A few months ago I received a call from a new client who wanted her piano serviced. After I arrived I inspected the piano. I refused to service it because of its condition. I advised the client to buy a new piano, which she did, and I acquired her piano in trade.
I am going to explain how I evaluated this piano in order to make a point about what piano technicians often encounter with used pianos. When you buy a used piano, you have no idea where that piano has been or what conditions it has been exposed to during its life. A technician can appraise a piano or simply help you make an informed choice, but few people call until after they have made their choice.
So here are a few photos of a piano that should have never been offered for sale by an owner, and should have never been purchased by anyone at all.
Photo 1 – The action has been removed. The piano appears to be just like any other piano. Let’s look closer.
Photo 2 – Here is a stain which probably marks the location of the home of a mouse. In Texas, our mice resemble rats.
Photo 3 – This is the plate, looking down at the end of the keys. A piano will collect dust over time, but dust does not form as the photo shows unless it becomes mixed with water.
Photo 4 – These are the tuning pins. They have rust on them. Rust is also present on the coils.
Photo 5 – This is the action. All of the bridle straps are missing. As a piano ages, the bridle straps can break – but when they are missing entirely, it is usually because something ate them.
Photo 6 – This is the fallboard, the piece that covers the keys. The veneer has suffered water damage.
Photo 7 – At first glance, this appears to be mold. (That is why I refused to tune the piano.) Closer inspection leads me to believe that this is mouse tracks and excrement.
Photo 8 – The stains here also appear to be mouse excrement.
Photo 9 – A close shot of the dirt/substance in the action.
Analysis – This piano was exposed to water for an unknown length of time (or more than once). Long enough to spoil the finish, but not long enough to leave a watermark. It did not sit in water (as would be the case in a house fire), but it was exposed to water in some form. A mouse (or mice) were in the piano for a long time. There are two areas that appear to have been nests. There is also evidence of exposure to water/moisture on the hammers and other action parts.
Repairs – The case can be salvaged by sanding, staining and a few coats of lacquer. (Four hours of labor = $360). The action will require new parts, and may need new hammers. When played, the piano sounds good, so the hammers would be optional. (Add $400).
The rust can be removed, but it is very labor intensive. The strings cannot easily be removed, and new pins would be cost prohibitive. The strings won’t break immediately because of the rust, but over time, they will not last as long as they should. There are some clever ways to make these pins look better, but time is money, so it is important to compare the cost to the market value of the piano before choosing a best action.
The whole piano must be sanitized. The keys must be light sanded to remove evidence of rodents, but the larger concern for me is the retention of bacteria associated with these conditions. It poses more of a risk to me than it would to the customer. The piano cannot be sold unless it is sanitized. That much is certain.
Estimate – Returning this piano to playable condition would cost around $1,200. That is a modest estimate. The market value of this piano is probably $600-$800. The repair cost exceeds the market value.
Decision – This piano needs to go to the city dump. It should have never been sold to my client.