Adventures in Long Distance Piano Moving
Within a single year, I recently experienced many of the trials and tribulations that happen when attempting to move a grand piano from the East Coast to the West Coast. Although I had seen articles about finding new students by networking in a new location, I had not seen much information on actually getting a grand piano across the country. Even the faculty members at my former university had little practical advice to help me with the piano move. I had a lot to learn about logistics, time frames for planning the move, budgeting and expenses, and piano moving resources. Adding to my challenge was the fact that we did not have a place to live at our destination when we made the move, so I had to figure out a solution for temporary storage. I also learned first hand about the absolute necessity of having proper instrument insurance.
We knew about our move one year in advance, and we knew that it would be in June. Our first plan of action was to find out if I could actually afford to move my piano across the country. I called for ballpark quotes from a few nationwide piano moving companies and found that for a 3,000-mile move, I could expect to pay somewhere between $1,600-$2,800. This price included the basic pickup, packing, shipping, fuel, tolls, taxes, unloading, and setup. Extra expenses can be incurred with difficult moves, such as those involving tight turns, multiple stairs, rough outdoor terrain, or hoisting the piano with a crane. We did not yet have a place to live, so we took careful note of these considerations for later.
My piano is a Mason & Hamlin Style A Grand built in 1921. It had recently been completely and lovingly restored by a piano technician whom I bought it from in 2008. Its appraisal value at the time was $20,000, but I had bought it for a bit less. To this day, I still can't imagine finding another instrument I would rather own for the same price. The cost to move the piano would be tax deductible since I would use it for my business in Seattle. Having my own piano meant I would not need to rent an extra piano, pay for storage, or worry about leaving it at a friend's house indefinitely. For all of these reasons, a few thousand dollars seemed a fair price to pay to move this particular piano. Plus, the piano was as solid as a Sherman tank, so I was confident it would survive a move.
Choosing a mover
For the overall safety and protection of my investment, we eventually decided to hire a nationwide mover that specializes in piano moves. The company I chose advertised that it used insulated, air-ride trucks and had climate-controlled warehouse facilities for temporary or long-term storage. These are critical factors, since exposure to extreme temperatures or a rough ride in the truck could cause significant damages. Since the movers were also highly experienced in handling pianos, there was a decreased chance of the piano being mishandled or dropped during the moving process.
I received several referrals from piano technicians who had used this company and said that their movers had done a good job. The company was also registered with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and had an A+ rating. I had debated about using a smaller, low- volume moving company that also specialized in piano moves. Although they offered me a relatively low, competitive rate, few people could give me referrals and the company was not registered with the BBB. They were also very inflexible with their moving dates since they did not make frequent trips across country.
Scheduling the move
Due to fluctuations in fuel prices, I learned that long-distance movers do not readily make binding quotes more than ninety days in advance. Once I had chosen my preferred piano moving company, I had to wait until April to determine the final price of the basic move that would take place in June. I was offered a binding quote for about $2,200 for the almost 3,200-mile trip, plus one month of interim storage, which would cost $100. I opted not to buy additional insurance with the mover because I had confirmed that my piano was fully covered during the entire move by my instrument insurance policy. I reserved the move with a credit card, but no charges would be applied until the piano was actually picked up. The company planned their trucking routes not more than thirty days in advance, so they were not able to tell me their exact June schedule. I was told to call back in mid-May to get a better idea of their June schedule.
When I called in mid-May, I was told the piano moving company couldn't make the pick-up until after I had to leave town in early June. The movers would not give me an exact date for the pickup, just telling me it would be before the end of the month. Due to this indefinite schedule, I arranged for the piano to be moved to the local piano store during the first week of June. The nationwide movers could then pick up the piano at their leisure after I had left town. The store charged me $150 for the move and stored my piano in their back room. I communicated the store address, hours, and the store manager's contact information to my moving company. When the movers came to pick it up at the store, they re-wrapped the piano with their own blankets and moving materials so the store would not lose its own packing materials. They moved it to their climate-controlled storage facility in the Midwest where it would remain until we had found our new home and I was ready to request a delivery.
The moving company did offer an alternative: they could have picked up my piano directly from my home in early May, which would have eliminated the need for the extra move to the piano store. However, I had plans to continue using the piano to teach through the end of May, and I was not yet ready to part with my instrument before our long journey.
