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how to paint a piano

Furniture purists … avert your eyes. This is a post about how I changed our perfectly fine piano from glossy mahogany to white. Did I ruin it? Maybe. But do I love it 1000 times more? Yes. Yes I do.

how-to-paint-a-piano

I posted a mid-progress photo on instagram and was surprised by how many shared the desire to paint their piano and also questions about how to do it. So here it is – all my steps, tips and encouragement for painting your piano.

First, a little back story. We inherited our piano from my grandparents but it is not a piece that holds any particular sentimental meaning. From the day we brought it into our house six years ago, I’ve wanted to paint it. There was a trend a few years ago when everyone was painting their pianos mustard or aqua and I was so tempted (especially by this photo), but just never felt committed to any one color. Years passed and the piano always felt dark and not right for our style until a few weeks ago when I came across this photo and it was jut the push I needed.

Paint it white. That was the answer.

So Ryan and our friend dragged the piano outside to our front walkway (a crazy place to paint, but it was the spot that made the most sense) and away I went. It was a pain, I’ll be honest. But totally doable. And I’m so happy with the results.

Here’s how the process went:

STEP ONE // take apart the pieces and tape it off.

piano-taped-up

Be very detailed to make sure you keep the paint off the keys, the inside components and the metal foot pedals.

taped-piano

STEP TWO // sand each piece

sand-piano

I used a fairly fine grit sand paper (100) just to rough up the finish.

STEP THREE // wipe clean

wipe

Make sure you get all the dust off. I wet my cloth a tiny bit to grab the sanding dust which worked well.

STEP FOUR // prime

Once the piece is sanded and wiped clean, apply a light coat of primer. For the piano bench, I brushed on the primer, but I did not like the brush strokes so for the piano, I switched to spray primer. It was much easier.

STEP FIVE // spray paint

painting-supplies

I bought 8 cans of glossy white spray paint and it was just enough. I also picked up this spray adapter which made things much easier. Then I just sprayed away.

spray-piano

Some things I learned when spray painting a piano (these might help you avoid my mistakes):

1. use thin coats and quick sweeps across the furniture

2. let it dry for a few minutes between coats

paint-cracked

This made me so frustrated and I think the wrinkles came when the overcoats went on too heavy.

3. lightly sand in between coats. I didn’t fully sand – just the places that were a bit rough.

4. shake the can often to keep the paint mixed up. I used gloss paint that did not totally go on glossy. It’s a little blotchy. I think if I had consistently mixed up the paint, it would have gone on smoother.

5. be so careful about over-spray.

painted-piano-in-between-coats

I had a blanket and paper and cardboard down, but the spray still made it onto the walkway and over to my car parked in the driveway (big oops!). Just make sure you cover anything and everything that might come in contact with flying specks of paint.

6. maybe don’t paint it in your front yard.

piano-wraped-in-tarp

My poor neighbors had to see it wrapped up like this each night for a few days while I was in between coats. I did about 4 or 5 light coats of paint (plus the first coat of primer). I let each coat dry fully so I could sand if needed. It took me 4 days to complete the project.

7. If I were to do it again, I would have opted for a can of paint in a softer white and a sprayer. The basic glossy white spray paint is white-white without any warmth and can look a little stark. Once the piano was back in the house and accessorized, it does not look quite as bright, but could still be a a bit warmer.

