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Used Upright Piano Purchase in $500-$1k Range? (Read 3412 times)

Offline maxyim

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Used Upright Piano Purchase in $500-$1k Range?
« on: July 14, 2015, 08:39:47 PM »
Hey everyone.  In your opinion, if I had $500-$1000 to spend on a used upright (before tuning and moving), what models should I seek out?  Looking for deep bass for classical (mainly Rachmaninoff, Scriabin), reliability (will hold a tune), and as far away from "bright" sound as possible.

I am an amateur so not looking for top dollar or brand name.  Currently playing on a Mehlin & Sons spinet that I rebuilt myself (plastic elbows were breaking, replaced with polycarbonate, fun weekend) but it's just not cutting it for Scriabrin D#minor.

Also, approx how much should I look to get for the Mehlin?  It's in decent condition; about time to tune but I have been in "tentatively looking for replacement" mode so have not invested the cash.  Can likely get by with it for a bit longer, it's by no means terrible on sound, just not as deep and expressive as I would like.

Thanks in advance for your help!

Offline schubert960

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Re: Used Upright Piano Purchase in $500-$1k Range?
«Reply #1 on: July 14, 2015, 09:57:28 PM »
I'm not in the US so a lot of this probably won't apply but here it's very difficult to get a quality upright for anything less than 2000 (around $3100.) What you will find at that price point are Yamaha B1s, Chinese makes like Steinmayer, Waldstein, Weber, maybe Kemble. I paid roughly 3000 for my (used) Yamaha U1.
When I was searching for pianos I did see used Baldwin uprights for around 500 which could suit your purpose. However they were from private homes and if I were you, looking to spend $1000, (which is a lot of money but probably won't buy you a whole lot of piano) I'd save up until I could buy something from a dealer that was warrantied. My U1 would equate to around $4000 but it's grey market so you'd probably find them much cheaper in the US. You could also look at Pearl River models in that price range, used Kawai, etc - they'd make much better pianos and you'd be much happier than if you were to buy a so-so piano for $1000.

Offline dogperson

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Re: Used Upright Piano Purchase in $500-$1k Range?
«Reply #2 on: July 14, 2015, 10:52:18 PM »
The availability and price in the US varies widely by area.  I would suggest you start on Craig's list.  if you find a possible piano, go play it..  If it passes your superficial trial,and this is CRITICAL, pay a good technician to do a thorough inspection.  I have bought two pianos this way, with no buyer's remorse.  You just cannot bypass the inspection.

Like you, I wanted a very deep tone, so my newest piano is a 1900. Others can help with newer pianos with this tone.

Offline maxyim

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Re: Used Upright Piano Purchase in $500-$1k Range?
«Reply #3 on: July 14, 2015, 11:03:32 PM »
Thank you both.  Yeah, I am diligently looking on Craigslist.  Running a search on every brand name to try to get a bit of history; there was a great blog post by a lady about the history of the majority of brands somewhere but I lost it... :( in any event, my current impression is that the "sticker" brands and most older stuff out of Asia would not be worth my drive, also anything that is too old (but you say that you have a 1900?? what brand?).  Anyway, that is my current impression and I was hoping to refine it further.

Offline dogperson

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Re: Used Upright Piano Purchase in $500-$1k Range?
«Reply #4 on: July 14, 2015, 11:23:08 PM »
Thank you both.  Yeah, I am diligently looking on Craigslist.  Running a search on every brand name to try to get a bit of history; there was a great blog post by a lady about the history of the majority of brands somewhere but I lost it... :( in any event, my current impression is that the "sticker" brands and most older stuff out of Asia would not be worth my drive, also anything that is too old (but you say that you have a 1900?? what brand?).  Anyway, that is my current impression and I was hoping to refine it further.

