How to Buy a Good Used Piano


Since becoming a piano technician almost 30 years ago I have tuned, regulated, voiced, repaired, restrung, replaced hammers and action parts, reconditioned, and rebuilt numerous pianos. The point is I know pianos and the following is a guide for buying a used piano.

You can buy a Yamaha, Kawai, Young Chang, Samick, Baldwin, and lots more like them. The tips  for buying a used piano are not hard to learn or you can just print this page and take it with you.  These aren´t the high end stuff. These are the average pianos that 90% of people buy because the average person can not afford a Steinway, Bechstein, Bosendorfer, and many more you never heard of.

Here is how to buy a good used piano.

Deciding on What to Buy

1. Go to and see what the asking prices are for used pianos. These are pianos that people have placed on Pianomart for sale and Pianomart gets a commission. I think you need to know before you go looking how much money you’re willing to spend on a piano.

2.  Craigslist or Kijiji are where to buy used pianos for sale in your local market. Just put either Craigslist or Kijiji in your browser’s search and click on your city. You will have more than enough to choose from.

3. Before you go and look at the physical condition of a used piano take a look on the ads on Craigslist and Kijiji and realize one very important thing. Most people that are selling a piano (not the dealers and piano technicians) do not have the foggiest idea what they are selling. They know little or nothing about how a piano works other than the keys go up and down and it looks nice. So their comments about how well it plays or its mechanical condition generally means nothing.

The first upright piano I looked at the ad on Kijiji said it was in excellent condition.  When I went to look half of the keytops were missing and 1/3rd of the hammers were gone.  He thought that was excellent!?

u100 Yamaha piano
Yamaha model U100 – Serial #5566830

4. Before you inspect a used piano, call and find out the name and serial number. The serial number on most pianos will be inside the piano near the top above the tuning pins. Some pianos (very few) will have the serial number stamped on the frame at the back of the piano, or even inside on the pinblock. It will be a number (possibly including letters) that is at least 5 digits long. You can look most of these numbers up on the internet using the piano name and find the date it was built.  Or you can call a used piano dealer and he may have a book that lists the hundreds of piano makes and their serial numbers showing the dates they were built.  Many people have no idea when their piano was built and will therefore give you bogus information on how old it is.

5. Knowing the model number can also help you in learning the quality of the instrument.  Generally, the taller the piano, the better the sound.  A 3 foot tall piano is simply not as good as one that is 4 or 5 feet tall. The model number will usually be 2 to 5 digits long. Model numbers may contain the first letter of the name of the piano and the height of the piano in centimeters. So for instance, a Young Chang piano that is 121 centimeters tall from the floor to the top of the piano case could have a model number of YC121.  Yamaha does not do this so it takes longer for you to figure out the height or length of a Yamaha.  The U100 above is a 48″ tall piano

steinway grand piano
Steinway Model M – Serial #200658

Having decided that the piano is in your price range and that it is not too old now you want to do a physical inspection. Take your camera (your phone camera will do) and a small paint brush with you so you can take pictures without the possible years of dust in the way. You want to inspect the frame, the cabinet, the trapwork which includes the pedals and connective links that the pedals are used for in playing. You also want to inspect the keys including the tops and the pins the keys are leveraged on. Following that you need to inspect the movable parts on the inside of the piano called the Acton.

The Physical Inspection

1. When you arrive to inspect the piano exlain to the piano owner that you would like their permission to 1) open the piano for an inspection and 2) to take pictures of the inside and outside. Ask them where you can place the parts such as leaning them against the wall, or lying flat on the floor, or perhaps on a couch. I feel it is impolite to just assume that an owner will let you do that. Some, in fact, may not. If they decline, respect their wishes, state that you can not really tell if the piano is any good without the inspection, and if they still will not give you permission, it is time to leave.

2. Ask the owner to remove all objects on the top of the piano. It is best they do this. You don’t want to be responsible for dropping a lamp or ornament that has some sentimental value.


3. Open the top of the piano and undo the top front of the piano. There will be some sort of latch at the extreme right and left of the piano just underneath the lid that once undone the entire front of the piano can be easily lifted off. Make sure that you hold on to the front so that it doesn’t fall off. When lifting the front off on a high gloss finished piano be aware that most pianos of this type the parts are very heavy because under the finish is particle board. Be extremely careful when moving the parts from the piano to wherever you are putting them so you don’t damage the finish.

yamaha front
Front of piano with front top board removed.



