What to look for when buying a second hand piano?

30th July 2021

Categories: Acoustic

At Broughton Pianos, we believe it can be quite a trick to buy a used piano of the best quality when you lack experience in terms of quality or structure when it comes to used pianos. When you are choosing between buying the best-used pianos, make sure you first consider certain factors.

Things to look for when buying a piano secondhand

It is the dream of most people to own a new piano whether that would be a grand piano, digital piano, or an upright piano. The amazing fact is that there are many benefits of owning a quality used piano instead of a new one.

Maybe now you are wondering what makes a used piano valuable. We understand that you might have second thoughts about owning a used piano especially due to reasons like lack of care and damage that the piano might have incurred during its use by the previous owner. That is why we have compiled some of the things you need to know when browsing second-hand pianos.

The Strings & Soundboard

You must surely have a hint that the tension of the strings, which applies about 18 tons of pressure, has a considerable amount on the tuning pins, which means there is some time taken for them to achieve stability and become settled in the pin-block. Time is also required for the steel and copper wire strings to stretch and become accustomed to being so taut. As you can see, this only means a pre-owned piano has much better stability than a new one in terms of its tuning.

The heart of the piano is the soundcard of the piano. It works as a natural amplifier, that conveys the resonance of the string vibrations to create the unique identity of the instrument, which can be referred to as its tone. The wood which matures as time goes by leads to the tone of the instrument becoming richer and warmer, which leads to a greater proportion that is loved by many. The advantage of buying a used piano is that this maturing stage is already in progress and you will get the chance to experience the instrument's true character because the maturing process is already under its way.

The Keys

This is one of the things that is most notable at first sight. This is an important element. When the keys are dirty or discoloured, it is a sign of bad health and it would only mean that the keyboard has been subjected to moisture, nicotine stains, or cooking grease. The older ivory keyboards turn yellow along the way and this is caused by dirty fingers over some time, plus due to the lack of natural light.

A piano that is well maintained will have keys that are clean and they will have that smooth feeling inclusive of the touch when it comes to the key depth. Keys getting stuck could be an indication that there are broken action parts, or swollen felts which come as a result of poor climatic conditions. It is acceptable to have minimal sideways movement but when the movement exceeds that it would only imply that the key bushings have worn out as a result of excessive use and hard life.

Another thing to take note of when it comes to the keys is to check if they are uneven because uneven keys are an indication of moth damage to the cloth and felt, or it would only mean that there was poor regulation of the piano which only means the keyboard was not well maintained.

In terms of the keys, the final thing that you would check before buying a secondhand piano is if the notes play properly and keep an eye for inconsistencies. For instance, if there are several notes which you can discover being out of tune in comparison to others, and this would imply that there is a problem with the pin block which is of great concern and costs a lot to rectify.

The Interior

Spare some time to inspect the soundboard, this is the flat wooden panel that is behind the strings.

You have to see to it that there are no cracks found in the iron frame or the wooden soundboard. An expert is required to do this as this is not an easy inspection.

Make sure you also pay close attention to the felts so that there is no sign of moth activity like holes or imperfections in the felt. If the older instrument is the one under consideration, make sure it must be prudent enough so that the casework is checked carefully in terms of any signs of woodworm.

Take note if there are any hammers grooved or there are any flat spots. These are the tell take signs showing excessive wear hence extra diligence is required upon the consideration of such an instrument.

It is recommended that you also consult a piano expert when it comes to purchasing a secondhand piano so that an inquiry about the best location for a piano is made in your home. Certain factors affect the tuning stability of your instrument like central heating and direct sunlight and damage can potentially be made to the interior and exterior cabinet.

The Cabinet

This is yet another important factor to consider because it gives an indication of how well the piano has been taken care of during the years although this might not directly mean the playability of the instrument will be affected.

Keep an eye for scratches, dents, fading, damaged hinges, and loose parts. Make sure you also take a look at the pedals, where are flat spots and this can be an indication of a considerable amount of usage.

