How to Determine the Value of a Used Piano

The purpose of this article is to comment on and clarify the information in Piano Buyer on determining the value of a used piano. (The Piano Buyer article has since been revised to include these comments.)

Fair Market Value

Fair market value is the price at which an item would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither of whom is compelled to buy or sell, and each of whom has reasonable knowledge of the relevant facts.

Appraisers of used pianos and other consumer goods typically use three different methods to determine fair market value: comparable sales, depreciation, and idealized value minus the cost of restoration.

Comparable Sales

The comparable sales method compares the piano being appraised with recent actual selling prices of other pianos of like brand, model, age, condition, and location. Generally speaking, this is the most accurate method of determining value when one has access to a body of information on recent sale prices of comparable items. The problem here is that, with few exceptions, it’s rare to find several recently sold pianos that are perfect matches for all these criteria. There is no central repository for sales information on used pianos, and each appraiser or technician, over a lifetime, sees pianos that are so diverse and scattered as to these criteria that they are likely to be of only limited value as appraisal guides. (Exceptions might be technicians or dealers who specialize in used Yamaha, Kawai, or Steinway pianos, brands that have attained near-commodity status in the piano business.)

Piano Buyer includes a chart, “Prices of Used Pianos,” which was compiled after querying a number of piano technicians about their memories of comparable sales of pianos of various ages, sizes, and conditions. This chart is most useful for determining the approximate value of many brands of older piano for which it would otherwise be difficult to find enough comparable sales to determine a value. Understandably, however, the price ranges shown in the chart are quite broad.

Depreciation

The depreciation method of determining fair market value is based on the fact that many types of consumer goods lose value over time at a more or less predictable rate. A depreciation schedule, such as the one in Piano Buyer, shows how much a used piano is worth as a percentage of the actual selling price of a new piano of comparable quality. The problem here is that so many older brands are now made by companies different from the original, in different factories and parts of the world, and to different standards, that it can be difficult or impossible to determine what constitutes a “comparable” new piano. Thus, this method of figuring value is best used for pianos of relatively recent make when the model is still in production, or for older pianos whose makers have remained under relatively constant ownership, location, and standards, and for which, therefore, a comparable model can reasonably be determined. Note that depreciation is from the current price of the model, not the original price, because the current price takes into account inflation and, if applicable, changes in the value of foreign currencies.

Idealized Value Minus the Cost of Restoration

This is the difference between the cost of a rebuilt piano and the cost to restore the unrebuilt one to like-new condition. For example, if a piano, rebuilt, would be worth $50,000, and it would cost $30,000 to restore the unrebuilt one to like-new condition, then according to this method the unrebuilt piano would be worth $20,000. This method can be used when a piano needs extensive, quantifiable repair work. It’s not appropriate to use this method for an instrument that is relatively new or in good condition.

Other Types of Valuation

Several other types of valuation are sometimes called for:

Replacement value is what it would cost to replace the used piano with a brand-new one. This value is often sought when someone has purchased an insurance policy with a rider that guarantees replacement of a lost or damaged piano with a new one instead of paying the fair market value of the used one. The problem here, again, is what brand and model of new piano to consider “comparable” if the original brand and model are no longer being made, or are not being made to the same standards. Here it may be helpful to consult the rating chart in the Piano Buyer article “The New-Piano Market Today.” Choose a brand whose relationship to today’s piano market is similar to that the original brand bore to the piano market of its day. Whatever brand and model you choose, depending on how high a replacement value you seek, you can use either the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (highest), the approximate street price (lowest), or something in between. These prices, or information on how to estimate them, can be found in each issue of Piano Buyer. 

Trade-in value is what a commercial seller would pay for the used piano, usually in trade (or partial trade) for a new one. This is discounted from the fair market value, typically by at least 20 to 30 percent, to allow the commercial seller to make a profit when reselling the instrument. (In practice, the commercial seller will often pay the fair market value for the used piano, but to compensate, will increase the price of the new piano to the consumer.)

Salvage value is what a dealer, technician, or rebuilder would pay for a piano that is essentially unplayable or unserviceable and in need of restoration. It can be determined using the idealized-value-minus-cost-of-restoration method, but discounted, like trade-in value, to allow the commercial seller to make a profit.

Acoustic & Digital Piano Buyer, the successor to The Piano Book, by Larry Fine, is a FREE, semiannual piano buying guide that will help you make an informed decision concerning the purchase of a new or used piano or digital piano. Read it FREE online, or purchase it in print at http://www.PianoBuyer.com.

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18 thoughts on “How to Determine the Value of a Used Piano

  1. I have been asked to determine the value of a 7’4″ Falcone in near-perfect condition, recently donated to a Pro Musica group and currently used in public performances. It is one of the original group of pianos built under the personal supervision of Santi Falcone in Haverhill, MA., SN 1050, 1987. The piano has been appraised locally at approximately $52,000, but the donor feels that its rarity and uniqueness should command a higher value. I have given two public recitals on this instrument and can attest to its excellence. Any suggestions will be most appreciated.