On a grand you don’t have to remove the top lid, but just raise it as high as possible so you can see inside.



4. Remove the board above the pedals and under the keybed. It will be the same length as the top portion and usually is held in place by some sort of clamp at the top of the board directly above the pedals.


5. With both boards removed you can now take pictures of the tuning pins and action at the top of the piano as well as the pedal assembly, strings, and bridges at the bottom.

Pictures of the tuning pins need to be up close so you can see the windings of the strings on the tuning pins. The picture below looks good.  The windings are about 1/16 to 1/4 inch from the where the pins enter the pinblock.

piano tuning pinos
Good looking tuning pins
loose pins on piano
Poor looking tuning pins

The picture at right is not good.  Note that windings have no space between them and where the pins enter the pinblock.   Also, if pins are not the same size it indicates the pins are now or have been loose.  Also notice the two pins that are a different color and taller than the others.  The windings are not well done but would be OK.  The fact that these two pins are tall indicates that the original pins were loose and these larger pins have been put in.  This piano should be considered with the understanding that some time in the future more pins will need to be replaced

Take pictures of the front of the hammers where they strike the strings, and a picture back further so you get a picture like the one below. You are looking for gouges in the front of the hammers which would indicate how much use the piano has had. The pictures like the one below will show if hammers are warped and the action is not symmetrical.  Note in the picture below that the hammers are not straight across.  This is easily rectified and involves what we call regulating the action.

hammers on piano
Piano Action showing back of hammers.

Pictures should be taken of the tops of the keys to ascertain if they are chipped or cracked as well as a picture of all the keys so you can see if they are level.



Not only are the keys on the left not level, but they have multiple other problems.  The ones on the right are how they should look.


Pictures under the keyboard should include the pedals so you can see if they are attached properly, pictures of the strings so you can see if there is any rust, and pictures of the bridges – particularly the large bridge closest to the pedals to make sure there are no cracks in the bridges next to the small pins that alter the direction of the strings. This is a piece of wood about 1″ wide and about 1 foot long where the strings go over – hence the word bridge. It’s like the bridge on a guitar only a lot thicker and longer.


In the picture here you can see the bass bridge above the pedals and it is about 1.5 feet long and is slightly curved.


6. While watching the hammers, play each key 2 or 3 times to ascertain if they all feel the same and to see if the parts of the action all move the same. If action parts wobble or do not hit the strings properly, there is work needed to be done. If the keys don’t feel the same there may be a problem in the action or the parts under the keys may need replacement. Also, listen as you play each key. Does each key make only one sound or more than one? If more than one, the piano may either be out of tune or the tuning pins may be loose.

Refinished PIano
Refinished Piano from 1900

7. Put everything back together and then take pictures of the outside of the piano on all sides as well as pictures of the bench.

8. If you know how to play the piano, give it a test run. You may want to take some music that you feel comfortable playing to use as a test to see how it feels when you play. Do the keys feel even? Do they feel too heavy or too light? Do the pedals operate the way they should?

At this point you should have a very good idea of whether this is the one or not.  However, if you’re like me and feel pressured when other people are around, that’s where the pictures come in.  You can take them home and carefully look at them or even show them to a piano technician.

Now Hire a Piano Technician

If you really like the piano you’ve found, now is the time to hire a piano technician to go and inspect it. He can tell by looking and playing a lot more than what I gave you above, but if you send a piano technician out to inspect all of the possibles, you’ll have a big bill.  So – you do the initial finding and send the technician when you think you’ve found the one you want.

Do all of the above and I’ll guarantee you’ll have a great piano for a very reasonable price.  Enjoy it – there’s nothing like playing the piano.


How to Learn the Piano

You can do this!  Thousands of adults are now playing the piano that have never played before.  There are thousands of people that search google each month on how to learn the piano.  Many feel they can’t because they think they can neither afford a piano nor the lessons needed to learn.

That is simply NOT TRUE!

Five Methods to Learn Piano

1. Use a Self Teaching Music Book.

bk1        bk2       bk3        bk 4

This method is by far the cheapest.  You can purchase these books at any music store or click on the pictures above to order from Sheet Music Plus online.

