Buying a Piano

A new piano is an expensive item, and many will opt for the more economical alternative of buying a secondhand one. The problem usually is knowing what to look for!   Read on…….

Main features of upright pianos: the stringing

Very old pianos (dating before 1930) are often ‘straight strung’: The strings are all parallel, with the thicker bass strings on the left side going vertically downwards. This means that they are comparatively short within a given frame size. Avoid this type because the bass tone can be poor.

Most pianos from 1930 onwards are ‘overstrung’ which means that the bass strings fit diagonally in the frame to give extra length and hence a better tone. To check this, look inside and you should see a ‘v’ pattern in a place roughly one-third of the way along, where the bass strings overlap the middle strings. This is the type to look for.

Overdamper actions

All pianos feature a set of pressure pads which bear against the strings to prevent them sounding when not required. These are the dampers. In the overdamper type, much of the mechanism is visible and it features a vertical set of wires operating the pressure pads. It looks rather like a bird cage, and it is all supported by a wooden bar across the top of the action. The type became obsolete after 1930 and should be avoided.

Underdamper actions

Pianos made after 1930 almost all have underdamper actions, where the dampers are situated at a low level behind other components. The ‘birdcage’ is no longer featured and the entire action looks simpler and more attractive. This is the type to look for.

What to do

Firstly we suggest that you visit us and we will give you our list of piano names to consider. (free of charge)  Having found a possible buy, make a note of the piano serial number and maker’s name. We may then be able to find the date of manufacture, and if suitable then go to see it.

What to look for

Open the top lid and lift off the front panel to expose the action.  Look at the strings. They all should be the same colour. If you see some which are brighter these will have been renewed because the old ones have broken. This means that more will break in the future and replacement can be expensive. A full restring on an old piano is likely to cost more than the value of the instrument.

Look at the overall appearance. The hammers, keyboard, and other parts all should look uniform, rather like a row of soldiers. Test each note to see if it works correctly and it sounds reasonably good. Go to see several pianos before making your choice. Finally, just some cautions: Mini pianos can be attractive but the tone is not as good as a full size piano. Remember that the width is much the same as a normal one – only the height is different. They are more costly to repair. Do not buy a piano which only has a 6 octave range. Sooner or later you will need a full size piano having the standard 7 octave range.

                                 Good hunting!