HOW TO BUY A NEW OR USED PIANO
The reason most people sell their piano is because they don't use it any more and they haven't maintained it for years. Then we have the smaller group of people who are either selling a very nice piano for hardship reasons, etc or they are selling a very junky piano that their tuner can't fix any more. We see lots of decent pianos out there. We also see pianos we move for private purchasers that will never operate properly or will require much more repair work than the buyer was prepared for financially. A seemingly simple broken tire on a piano can become a nightmare for you when you go to move it. Most buyers don't know that a lot of pianos are full of old rotten plastic parts that can render a piano totally worthless. We offer pre purchase piano inspection services if you wish to buy from a private party. Become as educated as you can about your piano purchase.
You will find books at the local library that will help you learn about pianos. We offer the first one listed below for sale in our shop. We have other books that you may read on the subject if you would like to come visit our shop. Many of the books written on pianos are no longer in print. We don't let these books leave the shop. They are a great resource for us. Below are examples of some titles from our book shelf:
HOW TO BUY A GOOD USED PIANO, by Willard M Leverett
PIANO SERVICING TUNING & REBUILDING, by Arthur Reblitz
PLAYER PIANO SERVICING TUNING & REBUILDING, by Arthur Reblitz
PIANO TUNING & ALLIED ARTS, by William Braid White
LETS TUNE UP, by John W Travis
THE PIANO BOOK, by Larry Fine (we also have some of the annual supplements)
A HISTORY OF MIDWEST PIANO MANUFACTURING, by Jack Greenfield
STEAMBOAT CALLIOPES, by Leslie C Swanson
THE PIANO, A PIANO TECHNICIANS GUIDE FOR THE PIANO OWNER, by Philip Gurlik
HARPSICHORD REGULATING & REPAIRING, by Frank Hubbard
PLAYER PIANO TREASURY, by Harvey Roehl
THE MODEL B AMPICO REPRODUCING PIANO, by Davil L Saul
We also have piano related training videos and many reprints of old player piano manuals.
Used Piano Considerations
Brand - Steinway, Yamaha, Baldwin, Kawai, Kimball, Wurlitzer (or other brand names)
Cost - Affordability, Quality
Design - Ornate, Stately, Small, Large
Nice Looking Finish - Gloss, Satin, Black, Red, Brown
Nice Keytops - No Chips or Scratches, Ivory or Plastic
Clean Strings - No Rust (Moisture also greatly affects the felt hammers)
Good Tone - This varies widely. A little piano sounds smaller than a large piano.
We say "if it looks good and sounds good, it is probably ok." Why? Because if the piano has been well taken care of on the outside, plays ok, and sounds good, then many of the reasons to buy the piano already exist. We should probably mention here that even some new pianos don't sound good. And it doesn't take long for a new piano in the wrong climate to go bad on the inside. We see people spend a lot of time trying to find the perfect piano for the perfect price. Then they worry for months after they bought it that they could have found a more perfect piano. It is good to do all you can to get a good piano. You don't want a "lemon". You also don't want to go crazy worrying about your purchase. When our family was young we bought an old upright piano that had been completely refinished. It was shiny gorgeous. We constantly worried about our 4 childern scratching the piano. We sold the piano before one of our moves. We bought an unrefinished old upright in our next home that played and sounded great. After a while we got used to the piano and didn't notice the veneer issues it had and didn't have to worry about the children "ruining" it. The price was right and we had a piano. We still taught them to respect the piano. I have a friend who loves music. He is an electrician. Neither he nor his wife play the piano. When their family was young they paid over $10,000 for a grand piano because they considered their piano a big investment in their children. All of the children were given lessons and moved on as they grew up and married. He is so proud of himself for giving his children the gift of music.
Sometimes people ask, "if you were us which piano would you choose?" That is a great question to ask a sales person or technician. You might appreciate when a truely honest salesman or trusted technician can sense your needs well enough to help you be realistic and quickly narrow your search and save you a lot of time. I like to suggest a piano to a family that sounds and plays as nicely as possible for their budget. But I had a lady come in one day that wanted a $500 little piano and walked out with a $4500 grand piano. They had just remodeled their home and had given up on finding a used oak grand piano. We just happen to have one. We met a family who took time to do a lot of research and found a good price for a new grand piano on the internet. The purchase process required them to pay in advance $1000s of dollars for a new piano they had never seen. Then they had to wait over 6 months for it to be made, shipped from China to the store on the east coast, then shipped back to the client in Boise. Luckily the piano turned out to be pretty nice. But they were without a piano for a very frustrating 6 months. I think that the risk they took was too big. They had already paid the money. So if the piano was bad, what recourse did they really have to get their money back and send the piano back to a non local dealer? We see pianos purchased at the hotel sales that are sold by companies passing through town. Many of these pianos have only been out of the shipping crate for a few hours. Most are just fine. Others are full of problems.
Do all you can to make sure the piano is in good shape. Take a piano technician with you.
