Online auction sites and charity shops are not piano specialists. You are unlikely to find a bargain instrument here and get your child started on the road to musical greatness. What you will mostly likely find is something that the previous owner was probably advised to change as it was hindering their child’s progress. The best pianos do not cost £200 or less, no matter how pretty the casework. In fact, as a general guide, the prettier the casework, the less of a musical instrument it is. Please don’t buy a piano that costs less than the cost of delivery and expect the technician to perform the impossible and transform it into a lovely instrument. Very often, a piano which is going cheap might well have been neglected for years with a worn out action, cracked soundboard and rusty or broken strings. If a piano has been kept for any length of time in an unheated or damp house, or worse still a garage, and brought into a warm, centrally heated house, untold damage can be caused to critical components including the wrestplank which ultimately affects whether the piano is even tuneable.
A good rule of thumb is to decide on a budget – then double it. If you spend as much as you can afford on a piano initially, you’ll save money in the long run by avoiding the awkward position of having to buy an upgrade one or two years later on. Learn to appreciate the skill and workmanship that has gone into building a decent piano and you’ll see why you cannot expect to just pick one up for next to nothing. A piano is a fine example of precise engineering whose function is to sound pleasing and be a joy to play. Unfortunately, there were many pianos built between 1900 and the late 1930s which did not reach this minimum standard. They are often the ones with the most decorative casework and were built primarily as pieces of furniture in an era when a piano was as essential as a dining table and a bed. These are the ones that keep getting handed down from family to family with each successive owner proclaiming it to have the most marvellous tone and beautiful colour. If you are the owner of one of these inferior instruments, it would be unusual if your child perseveres with piano lessons much beyond grade 3 as they are impossible to play with dynamics and expression. If you upgrade to a better quality piano in time, who knows what may be achieved! If your interest in the piano is waning, are you sure it’s not your piano that is the cause?
A last word on piano teachers. Although their intentions may be exemplary, they unfortunately often lack the skills required to make a good judgement on the purchase of a second hand piano. It’s a great idea to seek help when purchasing something you don’t know much about – learn as much as you can from a site such as the Pianoforte Tuners’ Association which has excellent advice on buying a piano. Then contact your local piano tuner for help.