By Ellena Fortner Newsom
Back in the day, the piano was the status symbol long before Apple products, new sneakers, or even an Ivy-league college degree, according to statistics from Piano World.
In fact, pianos created the first brand names - and the first installment payment plans - as people eagerly placed them in prime locations in their homes and set generations of kids in front of them.
Today, not so much, as the number of people who play or even own a piano has fallen consistently for more than three decades. Still, more than 10 million pianos sit in homes and institutions. And sit and sit and sit. Until it comes time to move. Then, with some grand pianos weighing more than 1,300 pounds, that’s not a tune many people like to hear. Put it this way, if you are paying your moving crew in pizza and beer, buy more beer.
“It takes a lot of manpower,” said Gordon Bolton, owner of Piano Movers of Texas. His company moved more than 1,100 pianos last year. “Many people want to try and move it themselves. They walk up, try to pick the piano up and walk away.”
Different Types of Pianos
If you have a piano at home, it’s probably a spinet, upright, or possibly a baby grand piano. Grand pianos most often pop up at institutions or commercial locations, as they take up a considerable amount of floor space. Not only do different models have different weights, the weight is distributed different, an important fact if you are trying to move one.
Even spinet pianos, the most compact, can easily weigh 300 pounds, so figure out the weight of your instrument. Plan to have one person for each 100 pounds of weight, at least. This is not the time to estimate down.
Before you start, gather your equipment. Most piano moves require blankets, straps, packing tape, and a four-wheel dolly. Leather work gloves, lifting belts, and protective footwear also is a good call.
Plan Your Path
Literally, walk the path between the piano and the moving trucks. Are there stairs? Right angles? Other obstacles? Grab a measuring tape before you touch the piano. Double check all the doorways.
Stairs are the largest and most dangerous obstacle.
“We had to move a baby grand piano up two flights of stairs and around two right angles,” said Gordon. “It was next to impossible.”
Before you begin, learn a little about your stairs and the maximum amount of weight they can safely bear. When you have four adults and a 700-pound piano balanced mid-stair that is not the time to discover your staircase was built 25 years ago and can hold no more than a few hundred pounds.
Part of planning the path includes figuring out how to manage the manpower. Who is going to stand where and hold on to what? The rule of thumb is to put about 50% of your manpower at the end of the piano that will tilt down the stairs. Remember, thanks to gravity, that side is going to feel heavier when you move down the stairs.
Additionally, figure on taking frequent breaks – about every ten feet or so – to give people the time to adjust their grip. Make sure people understand where to move in case control is lost. This is large piece of equipment and requires safety planning. Make sure everyone communicates – loudly and frequently. No joke, a piano will crush a person. Now is not the time to be shy.
Have the moving van prepped as well – doors open, ramp down, and space available. Tackle the piano early in the move so you have plenty of room to maneuver it once it’s inside the van.
Preparing the piano for moving will depend on what type of piano you own, but be sure to secure any lids and to wrap thick blankets or even specialized moving blankets to protect the finish.
Any piano above a spinet will require a four-wheel dolly. Tip the piano back to place it on the dolly. Don’t let gravity do any of the work on the way down. Even higher pianos may require a rolling skid board, which is a specialized piece of moving equipment for moving heavier instruments. Rolling skids also are used to tackle stairs.
You won’t want to move the piano around on its casters. Bad for your floor. Bad for the piano.
Moving a piano isn’t an easy task, especially for the larger models or where staircases are involved. Don’t hesitate to call in the professionals or even just call for advice and tips. You’ve got enough to worry about during a move without taking on the Herculean task of piano moving.
Since you may have a big task in front of you, let’s end with this frivolity: You can tune a piano, but you can’t tuna fish (unless you adjust its scales)!
Ellena Fortner Newsom
Ellena is the Content Specialist for SML. She's a social media junkie, Dr. Who fanatic, customer service advocate and writing guru. Between parenting a two year old, binge watching already-cancelled shows with her husband and prepping for the next 5k race, she spends (too much) time thinking about metrics and public relations. She's moved herself, her friends, and her family members many, many, many times.