Visit dealers of new pianos
New-piano dealers take used pianos in trade for new ones all the time, and need to dispose of them to recoup the trade-in allowance they gave on the new piano. Although many of the trade-ins will be older pianos, it's quite common for a customer to trade in a piano purchased only a few years earlier for a bigger or better model, leaving a nearly new piano for you to buy at a substantial discount on its price when new. Again, you may pay more than you would from a private party — usually 20 to 30 percent more — but it may be difficult to find something like this from a private party, and the dealer will likely also give some sort of warranty. Some of the best deals I've seen have been acquired this way. If you're also considering the option of buying a new piano, then you'll be able to explore both options with a single visit. On the other hand, sometimes dealers advertise used pianos just to get customers into the store, where they can be sold on a new piano. The used piano advertised may be overpriced, or may no longer be available. When you have a used piano inspected, make sure the technician you hire owes no favors to the dealer who's selling it.
Shopping via the Internet
The best way to use the Internet to shop for a used piano is to look for sellers, both commercial and non-commercial, within driving distance of your home. That way, you can more easily try out the piano, develop a face-to-face relationship with the seller, and get a better sense of whether or not you want to do business with them. Craigslist (www.craigslist.org), though not a piano-specific site, seems to have become the preferred classified-ad site for this purpose, as it’s both free and is organized by city. If you travel frequently, you should check out sellers in other cities, too—easy to do on Craigslist. Other popular piano classified-ad sites include www.pianoworld.com (which also has extensive forums for exchanging information and getting answers to your questions), www.pianomart.com (smartly organized for easy searching), www.pianobroker.com, and our own Piano Buyer Classifieds (www.pianobuyer.com), which uses the Pianomart database and search engine. These sites either charge a monthly fee to list or a small commission upon sale, but are free to buyers.
You’ll also find pianos for sale on the Internet auction site eBay. Search on a variety of keywords, as each keyword will bring up a different group of pianos for sale. This can be frustrating, as either too broad or too specific a search term may yield unsatisfactory results. The bidding process generally provides a window of time during which you can contact the seller for more information, see the piano, and have it inspected before placing a bid. This is definitely not a good way to buy a piano unless you have the opportunity to first try out the piano and have it inspected. On both eBay and the classified-ad sites mentioned above, many listings that appear to be non-commercial will actually turn out to have been placed by commercial sellers, who may have many more pianos for sale than the one in the ad you answered.
The website of the Piano Technicians Guild (www.ptg.org) has a listing of dealer websites and other resources that may be useful in locating used or restored pianos. If your situation is such that finding a local source of used pianos is unlikely, one reliable source that ships nationwide is Rick Jones Pianos in Beltsville, Maryland (www.rickjonespianos.com).
If you’re thinking of making a long-distance purchase, the precautions mentioned in the section “Shopping Long-Distance via the Internet,” in the article “Piano Buying Basics,” bear repeating: First, take into account the cost of long-distance shipping and consider whether it’s really worth it. If buying from a commercial source, find out as much as you can about the dealer. Get references. If you haven’t actually seen the piano, get pictures of it. Hire a technician in the seller’s area to inspect the piano and ask the technician about a commercial seller’s reputation. Make sure the dealer has experience in arranging long-distance moves, and uses a mover that specializes in pianos. Find out who will be responsible for tuning and adjusting the piano in your home, and for repairing any defects or dings in the finish. Get the details of any warranty, especially who is responsible for paying the return freight if the piano is defective. Find out how payment is to be made in a way that protects both parties.
In this age of the Internet, it's important not to forget older, more conventional methods of networking that still work, such as placing and answering classified print ads in local newspapers and want-ad booklets; and posting and answering notices on bulletin boards anywhere people congregate, such as houses of worship, community centers, laundromats, etc. Other, more aggressive, techniques include contacting movers and storage warehouses to see if they have any pianos abandoned by their owners; attending auctions; contacting attorneys and others who handle the disposition of estates; and just plain old asking around among coworkers, friends, and acquaintances.