So You Got a New (Used) Piano — Now What?

Posted: November 6, 2012 in Piano

Let’s say you just took delivery of a rental piano, like a Scheidmayer und Soehne, serial number 20670, and you are wondering how to take care of it.

Did the piano dealer say you could apply part or all of your rent towards the purchase? Let’s take a look at that.

Let’s say the piano costs $10,000 retail. You rent it for say, $100 a month for one year. At the end of the year, you decide to buy the piano. $10K – $1.2K = $8.8K for the piano.

Instead of renting the piano, let’s say that you were going to just buy it. What would the best price be? On $10,000 piano, the dealer has marked the piano up at least 50%. That means the piano cost the dealer $5,000. If you offered to buy it for $8,800, would that be a good deal for the piano dealer?

Sure. He would probably sell it for $8,800.

But instead of buying it, you decided to rent it. Next year, when you decide to buy it, the dealer will sell it to you for $10,000 less your rental money. But that is exactly what the dealer would charge you now for the same piano. Did you get a deal? No, not at all. The real deal would be $8,800 – your rental monies, or $1,200 in this example. That makes it $7,600.

Yeah! Be careful. When it is time to buy that piano, make the dealer a ridiculous price, like $7,000 (or approximately 30% discount off asking retail. That dealer DOES NOT want that piano to come back into the store.

Checking the Piano

You will need a tuner/technician. The piano should have been tuned by the renting dealer, but if not – you need to find a tuner. Let’s say you live in Vienna, Austria. Call the Steinway dealer and ask for a recommendation for a tuner.  You could also call the Yamaha dealer or any other large piano dealer. (Do not call the rental dealer since he should have tuned it for free as part of the rental agreement. Also, a tuner that works for him is less likely to tell you the bad news about the piano.)

What the Tuner Checks

There are five major areas to check during a first tuning of an older piano. Let me go through each one. (You can check these too.)

  1. The action. Do all the keys work? Is the touch even? Do any of the keys rattle? Is there too much side motion on the keys? Does each key play the same way as the others? If you like the way the piano feels, and if everything works, move on to the next step.
  2. The wire is tied off at the pin. The pin is anchored into a plank of wood (not visible) underneath the plate. In old pianos, the pins can become loose and will not hold the wire steadily in tune for a satisfactory period of time (if at all). If the pins look new and shiny, they probably are new, so this may not be an issue. If they are old, dirty and kind of rusty, then the piano was not “rebuilt” properly. The tuner will handle this detail.
  3. The bridges have small pins on them. Notice that each piano wire weaves its way through two bridge pins. Look closely – do you see any tiny cracks in the wood where the pin goes in? If you do, the piano may need a new bridge cap. Those pins terminate the string vibration. If the pin is loose, or if there is a crack in the bridge, buzzing may result – or worse, the piano may not stay in tune.
  4. The plate should not have any visible cracks in it. The soundboard might have cracks, but this is not necessarily a problem. Your tuner will talk to you about this.
  5. The sound should be consistent from key to key. The tuner can make a loud hammer softer, or make a soft hammer louder. What you want is evenness of tone and volume. If you have a couple of keys that sound too loud or too soft (relative to the other notes) the tuner can fix that.

The tuner will look at all these things and let you know the general condition of the piano. People say a piano is “rebuilt” but that can mean different things. To a purist, a rebuilt piano has new piano wire, new action parts, a new sounding board, new pin plank and pins, and the plate has been reguilded.  Last, the case will be refinished. Essentially, the piano will look brand new.

Some dealers will say a piano was rebuilt but it is really only partially rebuilt. It may have new pins and wires, but not a reguided plate or new soundboard. The action may have been partially rebuilt – new hammers, but not new wippens. Some pianos do not require a complete rebuild. If you use a piano tuner not associated with the dealer from whom you acquired the piano, you increase the chance of getting a fair and impartial appraisal of the piano’s worth and condition.

Some other things to check would be to make sure you like the way the pedals work. The tuner can adjust those, so give them a good work out to see if they feel right for you.

Check the bench to make sure all the bolts are secured. Lift the top and tighten the bolts if the bench is wobbly. If you have a vacuum cleaner with a blower function, blow the dust out of the piano. (Wear a mask when you do this.) If not, take a small paint brush and scrub the dust from around the pins while using the vacuum. (Put the nozzle next to where you are scrubbing). Continue to clean the inside of the piano. Shut the lid when done.

Wash the keys. Use a window cleaner and a paper towel. Spray the window cleaner on the towel, not the piano key. Get the dirt and grime off the keys. Last, take a cotton ball and some medical alcohol and wipe each key with a small amount of alcohol. This will kill any germs left there by any creepy people at the piano store. J

If the case needs to be cleaned, you can use the window cleaner to remove fingerprints and grime. Polish with light wax if it is a wood piano if you like. Once again, the tuner can advise you on this.

So the most important thing to do is find a good tuner. Call the biggest piano dealer in town (other than the one you used) and get a recommendation.

Bake some cookies. Piano tuners like cookies.

Enjoy your new piano.

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