8. It really wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be. I should have done it years ago.

Before and afters are always fun, so here it is:

how-to-paint-a-piano-BEFORE-and-AFTER

It feels so much more modern and fresh. Someday when we replace our carpet with hardwood, you’ll be able to notice the pretty brass pedals and casters on the front legs (my favorite part). But even still, I love how much lighter this nook feels with the piano now white.

piano-tall-finished

So tell me, are you wanting to paint your piano? What’s stopping you?!

how-to-paint-a-piano

25 Responses to how to paint a piano

  1. CeeGee September 16, 2015 at 6:42 am #

    We have a piano tuning, repair & rebuilding business. We’ve spray painted several pianos. Yes, white (or even off white) takes the most cans to truly cover. :-)

    Thank you for letting people know to take out the ‘action” —the playing mechanism…first. You get paint on that, and you’ve got tons of issues….if you still want the piano as an instrument :-)

    I have a black grand piano that has seen many hands on it over its 91 year life span. I’ve considered painting it. ;-)

    BTW, if you do want fresh, white keys again, you can contact a piano technician and have them replaced. They’ll be replaced with plastic since all white keys (since about 1960’s) are made of plastic instead of ivory like before. (They too will yellow over time though.)

    Nice job! I hope you’re also having it maintained as an instrument :-)

    Contrary to popular belief, painting a piano will not really change the sound of it. Yes, it may to a small extent, but it’s only one of many,many aspects of what makes a certain piano have its own particular sound. Piano technicians (my husband’s a Registered Piano Technician) have many ways to change a piano’s particular sound through voicing, various tunings, etc. If you want to paint, have a technician remove the parts for you if you’re afraid of damaging the playing parts. After the painting’s all done, he/she can reassemble for you…..and then it’s a good time to do at least a tuning too :-)

  2. Anita September 23, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

    It looks great! I never would have thought to do that myself. Especially with the keys etc.

    Have you considered painting the bench a different color? Maybe as a statement piece against the white piano?

  3. natalia h September 23, 2014 at 7:36 am #

    It looks so, so pretty!

    I want to paint mine white as well, but I’m afraid. If I do it correctly, I know it will look great, but if I mess it up I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forgive myself. Plus, I live in an apartment, no place to paint. Maybe at the balcony. We’ll see. *sighs*

  4. Jess September 22, 2014 at 7:52 pm #

    It’s not enamel but Rustoleum? makes an ‘heirloom white’ that is a smidge warmer without being overly yellow.

    We bought ikea bookshelves and since they weren’t perfectly white, the desk I was putting in the room with them got a few coats of heirloom and then a sheet of plexiglass over the top to protect it and add shine (and a little more modern flare). I’d recommend a clear coat of matte, gloss, or enamel, though. I was impatient, didn’t do it and I accidentally banged into the front with a metal chair arm and nicked it. Whoops.

  5. Carrie September 22, 2014 at 7:52 pm #

    I like it! I just bought a new piano so it won’t be getting a paint job for a good 30 years or so. I was 100% NOT going to get black. My aunt had a black piano and it showed fingerprints and smudges and dust so badly. But then I saw MATTE black and completely changed my mind. My husband was like “are you sure? Didn’t you say no black?!” Having black in a room is a must, just like is having the perfect little black dress. I live my new not shiny black piano and I’m so glad you’re happier with yours now.

  6. Ada September 22, 2014 at 5:54 pm #

    actually….what’s stopping me has been commitment to color! I just LOVE the mustard aqua kelly green stage —but none of those is me! Oh. And my husband hates having a piano in the house. ha. White may be the ticket. I kinda want to try using milk paint…..again, color commitment issues.

  7. Violet September 22, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

    OHMAHGAHWD! You read my mind! Saw one on a HGTV makeover the other day and loved it! What’s stopping me? Electric piano: no wood!

  8. Donita September 22, 2014 at 4:54 pm #

    I wouldn’t paint our grand piano… mostly because it’s insured for almost as much as our house…and it’s already black…and my husband would kill me….

  9. Eryn September 22, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

    Maybe a subtle glaze would warm up the detail and give a warmer over all appearance. Just a thought.
    I always LOVE you taste!

  10. Gray September 22, 2014 at 1:48 pm #

    I have a really nice piano that is about 15 years old, and it is ugly maroon veneer. I want to paint it black with chalk paint, but I DO want to start playing again. I am scared to death that painting it will ruin the tuning, etc. I don’t want it to be unusable. I feel like that will be a waste of a perfectly good piano, that’s just got an ugly finish.
    Help.

