Robert G. Kelly RPT
Piano Tuning & Repair

How to Shop

How to Sell

What is My Piano Worth?

How Old is My Piano?

How Long Will a Piano Last?

Should I Buy a Digital Piano?


How To Buy a Piano buy piano

A first step would be to decide on a price range and appearance you're comfortable with. Remember, you'll have to see it every day even when you don't play it.

Go to piano stores, look in the newspaper, check the internet (craigslist,, etc.) and ask your local music teachers and tuners to let you know if anything turns up.

When you find one that's interesting, play it. Try every note, listening for buzzes or notes that don't work at all. Play some music that's loud and fast, and some that's soft and slow. If you don't play yourself, bring a friend who does.

And finally, when you find a piano you think you want to buy, have it inspected by a professional piano technician. Would you buy a used car without a mechanic's advice? Save yourself the possibility of disappointment or disaster, and have a piano technician check it out for you before you write the check. Another good source of information is The Piano Book by Larry Fine (Brookside Press, PO Box 178, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 1-800-545-2022 also found the Harford and Baltimore County Public Library). It's an indispensable source of complete information on buying a used or new piano, as well as how to maintain it afterwards. It has wonderful explanations of how pianos work and reviews of dozens of different piano brands.



sellHow to Sell a Piano

When it comes time to sell your piano, whether you're trading it in on a new one or selling it outright, there are several things you can do to simplify the process and maximize the piano's worth. Here are some tips:

The easiest way to sell a piano is through an acquaintance. Let your friends know that your piano is for sale. Many instruments change hands quickly this way, with no advertising necessary.

Another possibility is selling it to a piano store. If you're planning to buy a new piano, it's common to trade in your old instrument. But retailers also buy pianos outright or will sell yours for a consignment fee . This saves you the trouble of advertising and showing it to prospective buyers. However, a store can only pay you a wholesale price, since they must pay to pick the piano up, do any necessary repairs, provide service and delivery to the new owner, and still come out with a profit.

If you have the time, energy and skill, you can often get the best price selling a piano yourself. The most common way is through the internet or a classified newspaper ad. Word your ad simply, including the brand name, piano type (spinet, console, studio, full sized upright, or grand), age and condition. For grand pianos, specify the length in feet and inches, measured from the cabinet's front edge (below the players wrists) to the lid overhang at the back of the curved case.

To best determine a fair selling price, hire a professional piano technician for an appraisal. This will give you the most accurate idea of its worth, saving you time and money. If your piano has been recently serviced, an accurate appraisal might be possible over the phone for a lesser fee.

Have the piano tuned. An in-tune piano sounds better, which means it can be sold more quickly and for a higher price. Don't worry that it may need tuning again after it's bought and moved.

Take care of minor problems. Piano shoppers are usually wary of instruments with sticking keys, buzzes, or pedals that don't work. Such problems are usually minor and easily corrected, so the repair cost will be money well spent.

Improve your piano's appearance as much as possible. Cleaning the keys and cabinet can greatly increase the eye appeal of a used piano. For specific instructions, obtain a free copy of the Piano Technicians Guild bulletin, "Finish Care."



piano worthWhat is My Piano Worth?

At some point every piano owner has likely pondered this question; how much is my piano worth? This is usually asked before purchasing the piano but can also be asked either after the purchase is made or prior to reselling a piano. It's understandable that the piano tuner-technician is most often asked this question since one might expect a relatively unbiased, informed, and accurate answer.

The question usually goes something like this: “I have a such and such brand upright piano about so many years old in great shape. What do you think something like that might be worth?"

While the age and manufacturer are obviously important factors to be considered in appraising an instrument, there is much more that needs to be considered to accurately determine the value of a specific piano. For example, What is the condition of the pinblock?... Are there signs of delamination?... Any indications of structural weaknesses in the bridges, aprons, etc... ? Does the soundboard have sufficient crown?... Are the ribs still holding to the soundboard?... And the list goes on.

Consequently, it is impossible to affix a truly unbiased, informed, and accurate value of an instrument knowing only the age, manufacturer, and a vague general impression of it's condition. Such haphazard guesses not based on personal inspection can only yield untrustworthy information which is useless or even harmful to the buyer or the seller, as well as harming the trustworthiness and integrity of the piano technician.



beethovenHow Old is my Piano?