Many of these books have a CD or DVD included with them.  They will give you a programmed learning experience that will enable you to learn the techniques to be able to play hundreds of your favorite songs.  The CD or DVD will demonstrate the things you need to learn and you can play along with it and repeat it as many times as you feel necessary.

Many of the CD’s or DVD’s will also provide backgrounds for you to be the soloist and perform along with the band.  That is really fun!

So – what’s the drawback.  There is no one to point out mistakes you may be making and no one is there to encourage you and help you when you feel stuck and not sure what to do.  But if you’re a good Do It Selfer you should be able to teach yourself piano.

2. Compact Disc Programs/Online Programs

You can learn from programs that have all the lessons on a set of dvd’s or from a series of lessons programmed online. Take a peek at this one from Legacy Learning Systems.
This method is not as good as learning from a real teacher simply because immediate feedback is not available. However, pre-programmed lessons can be given over and over until you get it.

Cost wise this is one of the best. However, you have to supply the motivation necessary to keep at it.

3. Computer Games

You can now purchase programs to learn music that are set up like computer games. With each game you play you progress through each round until you become very proficient. This is particularly good for children and for those who may have learning disabilities.

Here’s an example of a program that uses video games to teach piano.

Now anyone can play piano in minutes

4. Live/Video Piano Teacher Online

This is the second best method because while the teacher is not physically present, you still have the advantage of someone helping you that is watching your hands either through a camera or on a video that you send to the teacher. The reason this is not as good as the private teacher method is because the teacher can not demonstrate as quickly as someone sitting next to you. Communication is a little harder and therefore may take you longer to learn the fine points the teacher needs to convey.

Online popular piano lessons hugh sung

However, with this situation you may be able to hire a much better teacher than is available in your community. This is especially true if you live outside a city which would require considerable time and money just for you to get to the teacher or for the teacher to get to you.

5. Private Piano Teacher

adult piano
This is still the best method. Why? Because a private teacher is right beside you to encourage and correct any mistakes as soon as they happen. No delay. Immediate correction.  This is very important for a beginner since proper hand position and finger usage can make a huge difference in how well you can play later on, although the live video teacher can catch this.

You can find private piano teachers in practically every little town. However, all piano teachers are not equally good. Good ones will generally have at least 2 years of completion towards a bachelor’s degree on piano, or the equivalent of study from a recognized music conservatory. The better you become, the more important it is that the teacher be advanced both with the ability to play and the ability to teach.

Rates vary according to teacher, training, experience, and location. Like it or not, the best way to learn piano is also the most expensive. You are, after all, hiring a private tutor with their expertise as well as their time.

However, I don’t believe anything else beats a private piano lesson. Provided you and the teacher have personalities that will encourage your development the most, this is the best method to learn the piano.

One Important Requirement

You MUST have a piano to practice on – at least one like the one shown below which you can get for as little as $300.  I would caution you not to buy anything with less than 76 keys on it.  You will quickly outgrow anything that has less than 76 notes and unless you are a professional musician, most keyboards are a toy with just a bunch of sounds and rhythms that do not help you learn piano.  If you go to Amazon – read the reviews from people that have purchased this.

If you want something better, there are lots of choices.  If you want a piano that feels like a real piano, take a look at the Digital Pianos from Amazon and look for proof of the unit having a hammer action or weighted action that does NOT have springs. Usually these will cost at least $600. Anything under that may look great, but they have spring actions and the feel is not like a real piano.

I am always amazed at the number of people that show up for piano lessons and have nothing for either themselves or a child to practice on. You can’t learn to walk up stairs if there are no stairs. You need a piano to practice on.

So what are you waiting for? In less than 30 days you can be playing the music you love on a piano.

How to Read Music for Beginners

When we read a book or a document in any language we must first be able to understand the symbols on the page. Whether they are Chinese characters or English letters, when placed together they are representations of ideas. Music is the same. Written music uses symbols to represent musical ideas. How to read music for beginners must start with learning the symbols that represent the music.

There are many ways to do this. Most people learn by going to a music teacher that will use one or more methods, hopefully adapted to the way a person learns. When I hear that someone tried lessons and failed I wonder how many methods the teacher used before the person failed. Most of the time people start lessons, the teacher has their tried and true method, and nothing else is tried. The person is not a failure in this case – the teacher is.

