How to Check Out a Pre-Owned Piano Before Buying: Part Two

Equipping yourself with essential basic knowledge of piano parts, their function, and critical problems to look for will undoubtedly prove helpful while shopping for a pre-owned piano.

As we discussed in the previous article, you will likely make an initial assessment of a piano on your own while searching for the ideal instrument to purchase. This article continues the highlights of checking out a piano and gathering vital information to discuss with a professional technician before buying it.

Evaluate the Condition of the Action

Getting an overall view of the action is a crucial step to include in any piano evaluation. The action consists of numerous working parts within the mechanical assembly needed to make a piano playable, and these parts should appear evenly spaced and uniform.

The action parts of a vertical piano tend to be easily seen and inspected by looking inside. However, a grand piano’s action is more difficult to view without removing it, and we recommend leaving that to a professional. Once again, taking careful notes and discussing troubling issues with your chosen technician is best.

Test each key to ensure that it works without sticking and that each damper properly functions as it returns to the string. Moth damage, brittleness, broken parts, and signs of deterioration are all conditions that should flag your attention as possible problems. In some instances, action parts are easily replaceable and not costly. In contrast, if the action appears to be in deplorable condition with extensive breakage, it may not be worth repairing.

piano keys close up photo

Scan the Keys for Appearance and Irregularities

Examining the keys is a relatively straightforward part of checking out any piano. Identifying any missing, chipped, or damaged keys is essential, regardless of whether they might be plastic or ivory. Replacing keys is generally easy and relatively inexpensive if you are contemplating buying a piano that needs new ones.

Next, take time to press each key at its front and try to move it gently left and right, checking for looseness and odd noises. The key bushings, which are pieces of cloth that buffer the key wood from the guide pins, sustain the most wear in the center part of the keyboard. If they are excessively worn, repair work in this area is usually a moderate cost but creates a smoother and quieter key action.

Scrutinize the Hammers for Grooves and Alignment

The hammers are undoubtedly the most crucial part of a piano’s action mechanism since they directly strike the strings which create the sound. Looking closely at the surface of the hammer at the point it hits the strings will allow you to see any noticeable grooves. Deep grooves likely suggest the piano has seen tremendous use throughout the years and may need the hammer heads replaced to improve the piano’s tone quality. This decision could be somewhat dictated by who will be playing the piano, whether that is a beginner student or an advanced musician.

You can also check the alignment of the hammers by observing the appearance of three well-defined grooves that line up precisely with the three strings it strikes. View the hammers’ position by pushing them toward the strings to see if they move to the correct point. If numerous hammers are badly out of alignment, potential problems with breakage become a concern.

Another necessary inspection of the hammers includes checking for looseness. Poorly defined grooves or a broad, flat spot where the hammers strike indicates excessive side-to-side motion. A quick check you can do is to gently glide your fingers over the tops of the hammers, noting any that have unusual movement. In a final review of the hammers, be sure to test if any or all hammers respond sluggishly or make clicking noises.

If you observe problems, it is best to let your technician know and allow them to examine it more closely to determine the cost and scope of needed repairs.

piano action with hammers and wooden keys

Ensure that the Dampers Operate Correctly

The dampers in a piano are the recognizable wedges and felt pads that rest against the strings, preventing sound production until pressing a key. Dampers can be tested by playing each key on the piano and releasing it to ensure that the tone and string vibration immediately stop. Remember that the top portion of the treble side does not have dampers, and the strings will continue to ring until the sound disappears.

Try listening for buzzing sounds as the dampers return to the strings since that could indicate a need for new felts. You will also want to press the right-hand pedal to slowly lift the dampers and check for precision as they rise from the strings. Although problems with dampers can sometimes be tricky to solve, they are often not severe or too costly and likely will not sway your decision to buy a piano.

Inspect and Test Each Pedal

Assessing the condition of the pedals is another fundamental part of your piano inspection. The main observation will simply be to find out if they work and how they function. Vertical pianos possess a more straightforward pedal system and may have two or three pedals. However, if there is a middle pedal, it will likely not be a true sostenuto pedal as found on quality grand pianos. Check for cracking, bending, or disrepair in the board where the pedals attach.

