What should I consider when purchasing a second-hand piano?

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What should I consider when purchasing a second-hand piano?

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The short answer is:don't do it

This council comes from many years of visiting instruments that have been purchased with the hopes and dreams of a disappointed family who has just been told that the small fortune they just spent on a beloved piano has turned out to be a worthless, antiquated, unmentionable pile of rubbish.

This for several reasons. There are those out there who are making a lot of money playing upon the ignorance of the piano buying public. They have found that they can take and clean up an old instrument, make the metal work shine, polish the wood, and in general tidy up the appearance of an otherwise useless piano, and place a high price tag on it.

There seems to be a sense, that the higher the price, the better quality the instrument, which may have some relevance. But, these charlatans have turned this into a lucrative practice. There are several things you can do. Avoid the down-market piano vendors. These are the people who in general have no training in the trade as technicians. Ask for their certification if any, and ask some hard questions about the piano you are proposing to buy.
  • A. Will it be tuned to concert pitch before you take it away.
    B. "Will I get a free tuning in my home"
    C. "What kind of warrantee are you prepared to make"

The answer to these questions should help. Wherever possible, bring along a technician of your own choosing to vet the choice for you, or to help you make an appropriate one. Try the piano. Use your common sense. Don't get fooled by the case. Often the case holds a host of obnoxious surprises. More on these obnoxious surprises. That second hand piano that you have recently purchased contains a lot more than the hammers, strings, and other pieces of wood and metal. The keys rest in what amounts to a storage space. This storage space has probably been unseen for anywhere from 50 to a hundred years. The question is, what lies hidden in this storage space. This isn't urban myth, nor is it anecdotal observation. The dirt and debris that settles in a piano over a space of a hundred years is to be seen to be believed. If you do shop for a piano from a dealer, ask that he remove the keys for you to have a look underneath. Look at the interior underneath the keys. Minimally, this should be clean, free of rubbish. Maximally, the interior felts, paper washers, and everything else that contributes to smooth operation of the key should be in good condition.

If you buy a piano from a neighbour down the road, it is a good idea to have the piano cleaned out, all the dirt and rubbish removed from inside it. This is more than aesthetics’, it's a health issue. The filth in there can not only represent the carrying of dirt and debris into your home, but can be the carrier of disease either as a result of critters having taken up residence within the piano, or just the case of bacteria establishing residence in a friendly environment.

I have often come to situations where the child is sitting in front of a totally filthy instrument and playing on it, possibly breathing in some very hostile substances. The increase in cases of asthma being reported generally will be possibly a result of children playing on a filthy instrument. This isn't meant as a scare tactic, but rather to point out another side, possibly a hidden one to the normal aspect of second hand pianos. Would you get into a filthy car from a dealer, regardless of the age? In evaluating the potential candidate for second hand purchase, Feel the keys, are they uniformly distributed across the keyboard, are they in alignment? Are they clean, chipped, or not? Do they all work (a minimal requirement). Do all the notes feel uniform across the keyboard? Does it "sound" like a piano? I'd expect anyone, or shop to sell me a piano that had been basically prepped before it went out the door. Is it on pitch? Is the shop owner prepared to assure you this is the case? Then, sleep on it, look at a few more instruments before putting down hard cash. Butt most of all get advice, your local piano tuner will be glad to help.

Robin Foster MABPT
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