With trees, you know to count the rings. Horses, check their teeth. But how can you tell the age of your piano?
Finding your piano's serial number is the quickest and most reliable way to determine its age and, combined with the brand and condition, estimate a ballpark resale value. You may need it for insurance purposes, too.
Ah, but that little code can be tricky! Pianos have hundreds of models and thousands of parts -- and each brand does things a little differently.
So put on your detective hat, because we're going to find your piano's serial number, wherever it's hiding!
The first place you should look
Serial numbers are 4-7 digits and occasionally include a letter or two. Don't confuse it with the model number, which almost always starts with a letter. You may also spot a few three or four digit numbers inside your piano. This aren't the serial number; they're manufacturing codes from when your instrument was assembled.
Now that you know what you're looking for, open up any piano and look at the cast iron plate. You may not have noticed it before, but the serial number may be blindingly obvious. The most common (and most conspicuous) location is in the V-shaped space between the tenor and bass string sections of tuning pins. In a grand piano, the V-shape will be inverted because of the direction of the strings.
The makers of this sample spinet didn't go for subtlety.
Didn't see it there? Don't worry, the next most common spot for the serial number is just to the right. Look at the area of the plate near the treble section. It may be printed in bold ink or engraved, either straight onto the iron or a plaque.
Major brands like Steinway, Kawai, Kimball, and Yamaha tend to mark their pianos in these spots, but not always.
How to find the serial number on a grand piano
While the vast majority of grand and baby grand pianos mark the serial number on the plate near the tuning pins, there are a few other good places to look.
- Check the soundboard under the strings. Some brands print the number in this discreet place so that it doesn't distract from the beauty of an open grand.
- Look for a cute little plaque on the far left of the rim inside the piano. Some Kimballs hide their serial numbers there.
- A few pianos may have their serial numbers printed on the keyslip.
- Another tricky spot is the capo d'astro bar: a cast iron bar which stretches horizontally inside the piano frame. The number may be printed on either side of the bar. Again, this is an inconspicuous location that maintains the aesthetics of your piano's action.
How to find the serial number on an upright piano
Upright, spinet, console, and other vertical-style pianos have their own serial number placement system.
- After checking the more obvious hiding spots of your open piano, turn your piano around and look for a tiny plaque or even a stamp on the back.
- Very new upright pianos may have the serial number engraved near the hinge when you open the lid.
- Rarely, you may find the serial number printed on one of the keys or hammers, usually the ones associated with the very highest or very lowest notes. This is a modern trend and unlikely to appear on antique instruments.
Where the serial number isn't
Serial numbers are often tucked away in corners or easily confused with other numbers. Our in-house piano wiz has had clients inform him that their shiny new piano was made in 1856 and wow, isn't it in great shape? Hate to break it to them, but that's just the patent date. Tricky little things, those serial numbers.
Here's where not to find your piano's serial number.
- Do you see a date cast into the iron plate of your piano? This isn't it. This is either the date the piano company was founded or a patent date.
- Did you find a code starting with a letter? That's not the serial number either. This is most likely the model number of your piano. Some brands have just a single letter to identify their model.
- Is there a big printed logo or sticker with dates, numbers, or awards? All of these things pertain to the piano brand. The humongous image on the lid of this sample piano offers zero information about this unique instrument, just brand accolades. They're cool, but not relevant for our quest for the serial number.
Help! I still can't find my serial number!
That does happen. Sometimes the gold-colored plate was re-gilded and the number was painted over. If your piano's serial number was a plaque, they can go missing with time and wear. Just to complicate things, some pianos never had an official serial number in the first place.
If you think your piano doesn't have a serial number, ask your piano technician to take a look. S/he may be able to find the number's super-secret hiding spot or estimate your piano's age another way.
I found the serial number! Now what?
The serial number alone won't give you a value, but it does give you a place to start. Look up your piano in the Pierce Piano Atlas or use a resource like The Bluebook of Pianos to determine your piano's age. We used this nifty serial number search tool and discovered that this sample piano was built in 1964.
So how much is your piano worth? For that, you'll have to contact a professional piano technician. The serial number alone isn't enough to give you a value, even if it is rare and old.
The sample piano in this post has been through a lot, so even if a 1964 Kimball spinet is the most sought-after piano on the market (spoiler: it's not) it may not earn top dollar.
At the end of the day, the serial number is only one part of the equation. It's all about condition, condition, condition.
So how did your detective mission go? Did you find the serial number? Any interesting tidbits you learned along the way? Let us know in the comments down below.