5 things to consider when buying a used piano

5 things to consider when buying a used piano

5 things to consider when buying a used piano Pianos use a complex system comprised of thousands of parts to make music. They are a marvel of engineering, but all that complexity can present a problem to any layperson looking to purchase a quality used instrument. If a piano is reasonably well maintained, however, it can be passed on to multiple generations, and provide decades of enjoyment to music lovers. In order to find such an instrument at a reasonable price it is important to keep a few things in mind: 1. If possible, hire a piano technician to do an evaluation. Many technicians charge somewhere in the range of $100 to evaluate a piano. Since a decent used piano might cost thousands of dollars, having an experienced, trustworthy, and impartial technician go over it before you buy it could keep you from spending all that money on a lemon. I fully encourage you to research your purchase on your own, but a technician...
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Can I tune my piano with a guitar tuner?

Can I tune my piano with a guitar tuner?

Can I tune my piano with a guitar tuner? Many people wonder if they can simply tune their pianos with a guitar tuner. It’s a question I’ve asked myself, before I became a piano technician. The first tuning I ever did was on a little Schumann grand piano with a guitar tuning app. The short answer is yes; but it's highly inadvisable. It will sound awful to anyone with a decent ear, and downright unacceptable to piano players. There are subjective elements to tuning instruments, and an “accurate” tuning is a slightly shifting scale. A good tuning on any given instrument, including pianos, will take into account the design of the instrument and the mechanism it uses to produce sound. For example, a pipe organ is tuned differently than a piano because a pipe organ uses air forced through pipes, and a piano uses a felt hammer which is hurled at a tense wire. The key difference between instruments from the perspective of...
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What do you do with an old piano?

What do you do with an old piano?

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...
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Old serial numbers & other markings

Old serial numbers & other markings

 This serial number on an old Jacob Bros. upright traces to 1907! Serial numbers are sometimes hard to find, but typically on American uprights and grands they can be found in a plate cutout like this, somewhere in the tuning pin area. Even more interesting here are the dates etched into the plate above the serial number. In days gone by technicians would often write or etch the date of each service call. Hopefully 1930 was not the last time this piano was tuned! ...
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Plastic parts – not as bad as you might think

Plastic parts – not as bad as you might think

If you tell people their piano has plastic parts, most don't think of that as a good thing. When plastics first became mainstream in manufacturing in the 20th century, they were used in all kinds of ways they should not have been and have a bad track record for durability. Early plastics became brittle very quickly and had poor shelf life. However, in recent years a number of piano manufacturers have developed advanced polymers that are used for specific action components and are actually more durable than wood. They are also far less susceptible to seasonal temperature and humidity swings, helping the piano's regulation remain stable longer. This picture is of a "plastic" repetition jack in a Yamaha upright that's just a couple years old. For decades this part would have been made out of wood. It is a quality part though and no cause for concern! You'll notice other parts are still made of wood and metal; it all depends on...
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Stencil pianos – what are you actually getting?

Stencil pianos – what are you actually getting?

This is a great example of what is known as a "stencil" piano. The name "Brahms" appears on the front of the piano, but in fact the plate (visible in the background) is stamped with Winter & Company, the actual manufacturer of the piano. I couldn't find any background information on this particular customer's piano, but it was very common in the mid-1900's for piano stores, dealers, and others to have a run of pianos manufactured by an established company with the dealer's name stamped on the front. Winter & Co. was one of the larger piano manufacturers in the 1940's, when this piano was built, and had arrangements like this with dozens of companies over the years. If you own a piano with a name on the front that is unfamiliar and hard to find any information on, one possible explanation is that it's a stencil. They are not necessarily inferior pianos; it just depends, of course, on the company that...
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Rust comparison – a dead giveaway in pianos

Rust comparison – a dead giveaway in pianos

Compare the tuning pins in these two pianos. They are around the same age and both are school pianos. I advised the music teacher that the one on top was very concerning because of the amount of corrosion. Rust on strings and tuning pins is always a red flag! Having another piano around of similar age and design helped demonstrate the problem in this case. Often piano owners don't notice rust or corrosion in their piano because it looks "normal" to them or they don't ever look inside their instrument. Sometimes you can learn a lot just by a quick look! ...
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Social Media Links

Social Media Links

Approximately twice a week, I post pictures of pianos I have worked on, usually focusing on a specific aspect of piano care, maintenance, or repair. Sometimes they're educational, sometimes they're funny, sometimes they're scary, and sometimes just plain interesting. If you're a pianist or a piano owner, follow South Jersey Piano Service on Instagram and Facebook! You'll learn more about these incredibly complex instruments, and you'll be better informed when you have your own piano serviced. And of course, if you live in South Jersey, you'll know who to call! www.instagram.com/sjpianoservice www.facebook.com/sjpianoservice ...
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