Successfully Choosing and Buying a Quality Used Upright Piano
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Buying a used piano doesn't have to be a difficult, nerve-wracking job. A few basic inside tips will help you head in the right direction, narrow the focus on your wants and needs, and assure you the best value.
Spinet, console, studio, upright grand pianos are all categorized as vertical, or more commonly, upright. The names are reflective of their respective sizes, listed from the smallest-at 36 inches-to the largest-a whopping 5 feet!
Generally: the bigger the piano, the bigger the sound; however, as piano engineering science progressed, some small pianos were designed to have terrific tone, based on construction and the method of 'overstringing' which allows a longer string, thus deeper tone, in less space. With this in mind, your selection would be based in size-preference and tone. It is important to note however; although the sound may be as big ,or bigger, than a grand piano, the touch of an upright will never be the the same as that of a grand, due to the actual, complete physical differences in the styles of actions.
There are desirable pianos to be had at reasonable costs in each category, if you know what questions to ask.American-made pianos have been a fairly assured quality. There was a period of time, more recently, that some better known names were knocking out inferior products to compete with the 'new-itis' that seems to have swept the country. The result of this being; looks precede quality. This paved the way for outsourcing, and the flow of imports, from third-world countries, which continues today. This encourages the typically low standards on quality, and employee and environmental-care,which prevails in these countries. So, in many circumstances an older American-made piano can run circles around a new-in-crate,etc., import.
MYTH: A piano's life-span is approximately 30 years.
FACT: A piano that has received absolutely NO maintainence other than proper humidity,will last 30 years, and then be repairable. PIANOS WITH PROPER CARE WILL LAST from one generation to the next (exceptions for China-made and other cheap PSO's (piano-shaped objects).
At the turn of the last century, there were approximately 300 piano manufacturers in the United States. Many making a product that competes with the national standard, the Steinway. That number has dwindled to less than a half-dozen. Where did all those companies go? Many were bought up by such companies as Aeolean, with over 60 national names-of varying quality-associated with this company.
Things to Watch For When Buying a Used Piano:
DO ALL THE NOTES PLAY? ARE ANY STICKY? ARE ANY KEYTOPS MISSING?
If any of these is the case, not to worry. You can simply calculate an approximate $20, per key, added to the cost. Many tuners are also technicians and can perform these repairs when they come to tune. If no tuning is required, a calling fee of $35-$50 is common.
HAS THE PIANO BEEN STORED IN A DAMP AREA SUCH AS A BASEMENT OR GARAGE?
This could result in loose felts (pianos have 100's of felt parts and are usually assembled with water-soluable glue). Hammers becoming unglued and ugly, allergy-bearing mold are also possible effects. COSTLY REPAIRS AHEAD! You can at least count on sticky keys.
DO ANY OF THE NOTES BUZZ?
This is not, necessarily, a really bad sign. It could mean a string needs winding or replacing, or a piece of hardware is loose, BUT IT COULD MEAN THERE IS A CRACK IN THE SOUND BOARD. Sometimes cracks/separations cause no noticable ill effect whatsoever. A technician will know for sure if it is a potential problem and to what degree and cost.
DO ANY of the NOTES, WHEN PLAYED,SOUND LIKE TWO NOTES AT ONCE?
This would indicate that the piano is severely out of tune and is going to require anywhere from $150 to $250 in tuning and pitch raises.
IS THE PIANO IN TUNE? WHEN WAS IT LAST TUNED?
If the piano has been tuned and brought up to pitch recently, and is already considerably out of tune, it probably means that THE PINS ARE LOOSE AND IT WON'T HOLD A TUNING(minimum acceptable standard time is 6 months). Also repairable, but look at adding $200 and up,for a pin treatment, or more extensive repair, to the cost.
CAUTION: BUGS ON BOARD
One infrequently addressed issue is that of the uninvited "guests". You may be bringing into your home -with the purchase piano that is not certified clean- rodent residue, moth and roach casings, pet hairs and spiders. A prudent seller will look well to these things prior to selling, but unless otherwise stated, you should assume the piano in "as is" condition.
!!!IF YOU DON'T SMOKE, WATCH OUT FOR THE PIANO FROM A SMOKER'S HOME!!!
This can be dealt with, but it is a long and tedious process whether you do it yourself or hire it done.
MYTH: All pianos must be tuned after they are moved.
