The piano is a complex instrument and therefore care should be taken when buying a second-hand piano. On the surface, a piano may seem to be fine, but it could have many hidden flaws. And even if a piano sounds fine to the ear, it could require substantial servicing in the near future. The age of a piano will not necessarily determine its condition, as a 19th century piano that has been taken care of properly can still give you many years of excellent service. Even when considering a 20th century or later piano, the level of care that the piano was given will be the determining factor of the piano’s condition, and your decision to buy it.
Indicators to look out for
There are some indicators to see if the piano has been taken good care of:
- Bleached wood would suggest that it has been standing next to a window
- Varnish or wood that seems to bubble or peel could indicate sun or heat
- Water stains or the fine outline of an object would indicate that the piano doubled as an ornament stand
- Chips in the wood or finish would indicate rough handling
- Small things such as a scratched, half-loose sheet music holder would indicate disrespectful care
- The opening mechanism should be secure and open smoothly, this would be a good indicator that the piano has been well taken care of
- Stained keys, unsymmetrical keys and unevenness of touch tell their own story
- The amount of dust inside the piano (especially dust that has “crystallized” in the corners and almost appears like lime), will confirm cursory care or that the piano may have been tuned but never serviced.
The above is only a few indicators and a second-hand piano should at best only be purchased from a reputable dealer or someone with a proven track record in the piano tuning and repair business. When purchasing a piano from a private individual please keep in mind the expenses you will incur. You will be well advised to contact a technician to evaluate the piano for you, as the trained eye and ear of a piano tuner will immediately pick up possible flaws that even a trained musician may not notice. Even if a small call-out fee is applicable, it is well worth the reward of avoiding later unavoidable expenses because of flaws that even the seller may not have been aware of.