Within the last 50 years there have been a myriad of methods that have come out that have improved music education drastically. Men such as Karl Orff, Shinichi Suzuki, Zoltán Kodály, and others have influenced how music is taught to the degree that we now have many programs that start almost when children are born. Programs such as Kindermusik, Music and Play, Rainbow Songs, Musikgarten, and Music Together. All of these programs emphasize singing, movement, and basic percussion instruments.

As well there are more and more lessons being taught either by programs deliverd on CD or online, either with an actual teacher or preprogrammed learning

Richard Gil, a music educator for more than 50 years has said, “Every child needs music. Music education does not just make children more musical; it unleashes their creative powers.”

Please view this talk by Richard to learn how important it is to start before reading music is attempted. However – don’t let this stop you if you have not given your child music lessons and they’re now 8 years old. Yes the time to start would have best been long before that, but the next best time to start is now. I have had students as old as 85 start with great success!

Music Lessons are a MIND BUILDER

Unleash Your child’s Potential!

Neuroscientists have found that playing a musical instrument is a unique workout for the brain. They have also stated…

NO OTHER ACTIVITY Provides this benefit like music lessons.

Not Dance
Not Painting
Not Yoga
Not Karate
Not Math
Not Physics, or Chemistry, or History, or Geography

Get the point yet?

What if every child had access to music education from birth? Watch this video to get a glimpse of the possibilities.

Most school boards don’t know this and instead of music being an extra curricular activity, it should be one of the most important aspects of learning in school.

Neuroscientists didn’t say you had to be good at it. They said that playing a musical instrument is a unique workout for the brain. If you want to be a concert violinist – you can do that – but at least 97% of students will NEVER be a concert musician. HOWEVER, because they learn how to play – and enjoy – a musical instrument, they will have an advantage over people that don’t in other very important areas in their life.

This video above also points out that it isn’t just children that can benefit from the study of music. We are starting to learn that the brain can learn at any age, something neuroscientists are calling neuroplasticity. That’s a big word that means the brain has the ability to reorganize itself by creating new neural pathways to adapt to new situations. We are, in reality, never too old to learn and music lessons can help us deal with life at any time.

Age to Start Music Lessons

Here are 6 guidelines that will help you or your child have a successful, rewarding experience learning to play a musical instrument. From years of experience these are practical tips I have discovered.

1. Age to Start Music Lessons
Adults can start anytime. Their main problem is to commit themselves to enough time to practice and not beat themselves up when they make a mistake. The biggest problem for adults is their self-esteem when they make a mistake. Mistakes are part of education. They tell us we need to change. Watch a child. When they make a mistake do they make a big deal of it – heck no – they just go on as if nothing had happened.

boy violin

You have to be careful with the start age for children. Desire and motivation are very important. I have seen 3 year olds that are very into music and others that aren’t ready until they’re 9 or 10. I know one young man that the parents couldn’t get to play the piano at age 6, tried again at 9 and still no go, and then at age 14 he wanted to play a grade 6 piece and shocked his parents by learning and memorizing it in less than a week. However, you also don’t want to wait too long though, because the teenage years can be very busy ones.

Some children, if put into lessons too soon, may feel overwhelmed and frustrated. I have taken children that have been in other programs where they have had bad experiences and turned it totally around. Children that are older than the suggested earliest starting age we find do very well. Here are some general guidelines we have found to be successful in determining how young a child can start taking music lessons.


If you see your pre-schooler dancing with music or singing a lot of the time a group preschool music class will give them a good foundation in music basics which will help them in later private lessons. Usually private lessons are not good for this age group because their attention span is very short, their finger muscle co-ordination is still developing, and their hands and fingers are probably too small. However, if you think you have an exception to this, you may be right.  After all, Mozart was performing at age 5.

Pre-schooler Singing
Pre-schooler Singing


We normally start children on piano or keyboard at age 5 or later. At five and six we like to have the parent present in the lessons to make sure the concepts taught are practiced properly at home. The attention span is much better at this age and concepts better understood.

Guitar – Acoustic & Electric

The earliest I recommend starting on guitar is age 8. Guitar playing puts pressure on the fingertips from pressing the strings and can produce some soreness. As well, children under age 8 generally have small hands and may find playing awkward and uncomfortable because the guitar is large for small people. Bass guitar students are best started generally at 10 because the bass guitar is larger and the strings require even more pressure to play correctly.