Grand pianos have a more complicated pedal system, with some parts located behind the action mechanism. Once again, examine the points of attachment to ensure nothing is loose or falling apart. Be sure to test the middle pedal to see if it is a functioning sostenuto pedal if you desire this feature.

Piano pedals are sometimes noisy, loose, or missing a dowel, but overall, many issues can be fixed or adjusted at a relatively inexpensive cost. 

Gauge the Need for Regulation Service

All pianos suffer the effects of normal wear, humidity, and temperature changes impacting the wood and cloth parts of the action. Restoring the precision of the piano’s action to its original specifications is known as regulation. This maintenance expense can fluctuate widely and ultimately requires a professional evaluation to determine if it is necessary. Even so, as you check out a piano, you may try a couple of tests that indicate a potential need for this service.

Evaluating the keyboard’s repetitive ability is an excellent first assessment, helping discern if there is excess friction in the action parts. Press and hold the right pedal, then use alternating hands to repeat a single key observing how it responds and returns to its resting position. Make sure to try this on multiple keys across the keyboard. Secondly, try playing numerous keys as softly as possible. Irregularities, such as skips or misses in the sound, suggest that the piano might need regulating.

black and white close up photo of a piano hammer and stings

Find the Serial Number and Write it Down

Your piano inspection should include locating its serial number, generally found somewhere in the interior. This number usually contains four to eight digits and can be used to determine the piano’s manufacture date. Serial numbers are often printed near the tuning pins or on the plate or soundboard. Vertical pianos sometimes have serial numbers engraved on the top or back, while a grand piano might have its number on the front edge of its keyframe.

Try finding an online piano blue book source, enter the serial number, and discover the manufacture date of any instrument you consider purchasing. You can also consult with your preferred technician, who may have a printed guidebook of piano manufacturer information. Without the serial number, a piano’s case styling or unique technical details will likely help a technician determine its age.

Close the Piano Lid and Complete Your Assessment

With your examination of the piano’s interior now complete, close the lid in reverse order from previously opening it. Be sure to return the music stand and fallboard to their initial positions.

Take this last opportunity to play the piano again, carefully listening to its tonal quality, brightness, and volume. Pay attention to the transition of sound as you play the keyboard from its lowest to the highest end, recognizing anything muffled, significantly out of tune, or odd.

Remember that other factors, such as room acoustics or needed maintenance, might affect the sound but note anything unusual to discuss with your piano technician.

Final Reflections

We hope this brief guide provides helpful insights into examining the components of a piano and how to relay pertinent information to a professional piano technician. Feeling equipped with vital piano knowledge will inspire confidence in searching for and choosing a used piano.

The trained staff at Hulme and Sweeney are always ready to assist families as they explore options for an excellent piano and answer any questions about the instrument that best suits their needs.

Benefits of Buying a Used Piano

Most of us love the thrill and excitement we experience from purchasing a brand new luxury item. That same feeling entices people when they walk into a showroom filled with beautiful, new pianos and envision one in their home. However, just because a piano is new, does that mean it’s the best option for beginning music lessons?

New pianos offer peace of mind when you shop, assuming they are free of defects and come with a manufacturer’s warranty. However, used pianos already have depreciation factored in, usually have a more mellow tone, and are considerably less expensive. Let’s look at how choosing a used or even rebuilt piano might be an ideal investment as you select a piano for yourself or contemplate lessons for your child.

Refurbished Pianos are More Affordable

Purchasing a used piano can stretch your budget for a better brand and maybe longer soundboard, rather than settling for a smaller, entry-level new piano. In addition to less depreciation, a first-rate used piano brings an opportunity to find unique older styles and wood finishes, plus the possibility of a richer, warmer tone. Ultimately, a good refurbished piano might allow you to get the best piano possible for your price range.

Used Pianos Have Less Value Depreciation

In glancing at a few retailer websites or showrooms, you find that many new pianos made by the top brands start at around $10,000 for consoles and reach considerable amounts for grand pianos. Not only can these instruments be out of budget, but their potential resell price also substantially drops when it reaches your home.

Depreciation is a significant factor when purchasing a new piano, unlike a used one. A new instrument will lose approximately 20% of its value by the end of the first year, then roughly 5% each year after for the next ten years. This aspect of a piano purchase is one of the overriding reasons many people choose a used piano. A refurbished, well-maintained used instrument will retain a more significant portion of its value if you decide to resell it in the future.