  11. Tally Flint September 22, 2014 at 1:05 pm #

    We too took the painting plunge this summer. Had a 100-year-old piano gifted to us by a friend. It was in terrific playing condition, but what an ugly eyesore of blotched painted-on “wood stain” with lots of chips and dents. One side even had marker scribbles from when the piano had been stored in a church Sunday school room. I had people gasp when I told them what we were doing, but it was so worth it. Not perfect by any means, but so much better for our home and style. We used primer and regular black paint and brushed it on, with repeated sandings in between. Finally finished with a sealant. Ryan (my hubs) and I joke that doing this project together (sanding, sanding, and more sanding!) was pretty much like a crash course in marriage therapy. But we love it!

  12. Becky September 22, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

    Beautiful results. My piano(s) will both stay dark and gloomy looking as they work with the rest of our furniture that way. We have an eclectic/traditional thing going on that is slightly reminiscent of an old library. Anyway, I have a friend whose piano is bright red. The bright pop of color is a lovely bit of perfect. While I have absolutely no desire to paint my own instruments, I do so appreciate the brave loveliness that results when others do. Admitting that I have adapted the eclectic look we have to accomodate the dark furniture not only because I find the wood lovely but also because I’m too chicken to face the horrified responses of family and friends. A chicken and admitting it. Congratulations on overcoming any reservations and creating a lovely piece you can wholly enjoy.

  13. Pat D. September 22, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

    Wonderful job, Emily! I admire your energy tackling a four day job! Suggestion: since you’re not totally happy with the pure white, look into applying a soft glaze on top of your final coat. That should tone it down sufficiently. (Do testing in the back to make sure you’re happy with the glaze you’ve chosen.)

  14. Pamela September 22, 2014 at 11:51 am #

    I love it! I have wanted to mine for a few years and was not committed to color. I thought I wanted a tiffany blue. When I finally got my husband to take a look at pictures, he decided that was too feminine. We have settled on a soft grey. I haven’t done it, but recently bought the paint. I”ll let you know how it goes. I did buy chalk paint. I have used spray paint for years and I didn’t want that spray painted look (I don’t like the glossy whites either…too stark). One thing you could tell your readers…if they do it your way, use “Liquid Sand” to wipe the piano. Be very meticulous about wiping it; refreshing your rag regularly. It will help avoid the bubbling/crackling that you experienced. Also, when you use “liquid sand” you don’t actually need to sand the piece of furniture. As far as the chalk paint (which you can make yourself, although for our piano I did splurge on Annie Sloane’s chalk paint) you only need wilt the piece with “Simple Green” or a similar product.
    I love the look of your home! Thanks for sharing!!
    Pamela (a recent transplant to Washington! :))

  15. gloria September 22, 2014 at 10:35 am #

    THANKS for the inspiration! Right now I’m looking at my gigantic (expensive) triple French provincial dresser – 50 yrs old and yellowed – trying to screw up my courage to paint it with milk paint. Can’t decide yet on a color, too old to muscle it outside for the job, so must tackle it in my bedroom. It’s easily the Most Scary project I’ve ever contemplated! I’ve redone the whole room with the exception of that monster dresser, so decisions need to be made soon!

    You have given me a shot in the arm and I shall proceed with boldness! ;)

  16. Sharon September 22, 2014 at 10:27 am #

    Really like how it turned out!!
    I also like the cute nook it fits into. Very quaint.

  17. Krystal Wight Armstrong September 22, 2014 at 10:16 am #

    Looks like you did an amazing job! And this is a really nice, helpful tutorial. Thank you!
    I’m going to be painting over a vintage French Provincial dresser for our baby-to-be’s changing table here real soon. We bought an air compressor to do the spray job (also in white).

