Should I Buy an Old Piano?
There's a nostalgia with old pianos for many people. We love the idea that we're buying a piece of history. Plus, the cabinets of these pianos are often very ornate and inspire us to dream of our own home filled with trendy Pinterest pictures just waiting to be taken.
But should you buy an old piano for someone who wants to learn to play the piano?
The truth is, pianos don't last forever. 100 years ago (or more!), there were over 1000 piano builders in the United States, mostly clustered around major cities like New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, and St. Louis. They would build their pianos and then ship them on rail cars across the country directly to buyers, who purchased via mail order catalogs!
For example, see this image of a 1914 Sears catalog ad, where a piano was offered for $249. By the way, $249 in 1914 is the equivalent of about $6,200 today! New pianos have always commanded this market value.
Final delivery of a piano might even have been done by a horse-drawn cart, so these pianos had to be built like tanks to arrive at a customer's home in satisfactory condition. That's one of the reasons these old pianos are so heavy and bulky. Because of their size, many still remain as pieces of furniture, but what you can't see is what should scare you away from buying one for a pianist.
Can I Fix Up an Old Piano?
Inside the piano, history takes its toll on these instruments. Changes in temperature and humidity cause cracks in the internal components which are responsible for tone production and keeping the piano in tune. That "honky-tonk" sound isn't something that "just needs a little love" to fix.
Check out this close-up image of an old piano. You can see the hammers which aren't even, but at least they're all there on this 1889 piano. You can see the rust on the tuning pins and strings.
What you CAN'T see is the pinblock, which is hidden behind the brass-colored cast iron plate. It's full of small cracks from constant expansion and contraction of the wood for 130 years. This means the tuning pins can't maintain the correct tension, so the piano will never be tunable. To fix this, you'd have to completely disassemble the piano to replace the pinblock. All of this, of course, being dependent upon all the keys and hammers being in a condition to even justify considering this option.
Thousands of dollars later in parts alone, not to mention the labor, you'd still have a piano-shaped object that lacked all the improvements in pianos over the last 100+ years! Will you or your child really be successful with this instrument?
So, Let's Do the Math:
Consider this piano available on Craigslist this week. The seller is asking $100.
Purchase Price - $100
Moving Expenses - $300-400
Initial Tuning - $???
Repair Costs - Pinblock replacement ($2500 minimum), action work ($1000 estimated), case touch-up ($500)
Warranty - NO
Trade Value - NO
Bench Included - NO
Financing Available - NO
Rental Option - NO
Total Investment - $4,500 or MORE!
Average Used Piano at a Retail Store
Purchase Price - $2,000
Moving Expenses - Typically $0
Initial Tuning - $0 (typically free with purchase)
Repair Costs - none
Warranty - Yes, generally 2 years minimum
Trade Value - Yes, Amro's full Lifetime Guaranteed Trade Back
Bench Included - Yes
Financing Available - Yes, Plus Amro's Rental Program
Total Investment - $2,000
The above information is, of course, just an estimate, and intended for general informational use. Not only do we believe that even our most entry-level used pianos are a better option than old, used pianos on Craigslist, you might be surprised to shop and discover the surprising affordability of some new pianos!
We're honored to help guide you through the process of renting or purchasing your first or your tenth piano. Our servant-hearted team of music educators will treat you with dignity and respect and help locate the perfect piano for any budget!
Personal touches matter.