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Buying a Piano: Terminology

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There are, within the British piano industry, certain words used to signify what condition a used piano is in and what work has been done on it. Although nothing is set in stone, these words are often used in advertisements for the discerning purchaser and their meanings are widely recognised by tuners, dealers, renovators, and others in the business of buying, selling, renovating and maintaining pianos.

However, as someone who just wishes to find a piano to buy, you aren't always going to know what these words mean. This Entry is a quick reference guide for when you are skimming through adverts looking for a piano to purchase and call your own.

Obviously you should check the piano yourself to verify all of this information. Never trust the advert entirely. The better sounding the description, the more expensive the piano will be. So if you have a tight budget don't set your sights too high.

General Condition

  • As New: This means exactly what it sounds like. The piano should be immaculate outside and in. You shouldn't be able to distinguish it from a brand new piano. This term should only be used for pianos under ten years old.

  • Exceptional: This term is used for a piano which is As New but is more than ten years old.

  • First Class: Bits and pieces that are worn have been replaced (ie, felts, strings etc). The piano should still be immaculate on the outside, showing no signs of abuse or accident.

  • Good: The term 'good' never sounds particularly wonderful but a piano with this description is perfectly acceptable. The exterior will not necessarily be great but that doesn't mean it's bound to have stains and burns all over it. All of the working parts should function as originally intended, although there will be some signs of wear. A 'good' piano certainly isn't a clapped-out wreck though.

  • Fair: This sounds even worse than 'good'! However, this is the type of second-hand piano that the majority of people will buy. The working parts may be worn, but not to the point of needing immediate replacement. All the notes work and the sound should still be reasonably easy to manipulate, ie, you should be able to change the volume and force of each note without bizarre amounts of effort.

  • No Condition Specified: If none of the above words have been used, that doesn't necessarily mean the piano is a no-go area. Look for a lengthier description of the condition. It may be that the seller felt it necessary to mention a certain fault while the rest of the piano is immaculate, or that they are slightly unsure as to how their piano should be described.

Work Done On The Exterior

Work will not always have been done on a second-hand piano before sale. However, if it has been, then exterior work is limited to the cabinet casework.

  • Tidied Up: Literally a spit and a polish has been done. This doesn't automatically mean the piano was in excellent condition in the first place. The owner may just be lazy, so check the rest of the description as well.

  • Repolished: This sounds a bit better. The casework will have been polished vigorously, although the original finish will not have been stripped. The pedals may either have been cleaned or had the metal caps replaced.

  • Fully Repolished: Now this is some serious work! The entire outside of the piano has been stripped back to the bare wood. Any damage to the case will have been repaired and the piano repolished, either by hand or using a spray. All the exterior metal parts have also been cleaned and polished or replaced. This should look, at least from the outside, like a new piano. It will be sparkly and impressive. But don't let the shininess mislead you, of course.

Work Done On The Interior

Sometimes work doesn't need doing on the interior before sale. If the seller doesn't have the money, time, or knowledge to do any work they will often sell it as is. If there is no description of any interior work done, that doesn't mean the piano is going to be an expensive mess. However, it definitely should have been tuned before you view it.

  • Tidied Up: Little bits and pieces have been tightened, or had bits of card shoved down cracks. But of course you're going to be checking for those bits of card!

  • Renovated: The innards of the piano may have been cleaned and little things have been done to ensure that the keys and pedals work. No major work will have been done to the insides though. The pedals will have been cleaned or recapped, the keys will have been polished, re-glued if need be, or replaced entirely.

  • Reconditioned: Now we're getting into proper work. All of the working parts are sure to be in very good working order, and all worn or broken parts of the action have been replaced or repaired by a professional. There will be no cracks in any of the wooden parts and any repairs will be first-class. If the strings and pins haven't been replaced they will at least be clean, in good condition and be fully tuned.

  • Fully Reconditioned: As well as the things described in the above, the strings and pins will also have been replaced. This is a bit of an odd category though. It is sometimes forgotten and pianos that have 'only' been reconditioned will occasionally have had the strings replaced anyway.

  • Rebuilt: Wow, this piano should be truly magnificent! It must have been a wreck to start with because one or more of the following will have been replaced: the soundboard, action, keys, large amounts of the casework. All of the work described in Reconditioned will also have been done, including repinning and restringing.

Of course, when you are looking at advertisements for pianos more detail may be used, and some descriptions may not be the same. However, these words and phrases are intended as a guide, and you should always investigate and check up on their validity when you view the piano. Advertisements from private sellers will probably either not use these words, or use them with slightly alternative meanings. Professionals in the piano industry will generally use these definitions though.

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