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Pre-Owned Pianos

How to select a used piano

When presented with the need to purchase a piano, it is a good idea to consider all the options.  This includes whether to select a new piano or a good used piano.

When investing in a new piano, choosing a brand known for quality can instill confidence that the instrument will deliver many years of fine service.  The Steinway & Sons Family of Steinway, Boston and Essex pianos offer the very best value available. 

The Steinway & Sons Promise of guaranteed buyback of Boston and Essex instruments when upgrading to a Steinway Grand piano is a statement of confidence in the assured value of acquiring an instrument from Steinway & Sons.  

When purchasing a used piano however, the intrinsic value, the longevity of the piano, as well as the expected costs of restoring its appearance and functionality and keeping it maintained,  becomes very important considerations, especially when measured against the value of a new instrument from the Steinway & Sons Family of Pianos.

With that in mind, it is worthwhile to raise the question, why do people really want used pianos?   

Consumers usually want to purchase used pianos because of the perception that in doing so they will save money because of the lower price and receive better value.  Price is what we pay and Value is what we receive for the money expended.  Before deciding on the purchase of a used piano, it is helpful to review the possibility of purchasing a new one.  People are sometimes surprised at what they learn when they consider, with an open mind, what best fits their needs and which option will provide the best value retention.  Steinways are the only pianos which appreciate in value in real terms, when properly cared for by an accredited Steinway Technician.   The Steinway & Sons Designed Boston and Essex Pianos offer tremendous value and guaranteed value retention.

Once a decision is reached to select a used instrument, the following considerations are of paramount importance.

We strongly recommend that a used piano should only be acquired after a thorough technical assessment by our accredited Steinway trained technical support team.  This is essential to ensure the instrument is free of structural damage and ensures provides a comprehensive technical report with a quotation of the costs of restoring the piano to a fully functional state.  Failure to follow this procedure attracts the risk of ending up with an acquisition of lower value than the price paid.   This situation is usually irreversabe.

Acquiring a used piano – Is this an interim purchase or a long term investment?

By interim, we mean a decision to buy a piano that will be good enough for now but not, necessarily, for the future.  It may be the piano to get you playing again, one on which you can prove to yourself that you are indeed serious about making the piano a part of your life.  It may be the piano for a young beginner. However, in both situations you may want to reexamine your motives.  We believe, as do many piano educators, that a beginner should be afforded the best piano instrument available.  The Piano should assist a new student in his or her learning process, not hamper it.  When someone asks for a beginner piano, they should be introduced to a Steinway Concert Grand.

Making the decision to purchase a piano for a short term will lead to additional future expense.  Whether it be in the form of repairs and servicing, loss in the original value of the piano when one disposes of it, or loss in motivation and interest in music and in the piano itself, there is the risk of loss from the outset. 

If someone wants to own a piano that will become an integral part of their life style, it is important to choose an instrument with a history of longevity and quality.  Of course, a Steinway is a prime example of a long-term investment.  It is such a good investment that due to its legendary appreciation value you will be able to sell your Steinway for more than what you have paid for it provided it has been well cared for.   However, even a Steinway will require extensive repairs after three generations of constant use. 

Purchasing a used Steinway that needs extensive overhauling or near total rebuilding may be in the category of a temporary cost, as it is important to know the resale value after adding the cost of acquisition and refurbishment. 

Unless the pre-owned Steinway was acquired without structural damage and at the right price it may not turn out as a good investment after rebuilding costs.   One should also bear in mind that the piano will be in the rebuild process for at least six months and consequently one would have to do without a piano or incur the costs of renting a temporary one during this time.

Important factors to consider when purchasing a used piano

Tone & Touch

When selecting a used piano, the first and foremost attributes to look for are good tone and a responsive touch.  Without these, why buy the piano at all?

Condition of the Piano   

Having the piano assessed by an expert for structural defects and broken parts is essential.   Naturally, one would have to keep in mind that there is a risk of additional costs if the initial ‘find’ turns out to be unsuitable and one would have to start the search for a used piano all over again.  

Here is a checklist of structural components you will want to have examined:

Rim

Cracks and separations
This will result in poor support and cause tuning instability and poor tone

Posts and Keybed

Cracks
Separations
This will result in poor support and cause tuning instability

Ribs

Loose
Cracked
This will cause buzzing and poor crown stability

Soundboard

Cracks    
Separation from liner
Loss of crown
Causing buzzes and loss of tone

Bridges

Cracks
Separation from soundboard
Loss of bearing
This will result in loss of sound and cause buzzing

Pinblock

Cracks
Separations/Delamination
Enlarged tuning pin holes
Black liquid around tuning pins
Tapped tuning pins
Oversized tuning pins
Resulting in poor tuning stability

