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Piano Interviews by phone (Don’t copy me)

It’s a rainy day and I’m braced for a shower of criticism.

Just consider a few of my piano phone interviews in the private party marketplace.

I confess that on occasion, I’ve undermined my own staunch recommendations to prospective buyers as follows:

PLAY THE PIANO UNDER CONSIDERATION! IF YOU LIKE ITS TONE, TOUCH, TIMBRE, GET A REGISTERED PIANO TECHNICIAN TO EXAMINE THE ACTION including hammers, tuning pins, cast iron plate. Check for key response, repetitions, let-up/return etc. as well as moths, mice, and moisture. (Note the serial number and search for date of manufacture in the Pierce Piano Atlas)

Find out the tuning history. How many owners? Where stored? High humidity locale? If so, damp chasers installed? Frequent moves, when and where?

Best case scenario, have the piano teacher, or a local performing pianist play it, with an ear toward tone and projection.

Well, even if the piano is going for just $500, it’s worth effort compared to the stinging pain of buyer’s remorse.

So now that I’ve defined stringent requirements in making a peace of mind purchase, I’m going to shatter these in one fell swoop by sharing stories about pianos I never played in person but selected by phone with 5 of 5 turning out to be WINNERS. (one adventure, was a partial phone consultation followed by my on location review)

But first know that LOSERS can be easily identified by hallmark sounds at the end of the receiver: Broken glass, clanging tin cans, pebbles, or b-b gun puffs. By listening intently, you can save yourself miles of gasoline expense.

Now for some of the winners!

Yamaha M-500 console, housed in Merced. Owned by a school teacher. Advertised on Craig’s List. My 4-year old student-to-be had no piano and needed one a.s.a.p.

Her mom and I had conferred on 5 other used pianos posted on C.L. and I had little time amidst my busy schedule to trek out to Clovis, and farther, to check a bunch of them. But I’d managed to detail, in person, a Baldwin Acrosonic, a favorite make of mine. The “Cadillac” of small pianos, it had the wider case innovation to give a bigger tonal projection. The one up for sale, however, had issues related to poor maintenance that kept it out of the running.

The Merced piano on Craig’s List, on the other hand, had an appealing history. It dated to 2005, with hardly any playing. Buyer was under financial pressure to sell and my student’s parents were willing to make the hour-long drive, with my telephone assistance at the final destination. We would confer on the piano, note-to-note by cell.

Operation Piano Check proceeded smoothly.

Just a sidebar. Land lines are definitely better than cellular connections when performing these evaluations. The cells break up, making the instrument sound like it’s spitting anti-aircraft fire. You’ll never know what hit you.

Well, we did the best we could under the circumstances. Mom played each note starting from the very highest C, and trickled down in half steps to the lowest A.

Very nice resonance! No sticking notes. Smooth feel, nice voicing. No metallic sounds or broken glass.

What about the inside? “Take a look,” I advised.

The seller had already showcased the cast iron plate, tuning pins and hammers in her Craig’s List photo. The action was doubled by examination, as clean as a whistle.

Finally, I asked dad to check for deep grooves in the hammer felts.

Stupendo! Very light usage confirmed, barely detectable grooves.

Above all, the PRICE was right–less than $1500 out the door!

SALE FINAL! A nifty Russian mover hauled it down a tricky flight of stairs, loaded it on his truck and brought the lucky piano to its welcoming Fresno home.

A good, solid beginning piano for the child! And the tech who did the first tuning, loved it!


Story 2:

I came across a Baldwin French Provincial grand piano (1998 model) advertised in the Fresno Bee. It was housed at a horse ranch and required a 6 mile-trek to the location. But before I set out, I called the seller and asked for a piano-by-phone consult. She accommodated me.

In moments, I heard a sonorous instrument from top to bottom as the owner followed my instructions to a tee. The big unknown pertained to regulation and that required my in-person PLAYING assessment.

Here I am going over it:

To cut a long story short, the piano was a DREAM, was purchased by me, and made it to Fresno with some legal hassles, memorialized in a blog. Besides a blow-by-blow battle, the sale was eventually sealed.

Unfortunately, I sold this piano a few years ago to subsidize a used Camry. It was one of those car breakdown crises.

Story 3:

A Yamaha P-22 studio upright, appeared on Craig’s List, Modesto, Merced, Bay Area and elsewhere.

Since I knew the make and had some experience playing these, I was especially drawn to it. P-22’s are school variety pianos that absorb a lot of wear and tear but stay resilient.

In keeping with my phone preliminaries I called the buyer and asked for a few precious moments of his time. First I acquired the necessary ownership and maintenance history, serial number, etc. before I asked for a piano phone interview.

The owner complied. The preview yielded positive enough results to forward on to the prospective buyer, a dad of a beginning piano students. She was compromised a 61-key digital that sorely needed replacement.

As luck would have it, dad was on his way home from the Bay area and would pass through Paso Robles so he was happy to make a side trip to inspect the P-22, though he had absolutely no piano instruction.

It was still an easy ride, comparable to the excursion with Yamaha M-500 in Merced.

Without belaboring the story, the piano was purchased for $1100, a steal price and safely delivered to its new owner, an elated 9-year old.

Jeff Wood, Visalia piano tech, gave the baptismal tuning and praised the piano.

Story 4, in progress:

Should I admit that I’m awaiting delivery of a piano in El Cerrito that I selected following a phone interview? (with an able RPT piggy backing me! and a subsequent phone conference yielded meticulous details about the rebuild quality, plate, hammers, bushings, strings, regulation.. Again the price was RIGHT!)

I’ll keep this one a secret until it’s snugly placed in this awesome living room where I will be teaching next week.

Okay, here are two teaser pics.


Pianos that I’ve owned and reluctantly let go

Do’s and Don’ts for Piano Buyers and Sellers

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