FACT: If a piano has been kept tuned, prior to moving, it should not need tuning after moving if proper humidity has been maintained.(exceptions for concert performers). Because moving is such a good reminder to have a piano tuned, it has become a belief, that it must be tuned at this time.
The difference to being "in-tune", and "recently tuned" is: an in-tune piano means it can be played alone, and sound quite pleasant, but may not be up to pitch, the standard A440. (It also means that it is probably reasonably good at holding a tuning, if it's been some time since its last tuning and it still sounds good.)
A recently tuned piano should be up to the standard A440, and stay near there, a minimun of 6 months.
IS THERE A BENCH?
This feature is not, by any means a necessity, but an added bonus, as used benches start at $35 alone, a matching bench being much more desirable and valuable.
ARE THERE DEEP INDENTATIONS IN THE HAMMERS?
A piano with deep grooves is still quite playable, but the quality of sound is greatly improved with proper shaping. Again, this is something your technician can deal with,with relative ease, but it will be to a cost a minimum of $100, to have the hammers reshaped and follow-up regulation performed. If they've been reshaped more than once, it may mean a new set of hammers is in order, which again means $400 or so, more.
HOW IS THE FINISH?
Is the finish acceptable to you? Can you stand a few scratches in your decor? If so you can save a considerable amount by touching them up yourself, or your technician may carry the tools to do it. Water spots are unsightly, but usually quite easily dealt with using a simple hardware store product.
Some post-war pianos were built with experimental plastic parts and were later recalled because those parts proved unstable and became brittle, however; NOT ALL these were successfully recalled and are still out there. Again they are repairable, but it will cost upwards of $300+ to replace them. Consider this especially when considering Lester pianos, the most common of which is the Betsy Ross spinets of that era. Generally it was a part called the elbows, but some also had plastic flanges. Once again the seller's technician should be able to inform if there are plastic parts.
DOES IT NEED REGULATION?
Now this may or may not seem very serious, but a piano that isn't properly regulated, just isn't any fun to play. Even when buying a new piano you may assume, because it's new, it has been regulated. The truth is, new pianos usually require several follow-up technical visits. So if you're buying a piano at a distance, be sure to find out if this important process is completely finished.$$$THIS IS A COSTLY STEP REQUIRING HOURS AND HOURS OF SKILLED LABOR.$$$
If you're buying for someone who'se never played before, you want to have the best possible experience and a novice won't even know why he or she doesn't enjoy the piano. Perhaps thinking that's just how pianos are, they will quit on account of this unconscious displeasure. So be sure to ask the technician if it's properly regulated.
!IF THERE IS NO TECHNICIAN: THIS MEANS THE PIANO HASN'T BEEN PROPERLY MAINTAINED WHICH ENHANCES THE VALUE OF BUYING PIANOS THAT HAVE BEEN RECENTLY EVALUATED AND DECLARED 100%-SOUND BY A PROFESSIONAL PIANO TECHNICIAN!
WHERE IS THE PIANO LOCATED?
Sometimes you'll find a piano that meets your requirements so neatly that paying $300-$2000 for shipping isn't an issue. Especially when it's ready to go and certified 100%-sound by a professional piano technician. You'll actually be saving money in many instances if you invest $800-1000 on a quality piano, and another $800 on moving, knowing it's in excellent repair; as opposed to, spending $200-400 on a piano, on which you may end up having many costly repairs/adjustments, to bring it up to your playing enjoyment standards.
CHOOSING A MOVER:
Consider your mover. There are lower and higher-priced movers. If you ask a few questions you'll find the lower-cost ones to be movers of furniture, appliances and all sorts of miscellaneous along with your new piano. The higher-priced movers are likely to be experienced piano professionals dealing exclusively in transporting pianos of all sizes from the smallest spinet to the largest grand.
WHEN SEARCHING eBAY FOR A PIANO:
Remember, along with all the other valuable search commands, many sellers don't know how to describe their own piano, so if you're looking, say, for a console, don't overlook those titles that simply say Upright. Vintage and Antique are also misnomers that some sellers apply to their high-quality older pianos of 50 years or less and may well turn out to be the best value.
THE GOOD NEWS:
The money you invest in a well-chosen quality used piano, will prove to be money well spent. A good piano that's been well taken care of, will remain a good piano, when it's taken care of well.