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What to worry about if buying grand piano from a uni music dept?
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(self-titled) semi-posting lurker
Minor Deity
Picture of ShiroKuro
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So, I am starting the process of trying to find a used grand piano to buy. I recently heard that a nearby university (not the one where I teach) is going to be switching to an all-Steinway school and will be selling all their non-Steinway pianos. So they may have some pianos that might work for me which they are selling off not because the instrument is at the end of its useful life, but because the instrument isn't a Steinway.

So, what should I be worried about when considering a grand that's been in a uni music dept? I have been talking with a tech and he'll evaluate it for me, but I want to make sure I am as educated as I can be. And BTW, I may have missed it, but I didn't see any articles in the Piano Buyer's website that addressed this.

Mainly I wonder if these pianos will just be super beat up?


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Posts: 11734 | Location: not in Japan any more | Registered: 20 April 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Minor Deity
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VERY used!


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Posts: 15248 | Location: north of boston | Registered: 16 May 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
czarina
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Most likely will not have much if any life left in them. But if you find one you love, get the tech's clean bill of health, then you should be fine.


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Posts: 19200 | Registered: 18 May 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Unless the school has put lots of money into maintenance (and few do), the practice room pianos are likely on their proverbial last legs (and lyres).

BUT, they may have faculty office pianos that are also being replaced. Some of them may be newer and more lightly used.

Be careful.
 
Posts: 7853 | Location: Williamsburg, VA | Registered: 19 July 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Serial origamist
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Be VERY leery of university piano clearance sales. Frequently, they are organized and run by a piano dealer that comes in with a bunch of their stale used stock and assorted grey market units (primarily Yamahas). Only a small handful of the pianos will be actual school music department pianos they are selling off.

I have been to several of these. I actually bought a Yamaha U3 at one, then got home, did my research, and realized I bought a grey market refurb, and cancelled the sale before they delivered it.


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Posts: 26701 | Registered: 27 April 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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PJ, from SK's description, this doesn't sound like that kind of annual "university piano sale" kind of thing, where a traveling dealer comes in and advertises "huge sales" and then proceeds to sell pianos at a higher price than if you had gone into a local store.

If the department is actually selling off their entire stock, she could get a decent deal on a faculty office piano. I wouldn't touch the practice room stuff, however.
 
Posts: 7853 | Location: Williamsburg, VA | Registered: 19 July 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
(self-titled) semi-posting lurker
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Thanks for all the comments everyone!

Yes, I don’t think this is one of those scams, the news about the college becoming an all-Steinway school is on their music dept’s website too. And at this point, I don’t know how the actual selling will go, it’s not publicaly advertised yet and I don’t know if it will be. I got the tip from a piano tuner, and it’s a private institution so they can probably do with their pianos whatever they want!

Having said all that, I agree, a well-maintained piano from a faculty office might be great. A beater from a practice room, not so much.

I will get an independent tech to evaluate any instrument I decide is worth considering. Someone was recommend to me by a local piano friend, and the tech said that he would give me a list of things to check to start off with (in other words, he said I should go first and then he’ll check out any instruments that seem worth following up on.) I haven’t talked to him at length about this particular option, but I will not proceed without lots of advice! Like from y’all. Smiler


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Posts: 11734 | Location: not in Japan any more | Registered: 20 April 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Pinta & the Santa Maria
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It's possible to get a good piano from these sales, but not common. I had a friend in AZ who got a Steinway (M? can't remember) that was a piano faculty's practice piano. Apparently it was part of this particular school's contract that faculty pianos were replaced like every 5 years or so.

But other people's comments are definitely right on.
 
Posts: 31884 | Location: West: North and South! | Registered: 20 April 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
(self-titled) semi-posting lurker
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Wow, a new piano every 5 years?? Doesn’t a new piano require some amount of playing to reach its fullest potential? I wonder just how much playing the average faculty office piano gets.

Also, nice budget for that music dept!


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Posts: 11734 | Location: not in Japan any more | Registered: 20 April 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Lord Emperor Mom
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The University of Florida is the only university where I've seen many of the pianos in the music department. There were two levels of practice rooms. Most of them were kept unlocked. (This was some time ago and I think this has changed. I believe it's also a Steinway school now and I don't know if that affected the maintenance or replacement schedule.) These rooms had uprights and they were used by non-piano music majors and university students who just wanted a place to practice. And sometimes by random passers-by like me. They were kept reasonably well-tuned and in playable condition, but you would not want to buy one. There were locked practice rooms with grand pianos in them that were reserved for piano majors. I never had access to those rooms.

I played both pianos in a piano professor's office. I believe they were both Steinways in the 7-foot range. They played and sounded great, although not life-changingly so. The notable thing about them was their terrible cosmetic condition. They looked like they'd been beaten with chains. My guess is that this man developed favorites among the pianos being used on-stage and commandeered them for his office.

Honestly, I'd consider prowling piano stores and the internet for gently used pianos. My piano had sat in two different stores, waiting for the rare customer in our middle-class market who wanted a big grand. It had been traded in by a couple who had special-ordered a piano just like it with a self-playing mechanism. I imagine them as people with a lot of money who liked the look of a grand, but who didn't play much or maybe not at all.

It was twenty years old and pristine, and I paid less than half of the price of a new one. I don't know if it harmed it in some way to go without being played for so long, but it was certainly being played when I bought it, because the sales dude jokingly chided me for taking his practice piano. I also know that it was being rented out, because they gave me a picture of Burt Bacharach playing it when they rented it to a concert hall where he was playing.

If I were shopping now, I'd make friends with a piano dealer in a wealthy neighborhood, tell them what I wanted, and ask them to call me if something interesting came up. I'd also watch the internet, because there was a seven-foot Baldwin sitting next to mine that was sold, sight-unseen, to someone from one of the other piano forums who read my piano-buying story and PMed me for the name of the dealer with the big Baldwin.


