Upright piano. Free. Belonged to my grandmother but we don't have room for it anymore. Just needs a tuning.
Seller: Four hundred bucks for the junk removal people to take it to the Sechelt dump? Yikes. I'll just give it away. Then I don't have to spend a dime.
Buyer: Four hundred bucks (or thereabouts) to move a piano? What if I get it here and call Andrea to come tune it and she tells me it's not even tuneable?
Cracked soundboard, detached bridge, loose pins, water damage to hammers, strings that will all break if you try to bring them up to pitch ... just a few of the problems you can find in an old piano.
So a "free" piano still costs money, and those looking to acquire a piano on the Sunshine Coast are wary of sinking money into something that will prove to be nothing more than a gigantic plant stand. (Please note: It is never a good idea to place plants on top of your piano!)
That is the story here in on the Sunshine Coast, anyway. An old Heintzman upright will be purchased for over a thousand bucks in Whitehorse, for example, where they still have to be dragged over the Chilkoot Trail. Okay, not really, but still. It's a long way from the land of piano plenty.
People often call me when they are looking to acquire a piano. They want to know if I know the piano, if it has any issues and if I think it's worth the cost of moving. Sometimes it's true that I've tuned the piano, but I just can't remember anything about it.
Recently, one person contacted me with a piano to give away. He'd had the piano listed for a while, for free, and still no one was interested. This is where the "You can't even give them away" adage comes from. But he needed to move it. Time was running out.
Before recommending the piano to anyone, I'd certainly need to check it out, but driving from Langdale to Lund looking at pianos for free isn't a great way to earn a living. I delayed getting back to him, trying to think about how I could offer this service in a way that made sense--who is the customer?
What makes the most sense is to offer an inspection service.
For a minimum service call of $60, I can inspect a piano that you are looking to sell or give away. You will receive a checklist with an assessment of the condition of the soundboard, action parts, pin torque etc. If some of these parts require repair for the piano to function, this will be noted as well. One of two things can happen next:
1) Piano is in sound condition. You can list it for sale for at least $60 in order to recuperate the cost of inspection and a piano buyer will confidently make that purchase, knowing exactly what they are getting before spending a small fortune on moving costs. (Remember, it's not the cost of the piano that deters people, but the cost of moving the piano.)
2) The piano has problems. It will be expensive to repair and the money on repairs would be better spent on a newer piano. You may decide to take the piano to the dump. So that $60 will be a sunk cost, right? Not really. You will have peace of mind: You'll know not only that Grandma's piano truly was at the end of its life and it is okay to say goodbye, but that you didn't just unload a lemon on some poor family whose kids are just starting piano lessons and who will now have to quit because the family has just spent all their money on moving the piano and then moving it again to the dump and sorry, little Timmy and Sally, you're just going to have to take up the spoons.
I returned this person's call a couple of days later, but it was too late. He'd taken it to the dump. It just so happened that I had been at the dump earlier that day. "Oh, that was your piano I saw there."
Good decision? Bad decision? We'll never know. Difficult to try it out when it looks like this ...
I regretted not getting back to him sooner to look at that piano.
There is a program on CBC I keep hearing about, explaining that it is the end of the upright--or the end of the piano! While it is true that a piano is no longer ubiquitous in middle-class homes, it is still one of the most sophisticated, versatile and beautiful instruments ever made. The piano will always be here.
But the old Canadian uprights are in their twilight years. You can't give them away. Dime a dozen. Ending up at the dump, yeah yeah. But if you've got one in decent condition, look after it with an annual tuning and maintenance. (If you're a fan of the antiquing shows, you may consider that your old Mason & Risch will be a rarity not too many years from now...I hear even cigarette garbage has reached collectible status.)
Oh, and as for "no room" for a piano ... Here is a picture of my living room:
Would it be nice to have more than a two-seat sofa to sit on? Sure. Does it stress me out when my partner invites four people over for hot-pot? Of course! Does even the cat have more upholstered seating options than I do? Um, yes.
What was my point again? Oh yeah. There's always room for a piano.
Pianos come in variety of colours. You've got your black satin finish, shiny black polyester (most new pianos), natural wood finish, white (not so popular these days, but was cool at least when Garth Brooks played one, paint splashing on the keys and seeping from his pant legs).