The funny thing is, the smell of the piano has to be considered and this is serious. An unpleasant odour can come about by mould or dampness, which should mean it is an immediate deterrent because this only comes about when a piano was located in a place that has undesirable climatic conditions.

How does it play?

The question should be, how does the piano sound when it is being played? Are the notes in order? Do they all ring on?

If it does not sound properly, it could be that there could be a problem with the dampers, maybe in the case of being hardened with age or in the case of broken springs. Regardless, dampers are very important and it is imperative they must function and be regulated correctly.

You must keep an ear for any rattles or buzzes, especially looking for sounding bass which are quieter notes which are muted than the rest of the piano. The pedals need to be checked too, creaking or squeaking pedals might be an indication that there are internal mechanisms problems.

History of the Instrument

Make sure to find out if the piano has been well maintained. Find out about its history and who previously owned it. When was its last tuning? How old is it? You can get its serial number and go on the internet and find out more about this piano if you want to be sure about the age of this piano. And another important thing you would want to find out is if it has a warranty. It is not recommended to buy a piano at an auction like eBay because any piano which has reasonable quality must be equipped with a suitable quality.

It is highly recommended to spare some time with the previous owner and find the full history about the maintenance of the instrument which is to be bought.

As you can have a clear look, there are a lot of things that one needs to know and have an understanding of when a second-hand piano is to be purchased, but if you would give an ear to proven advice, you will be safe in terms of finances and instrumentally by purchasing a pre-owned piano.

How to Buy a Used Piano: 6 Things You Should Know

If you have visited the market and you are looking for a used piano, it might be too much for you and you might not know where to start. Go on the internet, go on the search bar and perform a quick search on Craigslist or Facebook marketplace and you will be gifted with several options, with the price list starting from free to thousands of dollars. In addition to that, you stand a high chance of finding a variety of brands and different styles of pianos, with the conditions of the pianos ranging from old to new.

You guessed right, there is a high risk associated with buying a used piano. You stand a chance of getting a piano that has a lot of work to do or has extreme problems. Looking on the bright side, there are a huge number of pianos that just need relocation and someone who is a big fan of pianos and willing to take care of them. So, if you wish to buy a used piano, here are a few things that you need to consider before you can buy it.

1. The lifespan of an acoustic piano is about 60 years.

There are a lot of antique pianos which are intriguing and beautiful. But if you are taking into consideration buying an older piano for your home, you must have full knowledge of the potential issues that it might experience. It is assumed that pianos improve with age, which is kind of true but full potential is reached after 60 years. This is because pianos have many moving parts inside them which imply that many things are prone to breaking or wearing out. If an older piano has not been refurbished and restored completely, there are chances that you will not enjoy practising on it. The strings stand a high chance of not holding their tune.

2. Pianos need to be tuned and maintained regularly.

Buying a used piano means you are accepting the responsibility of keeping it tuned and well maintained. In the case that you live in a climate that has seasons that can be predicted, your piano is required to be tuned both in spring and fall upon the changes in humidity and the weather. This comes about because the piano wood is prone to be affected by the changes in humidity which will, in turn, affect the sound and tuning. This is the same case with your inside action which has several parts which tend to wear out and swell as time goes by. Keys become sticky as a result of the felt being worn out, other issues are caused and the keys action can change.

Tuning can be planned for a time frame of one month after your piano has been placed in your home. This will gift your piano enough time to adjust according to the humidity and temperature of the new location.

3. Just like any big purchase, not all brands are equal.

In your quest for a used piano, you will come across several brands. This is the same as with cars, a wide range of quality between brands will exist.

A list of some reputable brands includes Yamaha, Baldwin, Kawai, and Steinway. There are more such reputable brands. This only tells that you must take your time and know much about the quality of a specific brand.

4. You may be responsible for moving your piano.

In the case that you are buying a piano from an individual, there needs to be some thought put into how your piano will be moved into your home. Professional movers work in making sure your piano is moved securely and safely without causing any damage to the exterior of the piano. If you see that you are not fit to move the piano by yourself, hire a professional mover to do the job for you.

