Buying a used piano
The first thing you need to know is what type (size) of piano you want. If it's for home study I'd recommend an upright piano because it's not as expensive as the grand piano and it is a higher quality instrument than the spinet (the shortest type of piano). If your budget can afford a grand piano and you've got plenty of space at home, I'd say go for it.
Although people could try to trick you into paying more than the actual instrument is worth or that they don't know all these technical aspects that give an instrument its worth, you should know the basics of what makes a piano good (or bad).
When buying a used piano it's best to take someone with you who knows how to tell a good piano apart from a bad one (ex: a piano technician or a person who knows more than you do about pianos). If you can't afford a piano technician or don't know anybody who can help you, the next best advice is to try and find out for yourself if it's a good piano or a bad piano.
The first step is to look at the inside and outside of the piano, this will let you know if the instrument has been taken care of or not. By searching the serial number (that is usually on the bronze plate or on the back of the piano) you can find out how old the piano is. You don't want an old piano because the materials from which the piano is built may degrade over time (it depends in what conditions the piano was kept).
The next step is to check the strings. When looking inside the piano, look for rust or new strings. If you see rust on the strings then you should move on to another piano because it's just a matter of time until they break. You might ask: how can new strings be a bad thing? Well, new strings can be a sign that the old strings broke because their quality was low. If that's the case then the other strings might break as well.
Ask the owner when was the piano last tuned. If it was tuned a short period time ago and the piano is out of tune, that means that the pin blocks are loose and you should move on to the next piano. Basically, pin blocks are fine threaded screws (that hold the strings) that go through a whole through the cast iron plate (or bronze plate) into a chunk of wood. If the piano hasn't been tuned for a while it will be out of tune.
To know if the piano is out of tune because the instrument hasn't been tuned for a while and not because there are loose pin blocks, just play the chromatic scale and look for uniformity. What I mean by that is although the piano will sound out of tune, you should hear a consistency in the sound and not sounds that are far off from the ones next to it. So if the piano has this consistency in sound then the pin blocks pass the test.
Next, check for the soundboard. The soundboard is a large vertical thin wood plate at the back of the instrument that has the purpose to amplify the sound of the piano. When referring to pianos, there are 2 types of soundboards: solid spruce soundboards and laminated (spruce plywood) soundboards. Laminated soundboards aren't bad, they're decent but they're not as good as the solid spruce soundboards, so aim for solid spruce.
Also you need to check the soundboard for cracks, you do that by inspecting very carefully the back of the piano. Cracks in the soundboard can occur if the soundboard was hit or because of old age, another reason not to buy old pianos. If the soundboard has cracks, you could still play that piano but the crack would make a buzzing sound, which is annoying and can ruin your performance.
The last step is to check for the action in the keys and how they're working. So, if you find keys on a piano that are stuck after you've pressed them or if the hammers that hit the strings are stuck, that's not really a big deal and can be easily fixed and it won't be expensive to do so.
Basically, rusted pin blocks or strings, or cracked soundboards and so on can be fixed but for most of the pianos it isn't worth it because its a little bit expensive and you could get the same or even better quality for a lower price.
These are the most important aspects to look for when buying a used piano.
Web sites where you can search for pianos:www.craigslist.org
Note: never buy a piano without checking it out!
Buying a new piano
Buying a new piano is much easier than buying a used one but the downside is that they are more expensive. An upside is that you get the full package: proficient services, home delivery of the instrument, tuning, warranty and regulation. All you have to look for is the sound of the piano and the weight of the keys so that it will fit your needs. Then comes the budget and the furniture needs.
The same advice goes for new pianos also: don't buy a piano without checking it out!
To take care of a piano is not that hard but there are some aspects that you need to know in order to optimize your piano's maintenance. Pianos often get detuned and it's because of the factors that make an environment unfriendly. Such factors are: humidity, temperature, and contaminants.
Much of a piano is made of wood, and is therefore extremely sensitive to fluctuations in humidity. The piano's wooden soundboard is designed to have an arch, or crown. The crown increases or decreases with changes of humidity, changing the tension on the strings and throwing the instrument out of tune. Larger fluctuations in humidity can affect regulation, and even cause parts to crack. If humidity changes are extreme, the soundboard can warp so much that it can collapse and lose its crown, which may require rebuilding or replacement of the instrument.
Piano owners can prevent these problems by controlling humidity. Most technicians recommend an indoor relative humidity in the range of 30% to 50%, kept as frequent as possible. However, even with these precautions, changes in weather can affect indoor humidity. Ideally, a piano owner would use a hygrometer in conjunction with a humidifier and dehumidifier and/or air conditioner/evaporative cooler to keep the humidity of the room housing the piano constant year-round.
Keeping the piano away from air vents, heaters, open windows, open doors, direct sunlight, and the kitchen can help prevent damage, since all these are potential sources of sudden changes in humidity.
Pianos can be easily damaged by liquids. Liquid spills can only damage the exterior finish; however, if a spill reaches the inside of the piano, it can result in costly damage to the action or soundboard. Piano owners should protect their instruments by keeping liquids as far away from the instrument as possible. Dust in between the keys can interfere with the action but can be minimized by keeping the lid closed when the instrument is not being used, however, the lid should be opened at times to ensure air circulation to prevent mold from growing. If a spill occurs, immediate action should be taken by removing the keys, cleaning them in a grease cutting solution and allowing them to dry. Careful disassembly, and reassembly should be taken if done by anyone other than a technician.
Moving a piano is a complicated process. There is risk to the piano, risk of bodily injury to the person moving the piano and other people and risk of damage to other property. Although moving a piano may seem like a simple task, there are hidden factors which compound the process. Pianos are difficult to move and should only be moved by a professional who is careful, properly trained, insured, and has the proper equipment.
An upright piano is the most popular and easier to move than a grand piano. It is moved by lifting the piano and sliding a piano movers' dolly underneath or lifting the piano up onto the dolly. The dolly has a strong frame for moving and large rubber wheels for ease of moving and not scratching the floor. The piano is transported to its new location and removed from the dolly. The piano should be covered to prevent being scratched or damaged.
The wheels attached to the upright piano itself are rarely used for moving, and are primarily used as cosmetic effects. For a studio piano with larger, double wheels, it is only designed for short moves. When moving a studio piano beyond the immediate room or for more than just a few feet, a dolly should still be used.