There is no such thing as a free piano

A Kimball Whitney Piano – fully refurbished and ready to go.

If you get on Craigslist right now, you’re almost guaranteed to find a “free” piano.  That is, someone who will give you a piano for no money to them.

This looks like fun, doesn’t it?

Now, to get that piano home, you probably want to pay a professional mover.  That’s going to cost about $150, give or take, with lots of variables in there.  Even if you get your cousin and his friend to help you and borrow their truck, which I don’t recommend, it’s gonna cost you at least a six-pack and a sunday afternoon to get the job done.

“A simple tuning is all it needs”… said the guy that just wants this thing out of his house.

Once you get the piano home, you call me – your local tech and tuner – to come take a look and give it a tuning.

Severe moth damage under the keys

Your piano tech comes by, takes a look and finds out it hasn’t been tuned in over 20 years, it’s going to need at least 3 tunings to get it back to normal.  Maybe.  If it holds.  Plus, all the dampers need adjusting, and moths have eaten up half the inside.  Not to mention the little mouse problem the previous owners had.

Key levelling in progress

So, now your free piano is nearly unplayable, it’s going to cost at least $300 to get it tuned, and hundreds more to get the mouse and moth damage out.  If you had known that, you wouldn’t have gone for the freebie after all.  Now, you face the tough decision to get this thing back out of your house, or invest some real money into a piano that isn’t worth it, and won’t ever be.

Rather than have a mouse-poo filled unplayable instrument sitting proudly in your family room, take the time to do some looking before you agree to take that “free” piano home.

What to look for:

Pianos need tuned once a year, at least

Tuning – do they know when it was tuned last?  You can check how bad it is without really knowing anything.  There are a ton of  tuner apps available for your smart phone, load one on before you go to see the piano.  Check a couple of the keys to see if they’re even close to what they should be.  If it’s really flat, (like, playing a C says it’s a B on your tuner) it’s going to take multiple tunings to straighten it out.   And that’s only if it can hold tune.  Sometimes the pin block (the piece of wood that holds all the tuning pins) is cracked and the piano can’t be tuned.  Not really.  Ever again.

A nice, new studio piano action from the top view.

Damage and Infestations – Open up the top of the piano – it’s easy, they’re usually hinged.  Look down inside (this will really scare the crap out of the owner & make you look like you know what you’re doing.)  Everything should look the same – no matter what – it should be the same thing over and over, 88 times.  If it’s not – there’s definite action work to be done.  While you’ve got the top open, take a sniff.  Mouse infestations can be easily identified this way.  And while you may not see anything, Mickie and Minnie could have taken up residence in there years back.

Wholly dampers!

Play some keys while the lid is still up.  Or better yet, use the left pedal to check the hammers.  Just press down that left pedal and let off it quickly.  If there are any hammers with serious problems, they won’t act like the others.  While you’re pressing pedals, go ahead and check the others too – make sure they do something.  If they don’t do anything at all – you’ve got a problem.

Just what you want in your house…

When you play the keys – also feel how far down they go.  If they feel nice and firm – all is probably well.  If they go down too far, or feel mushy – you’ve got more problems.  Lean down and look along the keys at eye level.  If they’re all different heights, even more problems.

Peeling hammers – all of them on this piano were peeling off.  Some from the bottom where it was hard to see when the action was in the piano.

There are a whole host of things that can go wrong in a piano.  It’s hard to sum them all up.  Just look for anything that looks super wierd.  Check for cracks in the sound board (you do that by looking at the back).  Even if you don’t know what it’s supposed to sound like, play the keys, just to see if you hear any bad noises.  Buzzes, overtones, tones that last after you let off the keys, more than one hammer moving when you press one key…  If it just sounds bad, or plays funny, or is stinky – don’t waste your time.

“This thing stinks!”

Now, a lot of people think that these things don’t matter.  A piano makes noise, so therefore it is good.  I have to tell you, that’s just not true.  Imagine you give your kid their first bike.  You wanted to save some bucks, so you took your neighbors old bike off his hands for free.  You give it to the kid, but the brakes don’t work – the tires are flat – the gears don’t shift – not to mention it’s ugly and old and stinky…  Your kid will not learn to ride a bike, maybe ever.

The same is true with pianos.  I’ve seen it way too many times.  People give their kids junk pianos that are broken, can never be properly tuned, don’t play with any sort of dynamics and sound like garbage – not to mention again, ugly and old and stinky.  And then they wonder why the kid won’t practice.  You can get a decent piano for a decent price.  There is no reason to skip out on giving a child the proper tools they need to get the education they want.  Plus, do you really want your little angel playing around with something that may or may not be filled with rodent excrement?  Not so great, folks.

Refurbishment in progress – best left to the pros

So, in short, that great “free” piano that your uncle is just dying to get rid of to you probably has a host of issues that will end up costing you as much as a fully refurbished used piano from a dealer.  Only, the refurbishment will take place in your home, on your time, your dime and your dining room table.   Do yourself the favor of educating yourself before you make this decision, take your time, ask questions, get answers.  Remember, people like me are always here to help.

Thanks for reading & Happy Playing!



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