Why You Should hire a Professional Piano Mover vs A General Household Mover.

Why You Should hire a Professional Piano Mover vs A General Household Mover. 

When people think of a piano mover or a piano moving company, they often think of two large men picking up a piano, and physically carrying it from home to the truck and then to the destination home for delivery, much like the famous Laurel and Hardy skit “The Music Box”. Unfortunately this is the same mindset many household movers take to moving these instruments. It’s important to consider that no matter how large the person performing the piano move is, or how many people are involved, it is physically impossible to walk and maneuver the massive amount of uneven weight from a piano and expect any sort of consistency or control of movement.  Any piano, upright or grand should be moved by a professional piano mover with a piano specific dolly accompanied by the corresponding proprietary equipment best suited for the challenges and terrain of the move. During my career in the piano business I have heard countless horror stories from clients describing in great detail the massive amount of damage household movers have caused to their pianos and their homes when attempting move their pianos. 

The general rule of thumb in the piano industry is that you never hire a household mover to move your piano, and you never hire a piano mover to move your house. Though a piano is an item that is located within the home, it should never be considered a household item when it comes to moving.  The piano moving business and general household moving business are certainly both valuable in their own right, but piano moving should be considered a specialty job left to professional piano movers. 

 Piano movers specialize in moving pianos, and pianos only. 
With twelve thousand individual parts, and a fragile exterior, pianos are immensely complicated, heavy, and fragile instruments that require a great amount of training to transport properly. While a household mover may move an upright piano every week or two, and maybe a grand piano every month or so, a professional piano mover will often move up to 6 pianos in a single day. With that sort of consistency and volume, moving pianos can become almost second nature to a piano mover. 

One thing you might be wondering at this point is “Well, I get that piano movers move more pianos than general household movers, but how are piano movers moving pianos better”? As I mentioned at the beginning of this article many general household movers often take the approach of physically lifting the pianos to transport them from point a to point b. This is an incredibly dangerous mindset. Both for the mover and the piano, especially when it comes to grand pianos. It often results in broken piano legs, gouged drywall, scratched floors, and large pieces of veneer ripped from the piano. To get the job done safely and effectively, it’s definitely all about the proper skill and the correct equipment. 

A reputable piano moving company invests pretty heavily in specialty piano moving equipment. The right specialized moving equipment can take a challenging and dangerous situation and turn it into a very straight forward and trouble free scenario. 

One very simple yet overlooked piece of equipment for example is the four wheel piano moving dolly. Now, you might be thinking “I’ve definitely seen standard 4 wheel floor dollies both in the back of moving vans as well as in the moving isle of Home Depot”. 
Yes! We have all definitely seen variations of these simple dollies in various common venues, but when it comes to a piano moving dolly, there are subtle specialty features that make them far better versed for piano moving than their home depot made brethren. Often inexpensive 4 wheel floor dollies have small diameter hard rubber or even plastic wheels with carpeted bases. 

Unfortunately I’ve run into using these inexpensive floor dollies first hand helping to bail a general household mover attempting to move a piano out of trouble. One day working at my piano shop I got a panicked call from a customer stating that they had just moved from out of state and the movers were attempting to move their antique upright piano into their home and  having an extremely hard time doing so. I imagined that the movers were probably just a little over worked or didn’t have enough man power for the job, so sympathizing with the customer and the situation I hopped in my car and headed their way. Upon arriving I saw exactly what the problem was. The movers were attempting to move an early 1900s era Steinway full-size upright with two small carpeted floor dollies ratchet strapped to either side of the piano.

 When I arrived they the movers had it propped up with two 5 gallon buckets stacked on top of each other and a couple of books underneath the pianos keybed.  In addition, they had not used any sort of pads or blankets to protect the pianos finish from the touch nylon straps or the hard metal ratchets. It was definitely a sight to be seen for a professional piano mover. 

 If you’ve ever had the pleasure of moving one of these antique Steinways, you’d know that they are about as heavy as they get when it comes to antique upright pianos. These pianos also have a narrow base with a cambered edge. They basically go into self-destruct mode once they are placed on the top of a dolly by leaning extremely front heavy. It’s almost impossible to move them the traditional way as the movers have to support an incredible amount of weight to keep the piano from falling forward off of the dolly while at the same time keep the piano moving forward.

 These movers were experiencing immense weight keeping the piano upright, and catching every crack and seam of the sidewalk with their small diameter dolly wheels in the process.  Luckily I was able to bring a proper large diameter soft wheel piano dolly with me. At Seattle Piano Moving we have developed a special purpose made shim that sits between at the base of piano and the top of the piano dolly for this specific model. It supports and fills the void in the front of the piano’s base to keep the piano upright and from leaning forward. I didn’t have the shim with me unfortunately (not knowing it was a Steinway and all), but luckily a neighbor watching the struggle stepped in to offer their help. The two of us quickly fabricated an improvised shim with his table saw and a scrap piece of birch plywood. An hour after arriving, myself and the two household movers were smoothly rolling the piano down the sidewalk towards the customers home with the correct dolly andMacGyvered base shim. 
Had the movers miraculously gotten the piano into the customers home using the small diameter plastic hard wheeled dolly, they would have almost certainly gouged the freshly refinished hardwood floors in the clients home. There are special procedures and equipment to get the piano from the dolly, to a hardwood floor, and inched into perfect placement without scratching the floor beneath. 

