Free Pianos

Free Pianos – Are They Worth It?

By Frank Baxter – Piano Tuner-Technician – Involved with the piano business since 1967

Generally speaking, no.

If someone is giving a piano away, or selling it really-really cheap, there is a reason. That reason is typically because the piano isn’t worth anything and they just want to get rid of it. But you may be thinking, who cares, after all it’s free!  Read On…

A Free Piano?

In most cases free pianos are overpriced. What do I mean by that?

For starters you will need to pay a professional to move the piano, otherwise you chance getting hurt (same goes for the friends you hope to con into helping you). Don’t believe me? Read my article on Moving A Piano

And you risk doing damage to the home the piano is coming out of, along with the truck you move it in, and the house you’re moving it into. Pianos are heavy! Upright pianos tend to want to tip over, baby grand pianos are tricky to move and require knowing exactly how and what order to remove the legs, pedal lyre, etc. (not to mention strapping the lid down, padding it properly, loading onto a grand skid, getting it onto a dolly, etc.).  And keep in mind, most of those old upright pianos are 100 YEARS OLD or More!

My Kid Wants to Learn Piano – I Figured A Free Piano Was A Good Place to Start

Not!   Anyone starting out learning to play a musical instrument needs all the help they can get from the instrument itself. Learning to play presents enough challenges without the struggling beginner trying to overcome deficiencies in the instrument itself. If anything, starting someone on an inferior instrument is unfair and may well be setting them up to fail. Check with the local piano store, piano restoration shop, or even a good piano tuner. Chances are one of them will have a nice piano that will be worth the investment (or possibly even a rent-to-own option). If you do decide to go the private sale route and you’ve found the “perfect piano”, do yourself a favor and hire a good piano tuner-technician to check it out BEFORE you complete the purchase.

The Piano Is Home – Now What?

And then after you finally get the $%^*@ piano into its new home it’s time to call the piano tuner. Actually the time to call the tuner was before you committed to getting the piano, but more about that later.

While most of us are happy to hear from a new customer, we aren’t so excited when you tell us you just got a “free piano” and you think it may need tuning. Rest assured it needs tuning, there are an average of 230 strings in a piano and they go out of tune. Depending on how long it’s been since the piano was last tuned, and whether or not it was maintained at what we refer to as A440 concert pitch (meaning the A above middle C vibrates at 440 cycles per second) it may need one good tuning, or several to restore it back to where it should be. On average a basic tuning will run you $100+. (Need a good piano tuner? Check our Piano Tuner Listings )

It Needs What?  $$!

Tuning may be the least of your pianos problems. Pianos are a little bit like people. How they work after years of use depends a good deal on how well built they were to start with, the environment in which they “lived”, and how well they were maintained. If the piano was cheaply built to begin with (and trust me, many of them were) there is good reason to expect it will be in even worse shape after many years of use, or worse yet, after many years of neglect.

Consider this, there are literally thousands of moving parts in the average piano. The majority of them are made of wood and felt (wool) which is subject to wear and tear, swelling and shrinking, accumulation of dirt and verdigris, damage from too much moisture and/or too much dryness, and possibly abuse.

Repairing, replacing parts, and regulating (adjusting) these parts can run you anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars (and more)! In most cases it isn’t worth the investment even if you were thinking of sinking some of your hard earned cash into this “free” piano.

It Gets Worse!

It could turn out your free piano needs a new pinblock (the tuning pins the strings attach to are screwed into a pinblock). When this happens it means replacing all the strings and tuning pins as well. It also means shipping the piano to the shop where it will live for anywhere from a few weeks to many months, depending on the work load of the shop.  If it needs a pinblock, strings, and pins there is a good chance it will need other replacements including possibly the soundboard. At this point most reputable shops will recommend new hammers, new action parts, rebushing the keys, and more. You are getting into major rebuilding territory here. Something you shouldn’t even consider unless the piano is a top-of-the-line instrument and worth saving. Because now you could easily be talking about $10,000 – $30,000 !

Not All Free or Cheap Pianos Are Junk

I don’t want to give you the impression that there is no such thing as a good free or cheap piano. While it’s true in most cases, there are some diamonds-in-the-rough. Which is why I keep advocating for having a piano tuner-technician look at the piano. If someone contacts me and tells me they really want a piano but don’t have the budget, I’ll try to help them find one. (I’ve occasionally seen pretty nice pianos go cheap at auctions).

Moral of the Story?

If you come across a free or cheap piano and you still believe this is the only way you can afford one, pay a piano tuner-technician to look at it BEFORE you commit. (In my case if the piano is near me or near a tuning I’m doing I won’t even charge to look at it).

Like most things in life, you get what you pay for.

Further Reading:

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