Should I really buy that cheap Piano on Gumtree/EBAY?
Questions of this type appear time and time again on online forums and articles. 120 years of Piano mass production has saturated the market with countless Pianos that, due to ruthless depreciation and their antique status, have little monetary value. Many websites are strewn with older Pianos in seemingly good condition for meagre prices (or in some instances free for collection).
You may be a beginner Pianist keen to learn on an affordable instrument before investing seriously, or you could be a veteran Pianist lured by the appeal and charm of an historic instrument.
As much as these may seem appealing there are a few things to know before buying,
Beauty is often only skin deep...
The Piano is quite easily the most complex musical instrument in the world. The action mechanism of a Grand Piano has over 12,000 moving parts, notwithstanding the complex and delicate nature of other components such as the soundboard and pin block.
Whilst many older Pianos often have exquisite cabinets or ornately book matched veneers, a magnificent exterior can often harbour an interior rife with problematic and costly issues.
Most manufacturers today will state that a quality Piano will have a serviceable life between 60 – 80 years. Any Instrument beyond this age may require considerable restoration.
Will the Piano suit my needs?
Perhaps this is the most important question to ask before making a purchase.
An older instrument may suit someone buying for a certain décor but a Piano with sticky notes that doesn’t hold a tune is entirely impractical for someone intending to take lessons or play in a group with other instrumentalists.
Some Pianos once out of tune cannot be tuned…
Pianos, when neglected, often move considerably out of tune (in some cases a full semitone or more below concert pitch).
A Piano that has been seldom tuned is much more likely to break strings and may have a loose or cracked pin block making tuning pins difficult to set properly.
On Instruments like this it is impossible to undertake a satisfactory tuning without costly repair work being undertaken.
Beware of older “restorations”
There are many instruments available second-hand which, at some point in their lives have been rebuilt or restored.
Whilst there has no doubt been some excellent rebuilding work undertaken in workshops over the years the unregulated nature of the Piano industry means that many instruments have often been refurbished to poor standards.
Some Instruments advertised as fully restored have only had superficial work undertaken, such as cabinet refinishing and new keytop installation.
In these circumstances, more complex work repairing the mechanism and core structure has been neglected and they present in poor condition internally.
If in doubt an assessment from a qualified Piano Technician can quickly and easily ascertain the true condition of the Instrument.
So, you bought a Piano sight unseen and it has some problems. What can it cost to fix it up?
What seems like the deal of the century can cost more than you thought imaginable,
Pianos can be incredibly expensive to restore. Complex action parts need to be sourced and many hours of restoration undertaken to bring an aging Piano back to concert standard.
It is not unusual for a Piano restoration cost to run into 5 figure sums, well in excess the cost of a new instrument from a reputable manufacturer.
Your Piano Tuner is your best Friend
A pre-purchase assessment is the best investment you can make when it comes to buying an Acoustic Instrument. Pianos are complex instruments made up of thousands of moving parts which need to be maintained and regularly adjusted as part of periodic servicing and maintenance.
The internal mechanism and structural components are vulnerable to wear and tear and are susceptible to damage from inappropriate use and extreme climate conditions. There is no way to determine the condition and quality of an Instrument without having it assessed by a Qualified Technician, check this link for your nearest tuner,
What’s the alternative?
If you’re still reading this article you’re probably interested in hearing of alternatives to an older Acoustic Piano. Whilst they may not have the charm or furniture appeal of their older counterparts, there are many affordable Digital Pianos that provide excellent facility for minimum outlay.
It’s important to remember that there are many costs associated with Acoustic Pianos. Even a free Instrument will require relocation and tuning (notwithstanding any additional maintenance costs) and these expenses will often run to hundreds of dollars.
(If your weighing up the pros and cons of Digital versus Acoustic instruments, see this article)
Questions to ask before buying.
How old is the Piano?
Has it been recently tuned?
Has any maintenance work been undertaken?
Is the access complicated, will it be hard to move?
How much will it cost to be tuned?
What’s the condition of the Piano, has it been assessed by a Piano tuner?
Can the Instrument hold a tune, is it at concert pitch?
Will this Piano suit my needs for the next 5-10 years?
What maintenance work will need to be undertaken in the next 5 – 10 years?
Are there any structural issues with the Instrument (cracks in soundboard, loose tuning pins etc.)?
Despite this writers’ cautious stance, owning an antique instrument can be a worthy and rewarding purchase. As with any older item it’s important to ascertain that it’s in excellent condition before undertaking a purchase.
Have any advice or experiences to share on buying an old piano? add a comment below,