Buying Secondhand Pianos or Used Pianos

For secondhand pianos or used pianos, buying a good make is very important. I would prefer a new piano but a used piano offers an economical alternative if you know what to look out for!

Buying new, you are assured of the original quality of the brand name and usually comes with several years warranty, 2-3 free tunings and possible freebies like piano cover, metronome etc.

Some secondhand piano shops offer good warranty and free tunings in Singapore.  If pianos sold are over 10 years, a good 1-5 years of warranty is strongly recommended.  This is especially true if the piano was hardly used.  We do not want it to start falling apart on moderate use.

Tips on Buying a Secondhand Piano or Used Piano

Choose a piano with an established brand name.

It should be responsive to touch and offer wide tonal variety.

Along with the factors mentioned below, when played:

1. the keyboard should not feel too stiff or loose

2. the tone should be clear with some singing quality

3. the tone should not be too dark, too light nor muffled

4. soft to loud tones should be produced without excessive effort

5. the pedals work well

That said, even if all the above are good, that is only from the point of view of a pianist.  To be assured that all internal parts are in good condition, engage a qualified piano technician to check the piano.

Piano Age and Maintenance

Buying a secondhand instrument is more economical. Actual price would depend on make, age and condition.

Ideally, a good secondhand piano would be:

1. less than 10 years old

2. of a good make

3. used lightly to moderately

4. tuned regularly

Always choose a good make if you are serious about learning music. The older an instrument gets, the more crucial the original quality.

A secondhand piano can cost as little as less than a thousand dollars in Singapore. However, such instruments are usually of poor make or old age and sound quality is very poor.

Poorly-made instruments also deteriorate rapidly while well-made ones last for decades.

If buying secondhand, it is best to buy an instrument that is of a good make and is rather new. However, no matter what you do, there are risks to buying a secondhand piano:

Engage a Piano Technician to Check Piano Condition

The only way to be sure of condition is to get a qualified piano technician to check it before buying. This is however quite uncommon in Singapore. In some countries, technicians may also estimate the remaining lifespan and put a price on the instrument.

Piano Condition depends on:

1. Frequency of use

A seldom used instrument would incur considerably less wear and tear compared to one which is practised on 8 hours a day.

2. Type of use

A beginner would demand less of the instrument compared to a concert pianist. He would be less forceful and use less of the keyboard and pedals.

3. Maker's Quality

Depending on the make, some pianos are made to be sturdy and durable. Others are not reliable and quickly deteriorate even with infrequent use.

4. Temperature

Ideal temperature is not more than 20 degrees Celsius or 69 degrees Farenheit. It is hard to achieve this in Singapore where average temperature is 25 to 30 degrees Celsius unless there is constant airconditioning. Higher temperatures cause a piano to deteriorate a little faster than in cooler climates.

Extreme temperature changes can also quicken deterioration. Pianos should not be exposed to direct sunlight, placed against an external wall exposed to direct sunlight or near heat sources.

5. Humidity

Ideal relative humidity is between 40 to 75%. In Singapore, relative humidity is usually between 70 to 80%. That means that about half the time, humidity is above ideal conditions. This can cause rusty metal strings and parts, poor key action like sticky keys and moss or mildew.

In Singapore, piano heaters are often used to offer some climatic control and prevent excessive dampness. Sticky keys, rust, damage to wooden parts can be minimised when heaters are kept on.

Most sellers would say that their pianos are in excellent or good condition. When weighing your purchase, check for..

Tell-tale signs of poor condition

The following signs may indicate that parts of the instrument may have become problematic. Read on to "Common Problem Areas" for more details.

1. Loudness

There is often poor control when playing softly and a narrow dynamic range due to thin hammers.

2. Noise

Noisy keys may indicate poor key action due to worn-out parts.

3. Sound

A rattle or "distorted-speaker" sound can come from a faulty soundboard. A buzz or rattle can come from breaking strings or loose bridge pins.

4. Keys

Keyboard may be uneven, with some keys higher or lower when at rest.

5. Chords

When playing chords, notes can sound unclear or missing.

6. Touch

Touch is often insecure, too light or too heavy giving poor control.

7. Tuning

An out of tune instrument can indicate a bad pinblock or loose plate.

Common Problem Areas

1. Hammers

Deep grooves on felt hammers show heavy use and cause poor sound quality.

2. Strings

Rusty or breaking strings due to age or poor maintenance are costly to replace.

3. Soundboard

The soundboard is the large wooden board on the back of an upright or underneath a grand. Ribs that strengthen it can become loose and rattle when keys are struck.

4. Pinblocks

Pinblocks are wooden planks that hold tuning pegs in place to keep strings in tune. Tightening of tuning pegs causes the pinblocks to wear out and pegs to become loose. This causes poor tuning stability that is hardly correctable.

5. Bridges

Wooden bridges hold strings in place over a soundboard using pins. The pins can become loose and rattle when strings vibrate.

6. Plate

The plate is usually made of iron and supports the structure of the whole instrument. It is made to withstand tremendous tension from the strings. On an old instrument, the plate can pull away from the frame and weaken the pinblock. Tuning may become impossible.

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