Piano Tech 101

We get a lot of questions via email regarding used pianos for sale on Craigslist and Ebay so we wanted to touch on the basics as well as some myths that seem to go around and around on used pianos.  As far as finding a "good piano" it's going to boil down to sound each time.  There were pianos built in the past that weren't good ones to begin with and we help sort that process out.

**** Notice****  Pianos need to be tuned bi-annually normally depending on humidity levels.  If you are never wanting to have your piano tuned or asking a salesperson if a piano will ever need to be tuned other than the one time or during dealer prep then you might be better off choosing a digital piano.

**** Find the Piano Teacher that is Right for you****  Remember that buying a piano either new or used is a pretty big investment. BEWARE of Piano Teachers on Kick Back Programs with Dealers as the fees they receive comes directly out of your wallet.  The very first thing that you want to do is do your research BEFORE finding a teacher.  You then want to establish a budget for your purchase.  One of the biggest factors of people not sticking with lessons are the piano teachers that do not like your piano.  You are not buying a piano for the teacher, it is for you so you want to make sure that the teacher doesn't over spend your budget or suggest only certain brands because that is all they like. Every piano out there has a unique personality so finding one that matches your style of play and individuality is where you want to start.  All piano manufacturers have or have had failures in the past, that is just the way machines are and while brand loyalty is fine, the steering of beginners who don't own a piano to something out of their reach takes the fun out of wanting to learn the instrument in the first place.

1) Any piano built after 1947 or so will not have ivory keys and probably more than not many of those made up until the Ivory Ban date weren't ivory either., unless it's a high end brand like Steinway or Mason Hamlin etc.  You wont find Ivory on a Baldwin spinet from 1959 lets say.  It will be a plastic or ivoritine,simulated 2 pc Ivory look alike, Ivory doesn't melt so if you see something melted like cigarette burns? It's plastic.  There are no solid ivory anythings on a piano. Ivory veneer only over maple or pine substrate.

2)  Well it needs to be tuned after its moved anyway..... I always avoid pianos sold locally that say this in the ads.   It could just be a cover especially with an antique piano.

3) Antique pianos are like playing Russian Roulette, if they havent been tuned in a long time or maintained properly you are in for a huge headache.  It's enormously expensive to get these pianos working perfectly.   You would probably be looking at a pitch raise ( to raise pitch if the piano is flat)  most are in the 200 cents flat range and it can take hours to get these up to pitch. $$$$  . When we get these old pianos in we pitch raise them here in the shop so if something breaks we can just replace the part, some can take several hours, some a few days to get done.  That is something to consider when paying a tech 90-100 dollars an hour at your house

4) Bass strings that sound dead and thud when you hit a note are toast.  Tuning will NOT correct the issue they have to be replaced.  Piano strings are expensive.  Bass strings are about 7-12 dollars each not including labor.  Average in 44 bass strings at 12 dollars each for the estimate.  a complete restringing of an entire piano is easily 3000.00 with labor.

5) Most pianos built after 1995 regardless of brand with the exception of  Steinway are all built overseas.  Chinese made pianos have a low lifespan 10 years or so on the low end brands. I will guarantee the pianos we work on will last easily another 20 - 40 years and be far less expensive.

6) Soybean, Plastic parts,  this is where you should run away.  Jesse French, Story and Clark consoles 1946- 1959 or so and other brands were experimenting with this plastic in their piano actions.  The parts will look like yellow plastic and almost always you will see crumbs of this material in the bottom of the piano .     Once these start breaking it is going to be a money pit on repairs.

7)  How long will a piano hold tune?  Depends on lots of factors, heat humidity how you are playing it.  I know of new 100 K dollar pianos going out of tune within 2 hours but they are workhorses in music studios.  You should have your home piano tuned bi -annually. Keep it away from outside walls, doors, windows, woodstoves, dont keep plants on it or water them on it, watch out for objects like pencils or popcicles getting in it.  All of these factors can alter tuning.

8)  The Large gold part inside the piano is called the PLATE.  It's guilded Cast Iron, Magnets will stick to Iron or Steel but not Brass  I see a lot of pianos destroyed by people thinking this part is brass for the scrap value.  Only to find out it's worth 2 dollars.

