Problems with Used Pianos
Foss, a piano rebuilder in Chicago's suburbs and a member of
the Piano Technician's Guild, recently discussed the hazards
of buying an old piano and having a technician rebuild it.
While rebuilding an old piano that needed a whole new
Foss had to find usable pieces from his store of old piano
parts because there are no piano junkyards like there are for
old car parts. Some
technicians keep a stockpile of odd bits and pieces, but
others say it is not worth the time to sort through a scrap
pile to find one part that might work.
Furthermore, it is rare that a technician has a part
around that will actually fit.
found a part of an action that would do for one particular
piano, then discovered the part was discontinued; he needed 88
of them. Supply houses have universal parts that technicians
can order, but all 88 would have to be altered or jerry-rigged
to fit. An action has numerous
parts, and a technician may have to spend four or five hours
re-engineering the first key to make sure it works right.
This can get quite expensive.
Foss advises, "Unless the piano is in pretty good
shape, don't do it. I
always recommend that customers buy a new piano rather than
mess with the many problems, some obvious and
others not so obvious, with an old one."
Sometimes technicians take pieces off the actions of other keys
at each extreme of the keyboard to use for the broken parts in
the middle of the piano; technicians call this process
cannibalizing. Most people that
practice piano use the center keys, so it may not be a
problem if the three or four keys at
the top or bottom do not work.
Foss first peruses and old piano to determine if it is worth
buying and fixing, he looks carefully at the pedals.
they squeak or do not line up perfectly, there may be warped
parts so nothing works efficiently, which can frustrate the
performer and make practice time unnecessarily difficult.
technician talks about the crown, or curvature, of the
soundboard. Foss claims that
anyone can check if their
soundboard crowns in the middle by stretching a string under a
grand or on the back of an upright.
If the string is held against the side edges, it
should not be able to touch in the center.
A piano without a crown sounds like a fortepiano
without the ability to sustain sound; it also sounds much more
percussive. Though it may appear
that it is only the action that needs work, this is often
deceiving. If there is not a
crown on a decent hardwood soundboard, the instrument will not
produce a good sound, even if the instrument has all new
hammers and strings.
Foss began evaluating used pianos, he was not as careful as
he is now and learned many lessons the hard way on an old
clunker. Foss thought he saw good
restoration on one particular instrument and recommended that
the owners pay to have it move, but he later discovered plastic
parts in the action that all had to be replaced for a high
cost. Foss says he never made
that mistake again.
Recently Foss burned three pianos because there was no crown on
the soundboard. He explains, "I
could have sold them, but I refuse to make money that way."
One friend of his, a violinist, purchases old,
low-quality violins and burns them so they are not sold to
young students. Foss agrees with
him: "Kids need all
the encouragement they can get.
They shouldn't have to struggle with something that doesn't
work or doesn't sound right."
He often sees pianos that are in bad shape, and these
are the instruments many students use for practice.
He recommends that customers not spend any more money
on these old instruments, telling them, "Get rid of this
thing and buy a new
one. Stop sinking money into
is appalled at the broken keys, uneven action, and other
problems that so many students contend with as they try to
learn music. "Nobody would ask a
student to practice on a
cello with a broken string."
Some people only have their piano tuned for a recital being
held in their home at the teacher's request.
Sometimes the instrument hasn't been tuned in years and the tuner will struggle to get it in shape for the performance. "It's difficult to practice a half hour every day on a piece of junk. People should not make their children practice on terrible instruments," says Foss. "We want to produce good musicians; we don't want them to fail because of inadequacies of the instrument. I see so many broken down pianos that children practice on, and it's such a shame."
"Let us come before Him with thanksgiving and extol Him with music and song." Psalms 95:2
"Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music." Psalms 98:4