Reputable Piano Rebuilders offer Warranties

Quality refurbished pianos often come with a warranty on parts and labor from a reputable technician, making them a trustworthy purchase. Used pianos are also much less affected by depreciation should you or your child discontinue lessons.

Buying a used piano with a warranty, plus knowing its value will not be entirely lost if you sell your piano, provides a level of confidence in your decision. 

At Hulme and Sweeney, our pianos always come with the assurance of a 5-year warranty on parts and labor.

Used Pianos Present a Variety of Styles

Shopping for a used piano adds a potential element of fun if you like searching for something unique. Good used pianos can offer a greater variety of styles and finishes from years past that may not be found in today’s newest models.

Options and colors of wood finish, such as lacquer, satin, high-gloss, or something natural-looking, might be essential to you as you consider the room’s color schemes, furniture, and the piano you choose. Older pianos may have more exciting cabinet design features, enabling you to find something to match your home furnishings. Some pianos have beautifully carved music stands with ornate legs. In contrast, others offer efficient, industrial-style looks or even smooth, streamlined curves.

Tone: Older Pianos vs Newer Pianos

One other reason to consider purchasing a used piano is the appeal of its tone, which could significantly differ from newly made pianos. Warmer, more mellow tones were popular in early 20th-century pianos. Instruments built in recent years tend to have an overall brighter tone, as this seems to be what is currently in demand.

You may prefer one type of tone over another, but this is certainly something you should think about before investing in a piano. We suggest playing as many instruments as you can find to understand which one sounds best for your ear.

The Restored Piano Option

A similar but more costly option to a refurbished piano is that of a restored piano. The advantage of a fully restored or rebuilt piano is that a trained technician can take an older, high-quality brand piano and recreate the interior with new, modern mechanical parts.

Technology that exists today was not available 100 years ago when piano makers were crafting their premiere instruments. Thanks to innovations in carbon fiber action parts, carbon steel strings, and computer aid to correct design flaws, a skilled technician can bring an old piano to new performance levels. This means if you like the qualities of an older model Steinway, for example, but would like to customize certain features such as tone and action, this option allows you to modify the piano to your preferences.

Advantages of a Rebuilt Piano

Rebuilding a premium grand piano, such as Steinway, with all authentic parts in their New York location will cost around 80% of a new Steinway. A more reasonably priced alternative is to choose a skilled, professional independent piano builder who can use premium brand parts to rebuild an exceptional piano for a lower cost. A rebuilt piano from a trusted restoration company also provides protection from hidden defects and unexpected maintenance and will likely come with a warranty on the work.

All Students Need Good Pianos

Learning to play the piano is still essential to many children and adult students and finding a suitable piano within your budget is a vital part of this process. Parents often believe in the approach of buying the cheapest piano they find to see if their child is genuinely interested before investing in a better instrument.

The dilemma with this approach is a piano that has broken parts, fails to hold its tuning, or has terrible action will likely discourage a new student from continuing. Students become frustrated when they cannot duplicate melodies, harmonies, or technical passages they hear from a teacher during lessons. They may blame themselves for lack of progress rather than realizing it could be the piano’s poor condition.

Refurbished Pianos Offer Quality

Students learning to play the piano progress more quickly on a quality instrument. A properly working refurbished piano with unchipped keys and uniform action develops better finger strength and dexterity. A piano that stays in tune improves aural skills, while fully working pedals are essential for advancing students. Purchasing an antique instrument or accepting something for free in deplorable conditions will not provide these much-needed features for a student of any level.

Keep in mind certain piano manufacturers and models from particular decades should be avoided in your search. Many old, low-quality spinet and upright pianos are sold or given away by individuals in deteriorated conditions, and we do not recommend purchasing or accepting these instruments.

Finding a vertical console or small grand that was initially built with excellent craftsmanship is a good candidate for refurbishing to like-new conditions. We are happy to discuss the best brands of pianos at Hulme and Sweeney that we feel make excellent used instruments.

Final Thoughts

Choosing a piano for your child’s music education or your home encompasses a thoughtful search for an instrument that suits your needs and budget.

