Buying a Piano

Buying a piano can be a very challenging task, with many aspects to consider, such as the appearance, mechanics, and sound.

The appearance of the instrument is something that is very important to many home-owners. Pianos come in a wide variety of styles, shapes, and sizes. Some are a delight to look at, while others, though they may play well and sound wonderful, may have a travel and time worn exterior.

Then there is the mechanical aspect of the instrument. It may have all original parts that are worn and not functioning at their best, or have recently been rebuilt. Hopefully it has been excellently maintained and will be a delight to any musician. The condition of the mechanics of the piano is an important consideration, whatever that condition is.

Finally, there is the audio aspect of the instrument. This is a highly subjective consideration. Some people like a bright and cheery sound, while others prefer a richer, more mellow sound.

These varied concerns are more easily worked through by an experienced piano player than a novice, as they will have a clearer idea of what they find pleasing. The greatest challenge is for parents who are not a pianists themselves, but who want the best possible instrument they can afford for their child.

Following are some guidelines to help with this situation:

  • The piano must play well.
  • It is important that the instrument can be tuned and will stay in tune as long as the humidity remains stable.
  • The piano must have a pleasant tone.
  • Proper regulation and being well voiced is important.

Even for a beginning student, the better the piano is, the more likely that the student will continue with their lessons and learn to play the piano well. Even a beginning student will quickly lose interest if their piano does not sound right or play very well.

I always recommend that the person buying a piano first locate a piano they are interested in, and then have me or some other technician go and examine the instrument. However, a brief list of things a novice can check out on their own is as follows:

  1. Look at the condition of the key-board. Are all the key-tops in place and in good condition? If not, assess the damage.
  2. Lower yourself so that you can look along the top of the keys and determine if the white keys are level.
  3. Check that all the notes sound when being played, and whether they all go down the same distance. Are there any clicks or knocking sounds while notes are played? Do any notes sound like more than one note is being played?
  4. Open the piano lid and front if possible, and look at the piano action (mechanical parts) to try to determine whether there is any damage. A couple of examples are hammers that are broken off or worn to the point where they are deeply grooved, or flat on the front instead of rounded.
  5. In the case of an upright piano, remove the bottom board of the piano. It is under the key-bed. There are usually wooden or metal springs that you push upwards while you pull the top of the board towards you. For this check you will want a portable light. There are two hardwood bridges which the strings cross. Each string is held tight to the bridge by means of two metal pins driven into the bridge on angles. It is important to check that there are no cracks developing around or along the line of these pins. It is also important to check that the bridges are not separating at any glue joints.
  6. In the case of an upright, if it is possible to move the piano from the wall, you can use your light to check the sound-board. You will find wooden ribs glued to the sound-board (usually on an angle, but sometimes vertically). These ribs must still be firmly held by the glue for their full length or you will probably hear buzzes or rattles at some point during the year as humidity fluctuates. For a grand, you may see cracks while looking down through the strings but you should crawl under the piano and look upwards at the bottom of the sound-board with a light, to check the ribs, etc.
  7. Check over the exterior of the piano to ensure the casters are in good condition and that the front legs are secure in the case of an upright. For a grand, make sure the piano is stable and that the pedal lyre is securely in place.

After you have chosen a piano that seems to meet your approval, it is time to contact the piano technician. After discussing your check-list it may be decided that the piano has too many problems and you should look further. On the other hand, the problems may seem relatively minor and the piano justifies the technician taking a look at the instrument. It is possible for the technician to give you a fixed price on any repairs and you can make your decision on buying a piano with confidence.

For additional information on used and new pianos, both acoustic and digital see www.pianobuyer.com.
Keep in mind that values for used instruments is very dependant on the geographical region in which you are located. Some regions are more prosperous than others which will affect the selling price for pianos.

If you live within a 50 kilometer radius of Smiths Falls, piano evaluation is one of the services I provide. I can be reached at grant@piano4u.ca or by phone at 613-284-8333 or toll-free at 1-877-piano4u (1-877-742-6648).