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Piano purchase

There are many things to consider when you want to buy a piano and look at pianos for sale…

If it’s pianos, phone Eshelby Pianos!

Where can you buy a piano in Pretoria or Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa?

Eshelby Pianos persevere to offer a wide variety of high-quality acoustic pianos for sale (and hire) as choosing and having a piano should be personal and meaningful. It is also a familial feature of a home, you should be able to get the piano that you want!

Read more about purchasing from the private market below…

Deon Eshelby
for any queries you may have about purchasing a piano (or anything else to do with pianos).

We are so lucky to be working in a field that we love – yeah, we are rather obsessed with pianos – and are more than willing to share information and help with your piano enquiries.

You are more than welcome to contact us for advice about a piano that you are already thinking of purchasing. More details about what to look for when purchasing a piano are discussed below…

When looking to purchase a piano, it is always better to physically view and try out the piano in relation to others. It is a good idea to find out what is available before going through to view pianos.

In light of this, we suggest viewing the pianos that are currently available for sale and hire on our website (details and links below) before scheduling for viewing so that we know what sort of piano you may be looking for. Also, with such a diverse and great varity of stock, it can be overwhelming, so it is a good idea to know where to start.

Intermediate Upright Pianos

currently available for
Hire and Sale

Our intermediate range of pianos suits beginner learners up to piano grade/level 6; even at that level it may not be necessary to hire a premier piano unless the player intends on hosting a concert in their lounge. Most piano teachers would teach from pianos in this range. This range includes pianos like Challen, Kemble, Knight, Otto Bach, Rippen, Zimmerman.

Premier Upright Pianos

currently available for
Hire and Sale

Although our intermediate range of pianos are of a high quality, our premier range is superior. At Eshelby Pianos you are able to view, compare, purchase or hire the best pianos available in the world, like Steinway & Sons, Bechstein, Blüthner, Bösendorfer, Grotrian-Steinweg, Yamaha, Kawai, many other internationally regarded brands as well as some really special, unique and rare pianos.

Grand Pianos

currently available for
Hire and Sale

The appearance of a grand piano is stately, monumental and impressive! It is so morish, including needing enough space and having a fairly generous budget. Some uprights really have brilliant dynamic sound, but with the option of opening the piano matched with a considerably larger sound board, longer strings and overall size, a grand piano holds it own in terms of range, resonance, tonality and responsive touch.

Where you able to find the piano that are looking from our current stock?

There is such an awesome variety of pianos available on the pages and we continuously trade in pianos, and as such not all of the pianos are displayed and we have an extensive stock of previously owned pianos held in storage which are due for restoration when time allows (view some on our Pianos Under Restoration page). As such, if you are looking to purchase or hire a piano other than what is shown on the pages of our website, please do provide us with a description of what you are looking for and we can let you know what is available.

Please also look at our Piano Gallery to see the different pianos produced by different factories. One has an idea of what a typical piano looks like, but there is just such an awesome variety of finishes, structures and makes available! A piano purchase is personal – as it should be!

Pianos Under Restoration

Pianos under restoration includes pianos in need of repair, refurbishment, reconditioning, rehabilitation and/or general maintenance.

Our storerooms are bursting with some of the most famous and renowned makes of pianos; a few of fascinating, didactic museum value, as well as intermediate makes that need to be re-painted or restored. Due to the high cost of quality restoration and fitting the rhythm of current demand, some pianos lie in wait yearning and hankering for heed, waiting for adequate and requisite time, being kept because they are in demand; are of excellent quality and/or rarity.

Isn’t it great when you have an idea of exactly which finish you want on a piano and you can see those in need of a repolish?

What Piano Should You buy?

There are literally hundreds, possibly thousands, of makes out there, many of which are of the very best quality, but not necessarily well-known. As such, we endeavour to be given the chance to demonstrate the merits of any of our second-hand pianos based on the individual piano.

There are so many different pianos around that when looking to hire or purchase a piano, most people have very little idea about what is available and of the value of hiring or purchasing a used piano in relation to a new one. People often make the mistake of trying to buy a piano specifically by its make or brand, often not realising that a great many piano names are dealership brands or possibly discontinued factory names applied to new pianos rather than the factory that they claim to be from. For example, one might see a range of Gors and Kallmann pianos, however a modern Gors and Kallmann would have practically no resemblance to one that was built in the original factory.

The piano may not actually be what it is labelled…

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

– William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

Tradesmen relabel pianos and combine parts from different makes – as is the case with the Kahn Family most well known for re-labelling pianos as Bernhard Steiner (view more information about the Kahn and Bernhard Steiner on our A-B Piano Gallery).

