How to look at a piano?

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by Gypsy, Jan 7, 2005.

  1. Gypsy

    Gypsy Well-Known Member

    Apr 25, 2004
    Bamberg, SC
    May be a funny question but does anyone know about pianos? I do not, but I just got a call from the foreman from my summer job who said that my old crew is to demo an old school building and there is a piano there for the taking. What sort of things should I look for? I assume that most things are serviceable but are there some things that are not? The price is right but if it cant be used then I won’t bother moving it.

    PS. understand that I am not a musician (that's my DW) so please don't tell me to listen to the notes and see if a C# is really a C#.
  2. southerngurl

    southerngurl le person Supporter

    May 11, 2003
    See if all the keys work! If the tune is off, it can be fixed. Even if some keys work that can be fixed. Just generally look it over.

  3. Boxermom

    Boxermom Active Member

    Apr 20, 2004
    Open it up and look and see if the pads are worn down. (Where the hammer strikes). Also try to find out if it has ever been in alot of humidity. Water is a killer on pianos. Check the pedals and see if they work.
  4. Windy in Kansas

    Windy in Kansas In Remembrance

    Jun 16, 2002
    South Central Kansas
    If free, I would opt to haul it off regardless of condition---IF the keys are ivory covered. The ivory makes excellent scrimshaw canvases/projects.

    If keeping it to play I would look at the back of the piano to see if the soundboard is cracked or split. This carries the sound and if cracked won't do it properly, but will still do to practice on.

    As others mentioned, open it up and look at the depression on the felt covred hammers. If little or very little depression is in them the better. I saw one a while back that nearly had ¼" depressions in them. Not good. Also observe if any of the hammers are broken off. Not likely, but I'd still take a look.

    Also look at the bridle straps to see how many might be broken, if any. Easy to replace but each would add cost to repairs.

    As mentioned, sticky keys. Not usually a big problem.
    Backtracking a little, the uppermost lid is usually hinged to open. The upper front of the piano usually pivots on two pins. Often opening the front near the bottem and lifting will take the front right off for easy access to insides.

    To access the lower pedal area, there is usually a spring at the middle of the top of the panel. Push it and the panel will tip out from the top and can then be lifted off of aligning pins at the bottom.

    Getting much of this wood weight off will help in moving.

    Personally I also removed the keys. The key cover is usually held in place by only two screws, then lifts off. The hammer section is held in place by two or three capscrews and can then be easily lifted off and out. Observe how the pedal push rods fit into the hammer damper lift so that reverse procedure is easier.

    Once the hammer section is out and the key cover off, the keys can be lifted off of their pivot pin. Each key SHOULD be numbered. They are usually stamped with this number. Otherwise number them as they will need to go into the same position.

    With all of the weight of so much wood now removed simply pick it up under your arm and walk off with it and into the truck. Well, maybe not quite that easily.

    If this is a really old piano the pins that tighten the strings may not hold tension in the wood. To correct this the piano needs to be laid on it's back, each pin removed and reset via the correct procedure. I'd not attempt this myself, but hire a professional. Expensive, usually more than a plain piano is worth.

    I have been told too that if a piano is not tuned properly, that is you try to do it yourself, you can actually break the metal device and piece can produce great bodily harm. I don't know this for certain, but have tuned several pianos myself.

    Bottom line, if it is free you might as well go for it if you have the room.
  5. Maura

    Maura Well-Known Member Supporter

    Jun 6, 2004
    Michigan's thumb
    If I had a place to store it, I'd take it. If it isn't suitable for your wife, and you don't want to put money into restoring it, you can probably sell it to somebody who does that sort of thing, or give it away.
  6. Cyngbaeld

    Cyngbaeld In Remembrance Supporter

    May 20, 2004
    SE Missouri
    Since it will most likely need tuning after you get it, can you call a piano tuner and ask him to look at it for you? He will be able to tell you if it is restorable and how much it will cost you. If it is not, then you are out the fee, but have saved yourself a bunch of trouble.
  7. whodunit

    whodunit Well-Known Member Supporter

    Mar 29, 2004
    Never look a gift horse in the mouth...

