This post was originally published on 6/23/2015.
As a piano technician, I am often called upon to service pianos that people have newly acquired for free. It is usually during our initial phone conversation that my client will inform me that they were "given" a piano or they "found a free piano online." Sometimes these pianos are legitimate, fully-functioning pianos. Most of the time they are not worth the fuel required to haul them to the dump.
If you were searching for a reliable car for yourself, or maybe your child, it is quite likely you would not run for a rusty old car from 1920 simply because it was free. If you did, you would probably understand before buying it that it would need a lot of work to run like new, or to even run at all. Searching for a piano should be no different.
There's just something about old pianos that makes people's hearts warm. The fact is, many old pianos are useless as pianos and are simply large, heavy pieces of decor. Unless they have been meticulously cared for they will likely be extremely flat in pitch. "So tune it," you might say. The problem is, unless the strings have been replaced it likely cannot be tuned to the proper pitch without breaking a lot of strings. So, now your "free" piano is costing you a tuning and the cost to replace many broken strings. Additionally, the action parts will likely be so worn that it does not play properly and needs adjustment, or regulation as we call it in the piano industry. Regulation can make the piano play much better, but at a significant cost.
Already, you have invested more in this piano than you could sell it for. There are likely to be broken or missing parts as well that will increase the amount of money you will have to invest in your "free" piano. The point is, unless you know that the piano has been regularly serviced for many years, you should shy away from free pianos. If you are looking for an adequate, reliable piano, you should expect to pay for it. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying you should never acquire a free piano (I make a living making repairs on them). I am also not trying to imply that a piano is of good quality simply because it is not free. If you do acquire a free piano, expect that there will be some costs to get it working properly.
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