With so many different manufacturers of pianos each producing a variety of models, the production of which may contrast in quality during different years of production or the varying factory owners.

An example of this is the tone and resonance difference between a Yamaha piano manufactured from the 1960’s to the mid-1980’s and one produced thereafter. We certainly favour the well-rounded, full-bodied tone of the Yamahas of earlier models, but that is personal taste as the vibrance of a brighter tone has become more popular over the last decade. 

Furthermore, a Yamaha produced in Japan contrasts greatly with one produced in Indonesia. The photograph to the left is of our DE 693 Yamaha Upright Pianoforte (serial number: 6104060) manufactured in Japan in around 2005. The photograph next to it is of our DE 695 Yamaha Upright Pianoforte (serial number: J2079106; Model LU-90-PE) manufactured in recent years, in Indonesia. More information is provided on our Yamaha Gallery, and current pianos available on our upright and grand pages.

Fun fact: Yamaha and Kawai are great competitors in the East, whereas Kawai is not as well known in South Africa because – historically – not as many shops provide Kawai pianos here.

Piano Companies produce in different countries with variation in their production.

For example, the American produced Steinway pianos are brighter in tone than the Steinways manufactured in Germany. The photographs of the DE 909 Steinway and Sons Grand Pianoforte (serial number 291133) which is an exceptionally rare “modern” model S grand, New York Edition, built in 1938. 

The DE 930 Steinway Grand Pianoforte (serial number: 393074) Model S, manufactured in Hamburg, Germany in 1965, and was imported and sold by Bothners in November, 1969. By all means, the DE 909 Steinway has a really bright tone, especially in contrast with the blissfully mellow toned DE 930 Steinway. View more information about Steinway Pianos on our Steinway Gallery.
The Boston Steinway is actually produced by Kawai.
Furthermore, the piano strings used for Steinway Pianos in America have been produced by a different company, Mapes String Company, since the early 1900’s.

What should you look for when purchasing a piano?

We ask sellers for a few photographs of their pianos for sale (look at our Selling Your Piano page to view more details). This is in not sufficient to determine whether a piano is a good example, however it does show a few obvious requirements.

Firstly, with photographs you will be able to determine what type or style of action is in the piano. This is critical for someone wanting a long-term piano purchase as the “wrong” type of mechanism will not serve a student needing to develop technique. That being said, a beginner could still use a piano with a less desirable mechanism initially. A bad quality “better” mechanism could prove to be less desirable than a high quality “wrong” one. The general rule would be to look for an underdamper as opposed to an overdamper action. Read more about overdamper and underdamper actions in our More About Pianos page.

Secondly, a piano should look decent internally. As when looking at anything second hand, one should get a sense of it having been cared for, things should look to be “in place”, not obviously damaged etc.
We are wary of restored pianos, but in my thinking one is often better off with an unrestored piano which can then be restored properly by an honest and experienced technician you feel is right for you (we cannot highlight enough the value of a piano tradesman and technician being trustworthy) or be minimally restored should your requirements not warrant full restoration.
Too much shiny paint, Christmas tree like felt decoration and the like is a warning sign! Restoration is a whole chapter on its own and can only be properly carried out by the correct people. Many restored pianos have been damaged or altered in the process and would be considered spoiled. It is much harder to undo a bad restoration than simply start afresh on a better prospect. This is discussed in more detail on our piano Restoration Page

Most pianos on the market in our context are old and have likely stood in situ without use nor service for many years. The example of a parent buying their child a piano which was then used for a year… is very common. Pianos left at home after the children leave is also common.

Should you buy a piano from the private market?

So, one should assume that almost any piano available for sale on the private market will need resurrection in the form of general service, pitch raise and the like. Probably a good 90% of older pianos need hammer refacing, centre pin replacement as required, butt leather replacement, a new set of tapes and general regulation. This is why we can often sell a customer a piano in proper condition for less than they would spend by finding a private purchase. A piano is a complicated machine and the difference between one that is okay and one that is right, is huge.

Should you buy a piano from a piano teacher?

Buying a piano from a teacher is often assumed to be a safe bet, but oddly so as surely that piano was worked far harder than one in a private residence?

Public use pianos like ex school or church ones, are generally completely hammered.

Look at the hammers, they should not show signs of very deep cuts from the strings, should be egg-shaped, not flat on the tips, and critically should show a good amount of felt on the front end, especially from the mid-section upwards to the treble.

