Ultimate Guide to Buying Used Keyboards - Avoid Costly Mistakes
In a perfect world, anyone can afford a brand-new, sparkling keyboard loaded with the latest features and sounds. But for many, a cheaper used keyboard makes sense. However, buying a used keyboard can be risky business and I’m here to help you navigate the minefield of buying a used keyboard and avoid costly mistakes.
The exterior condition of a used keyboard is a good indication of how well the owner has maintained it. The keyboard should not look dirty or dusty which is bad for electronics. Make sure there are no visible cracks or fading on the panels of the keyboard, which is a sign of UV damage from sun exposure when a keyboard is placed near a window. Also check that all accessories are complete, such as the music rest, power adapter, sustain pedal, owner’s manual, or music stand if included in the original package. If you want to know the keyboards I personally recommend do check them out here.
The feature you use most often on a keyboard is the keys and therefore it is important to play every single key and make sure there are no loud clicking noises. Heavily used keyboards have worn-out dampening materials resulting in louder key noise, but it should not be excessively loud. Look across the keyboard and make sure all the keys are even, none higher or lower than the rest. The lateral free play of the keys should also be minimal. Every key should trigger a sound, and touch-sensitive keyboards should make a louder sound when you hit the keys harder and a softer sound when you press gently. Check that there isn't any dust under the keys or at the key pivots, as pet hair and dust are the biggest culprits for premature failure of the key sensors. You can find my curated list of keyboards with some of the best key actions here.
Buttons, Knobs, and Sliders:
Press every button, turn every knob, and shift every slider to make sure it works, and there isn't too much free play. Check that there are no strange noises when you move the knobs, sliders, and wheels. Although text labels may fade, they should still be legible enough to make out the functions on the panel.
An LCD screen is one of the more expensive items to replace, so it's crucial to check its condition. Make sure all display text and graphics are clear and legible. There should be no cracks on the screen, no backlight bleeding at the edges and none of the liquid crystals are broken. The response time and refresh rate of the screen should also be quick. A slow-responding LCD screen is a recipe for an expensive repair bill. If you don’t want to take the risk of buying a used keyboard with hidden faults, do check out the keyboards I recommend here.
Speaker covers are usually made from either metal or fabric. Make sure metal speaker covers are not dented which is a result of rough handling and fabric speaker covers should not be torn. Shine a torch into the speaker grille and examine the speaker cone; the cone material should have no tears or crumbling rubber parts, a problem that often plagues keyboards left in more humid environments. Max out the master volume and make sure there is no distortion or vibrations in the speakers, which may indicate something loose inside.
Many people buy keyboards instead of traditional acoustic pianos because you can practice with a pair of headphones. When testing a used keyboard, bring your own headphones to test the headphone port. The sound from the headphones should be clear, with no distortion, and the volume should modulate with the volume knob. Some keyboards have more than one headphone jack, so make sure to test them both. If the keyboard comes with a pedal input, make sure the sound sustains when you step on the pedal. Finally, check the USB port. There are usually two types: “To Device” and “To Host”. Bring a USB drive, plug it into the USB port labeled “To Device” and ensure the keyboard can recognize the drive. Also, bring a suitable USB cable to connect to your iPad or smartphone and ensure MIDI or audio data is transmitted via the “To Host” USB port. At this point, I think you know why I recommend buying new keyboards which usually come with a 2-year warranty and contain better sounds and features. The better ones I recommend are found here.
Last but not least, check the power supply. Ensure the power adapter has no exposed wiring so you don’t risk a short circuit and fry the sensitive electronics of your keyboard. If the keyboard is battery operated, check the battery compartment for signs of leaking battery acid damage. Put in fresh batteries and make sure it can still be powered by batteries.