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Posts: 14002 | Location: Florida | Registered: 22 April 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
(self-titled) semi-posting lurker
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quote:
They looked like they'd been beaten with chains.


Eeker

MA, re your other U of Florida comments, at the university where I did my grad work (i.e., a massive state school) the practice room pianos were horrible. Not necessarily never tuned, but so beat up, and yes, I actually know what you mean b/c cosmetically they were pretty much all in very bad shape. So, no, I definitely would not have wanted to buy an instrument like that. I did have a very short stint of lessons with someone on the piano faculty there, and he had two very nice mid-sized grands in his office (two! I remember being very impressed by that!) But yeah, I would not be excited by a piano sale consisting of pianos from practice rooms at any public university. The school I'm speaking of here is a small, private university, so I was imagining that the instruments would be better. But ultimately, that might be naive!

Re your other comments, I'm not in a super hurry to buy, because we have to actually get moved first (that's coming up soon, fingers crossed!) I am actually wondering if I can time it right so that I don't have to move my upright twice -- in other words, find a grand to buy, put it in the new place and have the upright removed (traded in, sold, something) from our current house. Given that we will have about two months of overlap with the two houses, that might actually work.

So I've been slowly ramping up my piano search activities. I've been watching Craigslist and the various piano dealers around here (and by around here, I mean an hour or two driving distance, those are the closest). And I've been telling anyone I know who's remotely connected to piano that I'm looking, and that includes piano profs here at my university as well as a few music directors for various institutions in the area. That's actually how I found out about this school.

I am kind of cagey about buying a used piano from a random person I find on Craigslist, but at the same time I'm concerned that buying one from a dealer will be more expensive... although if it comes with a warranty and delivery, that offsets the cost. So I sort of go back and forth about that. Also, I need a smaller instrument (probably less than 6 foot) and it seems like those smaller grands are the ones that sell somewhat better, so I don't know that I'll find a crazy good deal. We'll see though!

In the meantime, I'm trying to learn as much as I can and make as many connections etc as I can, so that when the right piano presents itself, I can pounce. Ole


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Posts: 11734 | Location: not in Japan any more | Registered: 20 April 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
knitterati
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Good luck, SK, and happy shopping!

And ditto all the other caveats on university pianos. We did Suzuki Institute (camps) at a couple small universities here when Son2 was young. The pianos in the practice rooms were generally pretty beat up. I bought a portable Roland digital piano with weighted keys, and hauled that to camp each year. It was way better!


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Posts: 7867 | Location: Oregon | Registered: 06 June 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Lord Emperor Mom
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Sometimes, you sit down at a piano that just knocks your socks off. I felt that way about mine, but there was one that was even better. It was a ridiculously ornate art-case Steinway at a dealer very near you in Columbia, South Carolina. I always kinda thought those were more for the looks than the sound, but this one was amazing. It was also $80K - $100K. (I don't remember exactly, because it was so far outside my budget as to be laughable.)

I think that dealer went out of business, but I'm wondering if it sounded so good because they worked with a crazy good technician. Maybe you should take a field trip to Columbia and prowl the stores. Smiler


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Posts: 14002 | Location: Florida | Registered: 22 April 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I would watch craigslist. I soooo don't trust U sales from what I have seen when knowing a little about the inside. They lie so easily.


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Posts: 15248 | Location: north of boston | Registered: 16 May 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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AdagioM -- wow, the pianos must have been really bad if you opted to lug around a heavy digital instead. Yikes!

MA, do you remember the name, or would you recognize it? The ones I've found online in Columbia are: Adair (not much used inventory), Rice (a little more than Adair), and then there's a tech (?) named Ed Turnball, who runs a website called Adopt-a-baby-grand but he doesn't have a showroom. Then there are dealers in the Asheville area and Charlotte area that I have on my list as well. And then there's Atlanta... I think there is a very nice, well-respected piano dealer in Atlanta, but I *really* do not want to make a commitment to driving back and forth to Atlanta multiple times, so I'm hoping to stay in the upstate area and then north and/or east of here. Oh, also in the Columbia area, Hannah Piano Co closed and their son (?) has a piano store in Raleigh, but that's too far away. So, do any of those places ring a bell?

Re a piano that knocks your socks off... I used to have a lesson on a Steinway grand from 1880 something, it didn't have a full 88-key keyboard. But it had been refurbished and was the most amazing instrument, with the most amazing sound. I loved that piano. Then there was a Yamaha grand that had a lovely sound and also I fell in love with the touch, the way it felt to play it. Those two pianos have always stuck in my memory, and both would definitely be way outside of my budget! :P

LL, I'll remain skeptical of the university sale. I do think it's a special thing, not a sham, but again, what do I know.

And I am watching Craigslist, but I am also super nervous about orchestrating a purchase from some random person... Going to see the piano, coordinating payment and piano moving.... It all makes me a little nervous, and I think with a reputable dealer I would have much less to worry about.

Also, the big benefit to buying from a dealer is that, most of them seem to offer either free delivery, or if I'm too far away for free, they still can coordinate the delivery. And then if they would give me some money for my upright and take it away, that would be great.

The other thing I noticed, and it probably would have been better had I not noticed this! suave but some dealers say they offer financing (there's a company called Allegro that does financing for musical instruments specifically) and it occurred to me that I could probably double my piano budget that way.... But no, I need to not do that! :P


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My piano recordings at Box.Net: https://app.box.com/s/j4rgyhn72uvluemg1m6u

 
Posts: 11734 | Location: not in Japan any more | Registered: 20 April 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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