If you’re in the market for a used piano, it might be overwhelming to know where to start. A quick search on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace will bring up tons of options, ranging from free to thousands of dollars. In addition, you’re likely to find a variety of brands and styles of pianos, with conditions ranging from like-new to as-is. 

It can be risky to buy a used piano. You might end up with a piano that needs a lot of work or that has on-going problems. But, there are also a lot of great pianos out there that just need a new home and someone eager to play them. If you’re thinking about buying a used piano for your home, here are a few things to think about.

1. The lifespan of an acoustic piano is about 60 years.

Many antique pianos are beautiful and intriguing. However, if you are considering an older piano for your home, you should be aware of the potential issues it may have. While many people assume that pianos improve with age, a piano actually reaches its fullest potential after approximately 60 years. This is because pianos have thousands of moving parts in them, so there are many things that can break and wear out over time. 

Unless an older piano has been completely restored and refurbished, you probably won’t enjoy practicing on it. In fact, it’s likely that the strings will no longer hold their tune.  

2. Pianos need to be tuned and maintained regularly.

When you buy a piano, you are taking on the responsibility of keeping it tuned and maintained. If you live in a climate with fairly predictable seasons, you’ll want to have your piano tuned in both the fall and spring once the weather and humidity changes. This is because the wood in a piano can be sensitive to humidity changes that will affect the tuning and sound. Similarly, the action inside of your piano has a lot of felt parts that swell and wear out over time. Worn felt can make keys stick, change the action of the keys, and cause other issues.

Plan to schedule a tuning for about one month after your piano has arrived in your home. This will give your piano time to adjust to the humidity and temperature of its new location.

Click here for more tips on piano tuning, and to find a piano technician in your area, visit ptg.org.

3. Just like any big purchase, not all brands are equal.

In your search for a used piano, you’ll run across many different brands. Just like cars and electronics, there is a wide range of quality between brands.

Among reputable brands of pianos are Yamaha, Baldwin, Kawai, and Steinway. Of course, there are many others too, so take some time to do a little research to find out about the quality of a specific brand. 

4. You may be responsible for moving your piano.

If you’re buying a piano from an individual, you will need to think about how you will move your piano into your home. A professional piano mover can ensure that your piano is moved securely and safely without damaging the exterior. Click here to check out some great piano movers, or try searching in your area! 

5. You should try it before you buy it.

If you don’t play the piano yet, take a friend along who does play to try out the piano. First, make sure that everything is in working order. Play every key to make sure it plays properly and that each key sounds with a consistent tone. Test out the pedals and make sure you’re happy with the outside appearance of the piano.

Play your favorite pieces on the piano to see how it feels and responds. Every piano has a unique feel and sound, and every pianist has preferences for what they expect a piano to sound like. Make sure that you like the way that your music sounds on the piano. If you prefer playing loud and percussive music, a mellow piano might feel frustrating and limiting to play. Similarly, if your strong suit is to play lyrical, melodious music, you might find that a really bright sound is overwhelming and hard to control. Be willing to pass up a piano if you don’t like the sound or feel of it. 

6. You should ask questions before you buy! 

Before you go to try out a piano to purchase, ask these questions first to find out if the piano is in good condition and worth the investment.

    • What year was it made?

Many piano owners won’t know the answer to this question off the top of their head, but it is easy to find the serial number inside a piano. If they lift the lid, they should be able to find the serial number. If you Google the serial number along with the brand name of the piano, you should be able to learn a bit about when and where it was made.

Image result for piano serial number

Example of a serial number in a Steinway piano.

    • How long have you owned this piano?

If the seller of the piano isn’t the original owner, there may be some unknown history about the piano as far as maintenance (or lack of maintenance) that will affect the quality of the instrument.

    • Has it been tuned regularly?

Ideally, you want an instrument that has been tuned and maintained on a consistent basis over the years. If it hasn’t been tuned regularly, you might have a piano technician look over the piano before you purchase it to ensure that it can still hold its tune and that it doesn’t have any problems.

    • Was it stored in a stable environment?

A piano should always be stored in an environment with stable temperatures and humidity, out of direct sunlight and away from blowing vents. If a piano was stored outdoors, in a garage, in a basement, or in a storage unit without climate control, it could have a lot of problems. Dampness and temperature swings can really impact all of the wooden moving parts as well as the strings.

    • Has it been moved before?

Pianos require special care when moving. If it’s not done properly, moving a piano could cause damage to the instrument both cosmetically and mechanically. It’s helpful to know if the seller has moved the piano before, if it was moved professionally, or if there were any problems with the move.

    • Are there any issues with it?

Hopefully, any problems were disclosed from the beginning, but if nothing specific has been addressed, it’s always a good idea to confirm that everything is in good working order. The seller may have forgotten to mention something or left out some details.

    • Was it played frequently?

This question isn’t a huge priority, but it’s nice to know how much use and wear and tear a piano has had. A piano that has sat unused for many years can have a lot of potential problems. On the other hand, a piano that has had heavy use over the years could have a different set of problems. Either way, it’s nice to know what you’re getting yourself into. 

We hope you enjoy your treasure hunt of finding the perfect piano! As with purchasing anything used, it will likely take time to find the right piano that meets your criteria, budget, and needs.

Be extra cautious about taking on a piano that is out of tune, has broken keys, or has other problems, especially if you or your child plan to learn the piano with it. It can be really frustrating and discouraging to learn the piano on an inferior instrument. If you don’t love how the music sounds or if keys aren’t working properly, you won’t want to play the piano and you probably won’t have optimal success. Don’t feel guilty about taking your time or being picky about finding the perfect piano for you. Once you’ve found it, you’ll be glad you took your time! 

This post was written by Megan, piano teacher and author of Pianissimo: A Very Piano Blog. Visit her website for more piano related blogs for teachers, parents, students, and all things piano.

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