via helenair.com, written by John Dorr, a piano technician and private music instructor
I get a lot of calls from people who just obtained a free, giveaway piano. They’ll want me to come out and tune and/or inspect it with an eye towards its restoration. Sometimes these pianos are real gems; they’ll tune up nicely and play well. Good deal! However, often a giveaway piano is given away because it hasn’t been played in years or the owner knows that it is need of some repairs and is not interested in putting any money into it.
(Non)Buyer Beware! That long-neglected piano is almost assuredly so far from being “at pitch” that a tuning will likely involve a pre-tuning pass known as a pitch, or pressure, correction — maybe two — before it’s tuneable. That’s an added expense.
An extra-charge tuning is just the beginning of the possible bad news, though. If there are repairs to be made, such as action adjustments, bear in mind that a five-minute repair on ONE key equals almost four hours when you multiply it by 88 if that repair/adjustment is needed on ALL keys. Small things necessary for your new free piano can soon become larger investments!
The above scenario assumes that you have a tuneable piano, too. Sadly, sometimes when I look at a customer’s new “free” piano, I have to inform them that it just USED TO BE a piano, but now it’s only a piano shaped object. Certain structural defects can render a good-looking piano untuneable. Pinblocks can be too loose, plates can be broken, soundboards may have severely separated ribs and cracks, and strings can be rusted, worn, and ready to break when pulled up to pitch. Some of these problems can be fixed, some are feasible; you could buy a NEW piano for the costs of some of these repairs.
If you get the worst news as described in the paragraph above, now you undoubtedly have three or four strong friends who helped you move it to your house who’ll swear never to move a piano again! Especially YOURS.
So how do you pre-check a free piano and get an idea of whether it’s useable or not? Or how much it may cost to get it to perform up to your expectations? First — don’t just the piano by its case. “Case in Point” (pun intended): I have a BEAUTIFUL old upright piano that is a “piano shaped object” only. Matter of fact, anyone reading this who aspires to make a bar, a toolbox, or other use of this piano is welcome to call me and I’ll give it to you for free.
The best thing to do with any used piano purchase, or giveaway piano, is to have a piano technician inspect it before you take it. Many people rely on their piano teachers to look at the prospective pianos and evaluate them. Truth is, there aren’t many judgments a teacher can make about the mechanics and the structure of the piano. Teachers generally just play and listen. If all the keys play well and reliably, and if the sound of the piano is reasonable, it may get no further inspection. A technician may take from 30 minutes to an hour to disassemble much of the piano to make a thorough inspection and present you with a condition report, so you’ll know what to expect when he or she comes to service it. There will be a charge for this service but it’s cheap insurance against expensive disappointments. And sometimes, the charges for the inspection may be credited against future repairs.
Read more here