:

This is great information for people unfamiliar with pianos and looking to guy one for the different reasons you listed. A great article and well written! Voted up, UI, and sharing with followers!

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on October 21, 2014:

Hi Paula -

Yes, a piano is a major purchase and most people haven't a clue as to what to look for. Thanks my friend and enjoy your day. Audrey

Paula Atwell from Cleveland, OH on October 21, 2014:

We had a piano in our home growing up. In fact, my parents still have it. I remember when we bought it. It is a major purchase and these tips are extremely useful. Thanks. :)

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on October 21, 2014:


I just did a search on the Sterling Upright and it looks like $450 would be a fair price. Hard to tell without looking at it. If you can find the serial number that would be helpful. Try googling and add the serial number.

Thanks, Sha - Audrey

Audrey Howitt -

I sure do appreciate your support. Thanks a million!

PegCole17 -

So nice to see you here Peg. Like your story about the antique piano. I enjoy accordion music. Maybe you'll give it a try?

tillsontitan -

What wonderful memories of your father and you together at the piano and singing. I had to laugh out loud, picturing that piano being rolled down the street to your house :)

Thanks my friend.

suzettenaples -

You've mentioned a very important tip. Keeping the piano tuned. Especially when selling it. So glad you shared this. Big thank you!

Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on October 20, 2014:

Audrey: Being a piano player in my youth, I enjoyed reading this and found it interesting and helpful. I haven't played the piano in 40 years but I loved it when I did. My piano was an upright, but I love grand and baby grand pianos the best. Always keep a piano tuned and especially tuned when you are selling one. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us.

Mary Craig from New York on October 18, 2014:

This wonderful hub brings back memories for me. When I was very young my older brother wanted to play piano so my father got a piano. He bought it from someone up the street and I can still see him pushing it down the street to our house.

It was an upright with ivory keys and after it was tuned it was great. My brother took lessons for about a month and that was it. My Dad didn't want it to go to waste so he taught himself how to play. He would ask me to sing a song and then find the keys on the piano. Oh the hours we spent together with him playing and me singing!

Thank you Audrey for the information and the memories.

Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on October 18, 2014:

Over the years I've seen some really nice pianos for sale. This guide would be useful if I had purchased any of them. Recently, I found a wonderful upright piano in an antique store. Wish that I had taken piano lessons as a child, I would have bought it. Dad brought me back an accordion from Italy when he was stationed in the Mediterranean, but that instrument was not too cool for a teen back then.

Audrey Howitt from California on October 17, 2014:

Woo Hoo! What a great article Audrey!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on October 17, 2014:

I found this article very helpful Audrey. I have a 1936 Sterling upright that I bought from a thrift store when my son was just a toddler. My intent was to take refresher lessons (I used to play when I was a child) to regain the fluidity I once had. Now when I read music, I have to think about it whereas at one time reading, recognizing, and applying was one motion.

Anyway, I had it re-strung and tuned when I bought it. I'm considering selling it because it's done nothing but take up space in my dining room (the only spot in the house that can accommodate it). However, now 2 keys stick (B and E), so it needs some work. It's also gotten scratched over the years. I'm not quite sure which category it falls under. I took measurements as I was reading this. It stands 44" tall, is 24" deep (at the keyboard), and is 53.5" wide. It has a hinged retractable lid that covers the keys when in use. It has no bench (I use a dining room chair when I do attempt to play).

First, which category does my antique piano fall under? Secondly, how can I determine what would be a fair price to ask? I paid $275 for it back in 1996 or so and paid $75 to have it re-strung and tuned.

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on October 17, 2014:


You can't imagine how many people invest in a piano and allow eating, drinking and banging. I really get upset when I see this, even though the responsibility is theirs.

Thank you for your comments Mary and the votes and sharing. Enjoy your day - Audrey

Mary Hyatt from Florida on October 17, 2014:

I bought a used upright piano. I couldn't afford a Grand. I never allowed kids to bang on it, or eat or drink near my piano.

Great Hub with great info!

Voted UP, etc and shared.

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on May 09, 2013:

Oh, good morning my dear and beautiful friend.

Your creativity is just amazing. I'm talking about your comments now. You certainly know how to make a girl feel her best. How is Colin these days? And are Tiffy and Gabriel getting plenty of attention?

Hurrah for the early summer weather. There's nothing like the warmth of the sun hugging the heart.

Things are fine here - gloriously beautiful living in the forest. Sending you hugs and plenty of love!

epigramman on May 09, 2013:

1. Make sure that piano comes with Audrey playing it

2. Make sure that piano comes with Audrey singing with it

3. Make sure that piano has Audrey's smile with it

4. Make sure that piano has Audrey's charm and wit with it

5. Make sure that piano has Audrey's delightful personality with it

6. Make sure that piano has Audrey's loving nature with it

Sending you our most warm and sincere good wishes dear Audrey from Colin and his cats, Tiffy and Gabriel, from lake erie time canada 8:55am with first cup of coffee and some nice romantic violin music - our early summer weather is finally here and I hope all is well for you my dear friend and esteemed colleague

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on April 07, 2013:

Lord - The sound of the purity of the piano tuning in to one's emotional pallet of colors is most beautiful. Your appreciation for my hub warms my heart on so many levels. Thank you dear man!

