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Introduction to Used Pianos

So you want to buy a used piano? “Have I got a deal for you?! If you buy this piano here at the very back of our store, I’ll give you $25 dollars off of the purchase of a second piano of equal or greater value. I know what you’re thinking. How am I giving away this piano for such a cheap price? How can a store supply Boxing Day prices in July? Is Santa Clause alive and well and living in this great store of ours?

Yes, he is, my dear friend.

Now, wait: Before you get too excited, I’ll even throw in a free in-store piano hat, made from 100% synthetic fiber and available in this beautiful mustard yellow and broccoli green color combo.

Okay, now you’ve twisted my arm. You’d better sit down for what I’m about to say. With the purchase of a months worth of our in-store piano lessons, we'll give you an additional half lesson absolutely free, provided you upgrade to this soft covered piano bench for only $45.00 extra.  By the way, delivery is free, except for our standard $50.00 trucking fee, plus tax and insurance”.

You probably feel a small migraine lurking in the back of your head after reading the above quote. That’s not entirely bad news, though. If you hate high pressure sales tactics, be cautious when purchasing a used piano. Just like when you buy any other product, you have to be informed and prepared to leave the store if the store staff rubs you the wrong way.  

When buying a used piano from a store or home (private sale), it does help to hire a piano tuner or technician to go with you for advice. If this is not possible, here are some tips to assist you. Buying a piano is a lot like buying a car. If you go the private sale route, you could potentially get a really good deal.

Homeowners are often relocating and dying to get rid of a piano. Check the soundboard (located on the back of an upright piano and the bottom of a baby grand or grand piano). The soundboard is simply the large thin piece of wood that assumes the shape of the piano. The sound travels through this wood, giving the piano its rich tone. If this board has a hairline crack, you’re probably still safe purchasing the instrument provided the piano still sounds full and sonorous. If, however, the crack has split the soundboard so that you now see a gap, my recommendation is to run for the hills.

If the piano has an unpleasant “tinny” sound and the hammers, strings and pegs look fairly dusty, my guess is that the piano has not been tuned and maintained well. Often, a piano that has not had regular maintenance falls so far out of tune that it becomes to costly for the average buyer to repair (new strings, pegs, etc.)

A store will often give a warranty not only on new instruments, but also on used. Most stores also deliver and tune your piano after it is moved at no extra charge… provided you don’t live in Antarctica.

Remember to check out the foot pedals as well.  Here are the functions of the three pedals: The right (sustain) pedal prolongs the sound of a note after you remove your hand from the keyboard. The left (una corda or soft) pedal makes the sound on a piano quieter. On a grand piano, it also makes the piano sound a bit more “velvety”, as the strings are being struck by the plush part of the hammer. The middle (sostenuto) pedal is complicated to explain, so I will use a complicated font in its explanation.

This middle pedal began being fully functional in 1874 Steinway pianos. If you play a note or chord and then press down this pedal, your sound will be held over even if you remove your hand from the keys. At this point, if you continue to keep the pedal down and play other notes, these sounds do not sustain, even though your original sound is still being held by the pedal. In some modern day upright and apartment size pianos, the middle pedal has taken on a different function, acting as a super-soft pedal designed to make your piano sound exceedingly quiet.

Buying pianos online is risky. I do not believe that a piano should be purchased unless you (and preferably a piano technician) have seen the piano and have examined it. Just like when you purchase a used car, the piano has to be “certified” in person, by a well informed musician or an expert tuner.  So be prepared to buy a plane ticket or take a car drive to wherever the piano is being held. The cost in gas or ticket fare is worth it, especially if the piano is pricey.


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