New pianos are easy to shop for at showrooms and come with the manufacturer’s warranty and no anticipated problems. However, the depreciation factor and immediate loss of financial value spur many piano shoppers to consider a high-quality, affordable, refurbished piano instead.

A restored or rebuilt piano might be an ideal option if you are looking for customized features. A rebuilt instrument is a great way to acquire a premium brand piano at a reduced cost with improvements that could possibly surpass its original condition.

Working with a knowledgeable, capable rebuilder offers a distinct advantage in being able to find or refurbish a piano to fantastic working conditions at a much more affordable price. As you begin your search, we invite you to Hulme and Sweeney Piano Service to discuss our selection of used pianos and restoration services.

Piano Care and Maintenance

Now that you have invested in a beautiful piano and had it delivered, it is time to think about how to care for it through the years. Proper piano care ensures the instrument’s best playing condition and durability, providing enjoyment for yourself and the aspiring musicians of your family. You are probably familiar with standard maintenance like tuning and cleaning, but other services like voicing and regulation also aid in prolonging your piano’s use. 

Piano maintenance encompasses all work on the mechanical parts, guaranteeing that everything functions correctly. As a piano owner, you will want to consider the best way to clean and polish it, choose a prime location in your home for it, and create an environment that protects the integrity of the wood.


Consistent tuning is essential to your piano’s yearly care and is necessary to ensure tonal precision. Regular tuning keeps all strings matching their respective pitch with adjustments of the tension of each string through its corresponding pin.

The soundboard and other various piano parts expand and shrink with seasonal humidity changes, leading to one or more tunings needed per year. Optimal tuning times are best before long, stable weather trends when the moisture in the air reaches a point of little change.

New, newly restored, and used pianos have different tuning needs regardless of their model, price, or quality. Three to four tunings are generally required for new and newly restored pianos, as their strings are still stabilizing. Used and older pianos function best with at least two tunings yearly, but frequency depends on factors such as climate and use. We recommend tuning every six months, but consulting with a qualified technician, such as Hulme and Sweeney, is the best approach to determine a schedule for your piano.


A piano’s cloth and felt parts settle and compact over time, requiring adjustment to bring the action of the key and hammer mechanisms back to prime condition. Without regulation services, you may notice a loss of responsiveness in the keys and an increased delay between the keypress and tone production.

The need for periodic regulation depends on the use and playing demands of the piano and humidity changes of the seasons. An initial regulation should be performed sometime during the first six months up to two years of a new piano. Afterward, a trained technician can advise on the frequency required for your piano’s particular use, generally every four to five years or as needed.


Some owners choose to adjust the voicing of their piano for a warm, mellow tone and subdue any harsh brightness. The voicing process allows technicians to harden or soften the hammer felts within limited parameters to adjust the tone. Upon consultation, a trained technician can determine which specific method of altering the density of the felt tips is best for your piano. These can include sanding the felts, ironing them, using a chemical treatment, or pricking them.

Voicing is a personal preference and is generally needed when the sound has fluctuated in a way that is not pleasing to your ear. Professional performers, for example, might choose to improve their piano’s voicing as they strive to achieve the best sound for rehearsals or a performance. Factors such as the environment, the piano’s placement, and usage may also prompt a desire to improve voicing. Tuning generally resolves many tonal issues that concern piano owners. Still, light voicing can be included every six months along with tuning. 

Cleaning and Polishing

Piano care includes cleaning the keys, polishing the exterior, and vacuuming dust from the inside. A slightly dampened, lintless microfiber cloth or cheesecloth serves to clean and polish.

Simply wipe piano keys with plain water or a mild soap solution making sure excess water is wrung out of the cloth. Thoroughly dry the keys to avoid damage to their sides. Use a separate cloth for wood black keys to avoid smearing any stain onto the white keys.

Keeping your piano’s exterior free of fingerprints and scratchy dust maintains its beauty. The piano’s finish can be rubbed lightly with the same type of cloth as its keys, using long, straight strokes in the same direction of the wood grain. Piano manufacturers can recommend polish if available, ensuring that it is specifically for your piano’s finish. Do not apply household furniture polish or wax since these are not made for pianos.