    Mrs WHodunit
  8. Lt. Wombat

    Lt. Wombat Well-Known Member

    Jul 3, 2003
    We answered an offer on freecycle and got an upright. Some keys didn't hit the chords and there were measurements with names on one end but other than that it looked intact so we took it. Opened it up and nailed it with the shop-vac both blowing and sucking. Found some old coins dated 1906 (penny) and 1913 (Indian head nickel) so we figured it might be old.

    Called a piano store in the city who said it would be $64 for a tune up if no repair was needed. A guy about 65 and a kid about 17 showed up with a lap top and some tools. He took one look at the piano and asked me what I knew about it. I told him nadda except there is a big metal piece painted gold that says Baldwin. He laughed.

    They had her opened up within minutes and started using the lap top to check the tuning. He said there were 11 reins (little pieces of cloth that pull the hammer back) that were torn and the pedals needed connecting to the keyboard. All in all it cost $211 total + mileage for the thing to be perfect in function and tune.

    When he was done he showed me the sound plate (the big metal piece painted gold) and I was shocked to discover this Baldwin was created in 1892, Baldwin’s second year in production. I don’t know or even care if it has a collectors value, it’s now ours and the kids finally have a family heirloom to fight over once I hit the nursing home and count a days quality according to if I have a bowel movement or not :haha:
  9. Thoughthound

    Thoughthound Well-Known Member

    Oct 13, 2004
    If it's a studio piano, I'd just take it. If it was an old upright, I'd make sure I had enough friends to help move it before I even bothered looking into it.

    Uprights are sooooo heavy.

    If you woodwork, then it doesn't matter if it works . . . you got some nice wood to reuse and strings which come in handy for filing and sanding intricacies.

    The heavy metal can be sold for scrap or used for whatever.

    Before you disassemble, make sure it isn't collectable. A collectable piano that doesn't work can still be worth a lot of money to the right people.
  10. Pony

    Pony Well-Known Member Supporter

    Jan 6, 2003
    That sounds just lovely!

    One of my friend's mom had a nice old upright that had been in her family for years and years. Her mom wanted to get it tuned and conditioned, and a very unscrupulous man told her the keys needed to be recovered because the ivory was chipping. He "generously" offered to resurface ALL the keys for her -- and made off with all that lovely ivory after charging her for being robbed. Grr!

    We now have my DH's grandfather's old upright. It sounds so nice, even when it's a bit out of tune. DD has taken up playing again (oh, the fights over piano lessons and practice when she was little!) and she has actually become comfortable enough to let me play along with my guitar. :) Heh... Bet Grandfather Jasper never figured that songs like Pink Floyd's "Brain Damaged" or Tom Petty's "American Girl" would be played on that wonderful old instrument!

    But she also plays "Moonlight Sonata" and Christmas songs, Disney tunes and church hymns. When she gets a place of her own, she will also get Grandpa's piano.
  11. pgmr

    pgmr Member

    Jul 16, 2004
    I'd be leery of unstringing a piano. The strings of a piano are storing a tremendous amount of potential energy (up to 20 tons). If you get the force imbalanced, the frame could literally explode w/devestating results.
  12. Jolly

    Jolly Well-Known Member

    Jan 8, 2004

    Best piano forum on the net. This is a question that comes up there pretty often. Sad to say, it's probably not even worth hauling off...
  13. Cosmic

    Cosmic Well-Known Member

    Jan 19, 2005
    Well your in Maine, Boston is not that far. Call some of the piano guys in the Yellow pages. I actually have had this problem a few times. Offerred a piano and try to determine if it had any value.

    Basically you have two possible scenarios. It may be valuable, it may be junk. Those Boston dealers will tell you quick. All the ones I was ever offered turned out to be junk. There was no huge commerical resell value, no matter what. I was the sucker to lug it out which was where the real money was. $1000 just to get one of those puppies out of an old back bay 4 story from your typical moving company just to throw into the trash, hence why I was offerred for free. The real money is in moving the suckers, not in their value as musical things if the wrong ones. (Same with safes, that is a different tale for other times. :no: )

    The one comment is right on tho. Super nice wood for other purposes, basically you wreck them in place for parts. Talking bring the sledge hammer and power tools. Usually you are the smuck toting out the heavy load that can have a big disposal costs if it is the wrong one. One of those pianos is part of a very nice computer desk, super cubby hole thingee like a roll top desk that I made for one of my first computers. The piano hinge is worth some money. The wood can be sold to the right folks, Usually heavy stuff is maple, the veneers are really lovely, some super wide boards for conversion to other projects. Quality old wood, cabinet makers will kill for. Makes lovely lathe type turnings. I still have a nice collection of it in my storage racks.