After we arrived at our destination city, we spent a couple of weeks hunting for an apartment that would be suitable for the piano. As soon as we secured an apartment lease at the beginning of July, I contacted the piano moving company to give them our address and request the delivery. Again, their delivery schedule was a bit vague and they told me "sometime in August." Once August arrived, they were able to give me a more exact delivery range within a few days late in the month. An additional problem was that they would be making the delivery in their large semi truck. I was skeptical that they would have anywhere to maneuver it on our steep, narrow city street, so the moving company offered to transfer my piano to a smaller rental truck outside the city for an additional fee of $200. Although I did make the request for the smaller truck, the movers still showed up in their semi! Luckily, they were good drivers and somehow found space to park the semi. It was a relatively easy move off the truck since it had a motorized lift gate, and then an easy move into our first floor living room.
I was relieved to see my piano had arrived seemingly in one piece with its matching legs and pedal lyre. A good moving company will label these parts carefully to avoid mix-ups and losses along the way. I had moved the artist bench with our other household items to be sure it didn't get lost during any transfers.
Recommendations for your protection
Before you move, document the pre-move state of your piano with photographs and a current written, dated appraisal that includes your piano's serial number. Take close-up photos of the details of your piano from all possible angles to record the existing condition of the finish, soundboard, plate, legs, lyre, desk, lid, bench, and any other accessories. It is important to be able to differentiate any existing damages from any possible new damages that could occur during the moving process.
Be sure to obtain comprehensive instrument insurance and understand the terms of your policy in the event that you will need to make a claim. For the worst-case scenario, your instrument should be insured for its full replacement value, which may be higher than the price that you actually paid for your particular instrument. Policies can be obtained from companies that deal exclusively in instrument insurance, and they can also be handled by attaching a rider to your existing homeowners or renters insurance policy. You may also be able to purchase additional insurance through your moving company. Take careful notice of any exclusions to your insurance policy or events under which the insurance company will not pay a claim.
Understand your moving contract thoroughly. Before you agree to the contract, know what your moving company will cover and what it can be held responsible for if damage is incurred. Also confirm that your moving company and its employees are fully insured in the event that a mover is injured or other property is damaged during the course of the move. Beware of a "no-fault" policy in which the moving company claims no responsibility for any damages or has unreasonably low limits on the damages that it will pay.
Summer is usually the most expensive time to move, so off-peak move times in the fall and spring may save you some moving expense. If you know that you will be moving ahead of time, consult with a few companies and ask them what time of year they can offer you the best rates. They may tell you the quote is only binding for a limited time, but this can be useful for determining your budget.
Extremely cold or hot weather are not friendly to pianos, or other instruments and furniture for that matter. More moderate fall and spring temperatures may be friendlier for moving your piano, especially if it needs to go a long way in a truck. Even if trucks and warehouses are climate controlled, there may be periods of time when the trucks are open, and instruments that are waiting to get loaded or unloaded will have the potential to be exposed to harsh weather.
Tips for locating companies
Ask your piano technician, local piano stores, and colleagues for referrals. Check BBB ratings online. In the event that damages occur to your piano or problems arise with contracts or payments, the BBB can be helpful resource for mediating and resolving some of these issues.
Some smaller companies may not be listed with the BBB but may still offer high-quality services. Try to get third party references to confirm the company's reliability. This is a good idea with larger, high-volume companies also.
Get several quotes, and don't be afraid to mention competing bids when shopping for a mover. Companies will often attempt to match or beat bids for their competitors.
Many long-distance moving companies have their own climate- controlled storage facilities where your instrument can be stored for a low monthly rate. However, if the facility is a considerable distance from your final destination, it may take a month or two to have your piano retrieved and delivered from its storage location.
Local piano stores will also often accept and store instruments for a monthly fee. If you can arrange for your piano to be directly shipped to a reputable local store near your final destination, you may be able to retrieve it more quickly than you would from a nationwide mover's storage facility. This will require additional steps of checking for references on the local movers for the piano store and paying for an extra local move from the store to your destination. However, this may be worth the convenience of gaining quicker access to your instrument. An additional consideration is that some nationwide movers will not make pick-ups or deliveries to and from residential addresses. Therefore, this would require you to arrange for local deliveries to and from a piano store on both ends of your move.
If it is difficult to coordinate the timing of your piano move with the exact times that you need a piano for your business, a short-term local piano rental may be a relatively inexpensive solution for times when your personal instrument is not available to you.
Is it all worth the trouble?
Despite the challenges and work involved, the move was worth it, and I am glad to have kept my instrument. With the right homework and preparation it can go smoothly. If an unfortunate accident occurs, you will not regret the extra effort spent to make sure you have the proper insurance and documentation.
Fine, Larry (2000). The Piano Book (4th ed.). Jamaica Plain, MA: Brookside Press.
The Better Business Bureau: www.bbb.org.
The Piano Technicians Guild: www.PTG.org.