But Is It Really Free?
Updated: Aug 22, 2019
Most of the things I write about in this space are here to make my life easier. All jobs have some element (hopefully just a small one) of things we wish weren't there. For me, it's bugs (see previous post), Kimball pianos (keep reading), traffic (it's Northern Virginia...), and free pianos (usually Kimballs). If you are on the hunt for a free/cheap piano, please read this thoroughly before calling me to come and tune for you.
Scenario 1: Your six-year old wants to play piano. She has also stated that she wants to be a princess, own five dogs, and win an olympic gold medal in ice skating. You figure the piano is your safest bet. You also have a thing against keyboards, thinking surely there must be something to the experience of playing one of the most complex instruments ever invented made of wood and metal that can reduce thousands to tears. I agree. But you don't want to invest in an expensive instrument for your darling-but-fickle six-year old. Very wise of you. Then you remember that you saw a piano for free recently on Craigslist/Nextdoor/Markeplace/whatever. "That's the solution!" Your brain whispers tauntingly. "It will be easy and cheap." The siren call is too beautiful to resist.
Scenario 2: Your great aunt Ermatrude has died and your second cousin called to see if you wanted the enormous 100-year old piano. Didn't you take piano lessons thirty years ago? It's been a while since you played, and you think maybe having Aunt Ermatrude's piano will help you get back in to it. After all, any instrument is better than no instrument... right?
Scenario 3: You're driving down the road with your pickup truck and trailer after a successful day of hauling and you see a lonely piano sitting on the curb. Suddenly recalling sweet evenings of sitting around singing songs after dinner with your dad cranking out the oldies, you think you've stumbled upon a treasure.
Regardless of which Scenario you identify with, the following scene is the same for all three. I walk in to your house and start opening up the piano, you explain that you know the piano needs a lot of work and it's probably not great, but it was free and you want to make it work. After thirty minutes I call you in to the living room and say we need to talk. Then I set about with a carefully rehearsed speech that I've been working on since I stepped in the door and saw the piano. It's a very nice speech, kind and sympathetic, with lots of technical terminology that I try to make you understand with car metaphores, but the translation is this: your piano was DOA (dead on arrival), and there's nothing I can do about it.
I hate that part of my job.
Dismayed, you start doing the math. You had to rent the truck and trailer to transport the piano. You had to ask your husband's three burly best friends if they'd help, and then you bought them pizza as a thank-you. You thought that'd be enough, but you moved it in mid-July, and it was much heavier than you thought, and Burt's hands were so sweaty that the piano slipped and crushed his foot during the move and he got mad and won't talk to you anymore. The other three guys are super mad too because they had to haul it up the two flights of stairs to your house without Burt, and now your husband is stuck having to help all of them move some heavy object (most likely a laundry machine) as a debt of gratitutde. You called me out here, which implies some type of money (unless I feel so bad about the situation that I don't charge you for the service call - it's happened before). And now it sounds terrible, your daughter won't play it, and you're stuck with it.
So, your free piano actually cost:
Truck rental + pizza + one lost friend + angry husband + a whole lost weekend in July + piano technician fee = WAY TOO MUCH MONEY FOR LITERALLY NOTHING.
Now what? "I know, I'll put it on the curb with a sign that says 'Free'." Your brain is at it again; deceiving you with terrible ideas disguised as good ones.
This is the part where I look you dead in the eye and say, "If you attempt to give this piano to anyone else, essentially continuing the cycle and making it someone else's problem, and I come across this piano in the field and have to have this conversation AGAIN, I will know what you did."
There aren't many places you can hide a piano from a piano technician. I make you pinky promise that this piano will be put to rest at the dump, and then with one more "I'm sorry there's nothing I could do," I walk out and leave you to regret your life decisions.
Now, there are a few ways we can avoid all of this. Let me walk you through them.
Scenario 1: You call a technician, (me or anyone else) and ask about affordable options for a fickle six-year old's piano aspirations. I tell you a cheap piano is fine to start on, but PLEASE let me inspect it before you take any further steps. In rare cases, even free pianos can be good for one to two years until the commitment necessary for a large purchase has been shown. Maybe buying a piano is more affordable than you think. You have a few hundred dollars in the coin jar, and I manage to find you something that can be tuned and will actually entice your daughter. Oh happy day!
Scenario 2: You tell your cousin thanks for thinking of you. Since the piano is so old and has seen so many happy generations singing their hearts out, maybe we should convert it to a desk, or even a wine bar so we can always remember Aunt Ermatrude without having a useless instrument taking up space. It'll be a fun project for the whole family. (See the repurposing post here)
Scenario 3: You're on your way to the dump anyway! Pull over, load that sad puppy into the trailer, and drop it off along with the attic insulation and the old porcelain toilet. The universe thanks you, and you just saved me from having to do the worst part of my job, and some other unsuspecting person another regret to add to the running list.