Three ways to date your piano:

  • Written. This can be in the form of a purchase receipt or even a date written inside the piano. While rarely found inside the piano, manufacturing dates can sometimes be found on the keys or action rails. Patent dates cast into the plate and tuning dates written on the plate by tuners are only clues at best.

  • Professional Inspection. An experienced piano technician can usually give a trustworthy estimate based on the cabinet style, manufacturing materials and techniques, wear, etc..

  • Reference Books. Books exist that reliably give piano dates of manufacture listed by piano name and serial number for most manufacturers


typesShould I Buy a Digital Piano?

Advantages of Digital Keyboards

Digital keyboards have certain features that might make them the instrument of choice over pianos in some situations. These features include: 

  • Tuning stability - the instrument is always in tune regardless of climate variation. 

  • Transpose function - many digital keyboards provide the ability to transpose the pitches associated with each note up or down in half-step intervals. 

  • Good tone quality - since the tones typically are sampled from fine concert grand pianos they have a much better tone than other attempts to build a small piano or electro-piano. 

  • Earphones - this allows the player to be the only one to hear the music 

  • Small size - even full compass 88-note digital keyboards are very compact. 

  • Reduced service - not having to schedule regular tunings not only reduces maintenance cost but also eliminates one more chore for busy people. 

  • MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) capability -digital keyboards typically have MIDI In, Out, and Through for complete connection to computers or other MIDI-enabled instruments. 

  • Other tonal options - sounds resembling harpsichord, pipe organ and non-keyboard instruments are typically available on many digital keyboards. 

It is important to note that the features vary widely among different makes and models of digital keyboards. In this discussion, the only digital instruments considered worthy of recommendation for the following applications are the higher-end units which feature velocity-sensitive, weighted, mechanical-response keys; functional sustain pedal; at least 66 notes; and a minimum 15-watt double-speaker amplification system. The tone should be based on digital samples of an actual piano rather than synthesized.

Given the features unique to digital keyboards, there are certain situations where their use might particularly be recommended. These include rehearsal/accompaniment in situations such as elementary school music programs and middle school choral programs, where the main purpose of the keyboard is to provide accurate pitch. Here the use is primarily utilitarian, and the instrument may need to be moved frequently from room to room.
Another place where using digital keyboards might be particularly appropriate would be in institutional settings where there is occasional or intermittent need for musical accompaniment or to lead songs. A good example of such a place would be a hotel banquet hall that hosts the local Kiwanis club meeting. An event such as a wedding reception could frequently use a digital keyboard instead of a piano since the music is not the main focus. Elementary schools, Sunday school departmental rooms, and church fellowship halls could often be well served by a digital keyboard. 
Certain applications require the unique features of digital keyboards. Wherever there are electronic/MIDI ensembles, or amplified popular music groups, or ensembles leading worship in some church settings, keyboards excel. They also thrive where computer input, certain recording procedures or MIDI input or control are important considerations. A nearby college uses digital keyboards connected via MIDI to faculty computers in the theory and composition department. A high-end digital keyboard may act as a substitute for a harpsichord or celesta in concert hall venues that have only occasional need for those instruments. 

Digital keyboards are well suited to be hooked up in networks. This makes them particularly useful in group-piano instruction labs perhaps connected to a central computer workstation. Digital keyboards also provide good service in small apartments or places with a stairway that cannot be negotiated with a piano. The ability to play the keyboard through earphones can also be useful under crowded living conditions.

Disadvantages of Digital Keyboards

Digital keyboards lack the presence and power of a piano .They sound like the music is projected from the inside of a box, rather than emanating from a real instrument. By analogy, I would consider the difference in tone between a digital keyboard and a piano similar to the difference between the flow of water from a garden hose and a large river. The water coming out of the hose nozzle will have a much higher velocity than the river but the river moves a higher volume of water and has much more power. In the same way, you can turn up the volume on a keyboard, but you do not get the presence and power of sound radiating from a large-area soundboard. It is not the matter of loud ness but of the ability to project a pianissimo note to the back of a hall. From a technical standpoint, a larger excursion of a small diaphragm (speaker) does not provide the same effect as a smaller excursion of a much larger diaphragm (soundboard).

