It is commonly agreed that buying a piano is a significant investment, and this applies to professional musicians, music teachers, or individuals who are just getting started as piano learners. Due to their compact dimensions and their generally affordable prices, upright pianos have become a very popular choice, and as long as they are adequately maintained, second hand upright pianos are an ideal option for many music enthusiasts. This guide will detail every aspect that potential buyers should be aware of when it comes to buying a used upright piano.
A Brief Overview of Upright Pianos
The first pianos date from the beginning of the seventeenth century, when they were first built in Italy. Since their invention, pianos were considered highly valuable musical instruments that only nobles and aristocrats could afford. Historians believe that the first upright piano was built in Austria around 1780. The main difference between a grand piano and an upright piano lies in the reduced dimensions of the upright piano, given that in this type of pianos both the frame and the strings are placed vertically in relation to the floor, in order to save space. Due to this reason, upright pianos are also sometimes known as vertical pianos.
The Main Elements of an Upright Piano
The main elements of an upright piano are:
With very few exceptions, the keyboard of an upright piano will have 88 keys - 52 white and 36 black).
Upright pianos can have their strings laid out in two patterns: straight-strung, if all the strings run vertically, or overstrung, if the strings have been fitted diagonally, forming an x shape. Generally speaking, overstrung upright pianos have an overall better tone than straight-strung, as the strings are longer.
These are wooden pieces whose tip is covered in felt. The hammers come in contact with the strings when the keys are pressed, producing musical notes.
The soundboard is a large wooden piece which transforms the vibration of the strings into musical tones. On upright pianos, the soundboard is located at the back of the instrument.
Upright pianos may have two or three pedals. The purpose of the pedals is to alter the tone and produce certain sound effects. Usually the left pedal will soften notes, while the right pedal will sustain or prolong a sound.
Types of Upright Pianos Available
Although there is a wide range of upright pianos available in the market, most vertical pianos can be classified into four different types according to their size or dimensions. The most common upright piano types are spinet pianos, consoles, studio upright, and upright pianos.
Spinet pianos are usually between 36 and 38 inches high. These pianos are a good choice whenever space issues are involved, and it can be an appropriate option for beginner piano learners. However, it is important to be aware of the fact that due to their smaller size and shorter keys, spinet pianos have a limited bass sound range. Tuning of bass keys is also notoriously difficult to perform in spinet pianos, so it is worth keeping in mind that carrying out maintenance in this type of upright piano can be more expensive.
On the other hand, consoles are considered a medium-sized upright piano, as their height normally ranges between 40 and 42 inches. Although they are still relatively lightweight and compact, their operating mechanism differs slightly from spinet pianos. While spinets produce sound using a drop lever, consoles produce sounds directly over the keys without needing an additional lever, and, therefore, they have a clearer sound quality.
Studio Upright Pianos
Studio upright pianos can measure anything between 45 and 50 inches in height, and their larger dimensions allow for better design, and consequently, for better sound). Lastly, there are upright pianos, which can be up to 60 inches high. These are the largest of all vertical pianos and also the most likely to produce sounds similar to those of a lower-end grand piano, thanks to their longer soundboard and string sets.
It is also possible to come across gig pianos (sometimes known as studio acoustical pianos). These have 65 keys, although the limited key range is compensated for by a longer plate, which produces deeper bass sounds. This type of upright piano is very popular among bands or musicians who need to be very mobile or change venues regularly.
Popular and Reliable Upright Piano Brands
Some reputable upright piano manufacturers include Baldwin, Mason and Hamlin, Steinway, Decker Brothers, Knabe, Yamaha, Henry F. Miller, Steinbach, Kawai, Kemble, Hyundai, Chappell, Steingraeber & Söhne, Fazioli, and Pearl River.
Additional Points to Consider when Buying a Used Upright Piano
Pianos are delicate instruments that require proper care and maintenance. When shopping for a used upright piano, it is essential to ensure that the previous owner has followed a regular maintenance routine so that the piano sounds as good as possible. If the piano has not been used for some time, it is reasonable to expect that it will require tuning, and some wear and tear is not something that should necessarily be taken as a negative point. However, it is important to pay close attention to the following details when inspecting a used upright piano before making a choice:
Review the piano's external appearance. It is important to check the top and both the upper and the bottom panels for any discolouration, as this may indicate that the piano has been exposed to direct sunlight or to humidity, which are two of the worst enemies of these instruments. There should be no cracks, dents, or scratches, as this may suggest that there is damage to internal parts too. Also, look for evidence of woodworm.
Check the Keys
Do all the keys have their keytops? Are the keys sticky or hard to press? Problems like these are not usually serious and can be solved with a routine maintenance job, but if some keys do not play at all, this could indicate a more serious problem.
Check the Dynamic Mechanisms
Is there a buzzing sound when the keys are pressed? This could potentially mean that either the soundboard or the bridge are cracked, and replacing them could be expensive. Likewise, if the sound produced after pressing a key fades in less than 5 seconds, this could point to problems with the soundboard.
Ensure the pedals move easily. Problems with pedals are very common in upright pianos due to their limited dimensions. If pressing the pedals produces a clicking noise, they may need to be adjusted or have the rods replaced.
Remember to check the strings. If they are rusty, chances are that they will break soon. Also, check the hammers, and especially if the felt that covers them. If it is frayed or if the hammers are indented, costly repairs could be in order.
Do not forget to check the pinblock. The pinblock is a plank of hardwood located next to the bridge. Its function is to keep the pins and the strings together, so there should be no rusting, cracking, or splintering in this piece. A damaged pinblock will result in duplicate or uneven pitch, and it must be noted that in many cases, replacing the pinblock could cost almost the same as a used upright piano.
Ask the age of the Piano. While age does not have to be at odds with quality and some people deliberately look for vintage pianos, the fact is that some older upright pianos have certain limitations in terms of design and sound engineering. It is worth remembering that the cost of restoring an older upright piano can easily exceed the market value of the piano itself.
Finding a Used Upright Piano on eBay
Finding a used upright piano on eBay is easy and convenient. Once the main eBay homepage is loaded, click on the All Categories link, which can be found at the top of the left-hand side of the page. This will open a new page. Scroll down and click on Musical Instruments. Upright pianos can be found under the sub-section labelled Keyboard/ Piano by clicking on the Piano link on the left-hand side menu. There will be a Sub-Type menu on the left where Upright can be selected in order to access individual listings. The results can be filtered according to condition, price, seller reputation, and location, which is a very important consideration when it comes to buying a piano, as specialist transport will have to be arranged.
To sum up, a new piano is not always necessarily better than a used piano, as there are some excellent used upright pianos to be had. In addition, every piano has its own sound peculiarities, and these are not always linked to the condition of the piano, so shopping around for the most suitable instrument and paying attention to the details listed in this guide will help find the used upright piano that is just right.