5. You should try it before you buy it.

In the case that you have never played the piano before, take a friend with you who knows how to play the piano to try it out first. See to it that everything is in great working order. Every key must be played to make sure that it plays in a good way and each key must produce a sound that comes with a consistent tone. The pedals have to be tested and you have to see if you are satisfied with the appearance of the exterior.

Your favourite pieces on the piano must be played and you must check how great it responds and sounds, and every pianist has their preferences in the way they want their piano to sound. Be sure to be satisfied first with the way your music sounds on the piano. In the case that you are a fan of loud and percussive music, you will rather find a mellow piano boring and frustrating to play. If you prefer to play lyrical and melodious music, you will have a hard time with bright sound and it will be difficult for you to control it. Don't be shy, be willing to not buy a piano if you do not like it.

6. You should ask questions before you buy!

Before you choose to go to buy the piano, make sure to have some questions asked first to see if the piano is in great condition and if they are worth every penny.

What year was it made?

This is the question that many people who own pianos don't have the answer to but it is not hard to find the serial number which is found inside the piano. Upon lifting the lid, you surely must be able to see the serial number. Get the serial number, go on the Google search bar and type in the serial number. This will enable you to learn more about the panel, when it was made, and where it was made as well.

How long have you owned this piano?

In the case that the seller is not the original owner, you will need to know the unknown history associated with the piano such as how far Maintainance stands a chance of affecting the quality of the instrument.

Has it been tuned regularly?

It is essential to get a piano that has been tuned and which has had a consistent maintenance schedule over the years. If this is not the case, you can get a piano technician which will have a look over the piano before it can be purchased to ensure that its tune is still held and there are no other problems.

Was it stored in a stable environment?

It is highly required for a piano to be stored in an environment that has stable temperatures and humidity, and it must be away from direct sunlight and must also be placed away from blowing vents. A lot of problems could arise from a piano being stored in an open space, in a basement, in a garage, or a storage unit, all these places lack climate control.

Has it been moved before?

Special care is required when moving a piano. If the movement of pianos is not done properly, the damage could be caused to the piano in terms both mechanically and cosmetically. It is rather helpful to ask the seller if the piano has been moved before by himself/herself or if a professional mover was used or if there are any problems involved with the moving.

Are there any issues with it?

If you are lucky enough, the seller should be able to disclose all the problems associated with this piano if they are there but in the case that nothing has been addressed, it is always of paramount importance to make sure that everything is working quite well. The seller might forget to mention something or some details might be left out unintentionally.

Was it played frequently?

This question must be top of your list because you need to know how much the piano has been used and how much year it has incurred. A piano that has remained idle for many years is prone to having many problems. That is why it is nice to know how frequently your piano has been played.

You must take extra caution when buying a piano that has gone out of tune, which has broken keys, or which is accompanied by other problems, more especially if you have plans of making your child learn how to play the piano. If you are not satisfied with the way the music sounds, or in the case that the keys are not working in the right way, you will not have a feel to play the piano.

How do I know if my piano is in good condition?

There are some things which you need to know if you wish to see if your piano is in great condition. We assume that by now you know how to remove the outer case parts of a piano for you to have a look inside. In the case that you want to take a further step upon examination, the services of a professional piano technician are thus needed to see some things which can not be seen by you like the tightness of the tuning pins and to give out a clear judgment when it comes to using the piano as a whole.

Does it looks stylish and does it have a great finish? Is this how you want it to be? Is any refinishing required? Has the restyling been done unusually? Are there any missing or broken cabinet parts? Take a look at the loose veneer and other signs of water damage, is there any matching bench that is in good condition that comes with the piano? Does the piano have a standard pitch? Is the tune reasonable enough?

Badly out-of-tune unison's are an indication of loose tuning pins, in the case when the piano has been tuned recently or when the unisons have a gross mistuning. A piano technician can work in tuning the pins. Is there a uniform appearance in terms of tuning appearance? Or are there any obvious replacements? The latter could be an indication of a pin-block going bad.

Make sure you at least look for 1 out of 8 clearance at the time of tuning the pins coils and the plate or pin-block. Dark brown, gummy stains and ugly stains must be looked for as these are an indication of the pin-block being doped with chemicals to tighten the tuning pins temporarily.