9)  Calculating weight:  Upright pianos are as follows  : 150 pounds per foot of height is average.  Example one Spinet Piano 36 inches tall = 3 feet x 150  or 450 pounds
     Grand Pianos are calculated at 10 pounds per inch of length so an 8 foot concert grand lets say is 96 inches long or 96 x 10 or 960 pounds.   These formulas are over 100 years old and very accurate.

10)  Piano types/ heights ( uprights)  Spinet = 36 inches tall,  Console= 42 inches tall , Studio= 45 inches tall, Midsized upright = 47-51 inches tall.  Cabinet Grands 51 inches and taller.   Grands   anything under 5.7 feet in length is considered a baby grand.  5.7 to 7 feet would be a Parlor Grand or Living room grand.   8 feet and over are the Concert Grands.

11)  Parts questions,  If you are looking for a specific piece or part for any type of piano just email me.  We part out all types of pianos constantly that can no longer be repaired for various reasons or strip them out for shells leaving lot's of parts.  The parts tab represents less than 1 % of the parts stock, we just don't have the time to post all the pictures

12)  Mirror Top Piano Facts.   Mirror top pianos are those that have a wide mirror at the very top of the cabinet, usually about 5-6 inches tall.  These pianos began life as an antique upright piano and were  then " Re-modeled"  after world war 2  1946- 1950  is pretty accurate.  While some were done correctly, most were hatchet jobs.  These pianos should be avoided.  They have been structurally altered and if there is no cross brace at the bottom meeting the leg for support they can easily flip  over causing severe injury, This usually happens when vacuuming, hit a leg and it flips over on you.  Most of the time the cabinets were removed, covered with formica or vinyl to cover the hack -job marks then the builder added his decals.  It is pretty rare to find one of these worth buying.  We get some from time to time and sell them cheap but scrap the rest.

13 ) Piano Values :  One of the biggest things to consider regarding pianos is market value for what a piano like yours is going for.  You can take two pianos, sit them side by side and not really be able to tell, it's going to boil down to sound and mechanical condition to a serious player over looks every time.  Beware of being told your piano lets say an antique upright will be worth 15K restored, It will cost 10-12K just to have it restored so technically you have a 3K dollar window for profit there if you can get it in todays market.  Be smart about it.  This is why we can sell previously restored pianos at a low cost because there isn't a line of people around the block to buy 15K dollar upright pianos.  When getting an appraisal ask what it is worth as is, not what it will be worth restored because unless it already is that information will not help to sell it.

A)  What will it cost to move it ?  This is another factor to consider because buyers are already considering it.  Getting a piano moved is an enormous undertaking if the parties are not using pros. The right equipment is the tipping point between having either home damaged, losing it on the highway or having your helpers injured. Piano moves these days average about 300.00 if there are no stairs. Once stairs come into play it can be anywhere from 7-10 dollars a step or 500.00 per flight depending on carrier and region.

Something to consider is if you are buying a 300.00 piano and have to pay an additional 300.00 to have it moved you are already investing 600.00 on something you may or may not be able to have tuned. So keep all those factors in mind when making a decision.

14) Broken Pedals, Most  Piano Pedals are Cast Iron with a Brass covering at the end but some are entirely Cast Iron.  These can be easily repaired by removing the pedal from the piano and having them Mig welded ( wire welder).  The Days of a pedal re cracking at the weld are gone as the new weld will be super hard. . We've mig welded 100s of broken pedals without a failure.  As Always if you cannot find someone in your area you can ship them to me and we will do it for you.  Naturally Solid Brass pedals will have to be brazed but the Cast iron is far easier to fix.

The Views expressed on this page are based on Fact and Experience.  I've added this last paragraph since I have gotten several emails from various groups asking me to remove this tech section from the website as it is viewed as " Proprietary" info by these groups.  Anyone with a specific question on a repair who cannot otherwise afford it by calling a local technician is invited to email me for advice, parts or repairs, I will be more than happy to walk you through anything you feel comfortable doing yourself, give you tips etc.  Which is what this website and Nashville Piano Rescue is about.