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Hired Hand
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Life altering events have a way of making you take a step back and do today those things you’ve always put off with “someday I’d like to”. I’ve always wanted to learn how to play the piano so I started looking around for an inexpensive used one. I asked some questions on a piano forum but the snobbish attitudes put me off. Figured I’d ask here as I know you folks are more down to earth.

I found a bunch of postings for “free” pianos while checking ads. That’s like holding a steak in front of a dog. Free is one on my favorite words. Most of the free units are old uprights, a couple were player pianos and I think there was one decent looking spinet (Lester, Betsy Ross Model)…not that good on the outside means much when it comes to sound. The spinet looked decent but the only reference I could find had a couple of folks poo poo the model as not very good. I’ve ruled out the player pianos as most are in very poor condition even to an untrained eye such as myself. I also checked out some keyboards at the local music store…I’m sure they are very nice but they don’t seem to sound the same.

Is looking for a piano, especially a free one, without much musical background one of those things that should be setting an alarm off in my head saying “bad idea”? Last thing I need is a ‘free’ ¼ ton coffee table. Well, not really free as it will have to be moved which, having moved a few in my foolhardy youth, is no menial task. Anyone ever taken a free piano? BTW, I found a number of free pianos on www.pianoadpotion.com and craigslist just incase anyone else is looking to join in the folly.

Perhaps my youth was foolhardy…would like to think that I’ve gained some wisdom along the way. Doubt I would try to move a beast this size by myself. I did a search but came up with very little as to ballpark prices for moving what I’m thinking to be a 500-600 lb piece a short distance (<20 miles more than likely). Any thoughts or experience having one moved?

Last, but most important, any deal breakers I should stay away from? I mean things that if broken or in poor shape, if they can be repaired, will cost more than the instrument is worth? A couple of the ads are dubious, looking more like the owner is trying to get some poor slob to haul this ‘thing’ away so they don’t have to…like the one which was set up on a sawhorse because a leg was missing. It was said to be in working condition but I think I’ll pass on that one. Obviously, concert quality is of little concern as bar room quality (sounds OK to a bunch of folks who have had a few too many) is more than adequate for my use. Appearance is less of an issue as I enjoy refinishing furniture. Your thoughts or advice will be sincerely appreciated even if it’s means saying “take your medication and go back to bed”.
 

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Hey Joe,

Why not just get a good keyboard to start off with? They do not "sound the same" but you can learn on it Play it for 6 months and THEN decide if you want one. Enthusiasms can fade, or not. It sounds like you are chomping at the bit to have one-this is the first thing to avoid doing.:D

There are a lot of old pianos out there. Almost none are w/o issues. If you can play a little before you go shopping, you will come out ahead.

Track down your nearest piano-tuner and TALK to them. Get your mechanic lined up before you buy a broken machine...make sense?
 

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Well, if you can get a free one, by all means....!!!

Here's what I would advise; Call around in your area to see what the going rate is for a good tuning and cleaning. A good company/person will be able to tell you what specifics to look for (broken cords would be my guess to start). So, to start off with you'd know what kind of money you are lookng at for a tuning and cleaning, if you would need it.

If the pianos are close enough, I'd go check them out. Give each key a good pound and make sure foot pedals work. Ask when it was tuned last and when it was cleaned (not dusted, CLEANED professionally :D ).

I would think it would depend on the type of piano, but they can be moved with a couple of strong guys. We moved our piano with, I think, three guys. Dh, his dad and brother moved it. II can't remember what we hauled it on....either a car trailer or a flat-bed pickup.

You could also see if you can find someone to go with you who knows a thing or two about pianos. Any colleges near you? I am sure a music major would love a ocuple of b ucks to go with you and look them over. Kinda like taking a mechanic you know to look at a car for you. You could even get someone who gives lessons to go with you (or meet you since many times people can be wary). Just a thought.

Go for it, I say! I took lessons for 6 years back in the day and love playing. I should play more than I do, that's for sure.

I wouldn't be too initimidated by a free piano....sure, some may be junk, but they are some out there that may have come from a parent/grandparents home and they are just looking to give it to a good home.

Good luck!
Shawna
 

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Well, I don't know that much about pianos, to be honest, though I have one. I'd say most any one you get used is going to need to be tuned at a min. That needs to be done on a fairly regular basis anyway.

I'd try all the keys to see if any are loose or no longer connected to what they are supposed to be connected to. They won't make a sound if not connected. And that does mean repairs...though those shouldn't be unreasonable if you are getting the piano for free. I had to have several repaired last year myself.

You are more likely to find a decent upright in my opinion...and I don't know enough about the other kinds to suggest anything to look for.
 

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Oh and moving it...a pickup truck and several young ablebodied men should be able to do the trick. Do you have children/grandchildren/nephews/young neighbors you could ask for help?
 