In the case that you can have the fallboard removed, you can check for signs of cracking and delaminating on the underside of the pin-block.


Check how rusty the strings are. You can use tarnish for light rust but if it is in excess when it occurs on coils or at bearing points, this can lead to breakage.

Are any strings missing?

A breakage problem is indicated by new-looking strings among the older ones plus if there are too many splices as well.


The bass bridge is the primary problem area. There are some hairline cracks around the bridge which are acceptable. The bridge can be dislocated due to excessive cracks more commonly on bass bridges. A weaker tone will come from a piano with a loose bass bridge. Serious cracking also has to be checked in the treble bridge.

Structural integrity

Cracks have to be checked in the plates, both in the tuning area and in the struts. For a cracked plate to be repaired it usually costs much and there is no guarantee. Cracked plates are something rare. See for delaminations at the bottom edge of the rim, or in terms of a grand crack in the back of the top horizontal beam of a vertical beam. Legs for cracks have to be checked and missing casters have to be checked in the vertical piano.

Soundboard and ribs

All the keys have to be played from one end to the other while paying attention to the evenness of the tone across the keyboard. Make sure to note any rattling or rattling sounds.

Excessive sound crackling has to be looked for. If there are a few unrepairable cracks, then this would imply that this is of great concern.

If you want to know if the piano was rebuilt at some point in the past, look for any wooden shims. See to it that there are no new cracks developed along with the shims.

Make sure that the soundboard is glued around the parameter. Check for firmness in places where the ribs cross cracks.

Soundboard crown: it is highly recommended to have a good crown. There is no measurable crown in some good-sounding pianos.

Pluck test: a key must be slowly depressed in the octave which starts an octave above middle C. This area is what is referred to as the melody range. In the process of holding down the key, one has to be plucked among the three which have been chosen.


Middle pedal: the piano is dubbed to be a higher quality instrument if the middle pedal activates a true sostenuto mechanism. If the middle pedal fails to activate the specified mechanism, it implies that the instrument is that of lower quality. If you wish to test the sostenuto, the right pedal has to be depressed to lift dampers, the right pedal has to be released while the middle pedal is kept depressed.

Left pedal: hammers must be moved closer to the strings to shut down the piano, or shifts. In the case that the left pedal is left on Grand, the bass dampers are what are operated, and this implies a lower quality instrument.

The lost motion compensator (verticals): this works in keeping action well adjusted in the case that the soft pedal is used. This implies a better quality older piano. The question might be now if the grand pedal lyre is apart at the glue joints and if the lyre braces are in place and the lyre tends to feel secure in the times of the pedals being used.


You need to find the serial number of the piano to determine the age.

The owner can be asked about the history of the piano.

What are the best-used pianos to buy?

It can be quite a trick to buy a used piano of the best quality when you lack experience in terms of quality or structure when it comes to used pianos. When you are choosing between buying the best-used piano, make sure you first consider:

The Piano Brand – check for the best quality brands like Yamaha used pianos, Steinway and sons, C. Bechstein, and Kawai pianos. If a piano is of high quality it only implies it has high-quality parts that will not degrade with time.

The Age of the Piano – a piano must have a reasonable life, which implies a time which it will take for quality touch and tone to be produced. It can differ, some can take 20 years and some take 100 years. If a piano is of great quality, it will still give out a great performance even after 70 years, because most mass-produced pianos can stay for a time of 50 to 65 years and it depends on how well the piano has been cared for.

Listen for Buzzing, Rattles, or Severely Out of Tune Keys – the piano you are considering buying may be out of tune and it might have a rattle, buzzing, or be severely out of tune key which would imply that there are things that need fixing in the piano. Some fixes are not simple and they might cost more to get fixed.

What Parts Maybe Fixable (and What May Not Be) – there are some parts of a piano which can be fixed or updated, like fixing cabinet blemishes or repairing piano keys. You must know that however, some pieces cost a lot to repair and some would even lead to the entire piano being rebuilt.