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?