Someone dear to you has fallen in love with a second hand piano on Gumtree and just can’t resist the purchase. They’ve either always wanted to learn piano or think it would be the perfect piece of furniture. If it’s a piano for a student, consult first with their teacher – often learning on a 5 octave keyboard is sufficient for a few years.
Purchasing the right second hand piano will retain much of its value. If music lessons are abandoned, chances are you can recoup most if not all of the expense (less moving and tuning costs). Alternatively you could be better off with a bonfire.
Be prepared for looking at least three pianos and additional costs of transport and tuning. Pianos are HEAVY, pay a professional to move it for you.
Step 1: check what else you can get for the same price. Yamaha pianos are a good yard stick for comparison. A second hand grand at $5000 may be great for looks but a second hand upright for the same money will probably play better.
Step 2: how old is it? Less than 5 years, expect to pay within a few thousand of retail. There are many old pianos 1900-1950 in circulation for $200- $1000 that still play well but be careful of paying too much.
Step 3: face to face with the keys. Play every note on the keyboard, lowest to highest and make sure they all work. Also make sure when you let go of the key the note stops playing. Sometimes one or two dampers are not working and require a quick fix by your tuner. The top octave or two of pianos wont have dampers, don’t worry if they continue to ring out. Broken dampers are commonly in the lower or middle register. Check general signs of wear on the outside of the instrument as tell tale of its history. If a piano has had a hard life, it will show first on the outside from broken edging, damaged keys and stains. Check your sustain pedal works – the right one will let the note ring out after hitting and letting go of a key.
Step 4: internal assessment. For a grand piano, fold back the lid that covers the music stand and prop the lid up with the largest stand available. Lift the lid of an upright piano (up the top, not over the keys) and unlock any wooden joinery hidden inside the piano that holds the front cover on. Once the front cover is removed, continue for both grand or upright pianos. Check the hammers that hit the strings for wear and the condition of felts. Older pianos may have signs of mold but this is not a worry if it’s not going to be a performance grade instrument. If keys don’t work, check if hammers are missing or broken. A piano tuner can quickly fix a broken hammer or two. If all the felts, hammers and dampers are perished this could be an expensive fix. Check all the strings are in reasonable condition (none snapped or rusty). One snapped string is easily replaced.
Step 5: open the cabinet below the keyboard for upright pianos . There is often a latch under the keyboard that will let you pull it open. I look for mouse poo as an indicator. A bit is often expected for an old girl but you don’t want a chewed instrument.
Rule number 1: never buy a piano with an internal wooden frame behind the strings (well over 100 years old). Will never stay in tune. Only buy an iron frame.
Rule number 2: never buy a piano that has lots of missing internal parts, missing keys, any signs of cracks on the sound board (wood behind the frame and strings) or cracks in the iron frame. These damages can be irreparable.
Step 6: make the offer. You get what you pay for but there is wide variation in old models. Looking at three different ones for sale beforehand will help identify the best deal. If theyr’e all bad, wait it out another week or two for other options.