Unfortunately this type of story is not at all unique. 
We get calls from customers weekly needing their pianos repaired from prior mover damage, or to move pianos into their homes from the garage where the last movers left it because they were unable to navigate the stairs leading to the houses front door. I could write a book of horror stories describing the damage we’ve come across from unprepared movers taking on piano moving jobs. I’ll leave that for another day. 

 Grand pianos are even more specialized and specific when it comes to moving them. To do the job property,  It involves a whole lot more than just the correct dolly. There are several pieces of specialized equipment needed to put these pianos on their sides and remove their legs before the piano can even be moved out of the house. In the greater scheme of things, upright pianos are all pretty similar in the method they are moved aside from the unique case of the Steinway listed above. Grand pianos depending on the manufacturer can have several different methods of attaching and removing the legs and pedal lyre from the body of the piano. 

The process of tilting the piano onto its side and onto a piano board, padding it properly, and strapping it to a piano board is a specific and definite procedure that is crucial to moving a piano safely and efficiently. When the procedure with the proper equipment is followed properly the piano and it’s moving case parts are firmly secured, and the finish is protected with densely padded moving blankets. 

I’ve seen it botched by non-piano specific movers more times than I’d like to count.

We usually come across a botched grand piano moves when we are called to setup a piano that had been delivered by a VanLines type cross country mover who wasn’t able to set the piano up themselves on the delivery end. Nine times out of ten, the movers will have removed every screw, and every possible piece they could from the piano to lighten the weight.  This turns a 5 piece assembly into what could be 50. We usually find the piano in several pieces lightly covered with inexpensive moving pads, and array of different case parts surrounding it. Sorting through sandwich baggies filled with screws, hinges, and miscellaneous hardware is always nerve wracking because inevitably there is almost always something missing. Not only is this annoying for a proper piano mover to come across, assess and assemble, it can also be very costly for the owner. It takes what is usually a 30-minute job and turns into a task that could take hours.  

In one situation we found that the movers had actually removed all of the perimeter bolts from around the piano’s plate (harp) in an attempt to move it separate from the piano. 

This was a dangerous and unsuccessful attempt. Every piano tuner, rebuilder, and mover I have ever told this story to has had a physical reaction upon hearing it. Many of the plate bolts were different lengths, and with all of the other unnecessary disassembly that had also been done to this piano and all of the hardware mixed together in a plastic grocery bag, there was no way we could efficiently repair and assemble it on site. The real dangerous part of this job was that with the extreme pressure piano strings put on a plate of a piano, the instrument was incredibly unstable with the plate bolts removed. Saying that the plate could have snapped in half might be a little dramatic, the plate certainly could have cracked effectively ruining the piano. The best thing for us to do for the piano in this situation was to take it back to our shop. There we  gradually lower the tension in a specific pattern on the tuning pins, and put the bolts back in once it was safe. From there we were able to reassemble the rest of the case parts. This was quite a bit of work, and although the owner was very grateful for us saving their piano, I’m sure they would have rather avoided the extra stress and service bill.  

 We’ve now gone over quite a few reasons why not to use a household mover when moving your piano, and I’ve thrown in some anecdotal evidence with my personal experience with household movers moving pianos for good measure. 

So now on a lighter note, we should go over some positives in hiring a professional piano mover. 

 First and foremost, piano movers know their pianos. It’s their job, and they work with these instruments day in and day out for their entire career. All of the oddball challenges of the job that come along like tricky stair moves, pianos that need to go over uneven terrain to reach a back door of a house, or an obscure assembly designs on a rare pianos are all things that a good piano mover is very well suited to handle. 

Professional piano movers have all of the equipment and knowledge necessary to get your piano moved from point a to point b safely while protecting your flooring and drywall in the process. This offers the piano owner peace of mind that their piano is being moved by the best.

Many piano movers also offer climate controlled storage. Customers often find themselves in need of a safe climate controlled storage solution for their piano while they are in transition from one home to the next. This sort of humidity and temperature controlled environment is critical for a pianos soundboard, pinblock, and even finish to stay in tip top shape. Improper storage (non-climate and humidity controlled) can lead to cracked soundboards, pin blocks, and shattered lacquer finishes. Piano movers are knowledgeable in the best temperature and humidity level to keep their storage facilities in to best protect your piano for the short or long term. 

 I hope this has shed a little light from the perspective of someone in the piano moving trade. 
I’ll leave you with “you get what you pay for”. Professional piano moving businesses are the ones to look to when you need to move your piano. 

 As with working with any business, do your research. 
Read reviews online, when calling for a quote ask to make sure they ONLY move pianos. Calling your local piano store is also a great resource for recommendations. 


Aaron Firpo
Seattle Piano Moving