When our grandparents were young, every middle-class family either had a piano or aspired to own one. Nowadays…more students study music formally than ever before, but far fewer pianos are produced each year. The advent of quality digital instruments has made an acoustic instrument seem less necessary for many families and has for the most part supplanted the “budget” segment of the piano market. And untold thousands of pianos produced in the golden age of American manufacturing have outlived their owners and are enjoying continued use in the homes of second-, third-, or even fourth-hand owners.


Many of our students are lucky enough to have inherited pianos that have been in the family for a long time. Sometimes it is a blessing to receive a piano from a family member—but sometimes it is not! These gift instruments may have special emotional meaning for the family, and a well-made piano that’s well-cared for should last in playable condition for one hundred years. If you have a piano that was brought into the family in 1920, remember that you are at the end of its life span. You are fast approaching the time when you have to decide to either junk the instrument, or invest a serious amount of cash ($1000++) in major renovations. Spinets, consoles, and smaller grands (under 5’6”) are rarely worth saving. Many full sized uprights (50” +/-) and larger grands may worth saving. It will depend on the cost of the needed repair and/or rebuilding and the value and quality of the instrument that will result. Only a good piano technician can give advice that is specifically applicable to a particular instrument.


Lest you be fearful that our standards are too high, I should reassure you that most old pianos are fine for student purposes—and in fact are almost always preferable to digital keyboards. Having all keys and pedals in working order, a pinblock and strings that can hold their tune, and an action that isn’t horribly out of regulation are the only major requirements. If you’re wondering whether your old piano is suitable for your level and goals, or if it is a possible candidate for major repairs, I’d be happy to talk it over with you. I’m also happy to take a “virtual” look at a piano you may be considering for purchase. I can’t tell you what to buy or what to rebuild, but I can steer you towards quality instruments, and away from questionable ones.


Music study is a long-term endeavor, and if you think that your piano is nearing the end of its lifespan, or if you’re still practicing on a digital keyboard or spinet, the time to plan for upgrades is now, even if the purchase decision may be a couple years in the future. While an old clunker is usually acceptable for you to begin lessons with, a higher quality instrument will have a substantial and positive impact on your progress over time.


We have a separate article on piano buying basics that may be a good place to start your research.

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