Another symptom of the lack of power is the the difference in presence between one note played by itself and a handful of notes played in a chord. On a digital keyboard there is clearly an audible drop off in tonal presence and richness compared to the single note. It is easy to be impressed when a demonstrator strikes a single note in the bass on a digital keyboard. It is much less impressive to hear the two-handed, F9 chord at the fermata in Schumann's Traumerei. From the player's standpoint, they experience disconcerting changes in volume and projection throughout a piece depending on how many notes are being played at a given time. 

Digital keyboards have a narrower dynamic range than the typical piano. The measure of the distance between "the softest you can play" and "the loudest you can play" is an indication of the musical capabilities of an instrument. This is important not only for performance situations, but also in teaching the concept of dynamics to beginners one of the more challenging aspects for them to master. 

The digital tone is replicated rather than original. You can take a very good photograph out your window and develop it into a life size view but looking at that photo-graph will never hold your eye in the same way that looking out the window will. Or, listening to a CD can be enjoyable but never comes close to the experience of being present at a live performance. For the digital keyboard, its strength is also a weakness in that the tone that has been so accurately sampled and reproduced is nonetheless a reproduction  and it is consistently reproduced with each repetition. The result is that with the passage of time people become bored with the predictable, packaged sound. I have observed this as a backlash that occurs a year or two after a keyboard is acquired where people who were excited about how realistic it sounded became unhappy with the boring sameness of the tone quality. By definition, realistic is not real. 

The touch response of a digital keyboard is crude. The touted "touch-sensitive" technology does provide variations in loudness with variation in the downward velocity of the key. But compared to the infinite variation of a mechanical piano action, most digital keyboards are only sensitive to five or perhaps seven increments in touch velocity. That is there as on for the disconcerting experience of playing a note on a digital keyboard at a certain volume, playing a little harder and getting no increase in volume and then with just a little harder blow, there is a jump in volume. That is because the infinite variation of human touch is being translated into only a few increments of loudness variation. Even where there is a "dummy" mechanical action, the touch response is not as rewarding (nor as serviceable) as on a correctly regulated piano. 

In addition a piano provides varieties of touch to a pianist that simply are not possible on a digital keyboard. One example is the kind of staccato that barely depresses the key and doesn't raise the damper, but carries sufficient velocity to cause the hammer to strike the strings. Also, on a well-voiced piano there should be a change in tone quality with the change in volume. Even with digital keyboards  whose stored sounds were sampled at different dynamic levels, the result is not the same. 

The depreciation curve for keyboards is much steeper. Because the digital keyboard is an electronic device, its holding of value parallels that of other electronic goods such as televisions, computers, and stereos. Repair, if needed, often comes to a substantial portion of the cost of a new device whose price has probably fallen since the old one was purchased. 

Actual life expectancy is shorter. After 15 years a piano will still be going strong with a continuing availability of standard replacement parts even if the manufacturer has gone out of business. Eventually an economic decision maybe to rebuild a quality piano. However, at 15 years, a digital keyboard will be nearing the end of its life expectancy. At some point it will need repairs and parts that will no longer be available. Service information will no longer be available, and the unit will have long been out of production. 

Because of these factors, there are some situations where digital key-boards are less than ideal if not completely inappropriate: 

  • The home practice piano for those learning to play piano 

  • Solo or ensemble performance calling for a piano.

  •  Serious piano practice. 

  • Group rehearsal involving piano ensemble music. 

  • Teaching. 

  • Personal enjoyment of music. 

    In conclusion, then, we can expect to find an increasing array of digital instruments using keyboard as well as other means of activation. More will be used in contexts with a piano or to substitute for a function formerly provided by a piano or perhaps even to enhance the capability of a piano. We must continue be informed of these new and still-developing instruments so that we can be prepared best to serve our clients' needs by providing relevant information to them, and by advocating continued usage of the piano in those settings where it will continue to be most appropriate.

By Keith Akins, RPT Appleton, Wl Chapter P.T.G.
(This informative article, published in the February 2002 Piano Technicians Journal, is presented here with the permission of the author.)

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