There are in an incredible number of acoustic pianos to be had for free. If you let it be known that you’re interested to adding an acoustic piano to your home, within a few weeks, someone will be offering you one. The deal usually is – if you’ll move it, it’s yours.
But how do you know if that piano is worth all the effort of moving? And fitting into your home?
As with all pianos, the CONDITION of the piano makes all the difference.
How old is the piano?
A newer piano is more likely to be in better condition. But pianos that have been lovingly cared for can be in good condition after 50-100 years, too.
Has it always been kept indoors (never stored in a garage or storage unit)?
Extreme temperature changes are the most common “death” for a piano. An acoustic piano’s sound is based on WOOD, and wood is cracked by changes in temperature.
Has it been kept in tune? If not, when was the last tuning?
Frequency of past tunings is the best measure of the care a piano has received over the years. A piano that was tuned once or twice every year will have had expert attention each time. That piano is highly likely to be in good condition.
Try out the piano yourself –
Does every key make sound? Check both white and black keys.
Do any keys stick down after you play them?
Does the sustain pedal (far right) hold the sound of all keys?
Do you like the tone of the piano?
Do you like the way the piano feels to your fingers as you play it?
Does the piano look good on the outside?
Is it a piece of furniture you’d be glad to have in your home? It’s possible that an older piano could have a worn patina and a wonderful tone. Is that OK with your decor?
Is a piano bench included?
If not, you’ll have to get a piano bench.
One of the most important aspects to a used piano is its Sounding Board. If there are any cracks in it, this is a deal breaker. You can inspect the back of the piano yourself to see if there are any obvious cracks, in which case, no, you don’t want to bother to move this piano.
However, only a piano tuner can spot other trouble in the Sounding Board. For this, you hire a piano tuner or piano technician for an inspection.
The Sounding Board is the heaviest, thickest part on the back of a piano. It is what makes a piano tone “ring”. It is also where all the string tuning pegs are screwed in. If the Sounding Board is cracked – at all – then the piano can never hold a tuning because the tuning pegs slip (turn in their sockets).
Since you are getting the piano free, you have to decide if it’s worth paying a piano tuner to inspect the piano. If the piano is only a few years old, has always been indoors and has been tuned at least once a year – then it’s a good guess that the piano is in good shape and you could skip the inspection.
If a piano has been stored in an unheated environment (garage, storage unit), it’s unlikely the Sounding Board will have survived without cracking. You definitely want an inspection before bothering to move that piano.
You may want piano movers to do the heavy lifting for you. That will cost several hundred dollars. It may also save your months of chiropractor bills. On the other hand, if you and a couple of friends regularly lift weights at the gym anyway, a piano gives you a challenging workout. Please remember, a “small” spinet piano still weighs at least 400 pounds and it’s an awkward shape to get up and down stairs. Bigger pianos weigh even more.
Now consider the care AFTER you move the piano. Any piano that has been moved will need to have TWO tunings. First, you let the piano adjust to your home for a week or so. Then you get the first tuning. A month later, after the piano has adjusted to the stresses of that first tuning, you get a second tuning. A move causes the wood to expand and contract in different places as well as causing the tuning pegs to slip, so it takes two tunings to get everything back in place again.
[In Chicago, the piano tuner I recommend is Glynn Hoover, cell # 773 213 5493. Do mention that you are one of my students. Glynn is semi-retired and not taking new clients unless someone has recommended him. So I am recommending him to you. He’s a very nice man who does good quality work. Glynn can also do an inspection for you if you want confirmation that the Sounding Board on this piano is in good shape.]
A tuning will cost at least $100 (2017 price). The final price depends on how out of tune the piano is and how long it takes to work on it. If there are any non-working keys or other broken parts, the cost to fix those will be extra.
To plan for the future, an acoustic piano needs be tuned each Spring and Fall. [Glynn is wonderful in that he will remember for you. He will call you and ask each Spring and Fall when you want to schedule your tuning. It’s a wonderful service.]
The best place to put an acoustic piano is against an INSIDE wall where temperature changes will be at a minimum.
But sometimes that’s not possible. If you have an outside wall with no window, that would be your next best location. Third best would be an outside wall that has a window. The further from the window the piano can be, the better for the piano’s tuning and longevity.
If, however, the window is directly behind the piano, I’d put extra “stuffing” between the piano and the window – like some old blankets or pillows or even extra attic insulation like you buy at the hardware store. Anything to keep the cold and hot air away from the piano as much as possible. Yes, the padding will muffle the great ringing sound of the piano, so neither choice is ideal.
If you do have to put the piano on an outside wall, then the tuning EVERY Spring and Fall becomes VERY important. The changes in temperature are going to make BIG changes in the tuning each season. That makes tuning every 6 months doubly important.
Another consideration in the placement of your piano is the atmosphere around it for practicing. Choose the place where YOU would most like to sit and practice. If it’s a place that the children walk by frequently, that’s good because it will encourage them to play something as they walk by.
The problem with a piano in the basement, is that when it’s time for a child to practice, it’s like sending them “down to the dungeon”. They feel all by themselves, no one can appreciate their work and their songs, and practice becomes drudgery. If the piano is more in the middle of the home, then the child can show off their progress, you can listen from the kitchen, family involvement happens naturally.
On the other hand, if the basement is the family room and that’s where the kids hang out anyway, the basement could be a good place. Or if YOU really like going off to the basement by yourself to practice in peace then that could be a good reason for the basement, too.
In general, remember, a person who spent $50,000 on a grand piano would want to take exacting care of their instrument. You’re getting yours for free and you want something easily accessible for your practice and enjoyment. Don’t stress over it too much 🙂
If you have more questions, just ask – Ms. Andria