Plate

Cracks
Resulting in tuning instability and tonal variations

Please Note:  
The abovementioned  structural components cannot be replaced in the field.   This requires the piano to be shipped to the factory for rebuilding.  This process will require approximately six months to complete.   Read More 

Other components requiring close inspection are:

Strings

Rust
Dead bass strings
Causing a tubby or buzzing sound - rust can also cause string breakage

Action

Broken parts
Keys not returning to position
Poor repetition
Loose, sloppy feel
Uncomfortable
Excessive side play
Resulting in poor control of the sound from the piano

Hammers

Flat
Worn
Resulting in poor, uneven and usually strident tone

Trap work, Dampers and Underlever System

Loose parts
Broken parts
Pedals not working
Resulting in pedals not performing necessitating costly repairs

Case Parts

Loose parts
Finish
Re-manufacturing ornate components and replacing and refinishing of case parts can be costly

Please note: 
An intrinsic part of an expert assessment is to determine whether the piano contains authentic factory parts and components.   All too frequently, Steinway and appear with components from other manufacturers which have been ‘made to fit’.   This results in the destruction of the authenticity of design, sound and functionality  and value and is very costly to rectify.

Quality of Existing Repairs Made & Replacement Parts

When examining a piano take special note about the repairs that have already been made, as well as the type of replacement parts used.  Ask, Who made the repairs? How long ago were they made? What Parts were used? Were the parts genuine manufacturer replacement parts?  Ask for documentary evidence of parts fitted and worked performed.

Unfortunately, there are many horror stories we can tell. There are people who will use inferior parts and unorthodox repair procedures.  It is no secret that a manufacturer is better equipped than any rebuilder can be to deal with problems; after all, proper servicing requires experienced workmen, specialized tooling and genuine replacement parts.

Repair Cost

When purchasing a piano from a private party, even if it is determined that no major rebuilding is needed, there will usually be some needed repairs.  It is important to find out the repair cost to restore the piano before you purchase it.  This might mean that a piano that you thought was a good buy may turn out costing significantly more than anticipated with the resultant loss in value.

There are very few cases in which we assess pianos that do not require work.   The cost of cost of transporting the instrument to and from the workshop in cases where major work is required and the downtime needs to be factored into the decision as well.

Expected Life

Pianos do not last forever.  Not even Steinways. Depending on the type and amount of use the piano, into addition to environmental conditions, wear and tear is inevitable.

A Steinway lasts for an average of between 50 to 75 years before any major structural parts need to be replaced.  If you are looking at an instrument that is 100 years old and that has never been rebuilt you can feel pretty certain that it will need work in the near future.

When purchasing a used piano, consider the possible life left in that piano.  Unfortunately there is no easy way of checking this.  The piano is 85% wood.  If the piano was taken care of and kept in an environmentally controlled room all its life, you can be more confident in its future longevity.  However, thiere is always a risk.  The piano may be fine today, yet show signs of cracking tomorrow.   Please see our Service section for valuable information on Piano Care.

Future Rebuilding Costs

Even though the piano you are considering is in good condition for it's age, you may want to determine how much it may cost you if you will need to have it rebuilt in the future.  Rebuilding costs are considerable, and will ultimately have to be incurred in older pianos.

When purchasing a new piano, you have the luxury of choosing the sound and touch that is most satisfying to you.

Future Possible Return on Investment

If you are considering the purchase of a piano with the intention of selling it later, you may want to keep in mind that the resale value of most pianos, with the exception of a Steinway, is low.   Unless you get an extremely good buy, expect not to receive what you paid for it when selling it.

Warranty

You will want to be certain there is some type of warranty or recourse in the event of problems when buying a used piano.

Integrity of the Seller

As some one once wisely remarked, "If you don't know your diamonds, know your jeweler." 

The benefit of purchasing from Steinway  & Sons is that our integrity is recognized throughout the world. You can be confident in the knowledge that you are acquiring the worlds most iconic and aspiration musical instrument, supported by a company with a very long and verifiable track record.

Conclusion

Contemplating the purchase of a used piano requires careful consideration.  There is always a degree of risk associated with a used piano purchase. A thorough assessment by an expert and a written report and cost estimate of work needed and subsequent value will enable you to make an informed decision.

We invite you to play and listen to a variety of Steinways and Steinway Designed Boston and Essex pianos before you make a final purchasing decision.   Auditioning a selection of the finest pianos in the world will allow you to learn about the Steinway & Sons Family of Pianos and equip you with the very best benchmark should you consider other instruments.

Selecting a Piano

Selecting a piano is based on a combination of needs and values. The following useful pneumonic, which spells STEINWAY will aid you in your selection.

S ound
T ouch
E ndorsements
I nvestment
N ame
W orkmanship Design & Materials
A dvancements & Durability
Y our Needs - Educational, entertainment, room to grow

The safest route when acquiring a new or used piano is to consult Steinway & Sons or their Partners.

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