Buying a Used Piano? What to Look For. Buyer Beware.
Be Prepared When Shopping for a Piano
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 six steps to help you do this. You'll save a good deal of money and avoid buying the wrong type of piano.
What should I look for when buying a piano?
- Consider the size of your room
- Decide on a color or wood grain.
- What's your budget?
- Do you want a used piano or brand new?
- Is the piano for a beginning student or a professional pianist?
- Consider the sound you prefer.
- 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 a piano at all, 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.
I suppose using a beautiful grand piano as a planter is comparable to a beautiful swimming pool which is never used. What a waste!
If you're seeking information for the express purpose of decoration you need read no 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.
Questions to Ask When Buying a Used Piano
7 Things to Consider When Buying a Used Piano
Why are you buying a piano? Is it to fulfill a life-long dream or is little Billy taking his first piano lesson? Are you a professional pianist or a teacher of piano? 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.
- Who will pay for the moving expenses. Is this included in the price?
- Does the purchase include a piano bench? It should.
- Is the purchase guaranteed? If there is any guarantee it's most likely limited.
- When dealing with a private seller, it's okay to ask why the piano is being sold.
- How many previous owners have there been?
- When was the piano tuned last?
- 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.
How Often Should a Piano be Tuned?
About a Used Grand Piano
There are two factors that 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 6 basic types of grand pianos.
- The petite grand is the smallest of grand pianos and ranges in size 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 inch.
- 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.
Early Version of a Vertical Piano
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 and has a height of 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 it's 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 a very good tone and puts out more power.
Examine The Sounding Board on a Grand Piano
I'm going to get a bit technical here because this is the most important 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 actually amplifies the strings as they are struck by the hammers.
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 is 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 it is "out of tune," a qualified piano tuner can bring it up to par.
The length of the strings determine to a large degree the sound.Every note sounded on a piano is the result of a string, or set of two or three strings, vibrating at a specific frequency.which is determined by the length, diameter, tension and density of the wire.
A shorter, lighter string, under more tension, vibrates faster, and produces a higher-pitched sound.
The piano sound is also determined by the shape and size. There are two classifications of pianos. ( The digital piano is another classification which 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. This is because the length of the strings are 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. Examine the keyboard carefully, making sure all the keys, both black and white, are in place and none are missing. Check every single key to assure 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 quickly see if any keys are missing.
Avoid Placing Any Liquids on a Piano Such as Coffee or Water.
What About the Piano Pedals?
Grand pianos are equipped with three pedals which 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 fade normally. Only the grand piano includes this pedal.
- Damper or sustain pedal. This pedal prevents the dampers from hitting the piano strings which result in a nice 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 allows 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.
Piano Pedals on a Grand Piano
Use Piano Coasters to Protect Flooring
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 good tips for caring for your piano:
- 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 on to 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 clear and if a over comes with the piano 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 big mark-up on instruments, even used ones. Search for a used piano on Craigs list, the newspaper, internet, and even E-Bay.
Enjoy your piano and thank you
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© 2012 Audrey Hunt