By Werner Wilfried Stolze

Don’t buy that piano

‒ without proper advice

Up-and-coming Mozart pianists must have their feet on the ground when buying a second-hand piano, or they could be taken in.

It is a sad reality that fraud in the piano industry has become a general trend lately. It happens more and more that people ask me to tune second-hand pianos they bought, and when I start working on it we find that the piano needs a lot more than tuning. Sometimes it’s worse: the pianos are so worn out that they can be used as ornaments only. 

Some cases I have recently encountered filled me with disgust and shame at humanity. It’s unsettling to realise that such fraudulent people exist in an industry that should bring only joy to the human spirit. I would like to share some of these stories; perhaps it helps someone not to fall into the same trap.

What happened: An upright piano with a cracked iron frame was sold to a client. The dealer went as far as actually covering it up with putty and painting it.

Implications: The iron frame is the only part of the piano that can NEVER be repaired. This frame takes tension of up to 20 tons. When it has cracked, it cannot handle the required tension from the strings any more. 

What happened: A client purchased a piano on the recommendation of a well-known person in the trade; he said the piano only required a proper tuning. This was definitely not the case. It required a major service. The tuning pins were loose and the tuning pin block was damaged.

Implications: When the tuning pins are loose, the piano cannot be tuned. It is quite a huge task to fix these pins. All of them should be removed and replaced with a thicker tuning pin.

What happened: A client (school) received a quote for an exorbitant amount to repair a piano. It was stated that the piano had a factory fault. Due to the school’s limited budget, the finance section requested additional quotes.

Fact: When we went to this school to quote, we saw that the piano was still in a great condition and only needed to be cleaned and tuned. 

Not everyone who needs pianos knows what to look for when buying new instruments, and many people in the trade take advantage of this. It’s wise to rely on the judgement of an experienced piano expert when you buy a second-hand instrument. Go through the trouble to find the most knowledgeable dealer in your area with a record of integrity and fair dealing. 

It’s not worth picking up an old piano privately “to get started with”. A poor piano only discourages children and is at best a questionable investment for the parent.

It would still be useful to keep a few pointers in mind if you are not an expert and want to buy a piano privately

*Frame – It may be cracked or broken, which cripples the piano musically and renders it useless.

*Strings – The bass strings may be “tired and tubby”, which means they are totally devoid of tone.

*Sounding board – It may be cracked, or worse yet, may have lost crown to become tonally deficient.

*Ribs – They may be broken or pulled away from the soundboard.

*Bridges – They may have lost proper bearing, be broken, split or cracked, necessitating a major expense to be serviced.

*Tuning pins – They may be loose, may have previously been “doped”, may require oversized pins, or may require a new pin block. Avoid any piano that shows evidence of having been pounded.

*Pin block – This may be split and is very costly to repair. As it is concealed, experienced judgement is required.

*Action – It may be literally worn out, rendering the piano useless. Rebushing, if necessary, is extremely costly. A complete regulation requires a lot of an expert’s time and is expensive if properly done.

*Hammers – They may be worn out or improperly filed, which necessitates replacement, which is another costly repair.

*Trap work – The internal leverage controls of the expression pedals may need complete overhauling.

*Refinishing – Many people learn the hard way that refinishing a piano is not a do-it-yourself project that could simply be done at home; it requires a lot of hard work and is best left to a skilled craftsman. Good refinishing work is expensive. 

As with every important purchasing decision in life, buying a piano needs careful consideration, research and the help of experts. If you had a bad experience before, I want to urge you not to generalise and think everyone in this trade is the same because of a few bad apples. 

The fact that Werner Stolze Pianos is committed to always delivering a professional service speaks of my passion to protect our trade and prevent that all of us get a bad name.  

Written by Werner Stolze Pianos (WS Pianos known as the Piano Whisperer)