Since it would not be cost effective to have every piano encountered professionally surveyed, the following checklist is designed to help the buyer to narrow down the choices to one or two, pending a final inspection by a piano technician.
•Manufacturer of the piano (incl. location of factory) _____________________________. Open keyboard and look for a decal just above the keys. Also look for names inside (sometimes they are different).
•Measure the size. Grand: overall length (keyboard to nose) (in.) _________ Upright: height from floor (in.) _________
•Check the condition of case and finish. Notice any loose veneer or missing case parts. Is the finish dull or shiny? Is it checked or cracked? Notice the size and styling of the case. Is this a piano you can live with visually?
•Open lid and look for the serial number, a 4 to 7-digit number commonly found under the music rack on a grand, or near tuning pins in an upright ________________. Often there are other numbers, such as patent dates, date company was established, and part numbers. If in doubt, it would be good to record all numbers found. IMPORTANT: before opening the lid, check that all lid hinges have their pins installed. If in a home, have the owner remove any pictures or knickknacks.
• Check inside for odors, such as from mouse urine or mildew. Using a flashlight, check for water or smoke damage. Look for signs of having been in adverse conditions, particularly flood, fire, outside or barn damage. Generally speaking these are pianos to avoid.
• Do all the keys play freely? Notice if any keys feel sluggish or return slowly or not at all. Feel the touch - is it too stiff, too easy, or uneven? The touch can be changed but may be too costly for an old or low-quality piano.
•Are the keytops chipped, cracked, worn, or do they show signs of having been reglued, such as an obvious black line between the wide and narrow parts of the key material?
•Do the pedals work? Check for a loose pedal lyre on grands. Do all the dampers lift at the same time when stepping on the rightmost pedal? Is the pedal noisy or wobbly?
•Look at the strings. Look for rust which is a sign that the piano has been in adverse conditions. Are a few shinier than the rest or are some missing? This means strings have broken and others may be at risk.
•Look at the hammers and notice if the striking surfaces are deeply grooved from long hours of playing. Worn, old hammers are unlikely to produce a pleasant sound. Are there any hammers missing?Is there moth damage?
•Sound a tone of known pitch and play the same pitch on the piano. You can use a tuning fork or a pitch pipe. Also, the dial tone of the telephone can be used as a reference pitch (It sounds F and A above middle C). Play all the keys and listen for notes which are radically out of tune or if the pitch of the whole piano is very different from the pitch reference. Sometimes there are reasons for tuning a piano below pitch, such as brittle strings.
•Firmly play and hold down high "C" (2 octaves above middle "C") and listen for how long it sustains. A rule of thumb might be 10 seconds on a good piano.
•Play the piano and listen to the tone quality - is it bright, harsh, clear, mellow, uneven, tinny, dull? Are there any buzzes, growls, clicks or rattles? Are the bass notes resonant or dull-sounding? Note that tone quality can be modified to your taste in many cases. Play every note - wild tuning might equal loose tuning pins.
• Some spinet and console pianos built around 1950 were made with plastic parts which sooner or later become brittle and fail. Modern pianos using plastic are very reliable, but a 50-year-old instrument should be avoided due to the high cost of installing and regulating the new parts.
Note: be wary of any claims that a piano has been “rebuilt”, is X number of years old, etc. The seller may be sincere but nevertheless mistaken as to the facts. Some of the above defects may be easily repaired. Others may indicate major repairs which exceed the value of the instrument.
If you would like to become more knowledgeable about the purchase and ownership of pianos, we have a very informative and comprehensive book for sale (The Piano Book, by Larry Fine). Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 459-9910.