    • It’s important to remember that the real fair market value of a piano (or anything else) is the price that a buyer and seller would agree on. An appraisal is only an estimate of what that price would be. An appraisal cannot create value beyond what someone would actually pay for the piano. I say this because I often hear of pianos that are supposedly worth a great deal because of some special factor. But in the absence of proof that a sale actually occurred at the premium price, such talk is purely speculative, even fantasy. In the present case, unless you can point to an actual sale of a Falcone at a premium price due to its “rarity,” I would suggest appraising the Falcone in the same way you would appraise any other piano. What I would do is find a “comparable” brand and model of new piano, determine its actual selling price, and apply a percentage from a depreciation schedule for a 25-year-old instrument. In this case, I would suggest that a Mason & Hamlin model BB would be a suitable “comparable” instrument. A new BB in satin ebony would sell (after normal retail discounts) somewhere in the vicinity of $45,000. The depreciation scheudule in Piano Buyer suggests that a 25-year-old grand in excellent condition is worth about 40 percent of the value of a new one. In this case, that would suggest a value of $18,000 for the Falcone. I’m sure the client will not be happy with this answer.

  2. Thank you for your comment. It probably won’t be cheery news to the donor, who needs to estimate his tax writeoff, but it’s helpful to me.

  3. Very true….even though a price tag often exists on an instrument, there may come a day of agreement between the buyer and seller of a different price for the electronic piano or grand piano. Thank you for enlightening me on such a valuable buy. I will be visiting more often for more information 🙂

  4. I am trying to determine the value of a 1987 Kimball which was used in the 1988 Superbowl Halftime Show titled “Something Grand” The show had 44 black and 44 white baby grands and this is one of the white ones. It is in perfect condition and has proof. Paid $10,000 in 1988

  5. Hello. I have a Cremona Piano nº 5978 (engraved: Prize Medal Awarded, Squire & Longson, 28&40, Great College St. London NW, Inventions Contribution). First of all I want to know where I can find the history of this particular piano, second I want to know where I can find pieces to make a reconstruction with my sons, and last i want to have an idea of the value of this beautiful piece. Can you help me?

    • According to the Pierce Piano Atlas, your Ivers & Pond piano was made around 1936 or 1937. You haven’t given me enough information to even come up with a ballpark figure (grand or vertical? size? condition?). Please read the article on the subject of piano valuation in Piano Buyer. It includes some price charts that may be helpful.

  6. I have a white Kimball baby grand piano that was used in the Super Bowl 22 in their halftime show. The year was 1988 and they show included both black and white Kimballs, the rockets, Chubby Checker and used the number “88” as their theme, thus the pianos. I bought the piano from a local dealer who knew the reason we would want one as this one had an engraved plaque inside the piano itself which states it was used on the 1988 super bowl “Something Grand” This is in perfect, nearly new condition. No scratches, no nicks, no mars of any kind. I am wondering what this might be worth.

  7. Hi! I’m curious about the value (or potential value) of a piano I just acquired. It’s an Ivers & Pond upright, just over 52″, style 107 (from what I can tell), serial number 20,940. I picked it up from a Church where it has been played every Sunday and Tuesday (for choir practice). It has been there for at least the last 50 years, maybe longer, so it has been regularly maintained. It’s beautiful inside and out–the wear that it shows is very mild and more “charm” and character (at least to me!).
    I plan on keeping it and playing it (it sounds fantastic) but I was just curious about its worth. I’m also wondering what it could be worth if I decided to fully restore it one day.
    Any thoughts you have would be appreciated.
    Thanks!

  8. Hi, I have a C Bechstein upright piano made between 1903-1904 (66771 serial number)
    which I would like to sell. It is mahogany with inlay and veneer. It needs work on it. Are you able to give me an idea of a price?. It belonged to my grandparents but has not been played much recently. Any comments welcome. Many thanks

    • It would depend on many factors, most of all internal working condition and what sort of repair it needs. I strongly suggest hiring an experienced piano technician to inspect and appraise it.

  9. Hi there,

    I bought Kawai K3 (made in Japan) about 4 years ago brand new at $5000 and it was only lightly used by my daughter for about 2.5 years. Now someone wanted to buy it from you. Do you know what would be a reasonable asking price for a like-new piano? Thanks a lot for your help in advance!

    Amelia

    • You got the piano for a good price four years ago. A similar piano today would probably cost (new) about $7,000-$7,500. I would expect you could sell your piano for around $4,500-$5,000.

  10. I work for Habitat for Humanity, in Portland Oregon. Pianos are donated to us periodically. We recently received a Blonde Oak Baby Grande Gulbransen. The serial number indicates that it was made in 1927. It is in tune, and the finish is in excellent condition. There are no cracks in the plate, and it came with it’s original bench. We have NO idea how to price it. Any thoughts?

    • On Pianobuyer.com, we have a major article on how to buy a used piano, which contains information on how to value a used piano. One of the charts is called “Prices of Used Pianos”, and is useful when a comparable new instrument from which to depreciate cannot be identified. The price ranges given are necessarily large, and much depends on the piano’s condition. I would suggest having the piano tuned and appraised by a piano technician. Based on the chart, the piano could be worth anywhere from zero to $4,000 (also depending on whether one considers Gulbransen to be an “average” brand or a “better” brand). Given today’s depressed used-piano market, if I had to take a guess, knowing no more than what you have told me, I would guess that the value is no more than $1,000, in part because blonde oak is one of the least desirable finishes in pianos today.

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