I wish to purchase an old piano. What should I look for to ensure that I do not waste my money, and buy one in poor condition?
A piano owner will often claim that the piano they sell just needs tuning. This might be true, but most piano owners are unaware of the condition of their pianos.The best advice I can give to you is to take some one along with you who can help. This could be an experienced pianist, your piano tutor, or your local piano tuner. However this is not always practical, especially if you initially have several pianos to look at. Below is a list of some of the most important things to look for and ask when making a preliminary inspection of a piano.
- Ask about the history of the piano. What’s the age of the piano? How long have they owned it? Where did they get the piano from? Where has it been kept? Why are they selling it? Has it been refurbished? etc. Try and build up a picture about the history, and try and get a feeling for the piano and the owner.
- Play the piano, or try the notes. Do they all work correctly? Is it in tune? If not why not? When was the piano last tuned, and was it tuned to concert pitch? Tuning a piano is relatively inexpensive, especially if you are trying to sell it! Are there any odd noises (vibrations, rattles, buzzing etc.)?
- Is the case in good condition? (This might not be important to you, but might give some indication as to how the piano has been looked after. It might also improve the resale value).
- Look at the keys. What are they covered in. Ivory covered keys always have some graining evident (quality ivory keys have very little graining) and are expensive to replace if damaged or discoloured. Plastic key covers are cheaper to replace if necessary.
- Are there cracks on the soundboard? The soundboard (the flat board under the strings) is one of the most difficult, and expensive, parts of a piano to repair, and should be thoroughly inspected for splits or cracks. Also look for surface defects, and poor repairs. Dismiss any piano you see with possible problems here!
- Are there cracks on the bridges? Each string passes over a bridge and terminates at bridge pins. Look at the base of those pins for cracks. Reject any pianos with many or large cracks on any of the bridges.
- Is there much rust on the tuning pins and the strings? Rust inside the piano indicates a long storage in a damp conditions. Are there missing/broken strings?
- All the dampers should be level, and lift positively and evenly off the strings when operated by the sustain pedal.
- Are the tip of the hammers worn, and do they have deep groves from hitting the strings? The hammer faces should also all be level, and the face should be free from deep cuts where they strike the strings. There should be no significant side to side movement in the hammers.
- What condition is all the fabric (leather, tapes, etc.) and has the piano been the victim of moths. A quick test is to determine the free movement in the keys. Lightly touch a key, and depress slowly until the piano action can just be seen to activate. This initial movement (play) in the key should be hardly be noticeable. If it is only one or two keys, then it could be as a result of wear, if it is in all the keys, then moths have probably destroyed the leather cushions. Also listen for excessive mechanical noise in the action, again possibly due to damage to the cushions, or other fabric parts.
- The soft pedal operates in one of several ways. On grand pianos, it either slides the keyboard to the right, in which case check it operates smoothly, and that the hammers now strike one less string. Please note that not all grand pianos have soft pedals. On upright pianos, the soft pedal moves the hammers closer to the strings, in which case they should all move together, freely.
- Carefully inspect the wrest pin block (the wooden block where the wrest, or tuning, pins are fitted).On upright pianos this is often quite easy to see, but on Grand pianos (and some upright pianos) it is more difficult, as the wrest pin block is covered by the iron piano frame (harp). On grand pianos you need to remove the fallboard (keyboard cover) and look up through the gap to see the underside of the pin block, and see the holes that the tuning pins are fitted. Look for splits, or other damage, especially between these holes. If you can not see the block, then try and feel for any defects. This will affect the ability of the piano to stay in tune, and is considered a serious defect, so reject any pianos with problems here.
There are four types of upright pianos: Full size Upright piano (48″ – 60″), Studio piano (43″ – 48″), Console piano (40″ – 43″), and Spinet piano (36″ – 40″).
There are seven types of grand pianos: Petit Grand (4’5″ – 4’10”), Baby Grand (4’11” – 5’6″), Medium Grand (5’6″ – 5’8″), Professional Grand (6′), Parlor Grand (6’3″ – 6’10”), Semi-concert (7′ – 7’8″), and Concert Grand (8′ – 10′).