There are many things to think about when looking for a piano. As we mentioned above, we suggest that you have a piano technician accompany you to look at pianos. Some people take their piano teacher. That helps too. But most piano teachers will not be able to hear, see, or feel all of the problems noticed by a trained piano technician. I'm sure that some piano teachers have enough training to notice most issues. But from our experience, over 80% of the piano teachers don't. With a technician at your side you will learn from his comments as he goes through each type of piano. The tone and playability of a piano is the result of a comprehensive relationship between the piano action, strings, hammers, soundboard, and quality of construction. Copper wound bass strings are going to usually sound better than the old corroded steel wound bass strings. A nice hammer that is not deeply grooved by strings will sound better than one that is worn out or so hard that the tone is tinny. A straight looking tight action will perform better than a wobbly, worn out action that rattles or squeaks every note you play. Many older pianos have cracked sound boards. If the tone is good, then the cracks are more of an asthetic problem but may still greatly detract from the value of a piano - more so in grands than uprights.
Just because the piano is new on a showroom floor doesn't mean that it is a perfect piano. In fact, every piano has a personality of its own even from the same manufacturer. "Perfect" to one person may not be perfect to another. Some people like mellow toned pianos. Other people like drilling harsh toned pianos. Half of the people don't know the difference. Some people like a booming deep bass. Others would rather have an even volume in tone across the entire keyboard. You may notice that some pianos are harder to play in key "touch" weight than others. Your objective should probably not be to find the piano with the lightest touch, but it may. You may become confused at a recital when playing a standard or heavier touch grand piano when you are so used to practicing on a lighter touch smaller piano at home. We have worked on pianos that the factory put the wrong action in and the hammers don't line up to the strings. We have worked on pianos new off of the showroom floor that were not properly regulated at the factory or tuned by the store. The store may not have had time to prep the piano you are looking at from the time they opened the crate to the time you walked through the door. But you like how it looks? That may not be enough information on which to base your purchase. Your technician should be able to help you see the differences as you visit more than one piano.
Becoming an educated piano shopper will save you from spending $800 on a spinet or console piano from the 40s or 50s that is full of crumbly plastic parts. It will save you from the temptation to spend a $1000 or more on a beautifully refinished antique upright piano that is "junk" on the inside. It will save you from spending $2500, which may seem like a good price, on a grand piano that really needs a new soundboard and new strings - $12000 - $25,000 in repairs. You should see what mice can do to a piano. They eat felt and wood and cause major corrosion in the strings and other metal parts. The mice problems are something you cannot see from the outside of the piano. Water damage is sometimes visible on the case. But heavy damage from swamp coolers, floods, or humid climates can damage the inside of the piano and still leave the outside looking like new. Sometimes you can buy a better piano for a little more money that is already in great condition for less than the cost of a bad piano plus repairs.
I looked at a $30,000 "fully rebuilt" Steinway grand piano a few years ago here in Boise that was not playable as a piano. I would have placed the value at more like $1200 because it was nothing more than gorgeous antique furniture. It had been refinished and restrung but did not play properly at all. An aquaintance purchased a concert size grand piano sight unseen and had it shipped to Boise from Chicago. He spoke to the owners technician who said it was "stage ready". After spending almost $2000 to get it to Boise and $1000s in purchase price, he finds out that the piano had been in an extremely humid environment. The ivory keys had all fallen off and had been improperly glued back on and that all of the corroded bass strings needed to be replaced. The soundboard and two legs had cracks in them. A full rebuild would be $15,000 - $25,000. Have a technician accompany you when looking for a piano.
Brand name may be important to you. The Baldwin, Bosendorfer, Kawai, Schimmel, Steinway, and Yamaha brand pianos are very poplular right now because people recognize that these companies have produced quality pianos and they want to own them. So if you own a Yamaha piano and wish to sell it, you will get a better price and more calls quickly than if you were trying to sell a Samick or Young Chang. That may be because some companies have had years of experience in producing a top quality piano while others are still in the development stage. New piano companies are constantly improving the design and quality of their pianos. We have noticed this especially in the Chinese piano companies. There were some initial problems that these companies are quickly overcoming and are now beginning to produce some amazing pianos.
Consider that a new piano will have a warranty. Older pianos may not have much if any warranty.
Consider that a 2 - 5 year old piano is just barely "broken in." It still has practically the same 30-40 year prime life of a new piano yet you can find them at sometimes 1/2 the price of the new piano.
