“Pianos weigh a tonne!” Anyone who has tried moving them would share those sentiments. In actuality, the largest concert grand piano will weigh in at about 900 lbs. or about half a tonne. So the smaller piano is much less. Starting at around 300 lbs., a small apartment-size piano can usually be manhandled by one capable person onto a dolly and pushed around. But who can be rightly called capable?
Let me share with you my first encounter with the moving of a piano. I was about 5 years old when my parents thought it would be time to see if we 4 siblings had any musical gifts. So dad found an old Canadian upright piano for $25. The beast was painted white and came in the back door with my dad at the lead and my uncle at the tail. They were repeatedly wiping the sweat, pouring from their faces, as they heaved and pushed. There it sat at the top of a ten foot staircase with the intent of descending to what would be the practice room. Scratching their heads that were no doubt filled with much regret, they asked the two or three other adults present to lend a hand. A rope was then tied around the piano, planks of wood were laid on the stairs and for some reason, my sister’s strap-on roller skates were placed on them…
Remarkably no person or thing was hurt except the roller skates which were crushed into oblivion. So if that is the definition of capable, I guess my father was that. However, I think you’d agree there are better ways to move a piano. One of the most admirable feats I witnessed was that of 2 professional movers, with shoulder straps and back brace belts, carry a 6 foot grand piano up a spiral staircase. Experience and the right equipment and training really do make a difference. Professional piano movers obtain a good percentage of work from regular movers who think a piano can’t be much worse than a couch. After getting stuck in a stairwell or badly damaging walls and/or the piano, they sometimes learn it’s best to let the pros do it. Of course, some communities don’t have any “pros” and have to resort to their own devices.
When I first began restoring pianos, I managed to move them a few times on my own with the help of a friend. However I will never forget the one time when, like my dad, I was faced with moving a heavy old upright piano down a flight of stairs. Like dad, I was on the bottom and my friend was at the top of the stairs. This one weighed-in somewhere around 450-500 lbs. After a slow descent to about the 5th stair, my friend decided he “couldn’t hold on any longer.” So after giving what he thought was fair warning, he let go. With the weight now on me and the stairs, gravity did what it does. I was irresistibly overcome, as if in slow motion, and brought to the bottom. Now stuck between a tilted piano and the drywall of the tight stairwell, I was slowly compressed into the wall and between two 2 by 4s in the frame. I began to feel like a cartoon character who leaves his body’s imprint as he races and breaks out a hole in a wall on some wild chase. My body’s imprint was also being left. My friend had now recovered enough to relieve me of enough of the weight that I could now escape with only a little bruising and some hurt pride.
After pleading for forgiveness from the homeowner, I was reassured that he was a drywall installer by trade and not to worry because he would look after it. Providential as that was, I still had a dilemma – what to do with this tricky piano? I called the pros who within an hour, and for a very reasonable price, tilted the piano on end, spun it in the stairwell and had it out the door, on the truck and delivered to its destination. Lesson learned.
I will periodically move pianos still but usually just around the shop or helping out some naive friend in need of some semi-experienced help. However, I humbly bow in gratitude and admiration to the regular Joes who carry on in the not-so-regular workforce of the professional piano movers. Wisdom will hopefully encourage you to do the same.