Buying A Used Piano – The Do’s and Don’ts

buying a used piano - do's and don'ts

We’re often asked by people who are about to buy a used piano; “How do I know it’s good?”, “Can I get a hand truck and a couple guys to move it?”, “It’s free, from Craigslist, should I get it?”.  These are all good questions and some have straightforward answers while others are a bit more complicated to answer. We’ve put together a simple guide with things to keep in mind while looking for a used piano. Just to be clear, we’re talking about buying from a private seller and not a used piano retailer.

Let’s start with the easiest question to answer: Can I get a couple guys and a hand truck to move the piano from my neighbors house to mine? To answer this question simply, NO. There are many reasons why this is not a good idea. Pianos are heavier than they look, upright pianos can weigh up to 800lbs. and grand pianos can weigh up to 1200lbs. You can not only risk serious injury to yourself, but you can severely damage the piano, your house/property, and the property of the person you’re buying from. Hire a professional piano mover to do it.

How do I know if the piano is in good shape?  There are so many factors to consider in answering this. The short answer is to hire a piano tech to come look at it and see if it’s worth it. A piano is not only an investment of money but it’s also an investment of home space, especially if you live in a big city like NYC, where your living space is a premium.

Here are some things to consider when looking into the condition of the piano.

Where was the piano stored? A piano like all instruments is kinda like a living and breathing creature in that its climate affects its life and condition. If a piano has been stored in a basement that’s dark and damp, it could be compromised by the extreme humidity. Climate controlled environments are best for instruments.

Is the piano in tune? If a piano is terribly out of tune it could be a sign of neglect to the instrument. Some pianos are so damaged that they can not even be tuned for a variety of reasons, including damaged tuning pins that would require a lot of work to fix.

How often was the piano tuned? If the piano is indeed in tune or relatively in tune, ask how often it was tuned. This will give you an idea of the type of care the piano has received over the years. Ideally, a piano needs to be tuned around 2 times per year. Of course tuning twice a year does not happen a lot of times on pianos so this is not to say that you have to buy a piano that has had at least 2 tunings per year over its life, but it will give you a sense of the care the instrument has received.

Who owned the instrument? If the piano has been owned by someone who’s been playing it often that is usually a sign that someone has been taking care of it.  For example if it was owned by a musician, you can be pretty sure that they’ve taken care of the instrument over the years. On the other hand, if it has just been sitting there for years unplayed, it’ll be harder to tell what the current condition is.

Do all of the keys work? If a key doesn’t work most of the time this can be a simple mechanical fix, so not a deal breaker. Conversely, if you play a single note on a piano and it sounds out of tune with itself, that could be a sign of a more serious problem. Most notes on a piano have 3 strings on them and if they’re not in tune with each other it could be an issue with the pinblock which is what the tuning pins are attached to. If there’s an issue with the pinblock, that’s a bigger deal and will require more repairs. 

Bottom Line: If you’re buying from a private seller make sure to at least have some of the above mentioned tips/questions in mind. The MOST important thing is to make sure a piano can be tuned if it’s out of tune when you see it. We strongly suggest hiring a piano tech for $100-$150 to come and check “under the hood” regarding the shape of the piano. Even if the piano is free, it is still a commitment in terms of getting professional piano movers for it and committing space in your home.