Read This Before You Purchase a Secondhand Piano
So, your child wants to learn to play piano, or has been learning for a while. You know that a simple keyboard won't cut it and their teacher has suggested that you buy either a digital piano or an acoustic piano. Where on earth do you begin when searching for the right instrument to suit your needs, space and budget?
You wonder to yourself; 'that old piano that has been sitting in Aunt Judy's garage gathering dust for thirty years, could that be suitable? What about this digital piano for $150 on Facebook MarketPlace?'.
Old, antique, or family heirloom pianos
Tread very carefully when purchasing or receiving secondhand pianos. Firstly, it is very common that people have an old family piano that has sat unused for sometime and is offered up as a freebie. This might sound like a good idea, but honestly, a piano that has not been maintained and has been sitting in a place where it is open to the elements is really not a good idea. Pianos generally have an approximate life of about 30-40 years. Without regular tuning and maintenance, pianos deteriorate. You may notice that the action on an old piano is very loose, the keys press down easily and appear to have no weight behind them, you may notice metallic twangs when some keys are played, some may not even work or get stuck when they are pressed down, the pedals may not work properly or might be clunky to use. There are a number of issues and spending big bucks on restoring an old piano, unless it is a family heirloom or a treasured possession, really is not worth it. You would be better off investing in a newer instrument.
Grey market pianos
Avoid purchasing grey market pianos.
Grey market pianos are pianos that previously belonged to schools or academies in countries such as Vietnam, China, Malaysia and Japan which were used extensively and to the point of being worn out over a ten year period, restored and then brought to Australia to be resold as secondhand pianos. Often we see brands such as Yamaha and Kawai from the grey market. The fact that these pianos have been restored might make you think that they seem like a good purchase, however they really are not. Pianos that have been used extensively in a school/academy setting have been completely worn-out on the inside, their mechanisms are equivalent of a 40-50+ year old piano. The restoration done on these pianos is really minimal and it is general aesthetic (buffing out scratches, fixing up the polish/finish on the outside, dusting and polishing the strings to make them look shiny and new). I do not at all recommend buying grey market pianos. If you check the serial number of the piano, you can use the website below to see whether it was originally sold and purchased within Australia or another country. If it was purchased and sold in Australian initially, it is most likely not a grey market piano.
Click here to read more info about grey market pianos.
Click here to check the serial number of a piano you wish to purchase.
Reputable secondhand acoustic pianos
In order to guarantee that the secondhand piano you are purchasing is coming to you in good condition, I recommend going to a used piano shop such as Piano Gallery and speaking with someone who is knowledgeable. It is also important to check the piano yourself. If you are purchasing a Yamaha or Kawai, it is worth still double checking the serial number just to be sure it isn't a grey market piano. It's also worth checking and playing all the keys, listening for any strange twangs or sounds on particular keys, keys that stick or if there seems to be any strange sounds that just don't sound right. It's also worth playing on a few different pianos in the shop just to check the feel so that you can have a benchmark of what the touch on the keys should feel like so you can see if the one you have your eye on feels off. If the secondhand piano you are interested in is in a shop, you may even be able to ask your piano teacher to go and check it out for you. I have done this on a number of occasions for students!
Secondhand digital pianos
Probably the most important thing to check when purchasing a secondhand digital piano is the overall condition. How does the piano look? If it looks neglected, chances are it's not a good purchase. If it has chipped or missing keys, it goes without saying - do not buy it!
When you get to see the piano, make sure that you play every single key, and I mean EVERY key on the piano. Listen for any irregularities in the sound, is there a key that is suddenly much louder than the others with the same pressure touch?
Make sure that the weighted touch is responsive, so when you press softly it is soft and when you press harder, it is louder. Check all of the buttons for functionality and ensure that the piano looks like it has been looked after well. Also it's a good idea to check the pedal if it has one and ensure that the sound is sustained when you press the pedal and play some notes.
Buying secondhand instruments can sometimes seem overwhelming. Don't be afraid to reach out and ask your teacher if you are unsure as there is nothing worse than buying something that you are unhappy with.
- old/antique acoustic pianos should generally be avoided where possible, unless it's a family heirloom or holds sentimental value and is worth the extra money and care/attention it will take to restore to its former glory.
- grey market piano should be avoided. Buying a piano that 'looks' to be in good condition, but has worn, old mechanisms inside is not a smart purchase no matter how enticing the price may be.
- secondhand digital pianos can be a good purchase, as long as you thoroughly inspect each and every key, button and pedal - if it looks neglected at all, avoid it!
- reputable secondhand pianos can be purchased from secondhand piano shops, but it is still a good idea to double check the serial number, ask about grey market pianos at the shop and thouroughly inspect/check the instrument yourself as well.
- for any secondhand digital or acoustic piano - check every single key for evenness of tone, clarity, any strange sounds like twangs, vibrations or clunks, check also for sticky keys and ensure that any buttons and pedals are fully functioning. The overall condition of the piano is also important to take into consideration.
I hope that this information helps you when on the search for your next piano. Please reach out in the comments if you have any questions or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll be happy to help.
Please also see my other blog post on purchasing pianos: "Which Piano Should I Buy?"