How to move a piano

June 22, 2021

Piano Maintenance

We have a short story to tell you. Please read it if you need to move your piano as this can happen to you, too.

A good friend of our music school recently contacted us about selling their upright acoustic piano. We looked at dozens of pictures of the outside and inside of the piano and it looked really good! It was a trustworthy piano brand, had no visible damage to the case or the mechanics inside, and nothing seemed broken or worn out.

We looked the piano up by the serial number to find out the year it was made. With all factors combined, we estimated that the piano should be worth around $3,000 – IF the piano was indeed in good condition. We knew that the only way to find out if a used piano is in good condition is to have a piano technician come out and inspect the inner workings in depth – in person.

That is exactly what we did! We went to take a look at the piano with our wonderful piano technician. The first thing that struck us as odd was the strange way the piano was being stored. The piano was lifted up on a dolly in the hallway and in a position that it could not be possibly played by anyone. Naturally, we asked why the piano was there. The answer was that it needed to be moved from its original place because of moving other furniture etc. 

“Did you move it yourself?”

“Yeah, it was surprising how heavy it was!”

“You betcha, an upright piano can weigh between 500 and 1000lbs!”

After asking those questions, we continued with our inspection: for a 40 year old piano, all the moving parts were in excellent condition, the outside had no scratches or other visible damage. It was even still mostly in tune, which meant that the piano was tuned by a professional piano tuner from time to time. 

Surprisingly, in the end, the piano was totally worthless. It couldn’t be sold. The maximum our friend could hope for is that someone would take it for free. Why? The soundboard was cracked!

The soundboard is an integral part of  a piano. It is a piece of plywood located right behind the strings in an upright piano and right below the strings on a grand piano. It is a central part that allows the piano to sound the way it should. If the soundboard is damaged in any way, the piano will not sound the way it should.

 On the piano we were looking at, there was a huge crack in the soundboard. It looked like a very recent issue. Pianos are constructed in a way  in which the procedure to repair or replace a soundboard is extremely expensive! It is simply cheaper to buy a new piano with the soundboard intact than to repair a broken one. 

How do cracks in a piano soundboard occur?

Sometimes the somewhat “natural” cause of a cracked soundboard on a piano is a drastic change in the room temperature and humidity or an improper placement of the piano (right by a heat source, for example).

The other very common cause is improper handling of the piano during a move. Remember how heavy pianos are? If you and your friends start moving the piano and hit just a little too hard putting it on and off the dolly, you can crack the soundboard – effectively “killing” your piano. 

How to move your piano a short distance

If you need to simply roll the piano on a flat surface a short distance from one place to another, then it’s fine to do it by yourself, assuming wheels are included. Be sure you have at least 2 people: move very slowly, don’t bang it against anything!

If you need to go over small ledges on the floor, then very slowly lift the piano over them one side at a time – just enough to clear the ledge and make sure to set it back down very slowly.  Be very careful not to throw your back!

For upright pianos, there is a handle on the back of the piano for one hand and you can grab underneath the keyboard with your other hand. Get your body all the way against the side of the piano, keep your back completely straight, and really focus on using your legs. You can do this facing forward or backwards.

If you have two people that can lift one side of the piano while the third and/or fourth person handles the other side – even better!

For grand pianos you should carefully grab underneath the body and around each of three legs, one leg at a time. Again, two or more people for lifting is much safer for both the piano itself and your own backs.

Hire a professional to move your piano!

If you need to move a piano up or down any stairs, transport it on a dolly, or load it onto a truck, then you must use professional piano movers. Moving companies often have their employees certified as piano movers: you just need to ask for that in advance.

If you have an upright piano, it will be wrapped in heavy blankets, all corners and keyboard protected, and then securely put on a dolly for transportation.

If you have a grand – the legs and the pedals will be removed while supported by a special piece of equipment, and then rolled on it’s side onto a dolly.

If you are moving your piano in addition to other furniture, then there is usually no difference in the cost of moving the piano as opposed to another large piece of furniture. If you are moving the piano only, then it will probably be a couple of hundreds of dollars. 

Now, if you are reading this still thinking “I can probably do it myself with a few of my gym friends!” then (aside from the fact that you absolutely won’t be able to detach and reattach the pedals on a grand piano) please remember what happened to the piano in our story above. The crack on the soundboard looked new, which means that it most likely happened during the “self” move and lift.

Imagine that you have a piano worth several thousands of dollars. You decide to save a few hundred on the move and  *poof*  your piano is suddenly worth nothing.

Moral of the story: don’t move a piano by yourself. Use a professional piano moving company!

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