A well-made piano is already a work of art, but some manufacturers go further, releasing one-of-a-kind "art case" editions. What do you think of these?
Clocks instead of legs? Finally! Only problem is you'll want to play every piece at 60 beats per minute... But never mind that. This one-of-a-kind Steinway can be yours for just 2.5 million dollars (USD. That was your next question, wasn't it?)
The harder something is to move, the better is sounds. This must have been the thinking behind this Bosendorfer, which supported by an aviary of bronze peacocks (with top bird perched on the music desk). How many peacocks can you spot?
Here's a more dressed-down nineteenth-century Steinway. Naked children hold up the piano. Why not? These days you can hardly tear them from their iPhones.
This Steinway D was hand painted by Haida artist Jay Simeon using acrylic made from ground argillite, a stone found exclusively on Haida Gwaii. It's not Sunshine Coast, but the North Coast is close enough for me to show a little West Coast bias and declare this my favourite art case piano. I saw it in person at Tom Lee music. I didn't get a chance to play it before being politely ushered out by the salesperson, who accurately sensed my eight-year-old nephew and I weren't really in the market for a new Steinway D.
You may not have a one-of-a-kind art case luxury-brand piano, but whatever your piano, it can sound better with regular maintenance, such as tuning once or twice per year. I am happy to tune your Craiglist freebie or 2.5 million dollar art case Steinway--all pianos go out of tune! Whether you live in Gibsons, Sechelt, Garden Bay or Powell River, contact me by phone or email to book a tuning today.
Oh, and in case you're now trying to think of the name of that Garth Brooks song ... "The Red Strokes." For a trip down mid-nineties memory lane, you can watch the video here. I gotta say, twenty-three years after the video's release, the whole thing strikes me as a little gory. What do you think?
To better understand the piano needs of Sunshine Coast, BC, musicians, I've created a short survey. There are just ten totally fascinating questions and by completing the survey, you could win a tuning for you or a friend. Thrills! Excitement! Daring! Yes! Online surveys have never been better!
You're input is greatly appreciated!
In a recent article in the New York Times, "The Only Piano I Could Afford," Micah Dean Hicks tells the sad, funny little story of trying to give a piano to his wife. Neither had a enough money to buy a new piano, and even many of the used ones available in music stores were far outside their price range. He searched on Craiglist and at flea markets, and soon found a piano for cheap. According to its owner, some of the keys were stuck but the "wood looked fine." Hicks did a little research and quickly discovered that stuck keys are not a big problem for a piano technician to repair. He rented a vehicle and went to retrieve the beast.
Can you guess what happens next? After the cost of the piano, the cost of the vehicle rental, which was higher than anticipated, and the time and effort to move the piano in, his wife discovered it was unplayable with all those sticky keys. No problem. They call a piano technician to come fix it. He opens his tool case. He opens the piano up. He closes his tool case. Sorry folks. Rusted, corroded pins and strings, water damaged pinblock, an untuneable waste of money and effort.
It's a sad little story and not a unique occurrence. There are sometimes pianos available for free on Craigslist -- I peruse the ads, myself, hoping to find a worthwhile fixer-upper. I've checked out some of these free pianos, and if it's tuneable and the sound is decent, then you've got yourself a workable instrument, regardless of how fine the "wood" looks. Beauty is on the inside, after all, so forget the finish -- how do the pins feel? How do the hammers look? What shape are those dampers in? Is the soundboard cracked?
Not sure how to assess those things? Before committing the time and expense to moving a piano, feel free to ask me to check it out first! I could confirm you've got a gem, or advise you to keep looking and save you a lot of hassle and heartbreak. Or, if you've got a piano to give away, avoid bad karma by making sure you've got a workable instrument.
Hicks pushed the piano out into the parking lot, alongside the garbage. For Hicks, the experience meant much more than a bad piano: "In our relationship it seemed as if we never were able to give each other the things we needed, and a few years later I filed for divorce, throwing our marriage out too." In this situation, I might have recommended an upcycling project. Who knows. Maybe a piano-desk might have saved the marriage?