The allure of purchasing a used piano often lies in its rich tones, storied history, and an opportunity to acquire a quality instrument at a fraction of the cost of a new one. But, like any vintage treasure, knowing what to look for is paramount. Here’s a guide to ensure you strike the right chord when buying a pre-owned piano.
Age is More Than Just a Number
When it comes to older pianos, what appears to be a rare bargain may prove to be a real liability. When considering an “as-is” instrument, even expert pianists will desire the input of a professional piano technician to make a wise choice. A traditional piano has more moving parts than an automobile. Also, the stretched piano strings exert tons of tension on the cast iron frame, making it imperative that the piano’s structural integrity is in good condition.
- Soundboard - The soundboard is the piano’s “speaker” for the amplification of the sounds coming from the strings. It is the thin piece of spruce under the strings in a grand piano, or behind the strings in an upright piano (you can see the back of a soundboard on upright pianos). This assembly is crucial in providing the beautiful tone to any piano. Age, environment, and improper maintenance can cause serious damage to a soundboard.
- Bridges - The bridges act as “transducers”. In other words, they move vibrations from the strings into the sound board. If they are cracked, split, or lose their bearing, they create an expensive repair.
- Strings - Piano strings have a finite life. They may become “tired or tubby” and will no longer create a pleasing tone. Replacement is possible, but expensive.
- Tuning pins - Held in place by friction, these pins are the key to a stable tuning. They will loosen over time and replacement usually must include new strings as well.
- Hammers - With continual striking, the felt on hammers wear over time. The hammers may need resurfacing or replacing, an expensive repair.
- The Action - For an action to be successful, thousands of moving parts made of wood, felt, and leather must work together with the tolerances of a Swiss watch. Many times parts need replacing, or expert adjustment, called “regulation”. Furthermore, the joints that form the moving parts of the action, called bushing, are made of felts that often need replacing due to wear and tear.
Testing the Touch and Sound
If you play the piano, this is where you should begin. How does the piano feel to you? Does it respond well? Are you able to control the instrument? As important, does the tone appeal to you?
It is rare that we will sit down at an older piano that has not had reconditioning work done and feel like it is the perfect instrument. However, experts can certainly make technical repairs, changes, and adjustments that will improve the touch and tone of any piano.
Can Any Piano Tuner Repair Any Piano?
The piano industry has piano technicians with different skill sets. There are technicians who specialize in tuning. Others add action work to their skill set. Still other piano technicians delve into the world of rebuilding and restoration. There are few technicians that are able to dedicate themselves to restoration alone, but technicians with this kind of experience are valuable.
The allure of purchasing a used piano often lies in its rich tones, storied history, and an opportunity to acquire a quality instrument at a fraction of the cost of a new one. But, like any vintage treasure, knowing what to look for is paramount. Having a trusted guide to find used pianos that aren’t “lemons” can make all the difference. Cunningham Piano Company has been well known for their rebuilding and complete restoration work for many decades. Their factory, situated in Germantown, Philadelphia, boasts a team of dedicated technicians that universities, professionals, and avid amateur pianists trust with their prized instruments.
Choosing an instrument already rebuilt or reconditioned by Cunningham means the piano has a touch and tone that is optimized and stable. And, to affirm their commitment to quality, every pre-owned piano sold is accompanied by a 5-year parts and labor warranty. With Cunningham, you’re not just buying a piano; you’re entering a community dedicated to musical excellence.
Here are some things that the experts at Cunningham Piano look for when inspecting and preparing a used piano for their showrooms: