Free Piano! (to Good Home)
July 11, 2022 12:07 AM   Subscribe

Ideas, suggestions, or just flat-out solutions: I have a spinet piano in very good condition which I'd like to donate to a good cause/organization/whatever—and I'd like the receiver to carefully pick it up and take it away—e.g. not just some guy and his brother-in-law—but by big people with vehicles and equipment meant for the job of moving delicate heavy machines like pianos. Usually it costs $300–$400 to move this with me each time I change residences. I do not use it enough to warrant this. Help me DTMFPA

Type: 1950s mahogany Baldwin Acrosonic spinet in very good condition. This one for sale on eBay is basically the same piano.

My own random skim through the web: According to "the internet", technically it should be worth something because it still sounds very bright, there are very few dings on the finish, and it's been kept in good shape the past seventy-some years. But other places say it has "zero-to-negative value". (Since moving it costs so much.)

My only three interactions with people in the real world:
• first with a director of the local senior center: "we don't have the room or the budget to maintain it"
• then with a used piano dealer: "oh, ho ho ho, noooooo. Good luck."
• with my erstwhile piano tuner: "have you tried craigslist?" (see "I don't want Joe Shlabotnik to show up with his 1980's Dodge Van and 16 bungee cords and his 17-year-old nephew.")

Short backstory: I'm the third of four generations to noodle on it. I'm sick of paying hundreds of dollars to lug this with me every time I move residences (avg every 4 yrs). I love the sound, and I love the memories of growing up messing around with it, and listening to my kid find his musical ear on it—but beyond that, meh, it's more of an albatross I picked up, and my son isn't emotionally attached to it. Nobody alive in the family minds that I want to give it away. I recently bought a digital weighted-key piano precisely because I knew the day would come I'd have to give this thing away. (It fools my brain enough into thinking I'm actually playing the piano, which is good enough for me.) Emotionally now that I've let go, I'm ready to shed it, who'll take a nice piano?

So I have a few weeks to spare; I move out on August 15. Any help appreciated! I'm in the Boston area if that matters! Thanks!

Bonus peek inside my mind
posted by not_on_display to Grab Bag (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Would a local school like it?
posted by Coaticass at 12:13 AM on July 11, 2022

Or a bigger local church?
posted by kschang at 1:01 AM on July 11, 2022

The problem is that the organizations that need one can't afford to either move it, or maintain it in good condition. You can call around to churches and schools and such, but most places that people think of, they've already fielded calls from someone offering them a trash piano in terrible condition, probably more than once, from people who want it gone but don't want to accept that it is trash, much like the moldy paperbacks full of spiders that people insist on giving to libraries. So they are hesitant to even entertain the idea, even if they might be missing out on an actually-nice piano.

Yours sounds really nice, and I would suggest calling other piano tuners in the area to see if they know anyone who might need one-- and offer to pay to move it on behalf of the recipient, or at least split the cost. Nobody is going to move it properly for free. My other suggestion is finding a consignment shop that will take it and sell it for you-- they often pick up large items if it's worth it to them. Having been properly maintained over the years is a plus in that case.
posted by blnkfrnk at 1:13 AM on July 11, 2022 [19 favorites]

I gave mine to a local religious school. I had to get it there myself. I found that there were no bids for my upright piano. Quite frankly, my alternative was to break it apart and put it in a dumpster. I never tried to sell it. Only give it to a good home. A local Yeshiva agreed to take it and some other household items and give me a receipt for tax purposes. More bad news: I have a pickup truck and me and a friend and our two sons moved it with straps and tie downs.

People/organizations I tried: Local public schools, churches, temples, mosques. Local online hyper local news site in their classifieds. Local music school. Piano tuner. Used piano dealer from whom I purchased it (I offered to give it to them if they could sell it to a good home. They keep the proceeds). Salvation army. The woman who has been cleaning my homes for, at the time, 15 years. I put signs up in the local grocery stores. I also asked a few neighbors with young kids.

It was my experience that if I wanted my piano, in good condition, to live on, it was going to cost me in terms of moving it. The only no cost option I had was the sawzall.

If you change your mind about two putzes with a pickup moving it, try local college sororities and fraternities. Maybe they have members who would want to noodle around.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:29 AM on July 11, 2022 [8 favorites]

And I might add, if you pay to move it for the recipient, think of it this way: you never have to pay to move it again.
posted by blnkfrnk at 1:39 AM on July 11, 2022 [11 favorites]

Talk to some piano teachers - they may have some students who need a piano - or may be happy to have a "spare" .
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 1:58 AM on July 11, 2022 [5 favorites]

The piano situation in the West. (It’s a dated article but probably even more true.) that yours is in good condition may help - good luck!
posted by warriorqueen at 2:08 AM on July 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Contact Mariana Quinn, the head of the Piano Technical Services office at Harvard. PTS is responsible for maintaining all the pianos across the University (over 200!), and might either want it or point you in the direction of someone else who does.

Alternatively, contact the development office at North Bennet Street School, which accepts piano donations as gifts-in-kind for their Piano Technology courses.

You could also post it to NBSS' alumni classifieds to see if a Piano Tech grad is looking for a piano.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 3:24 AM on July 11, 2022 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Contact music schools and see if they want it. Normally they pay for transport and have the budget to maintain and tune.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:28 AM on July 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Try an estate sales company in your area. They know everyone that deals in antiques, vintage, second-hand goods. You might need to pay them a commission, but sometimes it is worth paying a little bit to save yourself time. If you want to go it yourself, maybe try an online estate sales site. This one comes to mind but there are others. Another place to check are the local assisted living, or skilled nursing facilities; they might be interested in it as a donation for their community room if you offer to organize and pay for pick up and delivery.

I was in your place a few years ago only the piano in question was a 1970s Yamaha upright. I thought for sure I could unload it myself before the estate sales company came in to do the house contents. I called everyplace and no one was interested. The estate sales company was able to sell the piano, and a huge 5 foot tall safe bolted to a closet floor. They said, "we know people." It was totally worth the commission. Good luck!
posted by socrateaser at 4:30 AM on July 11, 2022 [8 favorites]

It’s a great idea to contact music schools but since you have a deadline I’ll just reiterate my link above. I worked for a music school with a piano restoration program and we were offered, no kidding, hundreds of pianos a week, most of which were not suitable. It may well be that your piano is an exception! But please don’t plan on it.
posted by warriorqueen at 4:39 AM on July 11, 2022 [6 favorites]

I might rethink your assumptions about people who can’t afford piano movers not being good homes. I’ve definitely been the person who moved the piano myself. And then had it tuned and given it a good life! Someone who accepts your craigslist offer and moves it themselves a) is too poor to afford a nice piano and b) loves music and/or wants to learn. I can think of few better gifts or homes for your beloved piano!
posted by shadygrove at 5:27 AM on July 11, 2022 [28 favorites]

Yes, don’t discount people who have no money but do have a pickup and some friends. I learned to play on a piano that was moved across town on a utility trailer. 10 years later, it was muscled into an old van on its way to a new home.
posted by rockindata at 5:41 AM on July 11, 2022 [11 favorites]

As a suggestion, if you find a charitable cause that will accept your piano (a school, church, family that could not otherwise afford a piano, youth group, old people’s home, women’s refuge) you might find a delivery company willing to negotiate the fee because of the charitable nature of the exercise. If the balance is affordable for you, you could mentally view that as a charitable donation, and as a previous poster said this is the last time you will pay it for this piano.

I get the sense that your piano having a good home has a value for you and I do not think it is unreasonable for you to budget for that sense of contentment for yourself. It is not daft to pay to ensure your piano’s safe transit even if you are not the one keeping it.
posted by Erinaceus europaeus at 5:44 AM on July 11, 2022 [6 favorites]

In my area, western USA, there is an organization called Piano Angels which will take old pianos, fix and tune them, then give them to a needy piano student (or anyone else who asks for one.) Try looking around for something like that. Local musical instrument stores should have a contact, or maybe try the high school music director of area schools.
posted by eleslie at 6:04 AM on July 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

It's really hard to find anyone who wants a piano, even free. You might try listing it on
posted by Sublimity at 6:04 AM on July 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

I've given away a beloved multi-generational piano for free on my local neighborhood listserv (now probably a BuyNothing group) and offered to pay for the professional piano movers. It was SNAPPED UP. The movers cost me less than $250, since the move itself was local. I tipped generously.

I strongly suggest you write down the history of the piano, the names of people who played on it, its meaning to your family, favorite songs, etc. and tuck it inside. You will feel better about letting it go, and future owners will be so pleased.
posted by nkknkk at 6:16 AM on July 11, 2022 [13 favorites]

Yeah we got rid of ours by putting the word out amongst musicians...a few punks from a punk house rented a van and dragged it out all by themselves, ecstatic with joy. Offer it for free but make sure it has to be moved without your involvement and it will be gone quickly. If the manhandling of it hurts to watch, don't.
posted by tiny frying pan at 6:23 AM on July 11, 2022 [7 favorites]

blnkfrnk's comment is dead-on. If you want to gauge of what your odds are getting rid of the piano, do a quick FB Marketplace search of pianos and see how many are listed as free. I got to 40 in my immediate area before I stopped counting. Many of them looked to be very nice.

