What do you do with an old piano?

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Tens of thousands of new acoustic pianos are sold every year in the US. While this may sound like a lot, changing domestic norms and the development of electronic pianos have brought acoustic piano sales down from many times that amount a few decades ago. Peaks of over 300,000 piano sales per year in the US were hit in the early 1900’s and again in the post-WW2 boom.

One thing that has not changed: pianos do not live forever. And eventually, usually decades after they are bought, they have to be disposed of somehow. The chances are, you have stumbled across this page because you are trying to figure out what to do with an old piano from the boom years many decades ago that is now past any musical life.

Don’t be discouraged by this – no manufactured object lasts forever, and most fall to pieces or stop working much more quickly than an acoustic piano. I still regularly service pianos that are over 100 years old. Do you have any working appliances in your home that are over 100 years old? Likely not. Pianos are incredible instruments that will last more than a lifetime if well-made and well-maintained.

Still, nearly every piano will eventually reach its end of usefulness. And what makes pianos difficult to get rid of is their size and weight. Further complicating the situation is that it may not be immediately obvious whether a piano is actually at the end of its life or whether it just needs to be serviced. So let’s tackle that question first. (If you already know your piano has no future, skip to the next section.)

How can I tell if my piano has any potential still or not?

  • How big is it? As a general rule, smaller pianos are less desirable and musical. This is especially true of spinets – very short (3ft or less) upright pianos with compressed internal components and other design compromises. A larger upright or a grand piano might have more potential, although it’s no guarantee.
  • How does it look? No one wants a banged up piano with broken cabinet parts and chips and dents in it. While those things can be repaired if the piano has enough going for it otherwise, it’s a big drag on any chances of it getting sold or of anyone wanting it in their living room.
  • Does it work? This doesn’t require a PhD to figure out. Play every key on the piano and see if it works (the key goes down and comes back up, and makes a noise, for starters). If someone musical is around that can test some octaves and some chords, even better.
  • Do repairs make financial sense? Ultimately, if you think the piano might have some potential, you’ll need to just hire a piano technician to look it over and give a professional opinion and any repair estimates. But if you look online and see other pianos like yours being given away for free, it’s probably a sign that it’s not worth a lot of repair investment. This is especially true at this point in history, where millions of mediocre pianos that were made to satisfy sales booms in the 50’s and 60’s are reaching the end of their useful life.

OK. My piano is junk, and I just need to get rid of it. What now?

There are a few things you can try, depending on the piano, where you live, and what manpower you have available:

  • List it for free on online marketplaces. Be honest about the condition of the piano and include pictures of any damage or problems. You may have a taker or you may not. Please do not try to pass it off as a donation to a unsuspecting nonprofit that knows even less about it than you do. This is not kind or helpful! Most nonprofits won’t take pianos anyway, unless they have someone that can evaluate it first, but be a good neighbor and don’t try to pass off junk to someone else, if you know that’s what it is.
  • Pay to have it removed. It may be simplest, safest, and even cheapest to just pay professionals to haul it away. Many removal services also do their best to recycle what they can of the piano, which is better than landfilling it. If you are in southern NJ, we offer piano removal services. Check current pricing on our website.
  • Take it to your local dump/landfill. Chances are, there are either municipal or private disposal sites within driving distance if you do some local searches. You may pay a nominal fee for disposals in some cases.
  • Take it apart yourself. If you are handy with tools and want an interesting project, then take the piano apart yourself! You will want to have good hand and eye protection, and if you attempt to remove the strings you should do some additional research first to make sure you understand what you’re getting into. But a quick search on Pinterest or Google will show you dozens of creative furniture projects made out of repurposed pianos. The cast iron plate inside the piano, nearly half of the overall weight, can also be taken to a scrap yard to get a few extra dollars in your pocket!