Here is a link to the Master Piano Technician website, How to Buy & Own a Piano page:
Here is a link to the Piano Technicians Guild website, FAQ on buying a piano:
A note on home repairs. Ask first, "does the piano work well enough inside to warrant expensive and time consuming cosmetic work?" There are two common piano home repair projects - refinishing & new keytops. So, "can I refinish my own piano?" You may be tempted to take on this huge project. The base fee charged by the pros right now to refinish a piano is $5500+ for grands & $3550+ for uprights. These prices include stripping, new finish (many coats), minor veneer repairs, and final touches like protective rubber buttons. And for a fee they may polish the brass and replate the nickel parts. Your piano should look brand new when complete. I have never seen a home refinishing project turn out like a professional refinish job. No offense to those who have acually done it right. Please call me. I'd love to come see your piano. Is it worth it to you to save some money and to be able to make the piano presentable? To many it is. Do some reading about refinishing woodwork. Talk to some family and friends who may have some experience with refinishing. Learn all you can before you start. Too many people start sanding the finish off and find out too late that they should have used finish remover and then lightly buffed the finish prep. Sanding often destroys the exterior of a piano. You might also be interested to know that it is next to impossible to get color stain to soak into the hard veneer wood of a piano or piano bench. Some pianos allow stain more than others. You will either have to accept the natural color outcome of your hand staining project or consider spraying the finish on for better color cover.
Keytops are another popular home project. The pros charge anywhere from $500 to $1000 for this job depending on how involved the pro gets in helping you create perfect keytops. "I can get some replacement ivory pieces from ebay." You're right! But realize that there are over a 1000 different color shades of ivory. Sometimes ivory can be whitened by buffing, bleaching, or soaking in hydrogen peroxide. All piano ivory is different in thickness, width, and length. And the ivory grain is different on every piano. Ivory is bone. It will curl with heat. It can break. The 2 pieces of ivory on your piano keytop were placed there in various thicknesses and were then ground down to create a smooth, seamless top. Do the best you can to create that same smooth, seamless, and color-matched top when replacing ivories. It isn't easy but with patience and much planning you can do it. New ivory is still available at the uninstalled price of $1500 - $2500 per set. You can also buy thin plastic simulated ivory heads to replace missing ivories. They work very nicely sometimes.
The new sets of molded plastic keytops are a popular option for replacing keytops. You can get tops without fronts attached and top with fronts. You can get white, offwhite, antique satin, and yellow colored keytops in various thicknesses. Most keytops come oversized in length and width so you have to do a lot of filing after they are glued down. Using a file or a router bit can chip the top of the new keytops. If this happens extras are available. Stripping the old keytops and glueing on the new keytops may sound like a basic project. There is much to consider. New plastic keytops are usually much thicker than the old ivories being replaced. So the new keytops may hit the front of the piano (key slip). The new thicker keytops may create the appearance of "hiding" the sharps. They may prematurely hit the wood above the key (fallboard) and cause regulation problems. To solve these issues some people will put spacers in the key slip to hold the front board out away from the piano. The pro will shave off the front of the key wood so that the clearance is the same as original without using spacers. This requires the use of a special jig so that the front of all keys are properly aligned. Some people use thinner felt spacer punchings under the keys to lower them back down to look nice against the sharps. This then affects action regulation. The pro will use a gang saw or router to shave the top of the key wood so that clearances are as original when complete without any other adjustments. The notch at the back of the "head" at the front of the sharps must be cut exactly square and in line with every other key on the piano. This isn't easy. The outside 2 keys are notched to match the old key wood and the sharps. Then all keys are placed in the piano with the sharps removed. A line is drawn from the left end to the right end of all keys across the "notch". Then the notch on every key is carefuly hand filed to that line. Care shouuld be taken at this step to make sure there is no curve in the original design of the keys. The pro uses a machine to cut the notch to the proper depth every time. Fine filing is still required.
Age to start lessons
This is a commentary in progress so I'll put this comment here for now and find a more appropriate place for it later. It may have do with purchasing a piano for you or your family. Most children can begin piano lessons affectively at age 5. They have developed some maturity, discipline, language, and are beginning to learn how to write.
Can a child learn to play the piano on his own? The answer is, not normally. And it is usually necessary to have a piano teacher be someone other than the parent. A parent can teach piano but it would take a pretty special relationship for the student to reach a significant level of playing from a parent. The parent must maintain a good rapor with the child and provide the child with a rigid practice schedule. This may require that the parent sit with the child during practice. The parent should always know what the teacher has assigned the student to work on the for the week and help the student plan out an accomplish those goals. A child has good weeks and bad weeks. It is important to create a desire in the child to want to learn the piano. Overlooking some behavior during a bad week helps a parent to not give up on a child too quickly.
It is never too late to learn how to play the piano. It may be more difficult for a teenager to start piano and try to keep up to all of the sports and acitivites of youth than starting the child at age 5. But it is never too late. And it is never easy. It takes years of practicing to learn how to play the piano no matter the starting age. You can't give up in 3 weeks to a year, because "you don't have the interest." It is more common that you weren't diciplined to practice and used the "lost interest" as an excuse. If you want to bad enough, you can play anything you wish with enough practice. You must take the time to practice and make the effort to memorize the music. Memorization is very important. A concert pianist practices 4 - 8 hours per day. Most people only practice 30 minutes per day then wish they could play like the concert pianist. You will learn but not very fast at that rate. Know that you can do it. Take youself or your children to the piano concerts and listen to beautiful piano music as inspiration to keep you going.