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I can get a FREE PIANO!

“I found a free/very cheap piano on Craigslist/Facebook. Should I get it?”

Almost every time I hear this question, I'm tempted to cringe. The "free piano" can, on a rare occasion, be a real diamond-in-the-rough find. However, a "free" piano isn't really free. In the best-case scenario, you will have to pay (either in money or your own labor) to move the piano to your house, and pay a piano technician to come tune the piano. At the very least, a "free" piano usually ends up costing around $200. That assuming you move it to your own house yourself, don't break anyone's property (or backs), and that it only needs a basic tune-up to be playable. On the other hand, here are some of the other scenarios I have personally experienced:

  • A couple found a free piano on Craigslist and paid someone $300 to have the piano moved to their house. Then they called us to tune it. I had to deliver the bad news that it couldn't be tuned and would cost $2,000 to fix.

  • A gentleman bought a piano from a friend for $200 and moved it to his house himself. After I cleaned five dead mice out of the action and spent all day performing only the repairs necessary to get all the notes playing, he ended up having almost $700 invested in his "bargain,” which still played poorly.

  • A gentleman bought a "brand-new” Steinway sight-unseen via Facebook Marketplace, for what he thought was a bargain price, and paid $500 to move it to his house. I had to break the news to him that it was actually 45 years old, and that instead of getting a great deal, he had paid the same price a piano store would have charged him, without any of the benefits of buying from a reputable dealer.

  • A family's great-aunt passed away and they asked for her grand piano for their children to take lessons on, without finding what condition it was in first. When we showed up to move it to their house, the legs were falling off, many keys wouldn't play, strings were broken, and it was over a step flat. It needed $5,000 of work to make it a satisfying instrument again.

The moral of the story is: be careful with "bargains." In the piano world, you usually get what you pay for. For every family I know who got themselves a great piano at a bargain price from Craigslist, I know three who payed well over the market value for their piano before it was all said and done. Because of this, I always recommend you have a piano technician evaluate any piano you are considering buying used on the private market BEFORE you make any commitment. Paying a technician $80 up front could save you several hundred or even several thousand dollars down the road.

These pianos were recently posted on Craigslist for free. At first glance, they look pretty good, right? What you can't tell from the picture is that having been outside has caused all the strings to rust, the hammer felts to peel, and the soundboards to crack. The seller said "It just needs a tuning and it will be a great piano!"

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