The prices given here for pianos that are not reconditioned or rebuilt (those labeled Worse, Average, Better) are the price ranges you might expect to find when buying pianos from private owners. The Reconditioned and Rebuilt categories represent prices you might encounter when shopping for such pianos at piano stores or from piano technicians, with a warranty given. In some cases we have omitted the Rebuilt price because we would not expect rebuilding to be cost-effective for pianos of that general age and type. In every case, prices assume the least expensive style and finish; prices for pianos with fancier cabinets, exotic veneers, inlays, and so forth, could be much higher.
"Best brands" include Steinway, Mason & Hamlin, and the very best European makes, such as Bechstein, Blüthner, and Bösendorfer. "Better brands" include the well-regarded older names mentioned in the accompanying article for the pre-1930 period, such as Knabe and Chickering; and names such as Baldwin, Everett, Kawai, Sohmer, Yamaha, and others of similar quality for the 1950–1980 period. "Average brands" are pretty much everything else.
Worse, Average, and Better refer to the condition of the piano in comparison to the amount of wear and tear one would expect from the piano's age. However, even Worse pianos should be playable and serviceable. Note that because many buyers are quite conscious of a piano's appearance, pianos that are in good shape musically but in poor shape cosmetically will often sell at a price more consistent with the Worse range than with a higher one. This offers an opportunity for the less furniture-conscious buyer to obtain a bargain.
For a discussion of the definitions of reconditioned and rebuilt, please see the section "Buying a Restored Piano" in this article. For the purposes of this chart, however, we have adopted the requirement that a piano has not been rebuilt unless its pinblock has been replaced, and that a piano that has been restrung, but without a new pinblock, is considered to have been reconditioned. Note that these definitions are not precise, and that both the quality and the quantity of the work can vary greatly, depending on the needs of the instrument and the capabilities of the restorer. These variations should be taken into account when determining the piano's value.
Inspect, Inspect, Inspect
In closing, I'd like to remind you that your best protection against buyer's remorse is having the piano inspected by a piano technician prior to purchasing it, particularly if the piano is more than ten years old. Sometimes it will be sufficient to speak to the seller's technician about the piano, if he or she has serviced it regularly and has reason to believe that he or she will continue servicing it under your ownership. However, in most situations, you'll be better off hiring your own technician. You can find a list of Registered Piano Technicians in your area on the website of the Piano Technicians Guild, www.ptg.org.
If you're serious about buying a used piano, additional information in The Piano Book may be useful to you, including:
- How to remove the outer cabinet parts to look inside the piano
- How to do a preliminary inspection of a piano to rule out those that are not worth hiring a technician to inspect, including an extensive checklist of potential problem areas
- A discussion of issues that frequently come up in regard to the rebuilding of Steinway pianos
- A complete list of older Steinway models, from 1853 to the present
- How to locate the serial number of a piano
- A list of manufacturing dates and serial numbers for Steinway pianos