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I have a Kimball Piano, but I prefer a keyboard. You can occassionally find one at a garage sale, better ones at pawn shops. My piano will not move...I have to have it tuned, which costs me $185 so it sits, untuned, in the living room. The mice find it fascination...so I have to battle the musically inclined ones...You would like a keyboard, easier to move, too. I never learned to play, I learned to chord, and enjoy playing to myself.....
 

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Hired Hand
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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Whoa, $185 for a tuning! Guess I'll call around for prices before jumping in...never thought of going to a pawn shop for a keyboard. Maybe if I'm good Santa...scratch that...never gonna happen. Thanks for the advice everyone. Nothings ever 'free', this one is just getting less free by the minute...
 

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I have played the piano since I was 10 and gave lessons for a living for several years. I am however, by no means a piano expert, but will offer you my personal opinion. Spinets are the cheapest models, but they also have the worst sound quality. They sound like toy pianos to me. I would go with a console for a much richer, deeper, tonal quality.

Having been on the receiving end of several free pianos, the old saying, that which is free ends up being expensive, holds true, at least for me. Every one needed major work or was unrepairable. And the cost of having an old, very heavy piano moved, is not cheap.

If there is a college within driving distance that has a music program, check to see when they replace their instruments. My college replaced theirs every 3 years. Those instruments were played my knowledgeable adults, well maintained and good quality. They were sold at deep discounts. That is how I got my piano when I left my parent's home.
 

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I ended up with a Yamaha keyboard that I love. I started out looking for a used Piano because I didn't want to spend the $$$$ on a piano if I wasn't going to like it.

I did a lot of internet research and I do remember that there are some serious piano problems to look for in a used (read free) piano or any older piano for that matter. I'm sorry, I can't remember the links but I think if you do a search for piano repairs or even call a piano shop and ask what things to watch out for, I'm sure you could learn a lot about what to avoid/watch out for.

One of the most common problems is something that causes the piano to go out of tune fast. At todays prices for tuning, I would want to avoid those pianos if possible.

I spent $850.00 on my keyboard, which is a lot, I know, but nothing compared to the cost of a good used piano. It's a Yamaha YPG-625, it's two years old and it has a full keyboard with weighted keys. That's VERY important if you buy a keyboard in place of a piano. If you take lessons, your teacher will be happy to know you're practicing on a full, weighted keyboard.

If you closed your eyes and listened to it, you wouldn't be able to tell it wasn't real. Plus it has several piano styles on it and even more instruments if you like to experiment. My uncle, who was a professional piano player, really likes my keyboard and he's the kind of person who doesn't like anything!

Good luck. OH! I'm 53 and I took up playing again after quitting piano lessons 40 years ago! Go for it!
 

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I have had several "free" pianos. I do not claim to be an expert, but we were given a long lecture by a piano tuner once. Here is the upshot of that conversation. Hope it helps: The "deal breakers" are as follows:

1) Older upright pianos (the tall ones) often have cast-iron backs. They are EXTREMELY heavy and difficult to move.
2) More important than how old the piano is this: How old are the strings, and have they been kept tuned? If a piano is older than 75 years or so, many piano tuners will not tune it. You have to take the strings up by increments several times, which sometimes makes it not worth the money for the tuner because of the extra time involved. However, if the piano has been kept in good repair, has had the strings replaced, or has been kept in tune over the years, none of the above applies.
3) The older pins in pianos can slip within days of having been tuned. It will sound as if it has not been tuned. If that happens, then it is an indicator that all of the internal parts of the piano need to be replaced, which costs about $4000.00
4) Very old pianos can be Downright dangerous to get into working order! We were told by a piano tuner that when someone tries to tune an older piano that has it's original strings (that have never been tuned before) it can cause those metal strings to SNAP all at once! That will make the soundboard drop and actually MOVE the piano. If you have a cast-iron backed piano, the movement can be enough to actually blow out a wall. You do NOT want to be standing behind it when that happens.
5) We are on our third "cheap" piano. This one was not free, but it cost $200.00. Our child has gotten to the point that she needs one that is tuned and working properly. I have to say, that $200.00 made all the difference in the world. The piano is only about 30 years old. The tuning, cleaning, and repairs on the piano costed an additional $300.00. So for $500.00 she has a lovely, fully functional piano. That is not a bad price for an istrument. We have violins that cost more, and harps that cost WAY more, and well, starter classical guitars that don't cost much less.
Anyhoo, hope that helps.
Cindyc.
PS ETA: If you decide to go the keyboard route, make sure you get one with a full size keyboard (88 keys with full-size keys), that has weighted keys that will approximate the "touch" of an actual piano. Otherwise, your fingers will learn the wrong width of keys and the wrong force to apply for the appropriate sound, it will be difficult to make the transition from the keyboard to a real piano.
 

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I took lessons for many years and never was worth a hoot in my opinion. Others seemed to think so and during my senior year of high school I accompanied several soloists at a music festival.