It's a heckuva thing trying to get rid of a piano.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:04 AM on July 11, 2022 [3 favorites]

Agreeing with the suggestion to contact someone who handles estate sales. That was the only way we were able to unload a beloved family piano after trying all of the usual strategies of donation to music schools, religious organizations, community groups etc . Also, a Washington Post article about the glut of pianos that the downsizing baby boomers are having difficulty giving away.
posted by fies at 8:00 AM on July 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I donated my Baldwin Acrosonic to a community center, and got "some guy and his brother-in-law" literally, plus another brother, to move it on the back of a pickup truck. They were local farmers who are friends of mine. I supervised. The move went fine — that's a fine piano which would be hard to mess up, short of doing a piano drop with it. They used a furniture dolly to wheel it, tipped it into and out of the truck onto its side, and of course tied it down tightly in the truck.

So I would drop your insistence on using actual piano movers, unless you want to pay for it. Find an organization that will take it and that will find their own guy with truck, brothers, friends, and in-laws.
posted by beagle at 9:22 AM on July 11, 2022 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: {@shadygrove & @rockindata: just to be clear, I am not implying Joe Shlabotnik and his nephew from Craigslist are poor. This isn't a classist thing [says a white guy with too much piano], I just don't want someone who doesn't know what they're doing to take a very well-maintained seventy-year-old object four generations of my family and crack the soundboard by accident, rendering any effort wasted, because they missed securing a strap in whatever vehicle they bring. Imagine this not being a piano and being something just beautiful, delicate, useful, and worthless, and just saying "come pick it up in a cardboard box with no packing material.)

Thanks everyone else, you've given me great leads as to what will and won't be likely good avenues. Don't hesitate if you've got more ideas, hiveminders! Remember: HEART AND SOUL IS FOR EVERYONE
posted by not_on_display at 9:31 AM on July 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

The problem here is that the acquisition cost (piano movers) is higher than the monetary value of the thing. Even though it may have been well maintained, it's still an old piano of no particular value. I once had a piano tuner refer to a family "heirloom" as a "furniture piano." After putting it on Craigslist with no real interest I eventually gave it away to the guy who'd signed a lease on the apartment I was vacating. Then when he decided not to move in after all my old landlord tried to come after me to move it, so that was fun.

You're probably familiar with the distinction between "free as in beer" and "free as in speech." It turns out that "free as in piano" is its own category. (So is "free as in puppy," but that's outside the scope of this discussion). You may not find any takers who agree to your terms, and it may help you to offer to pay for the movers yourself (perhaps as a tax deductible donation to charity) if you're not willing to let the new owners take responsibility for your heirloom.
posted by fedward at 11:34 AM on July 11, 2022 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Yeah, I'm seriously thinking of toggling the switch to "will pay for moving costs". I'm not concerned so much about the "It's my family heirloom" angst—more like the "I want it to be next used by someone else." I'm very familiar with the term "negative value" now!
posted by not_on_display at 11:58 AM on July 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

7 Places to Donate a Piano, by a piano teacher, has info on transportation issues and timelines; includes a link to Pianos for Education (operates in all 50 states).
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:25 PM on July 11, 2022

I'm not concerned so much about the "It's my family heirloom" angst—more like the "I want it to be next used by someone else."

My dad’s a piano tuner, and my mom used to be a piano tech. I’ve spent my four decades on earth watching the piano market collapse. Your spinet (and nearly every other spinet on the planet) is literally worth less than nothing.

I’m not saying this to insult your family heirloom. What I’m saying is that if someone is taking the steps to move it themselves, they’re going to use it (or, at the very least, they’re just as likely to use it as someone that pays piano movers to do it “properly”). Stop thinking about what’s going to happen to your baby when you say goodbye (fyi: moving a spinet really doesn’t require a pro; it just takes a couple bodies and at least one brain). Thank it for the years of service and let it go.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 4:29 PM on July 11, 2022 [10 favorites]

to counter your fears- i moved a 100-year-old upright player piano four hundred miles at some point in the last ten years with a u-haul and four strong adults on each end.

we used a pair of dolleys, some heavy duty furniture straps and possibly some rope. we were lucky that we weren't dealing with a full flight of steps on either end- just one or two steps and a couple threshholds.
posted by noloveforned at 11:57 AM on July 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, everyone! Acting on an outlier suggestion I was given last week at work, I will tomorrow be donating it to the very institution I work for; they will use it as a demonstration tool for teaching students about sound waves, frequencies and resonances and such, and for the occasional event! My mom and my son are both psyched about this turn of events, and my grandparents are kvelling in their graves.

This couldn't have ended on a better ♩.
posted by not_on_display at 9:33 PM on July 19, 2022 [5 favorites]

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