If your piano has not been well maintained, needs major repairs, and/or its cabinet does not look good, then it will be more difficult to find a nonprofit organization that will take the piano as a donation. The rest of this article discusses options for this type of piano.
The Piano Donation Project
Many pianos can have their touch and tone improved by a piano technician or be restored by a piano rebuilder. If the instrument was of high quality when manufactured, then repair or rebuilding are viable options that can result in superior looks, sound, feel, quality, and resale value. This is especially true of many vintage pianos of American and German origin; they were often built to last, and were constructed with high-quality woods that are scarce and expensive today.
My company, Piano Finders, has a Piano Donation Project that helps place pianos with nonprofit organizations. We don't charge for the service, but offer it as a benefit to our clients, who have often paid us for an appraisal or consultation and are considering what to do with their pianos. This project helps save and restore pianos that are well built and still have market value, but are in need of minor to major repairs or rebuilding. If you have a piano that has not been tuned or maintained, or needs some work, but is a good instrument with value and potential, then we may be able to find a sponsor who will bring the condition of the instrument up to a state where it can be used or resold by a nonprofit to benefit its programs. A sponsor can be a piano rebuilder who performs the repair work, or an individual or organization that cares about music and pianos and pays to have the work done. From pianos offered for donation, Piano Finders selects those we feel will be good investments for the nonprofit organizations we work with. Once the work is completed, the piano is either sold to raise funds for the nonprofit organization or is put to use in the nonprofit's programs. If sold, the piano receives a new life in the home of a family or individual who plays and appreciates the piano, or within a deserving organization. Piano Finders works with nonprofits across the country.
Converting a Piano to Furniture or Art
Even when the piano's innards may be ready for disposal, its cabinet might be a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, with carvings and high-quality woods. If you think that parts of your piano's case would make a beautiful piece of furniture, such as a desk, cabinet, or coffee table, you could hire a furniture builder or piano rebuilder to convert those parts into something that will be useful and a work of art. Included here are photos of some examples from the portfolio of craftsman Frank Bidinger, who has converted old uprights and square grands into beautiful works of furniture art. (Bidinger, a former employee of Piano Finders, now runs his own rebuilding business in San Ramon, California. He can be contacted through Piano Finders.)
Sometimes, the opposite is true: The cabinet may not be worth much, but the piano's parts — hammers, keys, legs, strings, hardware — can be turned into imaginative pieces of art and sculpture. See www.pianoasart.com for impressive examples of this new art form.
A piano can be recycled by removing and breaking down its parts — wood, steel wire, screws, cast iron, etc. — for reuse. Recycling is usually done locally, as the cost of transporting a complete piano can be prohibitive; check to see if someone in your area recycles pianos. Sometimes, electronics recyclers also take pianos.
If your local recyclers don't take pianos but will accept their disassembled parts, then you can take the piano apart yourself or, better yet, pay an expert to do it. (Piano parts can be heavy and strings are under high tension; unless you know what you're doing, some danger is involved.) Companies that do building demolition and work with construction sites usually know who can take the cast-iron frame, the heaviest part of the piano. Wood can go to a piano shop or high school wood shop, to be used for making new things. Ivories can go to a piano technician or piano-rebuilding shop. Steel wire, copper, and hardware can often be recycled. However, finding out where to send the various parts of the piano for recycling can be time consuming.
You could also ask a local service club — Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, etc. — if they'd be willing to do this as a service project. Advertise to the public a weekend of piano recycling, rent a workspace, and hire a piano rebuilder to work with the club's volunteers to disassemble pianos. It often costs more to recycle than to send something to the trash — but if people care about the wood, ivory, and cast iron that went into a piano's construction, and the many memories that a piano contributed to over its life, why not have a big party to celebrate its passage from life as a piano to a new life of helping to make other things of value? Local dealers, teachers, and technicians might decide to be sponsors of the event, which could be connected to a sale of new pianos, a concert by a local symphony, or another musical event happening in the community. The event could also be partnered with the city or county recycling programs, to promote the concept of recycling.
Karen Lile is co-owner, with Kendall Bean, of Piano Finders, a San Francisco Bay–area piano appraisal, brokerage, and rebuilding firm. See their website at www.PianoFinders.com.