Guide to buying a second hand piano

An acoustic piano is a very complex item. A piano action has 5,000 to 10,000 thousand moving parts depending on the style of piano.

If you decide to go it alone and buy privately, there is only one piece of advice we can give you, it is this: Take some photos inside of the action and where the strings end on the top of the piano. It’s also worth getting pictures of the outside, showing the name of the piano and the keys. If you’d like Gary to inspect it prior, then he is available for your convenience at a modest fee.

Factors to think about when purchasing a second hand piano

Any piano buying decision should be a blend of three components:

  • A good long-term musical instrument
  • A piece of furniture you like or can accept
  • An amount of money you are comfortable with spending

You may give up some of one component to get more of another, but remember a piano is an instrument you will enjoy for a long time; it is important to be comfortable with it musically, financially, and cosmetically.

Don’t pay too much

Most people pay too much for old pianos; the as-is value of old pianos is actually quite low. Unfortunately, an inexperienced buyer may see new pianos for $4,000 and think an old piano for $800 is a bargain. In reality, they will probably pay $600 too much, particularly if it requires thousands of dollars’ worth of rebuilding or maintenance work that has accrued over many years. However, an older piano that has been regularly maintained by a competent tuner/technician and is on standard pitch can be a good instrument to own. Providing it has good dynamic range.

Pianos age the way houses or people do. When they are 80, 90 or 100 years old they always need a great deal of work. This cost often exceeds the price of many quality new pianos. If a piano is going to be enjoyed, then a good quality newer instrument may be a better candidate, assuming that the newer piano will fit in with your décor.

Browse our pre-owned pianos. 

Value and sound

Most people buying old pianos focus primarily on what appears to be the economic solution for minimal outlay, forgetting all about the sound and complex mechanical system controlled by the eighty-eight keys. This mechanism wears out and to replace components is expensive. The older the piano, the more probable it is that the instrument is very worn, resulting in “touch” that is noisy and very inconsistent (Heavy on one note and light on the next).

A Piano that looks good and pretty on the outside is a piece of furniture is often not the instrument you want to be buying. It is quite often just for putting photos on, and past being a good playing piano.

How the age of the piano affects the quality, and price

Do not think that pianos age like violins and guitars. Unlike violins and guitars, the strings in a piano create literally tons of stress that take their toll on soundboards, bridges, and pin-blocks, aging a piano far more quickly than other stringed instruments. Moreover, there is nothing between your fingers and the strings of a violin or guitar. However, when you play a piano you express yourself through a very complicated machine, which like any machine wears out as it is used.

If you find an older piano, which is in fact is in good condition for its age. Bear in mind that even if you have been very lucky to find an instrument in excellent condition. It could cost at least $4000-$7000 to put it in a similar condition to one you will find at a reputable dealer or a piano technician’s collection.

Unfortunately, many older pianos are far more expensive to repair than it is for you to buy a new piano, which will last your family for many years. Buying an old piano that has seen many years of use by other people. Means at some point someone has to start spending real money on it and that person could be you.

If the age of the piano is unknown, let Gary know. He can determine this whilst assessing the build and state of the piano.

If a piano passes a common sense test – i.e. the price is right and it does not seem to have been abused – then you might leave a deposit subject to approval by Gary.

Be wary of social media sales platforms

Our experience is beware of Gumtree for piano buying…. In the past couple of years, we have not seen one old piano bought b y someone on Gumtree in a playable condition that a child could learn on. Pianos need to be played to be able to evaluate the Dynamic range and playability. Don’t buy a piano site unseen.

Many advertisements, which appear to be private people selling pianos, can be unregistered dealers, and are usually selling dubious pianos at a cheaper price with inadequate workmanship and lacking performance. Remember they have already deceived you once with a misleading ad.

Some piano technicians will recondition pianos from their home, but they are not allowed by law to sell pianos from their home unless they have council approval. The amount of actual “rebuilding” and replacement with new parts, however, can vary considerably from one technician to another or one piano to another.

Enlist the help of a technician

Once again, if you like the piano’s look, sound and feel, enlist a technician to inspect its structural and mechanical condition before you decide to buy it. The fee will be good assurance. Remember a dealer with a large workshop has the capacity to do a full rebuild on an older style piano.

If you fall in love with the cabinet charm and the craftsmanship of an older piano, then it is something like falling in love with a beautiful turn-of-the-century home. The cost of restoration is certainly worthwhile, but it will make the home (piano) far more expensive than most new or newer homes (pianos). It is true that many old pianos were wonderfully made, and in the hands of a re-builder an old piano can be made like new again.

Make sure you get an Accredited Tuner/Technician like Gary to check out the piano you are interested in buying. There are a lot of so-called tuners around, quite often music teachers, who often mean well, but have not done the 3 year training required to be a piano tuner / technician often fix things wrong within the piano action and this causes other problems. Although they may not charge much, the ultimate cost to you ends up being much more.

Are you looking at buying second hand pianos? Speak to Gary today to make an informed purchase decision.