Used Piano Buyers Guide – Don’t buy before you read this!

used piano buyers guide

All the piano players dream about having their own concert grand piano, but most of the time these instruments are very expensive and hard to store. Or maybe you look for a digital piano and don’t want to spend much money on it. There are cheaper versions of used pianos that might help you and this article is exactly what you need to know when you are buying a used piano, acoustic or digital.

Used Digital Pianos

Piano players always complain about the quality of sound when they play digital pianos so it is very hard to find one that sounds very close to a real piano. And if there is one, chances are that you will not find it second-hand many years for now.

1. Look for external markings.

A well kept digital piano has no external markings, no scratches. One that has such signs is either belonging to a touring musician or to a very negligent one. But those should raise you some questions about its functionality. It might be just a problem of its image, but then again it might be something even worse.

2. Verify the buttons and the potentiometers

The digital world is based on many contacts, buttons, and potentiometers. Do they have problems performing the assigned functions?

3. Get the volume to its maximum and verify the speakers

Are the speakers fully operative? Listen carefully and see if you can hear any strange noise coming from the speakers. Play with the potentiometers and see if there’s any extra-sound when you do that. Usually, white noise is the indicator of some dust over the circuits. It is not that bad, but it could be a reason to make the seller lower the price.

4. Verify the pedal

The pedal can be replaced, but you must check it to know if you have to buy a new one. Play staccato while holding the pedal and see how it sounds. Is it too long or too short?

5. Take a lateral look of the keyboard

Do all the keys stay in line or are there any keys that seem to be lower? They will not be pleasant to play and will be very unpredictable. Again, it could also be a reason for lowering the price. It depends on what you want that piano for and how much can you afford to spend on it.

6. Play chords with and without the pedal

How many notes are you playing and how many notes actually sound? Does the pedal have an effect? This should check the polyphony of the instrument or the number of notes the instrument is able to play at the same time.

7. Play single long notes

Do you hear the loop of the piano tone? If you do, especially when playing at a large volume, in time you will be very bothered by that hickup in the sound. It is very often encountered in old cheap or middle priced used digital pianos. You should watch some demos on the internet before going to test the piano. If you don’t like the sound, it’s no point to waste your time on a test.

8. Verify the sound banks

It is important to have at least 3 piano tones- a bright one, for pop, rock, a darker one-for classical music and a combination of both. If you are a jazz-pop-rock musician, you should make sure your used piano has at least 3 electric pianos, and that the velocity of your playing can control the tone.

9. Play a song you master

Play a song you are very familiar with and see how the piano responds to your touch. Does it have a large dynamic range? Is it reasonable or annoying? On demos, it always sounds good.

10. Buy from trustworthy people

Buy it from a musician from your town or country, a traceable person, because even with all the cautions taken, you might still get tricked.

Used Acoustic pianos

But let’s assume you have money and space, so you can afford to buy a true acoustic piano. Should you buy an upright or a grand piano? It depends on your available space. An upright is easier to manage, will have a great fill if it is a good one, but it will not be a piano. However, both grand pianos and uprights must meet the same standards, so here are the things to look for when buying a used piano or upright:

1.  History of the instrument

When you buy a used piano, you should know its history. If it is an old piano, it is not necessarily a good thing. Violins enrich their sound as time passes, but pianos don’t. There might be flaws very expansive to correct.

2. Dimensions

Pianos come in different sizes. The difference between them can be seen in the resonance of the tone and volume. If you don’t have a large room to place the piano, even if you have enough space, don’t buy a big one.  Its sound might hurt your ears. The biggest one is supposed to be heard over a whole orchestra playing in forte.

3. Keys

The keys must be white especially in the center of the used piano, where it is mostly played. If they have the paint removed, you must know that the wood might hurt your fingers while playing. It also looks bad and it is expansive to replace them. Some vendors might tell you that the keys are made of ivory. If you can’t tell for sure, you could watch this video to learn more about how to recognize ivory keys.

4. Pedals

Check the pedals. Do they work, do they get stuck? If you don’t know what to expect from them, know that the damper should be able to function halfway down, the sostenuto must act as a damper only on the notes pressed at the same time as the pedal and leave all the notes intact, and the soft pedal should act like a sourdine. Most of the time, the latest one does not have this effect, but it is the closest option for a volume knob.

This is a tutorial about how the pedals work. Also, check if they get stuck.

5. Soundboard

The soundboard of an upright or a piano has the role of amplifying the resonating strings. You must look underneath the piano to see if there are any cracks. At the upright, you should look at its back. Though they are ugly, they are benign. Depending on the conditions in which the piano is kept, these cracks might grow or remain the same. Hard to fix, but if you really want that piano, you might try to pay for fixing them. Then again, if you can avoid buying a piano that has these problems, do it.

6. Bridge and pins

The bridge and pins are very important. They have to sustain all the tension caused by each individual group of strings. The cracks in the bass bridge might not bother the sound, but the ones on the treble bridge are very hard to fix because you would have to take apart the whole piano to fix those. Also,  broken pin blocks are a problem. A broken pin block should make you look for a new piano.

7. Tunning

When you meet for the first time a piano, check its tunning. It can be done by checking how the octaves sound and by checking from the lowest to the highest note the sound, with a digital tuner. Listen to the hammers and see if there are any keys that get stuck or have a very present noise coming from the hammers. A detuned piano might hide a bridge with problems since tunning specialists know that on a broken bridge will not be able to hold the required tension. They usually tune pianos a half step lower, to ease the job of a broken bridge or a possible weak pin block.

8. Hammers

Play the keyboard and watch the hammers. If they get stuck, that is a problem. Watch their speed as you depress the keys and watch the contact with the strings. Any latency is a fault.

9. Bench and position

It is always nice to have a matched bench. If you do, check the position and see if you are comfortable. If the legs of the bench have the same hight as the legs of the piano, sit and see if your lower-arms are parallel with the ground. Can you change the height of the bench? If not, it better be good otherwise consider not buying the bench and order a new more convenient one.

10. General sound

No matter how good a piano is if you don’t like the way it sounds or it feels, it is not worth the money. So choose the piano you like, ask for opinions but only trust what you feel and hear. Play a song you master and record it from different points of the room. A smartphone should be enough to get a good idea of its sound. It is said that a bronze plate is to be prefered when buying a piano, but most of the pianos have an iron plate, that in combination with a strong frame will be able to hold the tension produced by the tuned strings. Of course, it should not have cracks, just check it. Bronze or iron, it should have a consistent structure.

In conclusion, when you buy a used piano, you should get informed and don’t be afraid to take a close look at the piano’s features, no seller should consider this disrespectful. It is your money and your expectations, so don’t rush.

None of this matters if you’re buying it only as a decoration. Who knows, maybe you can bring again purpose in the life of an old piano.