A 1900 Stieff (small company around turn of century).  Bought if for a steal, but knowing it would take (eventually) $2,000 to make it prime.  The other thought is try the used pianos in a oiano store to narrow down the brand . On Craig's list, can't you just search by 'upright piano' and then browse the listings?  just a thought

Here is one link to brands.. I had a better one at one time.  I will send it if I can find it

http://www.keytarhq.com/piano-brands.html


Offline indianajo

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Re: Used Upright Piano Purchase in $500-$1k Range?
«Reply #5 on: July 15, 2015, 02:22:39 AM »
I'm not in the US so a lot of this probably won't apply but here it's very difficult to get a quality upright for anything less than 2000 (around $3100.) What you will find at that price point are Yamaha B1s, Chinese makes like Steinmayer, Waldstein, Weber, maybe Kemble. I paid roughly 3000 for my (used) Yamaha U1.
When I was searching for pianos I did see used Baldwin uprights for around 500 which could suit your purpose. However they were from private homes and if I were you, looking to spend $1000, (which is a lot of money but probably won't buy you a whole lot of piano) I'd save up until I could buy something from a dealer that was warrantied. My U1 would equate to around $4000 but it's grey market so you'd probably find them much cheaper in the US. You could also look at Pearl River models in that price range, used Kawai, etc - they'd make much better pianos and you'd be much happier than if you were to buy a so-so piano for $1000.
I've bought a piano from a home (steinway 40) and a $50 spinette from Salvation Army resale, I do the inspection myself. There are dozens of brands from the fifties and sixties that can be had for $1000 or less, but the quality brands tend to be bright.  I like Baldwin Acrosonic, Baldwin Hamilton, Sohmer, Mason & Hamlin, Steinway, Wurlitzer, Cable Nelson, Grinnell Bros.  You won't like any of these, they are bright pianos.  some of the cheap Wurlitzers are a little dull sounding but the scales are not all that good.  Cheap console pianos have more missing dampers on the treble and the strings don't go above the hammers on treble much. The short string scales are harder to tune by ear in octaves, the overtones don't match up like the longer string units. I tuned the bargain Wurlitzer in the fellowship hall downtown, to an extension speaker off the Allen organ.  You hear the fundamental over 61 keys and 24 pedals, I can tune to it accurately.  A fifties baldwin hamilton, I can tune it effectively in octaves by ear from the pitch stable bass notes.      
The 2007 Yamaha 44 studio piano at church is dull and insipid enough for you, but the bass is puke sounding also.  Before Yamaha, there were Everetts, that tended to have a good action but a dull and  boring tone. My mother's 1947 Everett 40 console held tune very well, but the tone was really understated.  
For superior bass and a dull tone, at the $50 to $100 price,  look for a 1910-1938 upright piano, the 44 to 48" tall ones.  The heavier the better, the more wood they stuffed in, the duller the tone is.  These uprights tend to weigh 400-500 lb and piano movers charge extra to move them around.  Brand name doesn't matter much for quality, they were built from kits from wholesalers before the depression.  Some had great actions some had ****, you have to sort out the 100's of brands yourself by playing repeated notes to see how fast they are, and play soft to see if the action is consistent.  Most of those old uprights hold tune like the pins were welded in.  You'll see Kid rock's band (at Graceland, PBS) playing a plain twenties upright for the bright tone, whereas the pricier uprights at Salvation Army resale have 100 lb of decorative woodwork on the front and a much duller tone.  
Watch out for laminated pin blocks if you like dull tone, I find my  1982 sohmer 39 has a laminated pinblock and is very bright sounding, whereas the 1941 Steinway 40 is a little less loud but the tuning is very stable.  The 41 Steinway has a solid maple pin block, after I got the  tuning up to pitch (6 passes) in 2011 the pitch was okay until 2014 winter. the 82 Sohmer needs tuning yearly or more if I don't aircondition in the summer.    
If you want to buy a modern import for dull sound, be sure to check the consistency of the action playing very soft notes.  I played an imported nineties "wurlitzer" (general music) at a students home, the soft touch was so inconsistent as to be unusable. The 195? $50 Wurlitzer spinnet from DeKalb IL I bought last month at SA, the action is very consistent.  The $50 spinet is dull enough sounding for you but the bass, as all spinets, is nothing to write home about.    
I'm glad you other posters live in London or the eastern metroplex where you have hot and cold running techs.  The tech that worked at the Steinway dealer here in the eighties, he was tuning my Sohmer 1/4 tone flat, and his prescription for the pin that went flat in two weeks after he left was a damp chaser unit.  Totally useless that guy was, the damp chaser did nothing but evaporate quarts of  water here 1/2 mile from the Ohio river in a non-air conditioned home.  I got some double sticky tape for the loose pin hole last year from Steve's Piano Service. $5.   (I got a $800 "scratch and dent" discount on the Sohmer, and I lived 250 miles from the dealer so he told me there was no warrenty at the price he gave me).  And the tech now in this town that advertises on classical FM radio , he tuned  a 1920's upright for a minister I know, and quoted them $2000 to "completely restore" it.  I played it, it has been lightly used and I wonder what issues he was worried about. Nothing I could detect in 10 minutes playing.  My 1941 Steinway has more issues than that 1920's upright. For a $5000 discount from the  listed 41 Steinway on e-bay (good reputation) in NY state, I'll deal with my action issues as I learn how. 
I'll check my old pianos myself before purchase, thank you.  Speed of repetition with two fingers on one note fast enough for me, hammers and dampers not worn in the middle, no mouse chewed damage, no pins a lot flatter than the others, no sticky keys,  no missing strings, or missing treble strings only for a big discount, no hammers or action parts warped by water exposure, no action parts wiggling from side to side.  (The $50 Wurlitzer spinet I bought last month is not that fast, but fast enough to put in a trailer at my summer camp that is un-heated or cooled summer or winter and might develop roof problems any time.) On a used piano candidate  I do allow not working pedals, usually something unhooked in the last move, missing key tops, and good sounding spliced strings.  All these minor problems I can fix myself. I allow vile, but uniformly flat (treble) tuning, that is to be expected for the best bargains.    
Or you can throw money at a dealer or flipper.  The dealer tuning adds $500-700, and that pretty story the good looking salesman tells is definitely worth $2000 more.   That is how my church ended up with that ****y 2007 Yamaha studio  from "the dealer with the beautiful green eyes" as one happy Yamaha purchaser (a woman) put it.  The Yamaha studio sounds like it is under 6' of mud, I won't even sing with it.