Dust collects throughout the interior of pianos, regardless of your housekeeping skills. Ask your technician about removing the dust safely with a vacuum or other tools at your next tuning. Piano covers are available and can be an excellent option for your piano needs to prevent dust buildup. They are relatively inexpensive, easy to order, and come in numerous sizes.

Humidity Control

A piano’s stability is greatly affected by humidity since the instrument is made primarily of wood. The optimal relative humidity for a piano is between 40%-45% to maintain its intonation and overall lifespan. However, keeping the level moderate and consistent is equally beneficial. Various helpful measures are available that can offer protection for your piano.

One accessible solution for most piano owners is maintaining a consistent temperature in their piano room through air-conditioning and heating. Preventing extreme changes during the hot and cold seasons helps stabilize your instrument.

Other options include using a room humidifier if your piano is in an arid climate or installing a climate-control system directly onto the piano. Another humidity control idea is to use non-toxic silica gel pouches, which attract or release moisture depending on the room’s humidity level.

Where to Place the Piano

In addition to humidity, direct heat and cold affect pianos of all makes and models. Assessing the room space and placing your piano strategically away from direct sunlight, heating or cooling vents, and windows will aid in preserving your instrument.

Intense heat can come from radiators and fireplaces, making it essential to avoid having your piano too close to these elements. Direct heat and sunlight also come from windows and cause damage and fading to the piano’s exterior. Along with solar screens for windows that provide UV protection and heat blockage, heavy curtains or blinds will also offer a certain level of protection.

If placement near a window is the only option, strive to create a space between it and the piano. Old or broken windows could allow excess moisture, heat, or cold to seep in and cause damage.

Final Thoughts 

Caring, protecting, and maintaining your piano is essential to preserving its playability and financial value. Yearly tunings, plus periodic services such as regulation and voicing, add many years of functionality and tonal quality to your instrument.

Care and maintenance of your piano

When purchasing a piano, be aware of the piano care and maintenance challenges if you live in an area of extreme humidity changes and the solutions available to help. As you consider purchasing a piano, remember the importance of where you will be placing it in your home or studio. The room location you choose may adversely affect the instrument due to excessive temperatures or direct sunlight.

Hulme and Sweeney desire each customer to enjoy their piano for a lifetime and to help keep it in excellent working condition. Each piano purchased from our showroom comes with a free first tuning and a 5-year warranty on parts and labor. We look forward to answering your piano care questions and providing any maintenance your piano needs.

Action Regulation of Your Piano

As highlighted in our other articles, the key to extending the life of your piano is to maintain it. Maintenance does not only include humidity control, tuning, and voicing, but regulating the action of the strings as well. In this article we will talk about regulating the action of your piano, the methods of doing it, and why it’s important.

What is Action Regulation?

First, let’s define what the “action” of a piano is. The action of a piano is the motion that occurs when a key is pressed and the hammer then strikes the string.

The “regulation” part refers to the maintenance that has to be done on this mechanism to compensate for wear on parts and changes in humidity. 

Why is Action Regulation Important?

Regulating the action of your piano is vital to its playability.

As parts wear down across the entire mechanism of the piano, they become looser as well. This looseness will create an effect known as “lost motion” where the feel of playing the piano will feel muddy.

Additionally, there may be a delay between the keypress and the note. This delay will become longer the more you go without regulating the action.

If any major changes in humidity occur, it is best to see how your piano plays and determine if you need to adjust it. Since wood expands and contracts based on humidity, your piano’s action can be greatly affected.

If neglected, a piano with bad action can become permanently damaged over time.

How Often Should I Regulate the Action of my Piano?

If you have just purchased a new piano, you will most likely need to have its action regulated after 6 to 12 months to compensate for the compacting of the felt hammer tips that strike the strings.

Afterwards, the rate at which you regulate the action depends on the amount of time you spend playing the piano daily. If you play your piano regularly, then it is best to regulate its action every 5 to 10 years. However, if you professionally play your piano, then an annual regulation would be much more beneficial.

Also, if possible, request that your piano technician regulates the action slightly for every tuning that you get. This could be more beneficial as complete, one-time regulations tend to be much more expensive than gradual ones.

