Piano Buying Guide
Here you will find some basic guidance in what to look for when buying or selling a piano. As described opposite, the best advice is to find an experienced piano technician to view the piano with you. A service which I am happy to offer.
Fundamentally there are a few major features you should be looking for when purchasing a piano. Wooden frame pianos in general, do not hold their tuning as well as an iron framed piano and will probably be about 80 to 100 years old or more, some instruments of this age were not designed to be at modern concert pitch, A440 or C523.3
Tricks of the trade
Maybe you are thinking of buying your first piano or selling your old one and you need some tips. Although I am happy to speak with clients on the telephone it is next to impossible to give good and accurate advice without seeing an instrument. Pianos are complicated mechanically and without a thorough examination it’s not possible to give accurate advice. I certainly don’t recommend paying for advice given over the telephone. If you feel that your piano has some value, it is worth paying for a proper assessment. The age of a piano is not the most important factor, maintenance of the instrument over its life, frequency of piano tuning, how the piano has been used and or stored can have a big effect over it’s general condition. One of the biggest issues, is when clients put their piano in a conservatory. The piano looks great, but not even a modern piano can stand the changes in temperature and humidity.
Over-strung or Strait-strung?
If you look closely you will notice the tuning pins at the top of the picture, on the right. The strings run strait down the piano in a strait line parallel to each other. This indicates this is a strait-stung piano. The strings at the right hand of the piano are smaller and thinner and shorter. The strings in the bass end of the piano are thicker, longer and have copper windings on them. One of the main factors in the sound quality of a piano is the string length. As a rule of thumb, the longer the string the better the sound.
Instruments only have a three quarter iron frame and in rare cases the visible part of the frame may just be a supporting plate.
You can see from the picture that it’s actually quite hard to see the strings themselves on this piano. That is because the mechanism is overdampered. What this means is that the dampers, which stop the string from sounding once the note has been played and released, are above the hammers. The piano is actually in the percussion family of the orchestra as the strings are struck by the hammer as the note is played. In this example there is a rail above the hammers which supports the dampers.
It’s a bit easier to see from this top view, that this particular piano is Strait-strung.
You can see this by lifting the top lid of the piano. You should be able to see the wooden plank from which the dampers are suspended. As you play a note the damper will lift away from the string allowing the note to sound. Once the note is released the note will stop sounding and the damper will come to rest back on the string.
This style of over-dampered piano is not as desirable as a more modern instrument. Modern pianos are underdampered. On an overdempered piano, the dampers only return to rest on the strings with gravity assisted by a lead weight. Modern instruments have springs inside which push the damper against the string. As the damper felt wears the damper spring still holds the damper firmly against the string.
This is a picture of a new piano and you can see the strings in more detail. Notice the “V” shape just to the left of the middle of the piano. This indicates that this is an overstrung piano. The bass strings run over the treble strings, suspended by a bridge, from top left of the piano to bottom right.
You can see the hammers clearly, as there is no rail in the way. As the strings are diagonal in the piano they are longer than a conventional strait-strung instrument and remember our rule of thumb the longer the string the better the sound. This is why no one makes strait-strung pianos any more. The cost of production is the same, but the sound would be inferior.
It is much easier to see the hammers and the dampers in operation, when you look in to the top of the piano. This time you should be able to see the hammer move forward and strike the string, below the hammer you will notice the damper lifting away from the string and returning to rest.
In general over-strung, under-dampered pianos are likely to be newer and have a better sound than a strait-strung instrument, but the condition is still a major factor. If a piano a few years old has been kept in a damp storage facility, by a radiator, in a conservatory or any other extreme climate this will have an effect on the condition. These extremes may ruin a piano permanently.
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If you have a question about your piano and you think I can help, please drop me a line.