So, we’re going to pick up where we left off from the last Free Pianos post, where you’ve found your piano, and got it home.
Luckily, you didn’t break anything or hurt yourself moving the piano. So you call your piano teacher over, and she tells you that it is horribly out of tune, and there are a number of keys that don’t work. You say, “well, it’s just for little Susie to get started on…I think it’ll be OK.” Your teacher, in the nicest way possible, tells you that, no, it’s not OK, and if the piano is out of tune, little Susie’s ears will not train correctly to hear the right pitches, and if the keys don’t work correctly, then her technique will not develop properly. Your friendly piano teacher gives you the name and number of her piano tuner, and says for you to please call him at once.
So you call the piano tuner, relate your story, and set up an appointment. When the piano tuner arrives, he advises you that the piano probably hasn’t been tuned in at least 20 years, possibly longer, and there are a number of mechanical problems that will need to be recitified before the piano is useable for a student. The tuning will require a pitch raise, which is essentially a double tuning in one sitting, in order to bring all of the strings into a relative pitch with each other, and then another tune to raise them some of the way toward standard pitch. It wil take 3-5 more tunings to get the piano all the way to standard pitch, and to get it to hold at that tension reasonably well. In addition, there are a number of small wooden and felt parts that need to be replaced, as they are dry rotted from years of neglect, and there are signs of mouse infestation from some point in the past (evidenced by the nest built under the keys, as well as the droppings everywhere inside). He says that all is not lost, though, and yes, once cleaned up and serviced out, that yes, this will be a perfectly decent and serviceable piano. The fees will break down like this:
- Pitch raise: $250.00
- Cleaning/removal of mouse remains/vacuuming/disinfecting: $100.00
- Mechanical repairs/replacement of damaged felts: $300.00
- Total cost, initial visit: $650.00.
- Additional tunings: $125.00 each, minimum of 3-5 more to get to standard pitch, total $375.00-625.00.
Going forward, to keep the piano at pitch, the piano will require service every six months, at a fee of $125 per visit.
Suddenly, our free piano doesn’t seem like such a bargain anymore. And, sadly, there is no amount of work that you can put into an upright piano that will increase its value. Pianos that people have in their homes do not appreciate in value, so any money spent on maintaining one is simply a cost that you have to bear. And, the other sad fact is, I was not simply making up these numbers. This is very, very typical of most free pianos, and bears out time and time again, and has for years.
So…. what should you do, then?
For a beginning student, my strongest recommendation is to buy a digital piano.
The upside is that there is only a moderate initial investment. $500-1000 will get you a very decent model that plays and sounds very nice. Also, they are lightweight, easily moved around the house if need be, and the volume can be turned up and down as needed, or headphones plugged in for silent practice. The biggest draw, however, for most people, seems to be that they do not require any tuning or maintenance of any kind. You simply turn it on to play, and turn it off when you’re done.
What if we really want an acoustic piano? Resist the urge to buy one for now. Your beginning student will be better off with a good quality digital piano that plays right and sounds good. It will be quite some time before little Susie starts playing very nuanced music that would require an acoustic piano (music of this type really needs a grand piano, anyway, so even then, an upright wouldn’t really do). There will be plenty of time down the road to invest in a new piano. If she doesn’t take to lessons very well right now, you can put a digital piano aside for awhile; stick in a closet, or under a bed. There’s no way to do that with an acoustic piano. Also, if you decide that piano is not for little Susie at all, you can more often than not sell a digital piano, whereas you will have to give away your acoustic piano.
Are you interested in a digital piano? Let me know, and I can help you find one. Good luck in your musical journey, and thanks for reading.