It can be daunting to shop for a used piano, especially when you don’t have a lot of experience with used piano quality or piano structure. When shopping for a used piano, it’s important to consider:
- The Piano Brand – Look for quality brands such as Yamaha used pianos, Bösendorfer, Steinway & Sons, Kawai, and Wm. Knabe & Co. A higher quality piano means higher quality parts that won’t degrade as quickly over time.
- The Age of the Piano – A piano’s reasonable life–that is, the period of time it will produce quality touch and tone–can vary from 20 years to 100 years. Only the finest handmade pianos can be expected to still perform well after 70 years, where most mass-produced pianos have a life expectancy middling around 50-65 years, depending on how well the piano was cared for.
- Listen for Buzzing, Rattles, or Severely Out of Tune Keys – While any used piano you’re considering buying may be out of tune (though buying a used piano from a dealership usually means the piano has been tuned and cleaned up), a buzzing, rattle, or a severely out of tune key (especially if it sounds like two notes playing at the same time) can be a sign of something that needs to be fixed. Not all fixes are simple or inexpensive — see the list below for what’s easy and what’s not easy to repair.
- What’s Parts May be Fixable (and What May Not Be) – Some aspects of a used piano can be easily fixed or updated, such as repairing piano keys or fixing cabinet blemishes. Some pieces, however, are costly to repair and in some cases would take rebuilding the entire piano to complete. Below, we detail which parts of a used piano can often be repaired when needed and which defects are usually difficult/costly to repair.
The following parts of a used piano can often be repaired:
- Cabinet Blemishes – these can usually be filled. They can also often be refinished, buffed, etc.
- Key Replacement – synthetic ivory or black keys
- Missing, broken, or tarnished strings – these can sometimes be replaced, but will go out of tune more easily and will result in a tone that doesn’t match the other strings unless they are all replaced
- Loose Tuning Pins – Tuning pins are the pins piano strings wind around and that are turned to tune a piano. A loose pin results in looser, flat strings that cannot be tuned since it cannot hold a turn. You’ll hear a severely out of tune note, or even a key that plays two distinct notes at the same time. These pins can sometimes be tightened with special glue or can be replaced with a slightly larger pin.
- A Cracked Soundboard – because traditional soundboards are multiple boards glued together, this soundboard can become cracked in temperature or humidity fluctuations. A cracked soundboard often causes ribs to become loose, which can produce a buzzing sound. In some cases, this can be fixed by a technician re-securing the ribs.
- Hammer Felt – look for deep grooves. Sometimes layers of felt can be carefully removed to create a smooth hammer surface. However, eventually there won’t be many layers of felt left to work with (or on treble strings there is less felt to begin with), and felt can’t be easily replaced (see below).
The following parts of a used piano cannot be easily replaced or repaired:
- Pinblock – this is the part of the piano that holds the steel tuning pins around which the piano strings wind. When the tuning pins begin getting loose, it can be a sign that the pin block is deteriorating. Other flaws are, more obviously, cracks or missing pin blocks. Replacing a pinblock requires a rebuild and is often not worth it in most used pianos.
- Piano Bridges – bridges have tiny pins that the strings lay agains to help resonate sound through the soundboard. These bridges are not easily repaired and can be very costly to recreate.
- Hammers – piano hammers are not a simple or inexpensive to replace. If a potential used piano’s hammers are broken or have felt worn through to the wood, it may not be worth the cost to get the hammers replaced.
Do you have any questions about purchasing a used piano? Let us know in the comments below or by sending us a message!
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