How do you test a piano?

A side note about looking at and testing the piano: A decent test for a novice buyer is to run through all the keys. If some sound like double notes, be wary as that could indicate loose tuning pins. It may just be signs of an untuned piano, but they tend to go out relatively evenly and drop pitch over time, double sounding notes should be considered a warning of something worse.

We will post a discussion on the significance of the condition of the “back” of a piano separately.

Connecting this with another internal examination of a piano, when looking into an upright piano, the tuning pins ought to look tight. If pins hang at a downward angle, especially only in sections, be wary. If there is an elongated pin hole by which you can see a gap above a pin, be wary. If there is little or no gap between the coil of steel wire on the tuning pin and the pin block or piano frame, be wary. A common temporary remedy for slightly loose tuning pins is to knock them down. This can be a rather successful fix, but it should not have been necessary in the first place and is always a warning sign.

Frame cracks are rare, however spell the death of a piano if present and although pianos with minor frame cracks can be absolutely fine, it is something to be avoided as one cannot know the extent of the problem or for how long it will remain as it stands. A serious frame crack is immediately noticeable in the sound of the piano, as loss of tension is easily heard.
We do know of and service pianos with minor frame cracks which are perfectly stable.  That type of crack I would assume is from a poor design or casting flaw and could easily have been present from early in the piano’s life. Bad cracks are probably caused by mishandling, a piano having been dropped in transport or a frame being damaged during restoration or having been refitted to a piano incorrectly. There is something like 17- plus tons of tension on a frame, so sayings it’s critical to the piano is an understatement.

Something else to look for are signs of moth or mouse damage and in some cases woodworm and in one or two we’ve seen – even termite damage. These are usually fairly obvious in the sense that one could see signs of damage, bits of felt or wood, spread about, urinal damage in the case of mice, often on the strings as well.
Moth can be more difficult to detect as the favourite area for them at the beginning seems to be the felts under the keys. However, careful inspection of the piano may yield warning signs, such as “nibbles” out of the name board felt, visible behind the keys with the key-fall open.

A piano with very unlevel keys is also a tell-tale sign.

The most commonly heard tale from customers is how a relative had a piano in which the soundboard had cracked and the piano had to thus be discarded… In most cases this is unlikely, as in our context soundboard cracks are extremely common to the point of being expected. Very few soundboards actually affect a piano detrimentally.
Buzzing is often a sign of a bad crack, a noticeably poor tone in a piano or section therefore is more likely to be caused by a soundboard moving, due to the structure of the piano failing or to a cracked bridge or pin block or indeed frame.
Soundboard cracks can be very difficult to detect as one has to examine the soundboard in its entirety.  Most of it is hidden behind the action and structure of the piano.

Several pianos are notorious for back problems, one locally produced piano due to glue-failure, in which all the glued parts literally just let go.

More easily seen are the aesthetic points of a piano.  Often a less desirable style of piano is a fine instrument, but not currently considered fashionable. Things like discoloured or chipped keys are not necessarily detrimental to the use of the instrument, the same applies to the casing and condition of the finish, but this serves no point in the production of sound or touch.
These would be matters of personal taste and needs. A student needs a good piano, not necessarily a pretty one.
Pianos are imminently repairable as long as they were of a quality standard when built and has not been so badly damaged that repair outcomes are uncertain. The repair costs involved can be high and this often determines viability.

But, once the basic outline of a piano is determined, the only way of judging general condition and quality is for an experienced technician to physical view and test the pianoMuch is determined by feel rather than technical correctness. Only an honest technician with experience can judge overall condition properly.
The advantage in viewing a piano beforehand is that you could quite easily determine whether the piano in question is actually worth pursuing ahead of laying out fees on a technicians visit.
You may well feel that the piano being viewed feels fine for your needs and you are happy to go with it without further inspection. In which case, all is well.

A phrase we find ourselves using ever more frequently is that we cannot sell a buyer a piano, they must choose it. There are a myriad of factors that make one piano over another the right choice for a particular person.

We do think that the thinking process of any old piano being good enough for a young child beginning their piano journey, is seriously flawed. At the very least, get something of fair quality which has a decent touch and is tuneable.

If in doubt, consider piano rental it works extremely well initially at a low cost, without long term commitment. But, rent a good piano, not something that is being offered because it’s cheap. The things we’ve seen…!

Other considerations include:
the tone of the piano, the touch weight of the keys
We will be adding notes about this as time allows.

We hope this helps with your search for a piano!