Step 3 How To Self-Examine a Used Piano
How To Self-Examine a Used Piano 412-881-0883

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8) Now that you’ve opened the piano, use your lamp to look inside. You’ll need to check out multiple items, as detailed in the steps below.

9) Check the hammers. How deep are the cuts from the strings? If the grooves are deep, then look at how much felt is left on the striking side of the hammers. Pay particular attention to the right side of the hammers, as there is often felt left on the left, but not the right side (upper register). If the hammers are badly grooved, that means the piano was played a lot and there could be problems with loose center pins, keys, and other action parts. Grooved hammers should be resurfaced or replaced.

10) Check the condition of bridal straps. If you find any which are broken or disconnected, they will need to be replaced.

11) Check the tuning pins. When the piano is new, the tuning pins are set so the coils are around 3/16’ away from the plate. If the coils are close to the plate, this means that the tuning pins were once loose and were hammered in towards the plate in order to tighten them, which could be a red flag. Also look around the tuning pins area for dark brown, oily looking stains that indicate the pin block has been chemically treated, another potential red flag.

The distance between the plate and the coil of wire around each tuning pin gives you a clue about the condition of the pinblock. The condition of the pinblock is crucial. If it is in good shape and holds the tuning pins tightly, the piano may have many years of life left. If the pinblock is bad and the tuning pins slip, the piano may not be tunable and the repairs could easily be more expensive than the value of the piano. This could mean that the piano is worth nearly nothing. When the pinblock goes bad, it can't hold the tuning pins tightly and a tuning pin will slip. This leaves one of the three strings very flat to the others. This is not just an out of tune honky-tonk sound, but it will sound like you are playing two distinct notes. If the pin block is in good condition, but the tuning pins are loose, it is possible to replace the original tuning pins with oversize tuning pins. However, a bad pinblock may very well be the end of that piano if it is not a good enough piano to warrant rebuilding. On a high quality piano such as a Steinway, Baldwin, or Mason & Hamlin, it may be worth doing a major rebuilding and replacing the pinblock, since these pianos are considerably more expensive if purchased new and would therefore warrant the work. There is also a special technique which can greatly extend the life of the piano by tightening tuning pins in the pinblock without replacing it. This technique can only be performed by an experience piano technician.

12) Check the strings. How rusty are the strings? Some very light coating of rust is normal for an old piano. However, heavy rust on the strings messes up the tone and can cause the strings to break during tuning. Look carefully at the strings to see if any are missing. Also, check to see how many newer looking (shinier) strings the piano has. Many new looking strings on the piano can indicate a possible string breakage problem (although strings sometimes break even if they aren’t rusty). Also, the presence of sliced bass strings (a new piece of wire is spliced to remains of a broken bass string) can indicate a similar problem. Note: in many cases, loose tuning pins and rusty strings make it impossible to tune a piano to concert pitch.

Lift up the top. On all upright pianos, you should be able to lift the top panel. However, there are differences between piano designs on how to do this. On some brands like Baldwin Hamilton, the top and front panels are attached together. For these pianos, you have to grab the panel above the keyboard cover and after you lift it, you will see a support piece on the left side inside the front panel. Move the support peace and secure it on the side of the piano or have somebody hold it for you. Everett studio pianos have two machine screws on the back of the piano instead of moveable hinges and it is not very easy to take them out without a special tool.

13) Check the treble and bass bridges. These bridges transfer the vibration of the strings to the soundboard. The treble bridge is generally in better condition than the bass, but you should check the treble bridge for any obvious signs of damage. The bass bridge has a strong tendency to form cracks around the bridge pins due to the side pressure of the strings. Follow the bass strings toward their far end to find the bass bridge. You need your light to look for cracks around bridge pins. It is very common to see some tiny cracks around some bridge pins. The problem occurs when the cracks get big enough so the bridge pins are actually pushed aside. This can cause loss of tone and make unnecessary noise. Such a bridge should be repaired or replaced. If while you were playing the bass keys, you found weak or muffled sound, the associated bass strings should be twisted or replaced, which is another expense to consider.

One other thing that you might want to do for your reference is to measure the piano. Grand pianos are measured from the front of the keys to the end of the lid. Upright pianos are measured from the floor to the top in inches. For upright pianos, 36’ is a spinet, 40’ is a console, and 55’ is a full upright piano.

If you follow the steps outlined above, this should help you determine whether the piano you are looking to purchase is in good or bad condition. “Free or “cheap” pianos can actually be the most expensive if the condition of the instrument will require rebuilding in order to be a playable instrument. It is always a good idea to also get an opinion of an experienced piano technician prior to making the final purchase, after you look at the piano and determine it is something you are interested in. An investment of a service call before buying it can keep you from buying and moving a piano that won't be playable much less an instrument you can be proud to play and own. If you would like to utilize my services, I would be glad to use my 36 years of vast experience in pianos to help guide you in your decision. I can either perform a full on site piano evaluation for a reasonable fee or you can call me at 412-881-0883 if you have questions I might be able to answer over the phone, which I would be happy to do free of charge. You can also go to my website

I want to wish you the best of luck in finding the used piano of your dreams!