Ukulele Student
Ukulele Student

If your child simply can’t wait until age 8, I have had kids that learn ukelele. It’s fun and it is much easier on the fingers as the strings are made of nylon instead of metal. It will prepare them very well for guitar.


The only limitation for drums is the size of the child. They have to be able to reach both the pedals and the cymbals. Try to find a drum teacher that teaches using two drumkits side by side so the child can sit beside the teacher and can be shown exactly how to do the exercises.

Drumkit Student
Drumkit Student

Flute, Clarinet & Saxophone

Generally age 9 is best for these 3 instruments. For Flute, Clarinet and Saxophone lung capacity is important and the size of the saxophone can be a problem. However, you can use a curved soprano sax for even the smallest student. That’s where I started. Clarinet and Sax also require a good set of front teeth and hands large enough to cover the holes on a clarinet.

Trumpet, Trombone, Baritone

Lung capacity is again important and size now becomes important for the Trombone and Baritone. But once again, age 9 is a good time.

Jazz Band
Jazz Band


Many students start on violin at age 3. However, I feel that the most productive learning doesn’t occur until the beginner is age 5 or older.  I have seen groups of children playing very well having started using the Suzuki Method.  This method is based on the idea that we learn to speak before we read.  However, I believe that as soon as they have the basics, they need to be learning to read music – otherwise they can become simply a non-thinking robot.

I believe, along with Shin’ichi Suzuki that learning music makes good citizens.  Mr. Suzuki said “If a child hears fine music from the day of his birth and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline and endurance. He gets a beautiful heart.”

Suzuki Violin Group
Suzuki Violin Group

Group classes are fun, cost less per hour, students learn to work together, and the ensemble playing tends to encourage students. They also learn to count better and read better than the average person in private lessons. However, in a private lesson it is hard for the student or the teacher to miss anything and each student can learn at their own pace and in their own way. As well, the teacher doesn’t have to try to keep the group together – sometimes slowing everyone down for someone having a problem with a concept. In private lessons the teacher can focus on the individual student’s strengths and weaknesses and help them be the best they can.  The best combination would be to learn in both a group and private setting.

3. Take Lessons in a Professional Teaching Environment:
Learning music is not just a matter of having a qualified teacher, but also having an environment that is focused on music education. In a professional studio there is no distraction from t.v., pets, ringing phones, and siblings. With only ½ to one hour of lesson time per week, a professional school environment can produce better results since the teacher is teaching – not collecting money or making appointments. The focus is learning music.


Learn to Play an Instrument Online
Learn to Play an Instrument Online

4. Make Practicing Easier
As with any skill, improvement in music requires practice. Persistence is the winner. Parents need to be firm to make sure practice takes place every day. However, it need not be boring or time for confrontation. Here are some ideas that can make practicing easier.

a) Time – Set the same time every day to practice so it becomes part of a routine or habit. Generally the earlier in the day the practicing can occur, the less reminding will be required. Students will also be able to concentrate better. b) Repetition – Instead of requiring a child to practice 20 or 30 minutes, which may seem like an eternity to a child, have them practice a concept 5 – 8 times correctly each day. Time is then irrelevant and when they have done repetition number 4 they know they only have a few more to go. Concentration is thus improved and they have a goal that is not related to time. c) Rewards – Giving children a reward for a successful week of practicing helps – adults too. In our school we rewarded children with stars and stickers for work well done and for a good lesson. Praise tends to be the most coveted award – let’s face it, there is just no substitute for an honest pat on the back.

5. Use Recognized Teaching Materials
Music books aren’t like they use to be. We now have excellent materials developed by professional music educators that are made for students in a variety of situations. There are books for very young beginners, for older beginners, and for adults who have never played before. There are materials to start at whatever level the student is at. Should you happen to transfer to another city, qualified teachers and schools will know these materials and be able to smoothly continue from where the previous teacher left off.

6. Music is for Enjoyment
A teacher’s purpose should be to give you the skills to enable you to enjoy the finest moments in life that music can provide. And best of all, you don’t have to be a professional to enjoy it. Keep this in mind so you don’t put unrealistic expectations on yourself or your children. Everyone learns at a different pace and key to the enjoyment of music is to enjoy the journey. We wish you success in your musical adventure.

Did I miss something?  Do you have ideas on this?  Frustrations?  Please comment if you do and I’ll try to help.