Voicing Your Piano

After you purchase your piano, it is important that you continue to service it to keep it sounding the way you want. Voicing, although often overlooked, is vital to a piano’s sound. This article will help you understand what voicing is, how it affects your piano, and when and why you should consider voicing your piano.

What is Voicing?

Voicing your piano is the process of changing the tone of the instrument, usually by changing the density of the felt tips of the hammers that contact the strings. Softening the felt will make the tone of the piano mellower and more delicate, while hardening it will bring out a more striking and bright tone. Voicing is performed using various methods. 

How are Pianos Voiced?

Methods of changing the density of the felt tip include sanding the felt, ironing it, treating it with chemicals, or pricking it with needles. However, altering the felt tip is not the only way to voice a piano: aligning the hammers with the strings is important as well. It is important that professionals carry out these processes so that you do not damage your instrument.

What to Consider

Before voicing your piano, take into account whether it is tuned correctly and where it is placed.

Firstly, tuning a piano resolves many problems you may have with the sound. If you think there is a problem with the voicing of the piano, it may be affected by its tuning. To put it simply, tuning your piano resolved many tonal issues.

Secondly, the location of your piano plays a role in how it resonates. Placing your piano near areas that have many sound-absorbing surfaces, such as carpets and soft materials. These areas can even absorb the tonal qualities of a brightly voiced piano with dense hammers. Placing your piano in an area with reflective surfaces, such as concrete, glass, or wood, will absorb less sound and scatter it around the room, often retaining the sound of your piano or even making it sound more intense. So, before voicing your piano, make sure that it is tuned and that the materials in the area surrounding it have the acoustics that you prefer.

When to Voice your Piano

If you purchase a brand new piano, the hammers become packed down after 6-12 months of playing. The increased density will result in a brighter tone, which you may prefer or dislike. Therefore, pianos may need some voicing at this time period. After this, however, the rate at which you have your piano voiced is determined by how much you play it. You’ll be able to tell when the tone of the piano sounds like it needs to be changed. 

Humidity Regulation and Your Piano

As discussed in our previous article, humidity is by far the most important factor in a piano’s tuning changes throughout the year. This guide will help you understand the effects of humidity on your instrument and what you can do to monitor or change the environment near your piano. 

Humidity’s Effect on your Piano

To begin, let’s discuss why humidity plays such a big role in the tuning of your piano.

When the piano's wood bridges are raised or lowered, they change the tension of the strings. Seasonal changes in humidity either expand or contract the wood in a piano, changing its tuning as well.

Humidity is measured in percentages. These show the amount of water vapor in the air compared to water vapor capacity of the air. The name for this is “relative humidity". The optimal location to place a piano is where the relative humidity is 40-50 percent.

This means that picking a good location for your piano would require some effort; you can’t just place your instrument anywhere.

Proper Piano Placement

Any piano, cheap or expensive, can be ruined by improper placement. Stay away from placing your piano anywhere near radiators or vents; drastic changes in humidity may occur at these locations and could continue to destabilize your instrument until it is unable to be tuned.

Some other places, although not as extreme, include windows, doorways, and outside walls; all three of these can supply small breezes of air to the piano and destabilize it. If you cannot find a suitable place for your piano, don’t be afraid to place it near these. Make sure, however, to leave a gap between the wall, window, or door, to provide your piano with as much insulation as possible.

Another aspect you should take into account is sunlight. Sunbeams can heat up a piano during the day, affecting its finish and even its tuning. If any sun shines onto your piano, it would be best to cover it with blinds or curtains.

The last factor you should consider is temperature. Especially during the winter, this certainly affects your piano’s tuning. A small difference in temperature, even five degrees, can play a role in the humidity of your home and your piano. 

Climate Control

Since each piano demands a proper climate to be the most effective, trying to maintain a good climate around it is essential.

Humidifiers are effective in doing this, whether you connect them to your heating system set up a portable one. Set up your humidifier so that it maintains proper humidity throughout your home and where the piano is located. If you are not comfortable with the humidity level your piano needs, portable humidifiers are great: they can maintain the space your instrument is in without compromising the rest of your household.

Additionally, you may purchase climate control systems for your piano specifically; they are placed directly inside. They only require intermittent filling, an annual cleaning, and do a good job in keeping the piano in a regulated climate.