The purpose of piano appraisal is to determine a fair price for a piano. Fair market value should not be confused with a piano’s worth as a musical instrument, or even its actual quality. While it is true that a better piano in better condition will have a higher market value compared to the same model built the same year but in poor condition, basic economic forces will ultimately determine a piano’s reasonable selling price. An antique piano in near-original condition may be a finer musical instrument than a brand-new one, but its market value may be only a fraction of the price of a new piano.
There are several methods for appraising a piano. A useful first step is to look up your model and year of build in a Blue Book of Pianos. While not a panacea, it (and its companion E-book of Pianos) can help give you a ballpark figure for your piano’s fair market value. If your piano is more than fifty years old (as will be the case with an antique piano), market value and musical value often diverge considerably. The Blue Book should therefore not be confused for actual piano appraisal.
Next, there are several services that appraise your piano online (including at the Blue Book of Pianos website) using only a piano’s brand, model, year and your description of its general condition. These services tend to be reasonably priced (around 20 USD at the time of writing), and they are a step beyond looking up selling price data for your make and model.
The obvious difficulty with these approaches is that nobody actually sees your piano. Further, piano owners are usually no more qualified to assess the actual condition of their piano than is the typical car owner, who probably knows next to nothing about how cars work. A piano may look perfect on the outside but the soundboard may have slight cracks, the bridge may be in need of repair, the hammers and strings may need replacement and the action regulated. All of this involves time-consuming and expensive professional work, and it will naturally affect the resale value of a piano. (The Blue Book does offer helpful guidelines for determining piano condition.) Still, the investment in online piano appraisal is modest and the information can be a valuable guideline, if not the final word on your piano’s value.
By far the most effective piano appraisal method is hiring a professional technician to value the piano. This will cost about as much as getting your piano tuned, and it may very well end up paying for itself if it means buying a piano for a lower price. It will also prevent sellers from (often unknowingly) asking an unreasonable price for their piano.
A piano appraisal should be up to date, as used piano prices both decrease as a piano ages and fluctuate in accordance with the market. Although there may not be a “piano crisis” the equivalent of a housing crisis (although a ten-foot Fazioli concert grand looks like it could house a small family!), an appraisal of its value will naturally reflect current supply and demand. Again, I can’t stress enough that market value is not musical value. A house may sell for half its original value in a real estate crisis, but it is not suddenly half the quality. It’s still the same house.
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