An old upright typically has ivory keys unless they have been replaced with plastic. The ivory is used for scrimshaw so don't necessarily look a gift horse in the mouth because of the ivory value. Just keep hush about the intended purpose. Guess you could salvage the ivory if the piano turns out to be a bust and paint the keys or salvage wood panels, etc.

Most pianos use 2-4 screws and a couple of knobs, and a spring clip to eliminate most of the works including all of the keys which are numbered and panels so that they can easily be moved. I've moved an upright from my house into a pickup by myself once the weight was taken away.

For my choice I would take the upright every time unless playing condition was beyond reasonable redemption.
 

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I've never had a piano lesson in my life, but I love to learn and play songs. I can't imagine my home without that wonderful musical instrument. I've had several "free" pianos. I have always let little children play it as well. As long as they play it and not play with it we all have a wonderful, musical time. After all, what's the use of having one and not playing it?
My dh's cousin tuned pianos for a living and he has taught me so much. What you need to be aware of is a piano is either a beautiful piece of furniture or a beautiful musical instrument. (of course, there are exceptions to this) Yes, pianos need to be tuned. The more humidity changes it goes through, the more often it needs to be tuned. I figure there are worse things to spend my money on, so fi it's free, I don't mind this expense.
My brother is a trucker who moves offices and peoples' households across country and he has helped moved my "finds". :) I feed him very well when he does this for me. :)He finally just gave me the piano dolly, which 2 people can move any of the upright pianos pretty easliy.
Don't take one that has been sitting/stored in a garage or out building. That is the absolute worst place one can keep a piano. Too much changes in heat and cold.
If you can find a Mason Hanlin-- one I looked at was sort of ornate, but oh! did it have wonderful tone and sound. Keyboards are nice I suppose, but, I guess I just want the real thing. And, a piano doesn't use any electricity.
Our daughters and our son have all taken piano lessons. The talent is there and they enjoy playing & filling our home with music.
Both pianos in our home belong to our son and I will have to find one for me again when the day comes he makes his own home. I hope you find what meets your need.
 

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Don't take one that has been sitting/stored in a garage or out building. That is the absolute worst place one can keep a piano.
I disagree---for several years I went by a house that had their piano stored on the north facing porch. Makes you kind of wonder how blowing snow affects the instrument.

Yes, I agree with you but had to toss that in. Bet the piano is still setting there, too far to drive to find out.
 

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I have a 'good piano' and I have a 'free piano' that followed my husband home... the free piano sits in my laundry room, and the cats use it to nap and look out the window...

; )

It never hurts to go look at the offered free ones. My aunt and uncle gave away a beautiful and very good piano about 6 months ago. My tuning guy charges $50 and has tuned mine annually for years. He does everyone's in the area when he comes and we get a good discount because of it.

A decent free one is a good place to start, and there are some out there.

dawn
 

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I've got a full size weighted keyboard. It is supposed to sound like a real piano, but to me it sounds a bit off. I am used to playing an old player piano (needs tuning very badly) and a grand piano. Nothing beats the sound from a properly tuned grand. IMO, look for a full size keyboard, used. Pawn shops, music stores, craigslist. I even saw one at a thrift store (regular keyboard, not a real sounding one).

Moving a piano will wreck the tuning and they should be tuned after being moved. Especially if temperature changes are involved.

I want my grandma's old player piano. It would need to have all the innards replaced and probably no tuner would ever touch it (hasn't been tuned in over 45 years and has all original equipment) and it isn't worth anything as an antique because Grandma refinished it. But it has sentimental value. It was "my" first piano.
 

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I've had a couple of old uprights - freebies.

One piano was not worth repairing...its workings had been destroyed, but the woodwork/scrollwork on it was absolutely beautiful. My father took the beautiful wood and made me a hall bench that is absolutely gorgeous and one of a kind.

The other old upright was a freebee from a school - it wasn't as pretty, but solid - EXTREMELY solid. When my parents gave me the studio Baldwin piano I learned on as a girl, I gave the upright to a family who loved music but couldn't afford a piano. They were thrilled to take it no matter how heavy it was.

For piano tuners check with a church or school music teacher - find out when the piano tuner will be in town. Our piano tuner schedules several pianos in the area at the same time to cut travel costs - which in turn he passes the savings on to us.

I couldn't trade a real piano for a keyboard - just not the same. Love playing the actual thing.
 

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I prefer the "sound" of an old upright. Seems to have a more solid tone. I got one at auction for $5 - cast me $20 to get it hauled hojme.
 

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I use to take lessons when I was young and got a hankering to play again. I got a keyboard online from a music store that had a sale and a discount for being factory reconditioned but it didnt have a scartch or anything wrong with it for around $65-$70. Sure it isnt like a piano but good enough to learn and play around on to see if you like playing and sure is easy to move around and play wherever you want.
 
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