In the game “hot potato,” a beanbag or similar item is passed around a circle. When the music stops, whoever is holding the bag is “out”. In the game of “old piano,” the instrument is passed from owner to owner, but when the music stops and the piano can no longer be played, whoever is stuck with it pays the disposal fee.
As a culture, we get attached to the piano in our homes. It is easy to overlook or forgive things like buzzing strings, buzzing keys, or the fact that it no longer holds a tuning. Performance degrades over time, often incrementally until it can no longer be ignored. Pianos are built to last for decades, but not forever.
Pianos have two lives, the musical life and the cabinet life. The cabinet may stay intact long after the mechanical functionality of the instrument has died. Pianos do not come with odometers to tell us when they have achieved “high mileage” status. We can only go by age and current condition to determine an older piano’s viability as a practice instrument. The overwhelming majority of pianos are designed to last about 40-60 years. There is approximately 40,000 pounds of tension created by the strings of a piano, which translates to about 700 pounds of pressure on the soundboard. All day and all night, a piano is resisting the force attempting to twist it into a pretzel. After about 40 years of the wood in a piano expanding and contracting with seasonal humidity changes, we start to see more cases of soundboard cracks, splits in the bridges, soft-spots in the pinblock and separations in the back-frame or rim. If the piano was heavily played, the action parts may also be worn out. These issues prevent a piano from functioning properly and the cost of repairs would far exceed the market value of the restored piano.
Gifting an old piano to a student pianist frequently seems kind and generous, but just as frequently the old piano causes a student to struggle with accurately reproducing the techniques learned during lessons. Students need a piano to hold a tuning for 6 months or more so they can learn to recognize proper pitch. They need a piano’s keys to operate smoothly, so they can develop a pianist’s touch. Once a piano ceases to do these things reliably, it becomes a liability to any student who plays on it.
Schools and churches have learned their lesson over the years as they have paid the cost to move a free piano, only to discover later that it cannot hold a tuning to concert pitch or the tuning will only hold for a few weeks.
There are no organizations that we know of that readily accept pianos. Unfortunately, most of the old pianos out there do not share component design with modern pianos. Just as we cannot take a transmission out of a car from the 1950s to put in a modern car, we cannot take an action out of a 1950s piano and put it in a modern piano. Even if we could, it would not result in a well-performing piano with a long life expectancy. If you are mechanically inclined to safely disassemble the piano, there are some reclaimable materials, like the cast iron plate, steel and copper strings, etc. But the reason there are no organizations interested in setting up a piano recycling operation is that the labor to extract the materials exceeds their value.
If you are unsure whether your piano has lived out its musical life, before you sell it or donate it to someone else, you can hire a professional piano technician to inspect it, in the same way one might bring a car to a mechanic to evaluate it. However, if you have advertised it online for a while, for sale or for free, and you have had no takers, the music may have stopped and you are likely holding the proverbial hot potato. IT IS MORE RESPONSIBLE TO DISPOSE OF YOUR PIANO THAN TO PASS IT ON TO A STUDENT TRYING TO PRACTICE AND LEARN A LIFELONG SKILL.
We have worked with these companies in the past for disposing of old pianos. They are reliable and priced fairly.
Lance's Hauling 518-265-9459
Jim Johnson Piano Moving 518-441-8936
Carney & Bloomer Trucking 315-472-6927