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Finding a Piano
Do-it-yourself Appraisals

Clair Dunn, Fletcher, Vermont 849.2747
Associate Member, Piano Technicians Guild

    Do It Yourself Appraisal While the appraisal you can do is significantly reduced from the kind of appraisal done by a technician, it still will keep you from getting a piano that is likely to need more repairs than you want to support. Particularly understand that the suggestions below are made for you to use when you are looking at an old upright that may be offered for free or for something under $300. If you are looking at a piano with an asking price of $500 or more, you may want to be more cautious, even to the point of seeking the advice of a technician in your area. If you are looking for a technician in your area, check with friends or co-workers who have pianos. Ask them about the technician who takes care of their piano. Word of mouth is always best. Now to the list!

Bring a flashlight and a toothbrush. Initial things to check are that all the keys play. (Often if a few don't, the fix is usually minor.) Open the top and check that there are no hammers missing. Take off the bottom board and shine the light on the bass bridge (a curved raised piece of wood to the right of center next to the bottom of the piano). It has a double row of little flat-topped pins with the strings running across it diagonally. use the toothbrush to brush off the dust around the little pins. Check around these little pins for cracks. Repairs in this area run from $25 to $250.

Play all the notes and listen for particularly discordant ones. They sound like you are playing two adjacent keys at the same time, but in fact you are only playing one note. If you find many of these, it could be an indication of loose tuning pins.

Check the bottom edges of the piano for delamination of veneer, if there is a lot, this may indicate that some portion of its life was spent in severe dampness. It might not have done serious damage to the piano, but it should be added to list.

Check with the flashlight in the top, where the strings come down off the tuning pins and over the v-bar on their way to the open part of the piano behind the action. If there is a great deal of rust, add this to the list. What this means is that some strings may break when being tuned.

While you are looking at the top part, check the part of the hammers that face the strings for really deep grooves. If they are there, make a note of it.

If you don't see any of these things, take the piano and call me! If some or all of these things appear, and you really like the piano, but would like a second opinion, call me and I'll do an appraisal and give you a hard estimate of what the cost of repairs will be.

Be sure to record the name of the piano and the serial number. The serial number is usually found at the top of the cast iron plate just above the tuning pins. Usually it is stamped into the wood behind and opening in the plate, or printed on the plate itself.

If you like, I've provided a little list of these things that you can print out and take with you. Click here to call up the list. It follows this text, so you might want to print this page out too. Then, with your appraisal under your belt, give me a call and we'll talk about what you found. No charge!

If you're not the type to crawl around on the floor, and you live in or near Northwestern Vermont, click here to to have me do the appraisal

If you are looking to make finding a piano your hobby for a few months, I would strongly suggest that you get a copy of Larry Fine's The Piano Book. It will educate you about pianos and about what to look for when you are buying a used one. It is a gold mine of invaluable information and will make you an intelligent buyer. In the end, you will get a better piano because you've studied this book. This is a link to the book at amazon.com. Enjoy!

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