Looking for a second-hand piano and not sure how to go about choosing one? Here are some tips to help you test the piano when you head down to the seller's place.
Check The Key Response Of Every Key
Yeap, you read that right. Every. Single. Key. The least that you can do to test a piano is to test every key twice: once lightly, and once hard. Listen to hear that each key responds according to the how lightly or how hard you play the keys: the piano should produce a softer tone when the keys are pressed lightly and a louder volume when the keys are pressed with more speed.
Check The Condition Of The Strings (Acoustic Piano Only)
Open the lid of the piano from the top (if it's an upright piano) to check the condition of the strings. You might want to avoid the piano if the strings are heavily rusted. This is because, with rusty strings, there is a higher risk of the strings snapping during tuning.
Check The Tuning Of The Piano (Acoustic Piano Only)
While pianos can be always tuned, you would want to avoid a piano that is so far off tune (off by a semitone** or more) that it takes multiple visits from your piano technician before it is back in tune. Very often, if a previous owner has allowed his or her piano to go off tune by that much, there's also a good chance the strings are heavily rusted, which makes tuning it back much more difficult to do so.
**If you are a layman and are not sure what a "semitone" is, here's what you can do:
1) Search for a 'tuner' app on your phone such as Tuner - gstring or Tuner Lite . Download it and make sure you enable access to the microphone on your phone. What this app does is it listens to the piano and tells you how in tune it is.
2) Launch the app when you are testing the piano, and find the middle C note on the piano. (Read this to help you locate all the C notes on the piano; 'middle C' is specifically the C note that is nearest to the centre of the piano)
3) Play the Middle C Note and watch what your app displays. It should display a C note with the 'needle' pointing close to the centre. If it's very far off to the side of the meter, or if it shows something other than a C note, then the piano of the tuning is off (especially if it displays something other than a C note!).
Check The Pedals
If you are buying an upright piano or digital piano, the pedal that you want to concern yourself with the most is the sustain pedal (the one on the right out of the three pedals). Here's what the sustain pedal does: it holds down notes and allows them to continue ringing (to be 'sustained') even after you've let go of the note itself. The sound of the note will be sustained until the pedal is released. To check the sustain pedal, hold down the sustain pedal and test out the keys, especially in the middle and lower ranges (lower range = left side of the keyboard). Make sure the notes sustain even after you have released them. Listen carefully whether the sound is sustained for the full length or whether the sound is choked.