I have the opportunity to get a very old piano (~100 years old!) for free. I have been told that the higher keys are not working, so they need to be replaced. It seems I need to clean it up internally, and replace the all strings.

I found some tutorials on YouTube explaining how to tune a piano, and some how to fix some parts. I assume I will find the needed tutorials which explain how to fix the rest of the parts.

I have been told that I will need to spray it, but I don't even understand what/where.

I also have no idea which strings to put. If this is acceptable - direct EBay links will be appreciated, otherwise - keywords will help.

Generally - I am still unsure if I should get the piano. Moving it and restoring it will not be cheap (but it will be fun). Any tips will be appreciated.

EDIT: I decided against doing this. Thanks for all the advices.

Some recommended that a professional technician to look on the piano, someone did... and the cost was not worth it. This is why the piano is given at no charge.

4 Answers 4


I am a Registered Piano Technician with the Piano Technicians Guild.


It is unlikely that you need to replace all of the strings, unless many are broken. Even then you can tune it under standard pitch to reduce the risk of breakage.

There are many other more serious things that could be wrong with the piano like a cracked pinblock. That would render the piano untunable. Or a pinblock that is separated from the frame. That could result in catastrophic failure if the pinblock broke off the frame after being tuned up to standard pitch.

I suggest hiring a piano technician to take a look at it.

You could also try my check list. http://howtotunepianos.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/PianoCheckList.pdf

Good luck, Mark

P.S. There are no good videos on youtube that show you how to tune a piano. Take a look at http://howtotunepianos.com. I have some free lessons.

  • OK. You convinced me... However, no good tuning tutorials on youtube? Can you tell me whats wrong with this for example...? youtube.com/watch?v=kPeef2_yhko
    – elcuco
    Commented Jan 11, 2016 at 11:13
  • The main issue I have with Howard’s videos is that he has a limited understanding of stability. He says for example to always keep your hammer at 12 o’clock. That’s an instruction without a “why”. Once you know why people say that, you’ll see that it’s not needed and sometimes desireable to use 3:00 for example. Commented Jul 29, 2020 at 12:31
  • Care to explain why?
    – elcuco
    Commented Aug 26, 2020 at 8:21
  • It’s simple physics. The non speaking length (NSL) needs to be left tight for the string not to slip on the v-bar. Why do I say this? There’s the complicated explanation and the simple one. The simple one is that in practice we rarely see the pitch go sharp. So, it stands to reason that we need the NSL to be tight to avoid the pitch going flat which is what usually happens. How to do that? We don’t. The unbending/untwisting of the string does it. The pin bends and twists during tuning. It unbends/untwisted after we let go the hammer. See howtotunepianos.com/superior-stability Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 11:56

Don't do it.

The cost of the new strings alone will be more than the price for a second hand piano in reasonable condition. A piano of that age is most likely simply worn out. Even if you manage to make it playable, it most likely won't be very usable compared to a modern instrument. For instance, if the piano is old enough to be built on a wooden frame (as opposed to iron) it will be next to impossible to keep in tune.

You mention the higher keys "not working". While this could be due to a number of factors, you can't simply "replace" them. Finding spares for a mechanism that old will prove very difficult. It is a highly complex mechanism!

Finally, although this probably isn't the case everywhere, where I live (Sweden) pianos of much newer vintages and fully working are always available for free if you come pick them up. Perhaps you could find a better specimen not needing as much work?

  • 2
    "where I live, pianos ... are always available for free" - I'm emigrating tomorrow.
    – 11684
    Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 16:38

You better get more definite explanations for the "need to spray it". If it's infested with woodworms, chances are that not only will your investments bear no relation to how usable (if at all) the instrument will be afterwards, but you might want to keep it away from any cabinets or wooden structures of your house.


I think this depends on which quality instrument it will be after the necessary repairs. If this is a well made, good quality old instrument (maybe just dusty and was unused for a while), then this may make sense. Probably a lot repairs could be made for a price of the new piano.

If, differently, it has been cheaply made from beginning, have been treated badly over long time or something is cracked there beyond repair, then another story.

Hence use your mobile phone to take some photos of the piano, including various corners of the interior, and show to some more or less competent piano specialist. The specialist should be able to say if the piano is at least worth seeing by him or not.

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