The title question may seem like a dumb one, but – in my experience – it’s one of the most  important questions a potential piano owner can ask.  I get a lot of calls from people who either just obtained a free or “giveaway” piano or about to get one. They are excited because they think it’s a deal and they want someone to come out to tune and/or appraise it with an eye towards finding it’s “antique value”. While – every once in a while – these pianos are not too bad (they’ll tune up nicely and play well), in most cases the only one that got a deal was the person giving it away. Why you ask? Because most often a “giveaway” piano is given away because it has no street value.  Either it hasn’t been played in years and the owner knows it needs some costly repairs, or the piano has been rejected by every piano store and online portal, and the owner is not willing to pay hundreds of dollars to have it hauled away.

That leaves me the unenviable task of explaining to these eager “free piano” owners (or “soon-to-be-owners”) that their “free piano” is going to cost a lot more than they anticipated.  Here is the actual cost of a “free piano”:

First, the “lucky” new owner of this “free piano” has to get it into his home.  He may decide to rent a U-haul, con some friends into helping out and try to pick-up the piano himself.  This usually runs about $200 (plus whatever he promised his helpers).  Otherwise, he has to call and have it professionally moved to his home, (which will cost between $300 and $500). Next, he will have to have the piano tuned (if it can be) and that’s when he’ll learn that his cast-off piano has been long-neglected and will likely require a pre-tuning process known as a pitch raise — maybe two — before it’s tunable (add another $200-$400).  By now, this “lucky” soul has spent $700 – $1100 (plus bribes) and may have lost one or two of his friends during the move. …and that is the best-case scenario!

spinet pianoOften, however, this is just the beginning.  If the piano needs extra work (which is very common in old pianos with no street value), including mechanical adjustments, key or key action repairs, finish work or replacement parts; the repair cost could quickly and easily rise into the thousands of dollars!  Keep in mind that a five-minute repair on ONE key takes almost four hours to complete on all 88 keys!  Now this poor piano owner has spent $2000-$5000 on this “free piano” and they still have a very old and – often unattractive – instrument!

Sometimes “free piano” owners learn that what they now have only USED TO BE a piano; but now it’s a P.S.O. (piano shaped object). Certain structural defects can render a good-looking piano irreparable. Tuning pinblocks can be too loose, plates or frames can be broken, soundboards may have cracks or separated ribs, and strings can be rusted, worn, and ready to break when pulled up to proper pitch. Some of these problems can be fixed (at additional expense), but the cost usually exceeds the instrument’s resale value.  It’s just not worth the cost to repair!  Depending on how bad the “free piano” is, one might be able to purchase a NEW instrument for the same or lower price!  At least then, he’d have a warranty!

…and – to make matters worse – now the “free piano” owner has to call those three or four strong friends who helped him move it INTO his house move it back out (assuming he’s willing to pay the dumping fee) or find someone else who might take it off his hands “for free” – thus continuing the cycle.

fixing an old pianoOf course, things don’t always go this badly with “free” pianos, but it happens more often than you think.  Thankfully, you can make sure nothing like this ever happens to you by doing a bit of research before you put yourself in a situation like this.  First, Contact Us and ask us for a free copy of our piano buyer’s guide.  We give you tips to avoid problems like this when you consider used pianos.  You can also watch this video from our YouTube channel and see for yourself how easy it is to miss significant problems inside of used pianos.  Of course, I always recommend having a piano technician inspect any privately-owned used piano before you buy it (especially if it doesn’t have a warranty).  The small fee you’ll pay for this service will save you hundreds – maybe even thousands – later. Many people rely on their piano teachers to look at the prospective pianos and evaluate them and I can understand that because piano teachers interact with pianos every day. Unfortunately, most piano teachers don’t have the technical expertise to evaluate a used piano.  They can tell you what they like the sound and touch of, but they can’t tell you if the piano will hold tune or develop problems down the road.  An experienced technician may take from 30 minutes to an hour to evaluate the piano inside and out so they advise you effectively. This is the only way you can truly know what you are buying.

Of course, one benefit from buying a new piano or a new digital piano is that you know its condition and it comes with a warranty.  What you may not know, is that Riverton Piano Company also offers warranties on its used pianos – as well as full-trade guarantees.  If you want the absolute best experience selecting your new or used piano, why not give us a try?  We’ll make sure you get the best piano for your money in a fun, and zero-pressure environment!