    I just wondered if you could give a little more info on the detail about sanding between paint coats. What did you find needed to be sanded? (Stuff like the inevitable drip marks when accidentally spraying a coat too heavily in places?) And when you did need to sand between painting, did it take you back to the wood layer, or just the last paint layer…I wondered how problematic it was, keeping the finish smooth and consistent if you have to sand some spots like that.

    Sorry for my long question, especially since I’m sure this should all be obvious. I’m just a really detail-oriented person and would love any more specific info on that bit of the process.
    (Oh, also, do you find it was difficult sanding smoothly in the little carved out areas, like the dainty fluting details? Any tips there?)
    Thanks so much for sharing & helping! : )

  18. Nancy Sullivan September 22, 2014 at 9:49 am #

    This looks fabulous, I love it!!!…….I did the same thing to my dark china cabinet and it’s so beautiful now!!! Great job on your piano!!!

  19. Tina Matteson September 22, 2014 at 9:38 am #

    I LOVE IT and you did a wonderful job! I have been putting off painting my piano because of all the work involved! I want to paint it turquoise. it is similar in style and size to yours… only it’s black. Now it is behind my sofa where it’s not really a focal point anyway… so I continue to put it off!

  20. Heidi Walker September 22, 2014 at 9:35 am #

    I painted mine too and love it :)

    DSC00642.JPG

  21. Beth September 22, 2014 at 9:32 am #

    I have a piano in my home that was purchased by my parents when I was a teenager. I played it for a while, my sister played it for a while, my kids played it for a while and now they are all gone and it holds up our HUGE television set in the living room. I thought about selling it, giving it away to a charity and I too tossed around painting it to make it more a piece of furniture I could love again. But, alas I know that although no one WANTS it in their home right now, the cries of outrage from my family would be immense. So I chicken out. But I am still looking for just the right color so that I am ready when I get the nerve to tackle it.

  22. maria September 22, 2014 at 9:11 am #

    Looks pretty!
    I think the reasons why others have required so many steps is that painting a piano improperly can lead to drastic changes in sound (the paint affects the resonance of the piano). But of course if you do not play the piano, are not a professional pianist,etc., then I don’t see why not do it this way.

  23. Hannah September 22, 2014 at 8:07 am #

    WOW!!! that is an amazing transformation…and i have to be honest…i got rid of my piano a few years ago because it was “dark and gloomy looking”….and because nobody played it. but now…i want it back! HA! great great job!!!

  24. k sunday September 22, 2014 at 7:15 am #

    That piano looks marvelous! I have no problem painting furniture or anything I don’t love. I think if you love it then that is the most important thing good job Emily. p.s. your fall tour was amazing as always!!!!!!

  25. Abbie September 22, 2014 at 6:37 am #

    So, I’m laughing at your “furniture purists” disclaimer at the very beginning.

    At the risk of sounding like, “OMGEEE, I *totally* wrote this post too!” (hey, at least I’m not bombing you with links), I did a poll about what color I should paint a $60 vintage craigslist piano a few months back (that I bought because a) it worked, b) it was cute, and c) it was cheap enough to paint with no guilt) and completely and naively didn’t account for the furniture purists.

    I gave everybody 3 options to choose from, but the response was overwhelmingly “none of the above,” and “for the love all things sacred, DON’T PAINT THAT BEAUTIFUL PIECE OF FURNITURE!!”

    Yipes.

    Anyhoo, I full intend to paint it, but I still haven’t landed on a color. However. I have already warned everyone that I will give them a heads-up so they can look away when I post it rather than sully their minds with the image of a desecrated piece of furniture. ;)

    All that to say, I like your white piano, and I am mondo impressed that you went with spray paint. I’m going to go the brush/roller route (my piano’s kind of vintage/chippy, so…not glossy), but I’m not looking forward to either the project or the brush strokes.

    Annnnnd, there’s your novel of a comment for the day. Happy Monday!

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