    Pianos can not explode. (there are no massive stored energy forces or even mini nuclear weapons, anywhere in a piano, contrary to popular myth) :p The cast iron sounding critter has essentially zero value as scrap today, the piano wire can have value, maybe can sell on ebay for other purposes. I have a big collection, I still use it for many metal, hobby projects, etc. Big bucks to buy if you need it. Beauty is a piano has many different gauges of this high tensile wire.

    Type of thing to first run by the experts. See if they bite and express interest and want to come and see it. If not, then you are left to your own interests, either in using it as a potential restorable musical instrument or as a bunch of parts for other purposes. If your prime interest is making a buck off it, approach with caution. Pianos are heavy and offered free for a reason. I broke up three in neighbors houses after the music guys in the Yellow Pages expressed zero interest. Maybe did in a total of six. Got a nice collection of beautiful wood and parts, never made a dime off any of it. Nobody ever told me the "Ivory" had any value, never found anyone offerring to buy it. The curved keyboard cover thingees did have value as wood. I traded a bunch of those to a Italian door fellow for some other things. The wood is valuable today for the right fellar.

    Name of the game is have some "Expert" value it. If thumbs down, it is a parts games. You do not want to lug an old boat anchor out of some house for the thrill of it, believe me them guys called "Death Wish Moving" don't move pianos. :no:
  14. Quint

    Quint Well-Known Member

    Nov 12, 2004
    Never be on the downhill end of an upright piano you are moving down a steep flight of stairs when your friends are weaklings.

    See this scar and how my shoulder makes this crunching noise when I go like this.........

    I've moved pianos 3 times and wouldn't recommend it unless you have a good crew of very strong and smart guys. Like others have said those upright pianos are hideously heavy. I would be careful about what type of floor I put it on.

    I can't play a piano but I always wished I could. Were I a millionaire I would love to have a big acoustically perfect room with a Bosendorfer grand piano. And while we're dreamin' I'd want a group of classically trained musicians to play for me since I can't.

    A music lover who never learned to play a darn thing.
  15. longshadowfarms

    longshadowfarms Well-Known Member

    Nov 26, 2002
    I havent' seen you post back here. If DW is the musician, why not have her give it a listen? Why do you want it? If you'd like a piano but don't think you can afford a new one AND you have lots of friends with strong backs, I'd say seriously consider it. :p How's that for vague? If you're looking to make money off it, it isn't likely to pan out. If you jreally want a piano, get DW involved in checking this out. If she isn't that competent to figure it out, get a professional opinion to see if it will suffice for what you want to do with it, now and long term. Consider whether or not you ahve the space for this and WANT this. Keyboards are getting better and cheaper all the time. ;)
  16. Gypsy

    Gypsy Well-Known Member

    Apr 25, 2004
    Bamberg, SC
    Oh Gez – I actually forgot about this thread until Longshadowfarms post showed up in my CP .

    Thanks to everyone for the good advice. In the end we opted against getting it. I was all for it but dw trumped me – too worn out and too heavy for us to move alone. Both here and elsewhere, we were told that if the pads on the hammers were too worn then it would be cheaper to buy a piano then repair it and they were pretty ragged.

    Longshadowfarms, dw is the musician (I can hardly play the radio) but she is a cellist not a pianist. She took a break from music for several years, but now wants to return to her studies. Thing of it is that, I guess in most schools, even if you are studying another instrument, you still take the piano lessons. Not sure why (most of the non-pianists seem to always hate and complain about piano lessons) – maybe for the theory of it. Anyway, if we were going to look at a cello, she would know exactly what to do, but the piano – not so much.

    Thanks again for all the good advice.