How do I know if a used piano has been well looked after?

The short answer to that question is that you don’t, and for that reason it makes sense to apply a few rules to a purchase of a used piano before you make a mistake. I’ll set these rules out for you below and discuss each one as we go along. Keep in mind that there are two things to consider with a piano. Firstly it is a piece of furniture. You can judge that for yourself. Look at the outside of the cabinet carefully particularly on the bottom corners and just make sure that you are happy with the way the piano presents on the outside. Secondly and in my opinion more importantly what is the condition of the inside, what is the condition of the actual instrument? So let’s consider the following….

Do you trust the person you are buying the piano from and if you do, do they really have the full story of the background of the piano and the conditions it was kept in? Let’s discuss the two most common scenarios: 

  1. In the first scenario you are buying a piano from a friend, someone you know and trust. There is no way that they would knowingly take advantage of you and they are presenting the “facts” to you as they know and understand them. Unfortunately I have seen this scenario go wrong many times. My advice is to have a trained piano tuner technician check the piano out before you enter into a contract of sale just to make sure you aren’t purchasing a problem.
  2. In the second scenario you are buying a piano from a business. They are offering you a warranty and the piano has been “refurbished” so in this instance you are totally safe right? Unfortunately not 🙁 All too often businesses will give preference to making a sale over doing the right thing by the customer. For many years, I used to import containers of second hand pianos and in nearly every instance out of the 20 odd pianos in the container there were at least two or three (sometimes more) that had issues, sometimes serious ones and others that developed issues within the first 12 -24 months of arriving. Just a short segue on this for more information on why second hand pianos imported from other countries and interstate can and often do develop problems have a look at the brief article I wrote called “Buying used pianos from overseas”. OK so back to the problem. The ACME company has just purchased 20 odd pianos and two or three of them have issues. Let’s say the tuning pins are pretty loose (a common problem) and the soundboard crown is less than desirable resulting in a piano with sustain problems and underperforming dynamics. What is ACME going to do? The answer is that all too often the business will sell the piano and hope that you the customer doesn’t notice.If you do notice they will fix the problem (hopefully / eventually) and if you don’t then happy days. That is a terrible way to do business and one that you don’t want to get caught up in. I would suggest you employ a trained piano tuner/technician to check the piano out before you enter into a contract of sale just to make sure you aren’t purchasing a problem. If the store has a problem with that then don’t buy the piano.

Unlike cars, pianos don’t have an odometer or a service logbook – so you can’t tell at a glance how many hours of playing the piano has had and this is important! Pianos DO NOT last forever, they DO NOT get better with age and THEY DO wear out. They are a mechanical instrument incorporating felt, metal, wood & metal. Felt hammers are pounding into metal strings and clearly the felt will wear out. Someone like myself that has a trained eye and many years of experience tuning and rebuilding pianos can tell you if a piano has had a hard life or has only had light use.

So, when considering purchasing a used piano it is ultimately impossible to know exactly what condition it is truly in, or how well it has been looked after unless you invest a few dollars into getting a trained piano tuner/technician to check the piano out and give it a clean bill of health or otherwise. I happily offer this service – read more about my piano evaluation service.

Remember that a piano purchase is a fairly big decision so make sure it’s the right one!