Buying a used piano requires careful consideration. Asking the right questions upfront will help you avoid costly mistakes and get the best instrument for your needs. Here are six critical questions any used piano buyer should ask.
Question #1: What is the age and brand of the piano?
A piano’s age and brand name often dictate its quality and remaining lifespan. Piano manufacturers make newer pianos with improved materials and techniques, while older models most likely require more maintenance. Certain brands like Steinway and Yamaha pianos from reputable piano store San Diego tend to produce higher quality instruments that retain their value over time. Knowing a piano’s age and brand will indicate if it’s a good bargain or a money pit.
Question #2: What condition is the key action and keyboard in?
Inspecting the piano’s keyboard and action is paramount. Test each key for smoothness, sticking notes, and evenness of tone when struck. Check for cracked hammers and broken or loose strings inside the piano. Issues with the action or strings can seriously affect a used piano’s playability and cost a lot to repair. Asking about the key action’s condition will reveal if the piano is functioning properly or needs work. Listen carefully as you play each note, checking for any unevenness in volume or tone quality that indicates a worn-out key or broken string. Examine the hammers with a flashlight to look for cracks, chips, or loose felt. Press down on the keys harder than normal to see if any parts visibly stick or fail to return properly. Minor action issues can often be adjusted while major problems typically require replacing parts.
The key action is the heart of a piano, so be thorough in your inspection. Play multiple scales and intervals, watching and listening for any irregularities. Asking targeted questions based on what you observe will reveal the full condition and potential repair costs for the instrument’s action. A smooth, even key action is crucial for an enjoyable playing experience.
Question #3: Has the piano been tuned and regulated recently?
An untuned piano can indicate larger issues. Ask when the last tuning and regulation occurred on the piano, which adjusts the moving parts for even touch and tone balance. An overdue tune-up may point to needing costly repairs. Insist on an exact timeline for past tunings and regulations to gauge the current state of the instrument. Listen for any individual notes that sound muffled, distorted, or significantly louder or softer than others. These issues indicate the piano is out of adjustment and tuning.
A professionally-tuned piano should have all 88 keys sounding rich and resonant. Regular tuning and regulation keep the action and tone in optimal condition while preventing damage from strings going out of tension. Neglecting this maintenance can quickly compound into thousands of dollars worth of repairs. Hearing how long it’s been since the piano was last properly tuned and regulated will tell you if a new tuning is sufficient. Or if the instrument needs a full mechanical check-up before playing properly again. Either option will factor into your purchase cost estimations.
Question #4: What repairs, if any, have been done?
Understanding repairs done previously can help determine a piano’s condition and value. Replaced or fixed parts indicate wear issues that may reoccur sooner. Refurbished or rebuilt pianos typically sell for 30% to 50% less than new models. Major repairs like action rebuilding, soundboard bracing, and pin block reinforcement often cost $3,000 to $10,000 depending on the work required and the piano brand.
For resale value and longevity, identifying the original parts that remain is significant. Key pieces like the chassis, case, and cabinet are structural and affect tone, look, and feel. Complete makeovers where most parts are replaced often diminish long-term stability and tonal consistency. Certain repairs signal prior issues that could happen again, including bad keys, broken strings, and foot pedal problems. Meanwhile, untouched pianos with just regular tuning and voicing work may perform closer to their original quality.
Documenting all repairs helps gauge a used piano’s true market price. Document the work performed, the parts fixed, and who fixed them. Reputable technicians tend to use quality parts and techniques that last, whereas discount shops can result in temporary fixes. Overhauls done by experienced dealers with a warranty often command higher values due to peace of mind from the restoration.
Question #5: Is the case or finish damaged?
Cosmetic issues with a piano’s case and finish are more affordable to repair than mechanical problems, but they can still be a hassle and potentially indicate deeper issues. Minor dents, scratches, and cracks in the finish are common and only affect the outward appearance, so ask the seller to describe any visible imperfections.
Problems with the wood case itself like splits, warping, or termite damage potentially mean compromised structural integrity. Plus, potential corrosion of internal parts from moisture seeping in. Structural damage often requires the replacement of entire wooden panels or braces underneath to restore stability.
Faded, flaking, or peeled finish? Mainly an aesthetic concern but needs addressed to prevent further deterioration of the wood. A full refinishing involves stripping off the old finish and applying multiple new layers of lacquer or varnish, which usually costs $1,000 to $3,000 depending on the piano size. Spot repairs of small finish cracks or touch-ups of discolored areas are cheaper options.
Water stains, warped soundboard, and rusted metal parts indicate potential long-term moisture exposure that impacts tone quality and function beyond just the appearance. Inquire if flooding, leak, or other moisture incident occurred that the seller did not mention.
While cosmetic damage can often be repaired, the cost should be factored into negotiations for used pianos. Significant case or finish problems along with mechanical issues may mean the piano is only suitable for parts.
Question #6: Can I take the piano for a test play?
Strongly request a test play before making any purchase decision about the piano. Your time spent playing and evaluating it yourself will reveal far more about its condition than any description from the seller.
During your test play, check for evenness of tone across the entire keyboard from the bass to treble notes. Listen for any dead spots or tones that sound muffled compared to the others. Play scales moving up and down to ensure all keys respond freely without sticking or sticking halfway. Press individual keys firmly to detect sluggish or bouncy action.
Try out various high and low-register notes to hear if their volume matches the middle range. Lack of sustain or volume on ends often indicates issues with the action parts or strings. Play several chords and observe if all notes sound simultaneously or if some noticeably delay.
Asking the right questions up front is crucial to avoid costly surprises after buying a used piano. Knowing issues like past repairs, cosmetic damage, and how the piano plays under your hands help determine the true value and identify any potential problems. You may also want to check the brand and model for reviews online to confirm its reputation for longevity and tone quality. Always insist on a thorough test play and walk away if the seller refuses. Once bought, have a registered technician inspect the piano as soon as possible to verify its actual condition. Any misrepresentations found may allow renegotiating the price or backing out of the sale. With due diligence and the right questions at the start, you can buy a reliable used piano that will give you many years of enjoyment.