Offline irrational

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Re: Used Upright Piano Purchase in $500-$1k Range?
«Reply #6 on: July 15, 2015, 09:10:37 AM »
I don't know if you get them in the USA, but I have owned 2 R. Gors and Kallmann pianos from the 1920's. They have a very nice warm sound and play decently well. Take note that they should have the "R." in front as the later Gors and Kallmann are bad cheapies. That could be in your price range.

Offline lhorwinkle

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Re: Used Upright Piano Purchase in $500-$1k Range?
«Reply #7 on: July 15, 2015, 10:32:45 PM »
I think most of the sub-$1000 used uprights are of poor quality, and many are just junk.  But there are gems to be found ... if you're patient.

It's already been said that you should use a qualified piano technician to check the condition of the piano. If that costs $100, so what? The risk of buying a junk piano (without your knowing it's junk) is quite high. Let a tech evaluate the condition.

Also, allow for at least $100 for movers.  Pianos are heavy.

Also, allow $100 to $150 for a first tuning.  And another after perhaps a month.

So ... that $1000 piano is now at $1300 to $1400, eh? Them's the breaks.

Note: I only use $1000 as a reference.  When someone wants to shed a piano, he might price it at $1000. Or $500. Or $200.  The variation is enormous.  But even for $200 ... you still need a tech to evaluate.

Finally ... before using the tech, do an unskilled test drive of the piano. If it's mostly out of tune, it may have not been tuned for many years.  If so it just might be an expensive piece of useless furniture.

Also, look at the serial number.  How?  Look here:  http://www.concertpitchpiano.com/SerialNumberUpright.html

Then look up the serial number online.  How?  Look here:  http://www.bluebookofpianos.com/pianoage.html

There you'll find the piano's year of manufacture. A piano over 40 years old is likely junk, unless it has been rebuilt (not likely).  In which case, skip the technician ... and skip that piano.

