Check Craigslist any day of the week and you will find a free piano – yours for the taking.
Sounds awesome, right? A piano? For free? Score!
Not so fast.
“Literally every single day at least one person calls offering us a free piano or asking where they can get rid of it for free,” said Joe Illos of Illos Piano Restorations and Music Center on Main Street in Buffalo.
That’s because giving a piano away is a heck of a lot cheaper than paying someone a couple hundred dollars to haul it to the dump.
In many, many cases, a piano you find for free on Craigslist is not in playable condition and won’t be without a significant investment.
“Most of these instruments are worth restoring. They’re so well made that they’re still better than the new ones that are being made to be affordable today,” said Illos. “The question is whether a family who is just looking for a decent piano wants to spend a couple thousand dollars to do it.”
In fact, even if you find a completely sound piano for free, it’s still likely to cost you hundreds of dollars before you even play your first note.
Unless you have three linebacker friends who like you enough to spend an afternoon lugging around a thousand awkward pounds for you, you’ll probably end up paying a piano mover to get the thing through the front door.
Yes, they really are that difficult to move. I know what you’re thinking: “But it has wheels!” Yes, it does. But those wheels function as little more than decoration. They’re not made to move the piano across the living room, let alone across the street.
Even if you can rope someone into fetching a piano for you, there’s a risk the instrument will be damaged, which will cost you more money in repairs.
It’s best to call the professionals, who use specialized equipment to pack, load and transport it without putting stress on the legs or knocking the workings out of alignment. A professional move will run $100 to $200 or more, depending on moving distance.
Once you’ve got your piano home, it will need to be tuned. That will cost $80 to $100 and is something that has to be done once or twice a year.
If your piano has sat untuned for a while, there’s a good chance you will need to have it “raised to pitch” before that initial tune-up, which will run another $50.
So what can you do to minimize the risks you’ll bring home a lemon?
Where was the piano stored? If it was stored in a barn, an unfinished basement, a garage or an enclosed porch, forget it. Pianos need to be stored in a climate-controlled, dry place and are very sensitive to humidity and moisture.
Who has been playing it and for how long? The type of use a piano has gotten is more telling than its age. If, say, the piano is coming from a music school that has had kids banging on the keys eight hours a day for the past 10 years, it’s probably pretty worn out and due for an overhaul.
Who is the maker? If it’s one of the classic brands – Steinway & Sons, Baldwin, Yamaha – you’re off to a good start. While less-venerated brands can be excellent and a piano with a famous name can be a stinker, something like a Steinway will hold its resale value better over time. If you do end up investing in it or making it an heirloom, brand is something you might want to consider.
Who does your tune-ups? This serves a couple of purposes. First of all, if the person doesn’t have a piano technician they deal with, you’ll know they probably haven’t been caring for the instrument properly. If you can get the tech’s name, call him or her up, and ask about the piano’s history and condition. The tech will know whether the piano is due for any upgrades or repairs, and whether it already contains newer replacement parts that might help it function better and extend its life.
Can I come take a look? Even if you don’t know anything about pianos, there are a few things you can look for. Is the wood gouged or scratched? Sure, sanding and staining are an easy enough fix, but those battle scars on the outside don’t bode well for the inside. It’s also an indication of how the piano has been taken care of over the years.
Check out the felt on the hammers. If they have string indentations or are very flat, they’re probably going to need to be replaced. Can you see mold or a water line, as if the piano has lived through a flooded basement? Run, don’t walk.
Ask yourself, “Am I taking this just because it’s free?” If the answer is yes, you might want to look for other things you can get for free – like the flu.
To make the best decision about whether to take a free piano, hire a professional to go out with you and evaluate the instrument. Many companies that offer piano tuning also offer this service for about $50 to $100. Taking about 15 minutes to an hour, they will look at the piano inside and out and assess its condition. They will be able to tell how well it will hold its tune, whether it’s playable or how much money it might take to get it into decent shape.
If you really are in the market for a piano and are willing to spend the money it may take to bring yours up to speed, taking a free one should be just one of the options you consider.
Look at buying a secondhand piano from a reputable dealer. The price of the piano will likely include delivery, its first tuning and– most importantly – a guarantee. Finding a free piano
A few places to look
• PianoAdoption.com. A site that helps people find homes for their unused pianos. Choose New York State from the list at the left and see what’s available near you. Most listings have detailed descriptions and photos. Some listers are even willing to pay moving fees.
• Classified ads. Open the newspaper or visit www.buffalonews.com/section/classifieds and click on “thrifties” or do a keyword search for “piano.”
• Craigslist.org. Click “free” under the heading “for sale” or type “piano” in the search box.
• Freecycle.org. A site that lets people post items they would like to give away for free.
– Samantha Maziarz Christmann