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Buying A Second-hand Piano

There is a multitude of things to think about and questions to ask yourself when buying a piano.

Acoustic piano, digital piano or keyboard?

Digital pianos have the following advantages:

  • They never need tuning.
  • They can be played on headphones enabling practice to be done silently, keeping the neighbours happy.
  • It may be possible to record oneself and play it back making it easier for the player to hear any mistakes and also to play duets with oneself.
  • They usually have pedals like an acoustic piano
  • A number of different sounds may be possible eg. organ, harpsichord, jazz piano which children enjoy playing with (and also get distracted by).

Disadvantages: The touch of a digital piano, however good, is not the same as a real ‘acoustic’ piano ie. one with hammers / strings etc. If a player is used to playing / practising on a digital piano, s/he may well run into problems playing on an acoustic piano, especially a grand piano, eg. in an exam / concert etc. as an acoustic piano may well not behave as the player is used to, possibly causing loss of marks and the player playing less well than hoped. It is advisable for somebody who regularly practises on a digital piano to also do some regular practise on an acoustic piano, eg. at school, friend’s house etc.

Keyboards may well not be touch sensitive (the notes sounding louder the faster the key is depressed) and may well also have fewer notes than a digital or acoustic piano making many pieces unplayable on a keyboard. Keyboards may have, however, a vast selection of sounds / rhythms / backing tracks which pupils are usually very keen on. A keyboard also does not have proper pedals, or sometimes no pedals at all, eg. to sustain notes after the fingers have been taken off the keys. This is necessary for playing the piano when the player begins to get more advanced. Anybody wanting to learn the piano seriously is advised to buy a piano not a keyboard; a keyboard is better than nothing but won’t get a budding pianist very far.

Although electronic instruments never need tuning, they can still go wrong – I know of a digital piano that needed pedal switches replaced and which also had another pedal problem, namely pressing down one pedal worked all three pedals at once. Another digital piano I know of regularly suddenly stopped working while it was being played. 

There now exist pianos with smaller keys for smaller hands and also piano keyboards with smaller keys which fit into existing grand pianos. Click here for more information: www.paskpiano.org

If acoustic, upright or grand? How much space have you got? It’s possible to get flat templates of grand pianos so you can lay them out on your floor to see if a piano of that size will fit the space.

I haven’t got enough knowledge of the insides of pianos to discuss the differences in how upright pianos function versus grand pianos but there’s plenty of information online about this or ask a qualified piano technician for advice.

To buy privately or from a shop or in an auction? If an auction, in person or online?  If in a shop and buying second-hand, do ask about the price as some shops are willing to reduce it if you ask.

When buying second-hand, do get a qualified piano tuner / technician to check the piano over before you buy especially if it doesn’t have a guarantee; your piano may have faults which may be costly to fix which are not obvious to the player but are to a qualified technician.
Beware: if a seller tells you that the piano is in lovely condition, that may be the seller’s opinion of the case, not the insides. Most sellers are not qualified to judge whether a piano is in good condition or not. 

Auctions: There are some specialist piano auctions where there are qualified piano technicians available to advise buyers on the condition of the pianos for sale. However, personally I would be very wary of buying a piano online without seeing the instrument in person and without a reputable person checking it first. It may be awful! Even if it isn’t, I know of one lady who bought an upright piano from an online auction but then found she couldn’t get it up the stairs to her flat so she had to sell it again.

Stool? Height-adjustable?
Does the purchase price of the piano include a height-adjustable stool? If  not, and you haven’t already got one, you will need one especially if you are buying the piano for a child who will need the stool adjusted as s/he grows in order to sit with maximum comfort and play with minimum effort.  

Keyboard height?
Sit at the piano before you buy it and, with your fingers on the keyboard and your forearms horizontal and level with the keyboard, check to see if you are comfortable as the height of the keyboard above the ground can vary from piano to piano. A player with long legs may need a piano with a higher keyboard simply so that his / her knees can fit comfortably underneath and work the pedals.  A small player, even with a height-adjustable stool and a footstool, may find a higher keyboard more difficult to sit at (although don’t forget that a child will grow!). 

Does the seller offer a guarantee? If so, what does it cover, how long is it for and what are the terms and condtions? For example, you may have to have it tuned at least twice a year for the guarantee to be valid and it is unlikely to include tuning costs.

Delivery? Included or extra? Free delivery may mean delivery to a ground floor only, with payment required to take the piano upstairs. This is because this requires an extra person to lift it (pianos are extremely heavy) and may be charged per flight of stairs rather than per delivery. If the purchase price doesn’t include delivery, delivery could cost £100 or more even just to a ground floor.

Is there a ‘Cooling off’ period in case you change your mind? Most shops don’t offer this when you’ve seen the piano in person – once you’ve seen it and bought it it’s yours and if anything needs fixing you have to pay for it yourself. (The law may be different if, for example, the shop chooses a piano at your request but you don’t see the piano until it’s delivered.) However, there are a couple of shops which, even if you’ve seen the piano in person, paid for it in full and had the piano delivered to your home, are willing to come and collect the it and give you a refund within, for example, 30 days if you’re not happy with it.

First tuning included? Sometimes when a piano is purchased from a shop, the purchase price includes the first tuning. If so, you may need to book the tuning within a specified amount of time from the purchase date.

First lesson?
I know of one shop where the purchase price includes a first piano lesson to start you off but I think most shops don’t offer this.

Key for the lock? If your piano has a lock, the purchase price may also include a key for it but if not, it may be possible to buy one separately.

Renting  If you want an acoustic piano but aren’t sure what you want or you’re not sure if the person you’re buying it for will stick with it, it’s possible to rent a piano from a piano shop. If you rent, you may be able to deduct all or part of the rental costs from the purchase price if you decide to buy it, or buy another piano from the same shop. However, if delivery is included in the purchase price of a piano, it may not be included if you rent one. The same applies to a stool.

Insurance Don’t forget to include your piano on your home insurance or take out specialist musical instrument insurance for it. 

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