This third part in our Guide to Buying Your First Piano series focuses on quality and condition. To see the full article and other criteria, click here.
The quality and condition of the piano you purchase will influence what your experience as a piano owner will be like. If you purchase a high quality piano in good condition, it will play beautiful music for years to come with very little hassle. If you don’t, you can spend a significant amount of time and money on a piano that neither sounds good nor lasts long.
Quite simply not all pianos are created equal. Before purchasing any piano—new or used—do some research on that manufacturer. Then, consider what quality of piano makes sense for your situation. Serious musicians may want or need higher quality pianos than new piano students. But compromising too much on quality can mean you end up with an instrument that presents barriers even to beginner pianists.
A well-made, well-taken care of piano is a masterpiece of intricate parts and craftsmanship. But with that many parts, a poorly made or poorly-cared for piano can also easily be a disaster waiting to happen. Even a high-end piano in poor condition can have little value—and can run up bills in the thousands of dollars for repairs. So, particularly when it comes to buying a used piano, how do you make sure you are getting a masterpiece and not a boat anchor? The condition of a piano is not always apparent to a new piano buyer. Problems that appear large can be relatively easy to fix while serious defects can go unnoticed to people without experience in evaluating pianos. Here are some specific things to pay attention to:
- Look at the outside of the piano. Although someone can easily add a new coat of paint to any piano to make it look shiny and beautiful without making any substantive repairs (such as in this story), it can be a signal of the care of a piano.
- Play all the notes listening for ones that make a dull, flat sound or no sound as well as notes that are terribly out of tune. These can be red flags for deeper problems such as loose tuning pins.
- Stay away from pianos that make unusual sounds such as rattles, buzzes or mechanical sounds. Although sometimes the cause is something easy to fix (like a lost toy inside the piano!), it can also mean a cracked soundboard—which is not so easy to fix.
- Pay attention to how the notes feel. If they are extremely loose to the touch, you should be concerned.
- Avoid the “classic” piano. Except for the very high-end, exceptionally well-maintained piano, most century-old upright pianos are going to be a headache for anyone who purchases them.
While these things can help raise initial red flags, the truth is that without training and a deeper inspection, you could still miss major problems. Just like many people take a used car to a mechanic for evaluation before purchasing it, you should have a certified piano technician evaluate a piano to minimize your risk of purchasing a piano with serious problems.
If you’d like more information about buying your first piano, continue on to Criteria 4: Sound and Touch.