The Perils of Used Pianos - by Hannah Beckett, President of the Piano Technicians Guild of DC
Some people like to get on their phones in the evening and finish out the day by looking at pictures of puppies, salads, and babies. I look at piano pictures. Not the pretty ones on Instagram. I have made it a habit of checking the used market for pianos once, if not twice a day. The pages are usually filled with grungy, sad pianos that don’t belong on a sale page, but occasionally I find a diamond in the rough and send a quick notification to clients that I know are in the market. Tonight, I found gold. Not a free Steinway piano from the early 2000s (I know, you were hoping…), but two pianos of the exact same brand with serial numbers from the same year listed hours apart and… one was listed for $8,000 and the other $17,000. I rejoiced, then took a screen shot to prove it. At last, I have a real-life example of why the used piano market is so fraught with perils.
You may ask, “Why is one piano listed for over twice as much as the other? What makes the value of the one so much higher than the value of the other?” Good questions. The answer is: Because, and, nothing. People who post pianos on Craigslist or Facebook marketplace usually don’t know any more about piano value than you do. They pick numbers based on many factors, but none of them are sourced from a Kelly Blue Book of Pianos. Pianos don’t have a Blue Book, and because people post junk for inordinate amounts of money and quality for cheap because they are desperate to get rid of it, this makes the piano market swing wildly out of control. If you’re in the market for a “new-to-you” piano, this poses some real problems. Between trying to find fair prices (because remember… NOTHING IS FREE - see previous post) and dodging scams, used piano shopping can feel like navigating stormy seas. This post will hopefully give you some good information to act as a compass through the storm.
First, how to identify a scam:
If it’s free, it’s a scam. If not a scam by someone in Asia trying to give you tickets to a free cruise, it’s a scam by someone who doesn’t realize they’re scamming you by giving you something that will inevitably cost you money to dispose of. To prove this point, last week I attempted to acquire a free piano on Craigslist. (I find this fun...) After a round of piano related discussion led to the unavoidable, “the piano is in a holding center because my husband died and I’m moving and need help paying for the piano to be transferred to you,” my point was made. If it takes more than two emails to set up a time to go see the piano (NEVER buy a piano sight-unseen), it’s probably a scam. Thankfully, the only thing that scammer got from me was my number, which all the scammers in the world already have because I put it on this website. (Scammers of the world: I am not old. I will not fund any stranded Nigerian princesses and I do not owe the IRS money from taxes in the 1980s. Try something new already.)
Second, how to filter the options:
I always recommend picking a budget, establishing what type of piano you need (upright, grand, starter piano, upgrade piano, forever piano, beautiful piano, etc etc), then taking time to just see what passes by. Here’s a quick birds-eye view of the numbers:
IN GENERAL -
“Starter pianos” (defined as - “my kid wants to try it out but I’m not spending a ton of money until they show dedication”) should either be a keyboard or an older Yamaha piano around $1.5k - $2k. We will talk more about “starter pianos” later.
Serious student pianos - Usually uprights of a reputable brand (Yamaha or Kawai from the 1980s up, don’t go into the ‘70s) could be around $3k-$6k.
“Forever Pianos” (defined as - “I don’t want to do this process again so this has to last the rest of my kid’s playing life) could be $7k-$20k.
Third, how to assess the condition of the instrument:
You can’t. Call me. I’ll probably tell I’m happy to go look at it, or I’ll say “Nah, you don’t want that one,” and then point you to one that’s a million times better that you didn’t even notice buried on page 3. Which reminds me, instead of trying to figure all this stuff out by yourself, you should call a technician that you trust who is willing to help you through the process. Not all technicians like dealing with the industry side of pianos, but you should call around until you find someone who is willing to answer your questions. Do not start googling for answers. I know we live in a world where google can give you cooking lessons, show you the new blouse you’ve been needing, and sing you to sleep at night, but google doesn’t know this stuff - yet. Trust me. Find a live human voice who is giving you helpful information before diving in to a used-piano purchase.
Reprinted with Author's permission.
Note from Orpheus Music: We highly encourage all of our customers to have a Registered Piano Technician inspect any piano you are considering before you purchase.