Offline indianajo

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Re: Used Upright Piano Purchase in $500-$1k Range?
«Reply #8 on: July 16, 2015, 12:01:02 AM »
I think most of the sub-$1000 used uprights are of poor quality, and many are just junk.  But there are gems to be found ... if you're patient.

It's already been said that you should use a qualified piano technician to check the condition of the piano. If that costs $100, so what? The risk of buying a junk piano (without your knowing it's junk) is quite high. Let a tech evaluate the condition.

Also, allow for at least $100 for movers.  Pianos are heavy.

Also, allow $100 to $150 for a first tuning.  And another after perhaps a month.

So ... that $1000 piano is now at $1300 to $1400, eh? Them's the breaks.

Note: I only use $1000 as a reference.  When someone wants to shed a piano, he might price it at $1000. Or $500. Or $200.  The variation is enormous.  But even for $200 ... you still need a tech to evaluate.

Finally ... before using the tech, do an unskilled test drive of the piano. If it's mostly out of tune, it may have not been tuned for many years.  If so it just might be an expensive piece of useless furniture.

There you'll find the piano's year of manufacture. A piano over 40 years old is likely junk, unless it has been rebuilt (not likely).  In which case, skip the technician ... and skip that piano.
I disagree with nearly every opinion you hold.  What piano dealer do you work at? or are you a tech looking for business?  There are websites where the answer to every piano question is "hire a qualified piano tech certified by the (some alphabet organization).  
Certainly, pianos that haven't been tuned in 40 years, can be tuned and can sound good after 4-6 passes.  I've done it, And no, I'm not certified by anybody, nor did I pass a xx year apprenticeship program. I just did it, and did it again if the results weren't good enough.  
And wood doesn't deteriorate by sitting still, which most home owned pianos spent 99.99999% of their lives doing.  Some 1900-40 pianos have trouble with the glue on the clevices, but again the ones I've seen in that condition have been in a minority.  
At least pianos 50-120 years old were built of maple cherry and spruce, which 99.99% of the wonder products of are modern age are not.  
I play, in the churches in and around Jeffersonville IN, two 1950's Baldwin Hamilton 44s, two 1950's Baldwin  Acrosonics 40's, A 1970's Wurlitzer studio 44, A 1970's Wurlitzer 40.  In that fleet there is one key that sticks a little in certain weather and a damper pedal that doesn't release fast enough.  I own a 1941 Steinway 40, a 1982 Sohmer 39, and a 1950's Wurlitzer 36 spinet.  In that fleet there are 2 keys that stick permanently (top two on the $50 spinet) one jack that sticks in certain weather,  one hammer that double strikes faintly (the Steinway) and one hammer shaft I broke after at least 1000 hours of practice after I bought the Steinway.  
I've also played or listened to two Yamaha 44 studio pianos from 2005 or later, a seventies Kawai, and a post globalization "Wurlitzer" 40.  I refuse to play any but the Kawai again, for bad tone and inconsistent action soft on the General Music "wurlitzer" import.  The Yamahas are just BORING
Stop by the charity dinner at 1130 AM on Saturday at Maple and Walnut in Jeffersonville IN, I might show you what a 55 year old Acrosonic that I've never even tuned can sound like.  Or stop in  any summer Sunday service on Market St in Otisco IN; I tuned that Hamilton roughly with one tuning fork,  and now have after hours access for a second pass at tuning it.  

Offline dogperson

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Re: Used Upright Piano Purchase in $500-$1k Range?
«Reply #9 on: July 16, 2015, 12:34:59 AM »
My 115  year old upright is awesome.. yes, it did take frequent tuning for awhile but now maintains an A440.  I expected the tuning frequency because it had been banquished to the garage, and no one had any idea of the last tuning.

 The quality can't be beat. WN%G action, great soundboard and wood.  My tech is not an antique piano fan, but acknowledges the construction is outstanding.  I certainly didn't buy it for the cabinet but African mahogany is certainly not a negative. The real plus for me is the deep sonorous tone, as I am not a 'chirpy' tone person.

  It is really so much of a personal decision, but like everything 'inspect and make an informed decision'. I am not trying to move anyone over to the 'dark side', but just wanted to stress to be patient for what you want and be informed.  Old can be good..........