If you are currently looking for a piano and don’t know what to pay attention to when choosing the right instrument, read our guide carefully! We will explain step-by-step how to assess the condition of the grand or upright piano you’re interested in.
Find the instrument of your dreams with the Klaviano search engine and use the help of this article to make sure you find a working used piano that will serve you for many years to come!
We suggest that you print out our guide and, when considering a purchase, check carefully all the aspects described. If you are buying an instrument via the internet, asking these questions can quickly help you to verify whether the seller offers a worthwhile grand or upright piano. You will also learn how to assess the technical condition of the instrument on your own.
Buying a second-hand piano step by step
- Select a trustworthy dealer.
- Assess the external appearance of the instrument.
- Has the instrument been renovated?
- Check the tuning of the instrument.
- Play and listen to the sound.
- Do you know in what conditions the instrument was stored?
- Check the condition of the soundboard (for advanced players).
- Look inside the instrument.
- Check the condition of the hammers (for advanced players).
- Inspect the cast iron frame (for advanced players).
- Ensure the instrument is properly transported.
- Keep your purchase document and warranty.
1. Select a trustworthy dealer.
First of all, you should be careful and make sure that the seller is honest. It may be that the seller, even a professional whom you trust because of experience, just wants to get rid of a defective grand or upright piano. Beware of sellers who describe their used instrument as perfect in every way. They may not be able to fully assess the instrument themselves, and by using the word “perfect” they may be trying to gain the customer’s interest in an easy way.
Remember that in Klaviano’s search engine you can check whether a seller has a “verified” status, i.e. trustworthy, and on the internet you can read numerous music store reviews before making a purchase.
2. Assess the external appearance of the instrument.
Check that it is not dented or faded by the sun. If you found the instrument in an online ad, make sure it is not covered by any items in the photos. Look at the top of the piano, there may have been flowers standing on it. Excess water from watering may have run down the instrument and bulged the veneer, and the pot may have left a circular mark. Also check the piano for cup marks.
Unfortunately, sellers often do not provide detailed photos of their instruments when adding an ad. Sometimes this is due to ignorance, and sometimes to a desire to hide flaws. Remember that you always have the right to ask for additional photos for verification purposes.
3. Has the instrument been renovated?
If it is possible, it is best to buy a second-hand instrument that has been professionally restored and after inspection, ready to play. It might be a bit more expensive, but you can save a lot of money in the long run. Piano restoration is not a cheap service. However, when you buy a restored instrument, you are assured that it is technically sound and will only require standard regular tuning and minor adjustments from time to time.
4. Check the tuning of the instrument.
Get a tuning fork (a metal fork that tells the pitch of the “a” sound at which the piano starts to tune). Find the “a” sound in the middle of the keyboard – look for three black keys, the white key between the second and the third black one is “a”. Make the tuning fork vibrate and gently touch the other side (the ball) to your ear – listen. Then, compare the pitch of the sound from the tuning fork with the “a” sound on the piano. If it is the same sound it means that the tuning is not too low, it is good. If the pitches are noticeably different, it often means that it needs several tunings to bring the piano up to working order. If you do not have a tuning fork, use an electronic guitar tuner. You are interested in the “a” sound in the middle of the keyboard, which has a pitch of 440 Hz (hertz).
5. Play and listen to the sound.
You can then evaluate the sound and the comfort while playing the piano. If the seller has not included a video of the recorded sound in the ad, be sure to ask him in a private message. If you cannot assess the sound, ask a pianist, tuner or other technician to help you. A professional will not only assess the sound quality better than us, but will also advise on technical matters. They can even tell you if the model you have chosen is suitable for your needs and explain which brands are the most respected in the industry.
6. Do you know in what conditions the instrument was stored?
The piano should not be placed directly next to a radiator. It is necessary to keep a distance of min. 2 metres, because under the influence of heat the resonance plate of the instrument cracks. The keyboard cover should be closed, to protect the piano from dust and marks from sunlight discolouration. The ideal room humidity for storing an upright piano is between 40 and 60%.
Humidity or very cold temperatures are not good conditions for storing an instrument. It may happen that after buying a piano, when it stands in a warm and dry place, it starts to break down and needs to be thoroughly repaired.
7. Check the condition of the soundboard (for advanced players).
Look closely for cracks or scratches. If you buy an older instrument, the plate is covered by a wooden construction with canvas. Unscrew it – it is not difficult. If you find scratches on the resonance, it is not yet a tragedy. The most important thing is that the cracks in the resonance do not make the instrument lose its full sound.
8. Look inside the instrument.
Expose the top hinge, remove the mechanics cover (the so-called “top door”). If you are buying a very old instrument, it may have an old type of mechanics, the so-called “high silencer mechanics” – they were discontinued in the early 20th century. If you see a wooden strip above the hammers and a lot of wire elements, it is a sign that the mechanism is of an old type. In my opinion, such an instrument is only suitable for occasional playing. It is also difficult to return it for restoration. Although such an instrument may be beautiful from the outside, it is unfortunately not worth much and I don’t recommend you to consider it if you take piano playing seriously.
Remember that you do not have to carry out the inspection yourself. You can always ask the dealer what kind of mechanics the instrument has (low- or high-silencer).
9. Check the condition of the hammers (for advanced players).
First of all, check that they are semi-circular. If the hammer marks are large, it means that the instrument has been used a lot. Such hammers need to be re-profiled or, if there is little felt on the hammer and the sound is sharp, replaced by a new set. Check the tuning pegs. Make sure that the string on the peg is slightly away from the visible end of the peg.
10. Inspect the cast iron frame (for advanced players).
“The metal plate”, or more correctly the “cast iron frame”, is in the centre of the instrument, the strings are tensioned on it. It is usually painted gold. Check its condition – open the piano cover under the keyboard (lower door). Look whether the frame has no cracks. Look carefully at its construction. If the light is poor, get a torch.
11. Ensure the instrument is properly transported.
Watch out for rain and frost. When it’s cold, make sure you have a heated cabin. Secure the piano with straps. Remember that it is very heavy. If you don’t have transport aids such as trolleys, invasions, and you want to lift it, bring it into the house, organise a minimum of 4 people. Older pianos are even heavier. Remember this and don’t ruin your health!
If you don’t know how to go about this, we also recommend our article on the best way to transport a piano.
However, since it is very easy to damage such a delicate and expensive instrument, we encourage you to have it transported by a professional company specialising in transporting pianos.
12. Keep your purchase document and warranty.
Finally, we advise you to keep any purchase document, contract or guarantee. You will not need it if the instrument is in good condition, but keeping the documents can save you a lot of money if you have any technical problems.
Now, with all this in mind, browse the listings for your dream upright piano or grand piano in our Klaviano search engine, you’re sure to find something to suit you! If you need help with your purchase, get in touch with our Klaviano Consultants.
If you feel that you need a broader explanation of any of the above points or would like to learn even more about assessing pianos, we recommend watching the following YouTube videos: