Acoustic pianos can be expensive, particularly the shiny variety. But if you’re not in the market to throw several thousand at a glossy black beauty then you’re looking at the used category of pianos. You’re in good company here.
The previously mentioned heavy piano that I owned, the Ronisch, was a gift from my husband. He purchased it off eBay from photos alone, for around $200 (quite a steal for how much the restored versions go for). It was made of walnut wood with a quite unmistakable image of a woman in the wood grain. It had to be tuned twice to pass muster but I loved it so much I used it to record my first solo album. You can find good enough acoustic pianos for not much money when you buy second-hand.
Used pianos are much cheaper but you tend to trade-off on some things in order to ensure others. You might compromise on the colour, wood finish, condition of the outer case, and maybe even a few chipped keys on the ends. But you shouldn’t sacrifice on: ability to be tuned – if it’s been tuned recently but is still out of tune or the owner can’t remember the last time it was tuned, then its best days are behind it; the keys in the middle few octaves should not be chipped or stuck – you can cut up your fingers trying to play over very chipped keys and keys that stick and don’t spring back up after you play are a nuisance; and missing keys or worn out felt on the key hammers (take a look under that hood). Read in more detail the things to look for when buying a used piano in the next installment.
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Keyboards are much the same: expensive for the latest and greatest, but buy a used keyboard and you can get something of your preferred quality for a much lesser price. Technology moves on so fast that some great models get reduced in price before you can say “Rick Wakeman”. With new models constantly flooding the market there is a vast pool of used keyboards that people are getting rid of cheaply in order to upgrade.
With keyboards it’s all about the electronics. So while there may be old stickers still stuck to it from the 90s, or it might be a pastel mint colour instead of sleek black it can still do the job for you as long as: the keys are all there and not sticking, the tone of the piano sound is pure and doesn’t sound like it’s had a pint of beer poured on it, the inputs, outputs, sustain pedal jack are all in working order and nothing sounds like it is rattling around in the casing.
An advantage of buying used is the model has had more time to accumulate a wealth of reviews online. If you find a good deal on eBay or in the Classified section of your newspaper, search the model and take a look at what people have said. Remember, read public reviews as well as ‘top ten’ reviewer sites to get a good idea (the latter can be biased).
The differences when shopping:
New pianos often come with a warranty from the manufacturer and with that price-tag comes other services often on-the-house, including moving it to your home and tuning once there. Used pianos from a reputable dealer can offer the same services; they are usually reconditioned with a warranty from the dealer and also offer tuning and moving it into your home.
Used pianos sourced privately, however, are usually the responsibility of the buyer to transport home. They seldom come with warranties and may not have been tuned recently, so the buyer will need to consider the cost of transportation and tuning on top of the piano price.
The Piano Technician’s Guild advises buyer’s looking privately for a quality used piano, to hire the services of a registered piano technician. A technician is able to make an evaluation of the piano in person, or guide you through making an evaluation over the phone, before you make the commitment to purchasing.
Used or new, you need to get the best piano within your budget. Whether you are just getting a hold of something that makes the appropriate noises so you can begin to learn piano and upgrade later, or whether you are looking for an investment piano that will become a family heirloom and inspire you to play for a lifetime: if you don’t know what you are looking for you could end up disappointed.
You’ll need some solid advice on what to look for when purchasing a piano, which I just happen to have coming up next, with a guest contributor from the Piano Technician's Guild!