Used Piano Buying – The Inspection

IMG_2536_1024(This is part two in a two part article on purchasing a private sale used piano – read part one ‘the investigation’ first)

There’s a used piano that you have found, and you’ve done some research on the brand, model, age, and the anticipated value. This one fits into your budget, and the next logical step is to try it out. Once you have made the arrangements to see it, there’s a very important thing to remember – don’t allow the visit or the seller to overwhelm you. As with any musical instrument you’re buying, it’s essential that you really like how it sounds, and how it makes you feel. Take your time with it – be aware of how it impacts you. Often a used piano you view may not be in tune, but the sound and how you feel will come through all of that. If you feel this is the one, and you still have some concerns, those can be addressed with your piano technician during a pre-purchase inspection.

Now that you’ve found a piano that you feel will be a great fit for you and your home, it’s time to bring in your piano technician to conduct a thorough inspection prior to making an offer. This is important for a number of reasons – to ensure that you’re offering or paying an appropriate price for the piano, and to ensure that what you’re buying will not have costly surprises.

The inspection will involve checking on a number of key elements of the piano operation, and having a general look over the entire piano – now let’s dig into some details.

When the technician meets the owner and sees the piano, they will ask questions regarding the piano’s past, and review where it’s located (near a window, an outside wall, a heating vent, or possible draft). The cabinet will get a first look over with notes made on any structural or finish blemishes. After sitting down at the piano to play through all the keys and get a general feel for how the keys perform, the covers will be removed carefully to inspect the inside. The general sound quality will help direct the technician with possible areas of concern within the piano’s action – the mechanism of levers and hammers that transfer the key movement to hammers hitting the strings.

The technician will now focus on the feel and look of all the internal parts. They will inspect the wear on the hammers, look for any that have broken or are misaligned, and feel how loose or tight they are. A closer look at each note’s mechanism will evaluate any damaged bridle straps, or worn felt on back checks or leather catches. This whole area will give the technician vital information on the amount of use and wear the piano has experienced.

The quality of sound when the piano was played will give an idea how close to being in tune and pitch the piano is. The strings are inspected for rust or corrosion through the entire scale, and close inspection is done on the tuning pins and their wire coils. The technician will test a number of tuning pins to ensure that they still hold strong enough for the piano to be properly tuned. Loose tuning pins can result from the wood that holds them being dried out over many years of exposure to low humidity.

Removal of the bottom panel will allow the technician to inspect the soundboard for any cracks that may cause buzzing during play (although the majority of pianos with soundboard cracks have no buzzing at all), and also the bridge which can have cracks resulting from dryness, or rust on bridge pins from excessive humidity. This is also where the mechanism for the piano pedals resides. They are checked for motion and noise, and close inspection of the materials that act as cushions between the pedal levers.

What I’ve listed for you in these details should give you an idea of thoroughness required during the inspection. There are many other points that the technician will cover, and they will either summarize their findings and discuss them, or provide you with a documented version.

Once you’ve had the chance to review the findings with your technician, you’ll need to determine if you still want to move forward with the purchase. The piano may be healthy and ready for a new home, or you may find that the current condition may involve expensive repairs. At this stage, the technician also should be able to help you understand the piano’s value vs. asking price. A thorough inspection by a professional piano technician will give you the piece of mind you need before making an offer on a used piano.

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