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on April 07, 2013:

chef - I love your story about the old piano you and your friends moved. It's a huge job. My son and his friends have moved a few of mine at one time or another. Whew! The sound of the piano is in a class all it's own. Of course I'm somewhat partial :) Thanks for the vote!

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on March 11, 2013:

Gitty - I recommend you find someone in your area to help you with a piano. The instrumet needs to be tested by an expert. Most piano tuners really know everything about pianos.


Gitty on March 11, 2013:

Hi, I'm a beginning piano player and want to buy a used piano that will provide beautiful quality sound even when I can play professionally. Is there any way to find someone who can help me buy a used piano (for a fee of course)? If you provide that service can you please call me at 201-921-3599 or email me at Sincerely, Gitty

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on October 15, 2012:

cclitgirl - Oh, I do hope you can one day have your piano with you. You miss it, I can tell. And just being able to sit down at your piano and play whenever you feel like it is magical. I appreciate your comments. Take care.

ChristyWrites - Thank you so much for leaving such a nice comment. I'm pleased that you found it useful and hope others will too. There are a great many pianos out there that are used and actually have a better tone than one that is brand new. Take care, my friend.

teaches12345 - I just have to ask - do you ever play the piano anymore? I love to help others find the right piano when I can. Makes me feel good:) Thanks so much for being here.

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on September 20, 2012:

You've answered so many of my questions with this hub! I have a 1912 upright. I'm the second owner. When I had it worked on we found a WWII gas coupon and a 1932 penny in the bottom of it.

I'm also babysitting my daughter's baby grand until she can move from her apartment to a house. I'm going to miss it when she takes it back. I hardly play, but it looks beautiful in my living room's bay window. I do try to protect it from too much light and never open the windows, but I do worry about it not being against an inside wall. If the sound is still good, do I need to worry about it?

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on September 19, 2012:

Prasetio30 - Thank you Prasetio for enjoying this hub on pianos. It's nice to see you. The piano can bring many beautiful types of music into the home. If I lived close to you I would teach you how to play the piano to bring you fulfillment and happiness. Take care, my friend.

girishpuri - Hello. I see that you have been busy reading my hubs. I thank you for your support. Your comments left me with a smile on my face. I will be around to check your hubs out very soon. Again, thank you.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on September 19, 2012:

Audrey, for me a piano has always held a vision of elegance and beauty. Been in awe at the almost stately look of this magnificent instrument of music all my life, I've always wished to learn playing a piano. Not found the time yet though. But I hope, I will one day!

These are wonderful and useful tips for buying a used piano. In fact I learned quite a few things about the piano itself. The piano pictures are amazingly beautiful.

Voted up all the way and across and shared. Bookmarked this hub.

traslochimilano from USA on September 17, 2012:

Nice tips for Buying A Used Piano. Thanks

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on August 18, 2012:

Green Lotus - Your dream of having a grand piano will come true and when it does, I'll hop the first jet and give you some complimentary lessons. Thanks for bookmarking.

drbj - I had to sell a grand piano once also and for the same reason. It was a difficult decision to make. Thanks my friend for bookmarking this and hope all is well with you.

IntegrityYes - (love the name). I appreciate your assurance that this hub will be helpful for anyone interested in buying a used piano. So very nice and thank you!

Joseph De Cross from New York on August 17, 2012:

Great Tips vocalCoach! I was close to learn how to play, but gave up. Love to hear them all the time. You did good on this one! Hopefully will help so many people interested in buying them. Thanks for sharing your heart on this hub!

Andrew Spacey from Sheffield, UK on August 13, 2012:

Great information and the hub is a delight. All my four sisters play piano,plus my partner, and I have always loved to hear it being played. Sadly I never got lessons - I'm just about satisfied strumming on an old guitar!

But the piano is different class. ....I once moved an old beaten up jazz piano from an Edinburgh church cellar to my house when we lived in Scotland! What a job that was. Couldn't afford to pay for delivery so did it myself with two student friends. What a work out we had! But the piano was free so in the end it was all worth the while...after a tune up it played wonderfully.

I'll vote this up.

Dianna Mendez on August 12, 2012:

I played piano as a child, and your hub brought back warm memories. You certainly have a great piano and have provided great advice for those who are interested in purchasing.

Audrey Hunt (author) from Pahrump NV on August 12, 2012:

Martie - Always such a pleasure to see your beautiful face in my area. Thanks for liking this and taking time out of a very busy schedule to give this a going over and commenting. Take care!

Genna - There's nothing more beautiful in tone than a Steinway, especially the size you have. My Steinway was shipped from Beverley Hills, California to Hawaii, moved 4 times in Hawaii, then shipped back to San Francisco, California and moved about 7 more times. Only had it tuned a few times during all that and it held the most beautiful tone. And yes, temperature is a major factor which I probably should have wrote more about. Thanks Genna!

Christy Birmingham from British Columbia, Canada on August 12, 2012:

What a useful and well-written hub. I think this one will be a great guide for anyone looking to get a piano that just can't afford brand-new (more and more people with the current economies). Thanks for all of the work you put in here. I vote up and will share too.

Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on August 12, 2012:

This hub makes me want to get back into piano playing. It's about ten years since I've played with any regularity. I graduated college and haven't done much with my piano playing since then. Part of the problem is that I moved to NC from CO - and my piano is still at my parents' house. I haven't figured out how to move it out here without scratching/denting/chipping or otherwise causing harm to it. But you are right - it adds so much to a room. Thank you so much for sharing this information. :)