How to Buy a Piano

How to Buy a Piano

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  1. You’ve decided to buy a piano: good for you… maybe. If you’re an experienced pianist wishing to upgrade from the 36-key Casio your folks bought you for Christmas when you were eight, then it’s likely that you’ve made the right choice. If you don’t know Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude from Chop Sticks and are looking for a fancy place to display a candelabra, then consider buying a table. IKEA has a wide selection, and some will last a couple years before falling apart.

    As a piano player (I am loathe to call myself a “pianist”, for the name implies a level of expertise I will never attain—but I can play the Peanuts theme and Heart and Soul with the best of them!), I can’t stress this enough: a piano is not a piece of furniture. There is nothing that saddens me more than to see an idle piano taking up space in a home devoid of musicians. So if you plan to buy a piano, put it to use or I’ll have to track you down and open up a can of woop-ass on you, and I’ve got better things to do with my time.


     Space is the key factor when buying a piano. Keep in mind that even the smallest acoustic pianos take up a sizable area. For those living in tiny apartments or a trailer smack dab in the middle of Tornado Ally (and don’t all trailer-dwellers live there?), an electric piano may be your best choice. Not only does it take up less space, but you can also disassemble and store it in a closet or under a bed when not in use. Casio pianos are the cheapest, and for good reason (I’m not going to say they stink because I don’t want to be sued; let’s just say they reek like raw eggs left over a heater vent for a month scrambled with Brussels sprouts fried in rancid Crisco). It’s worth it to spend more and buy a quality piano that will last for years. I have been happy with my Roland for the past fifteen years, but the next electric piano I buy will be a Yamaha or, preferably, a Korg. You want to buy a piano that has built in speakers if possible (most do) and weighted keys is a must if you want your music to have any expression at all.


     Spinet pianos are the smallest of the acoustic models. Some, like my old piano, have a “folded” harp inside, so that the strings are actually twice as long as the piano is high, giving it a rich sound that upright pianos can’t match. Spinets generally cost less than other pianos (including electric pianos), though you always get what you pay for, so never buy one without giving it a test playing. Keep in mind that you will probably have to have a visit from a piano tuner once a year, usually in the spring.


     Upright pianos often cost a bit more than spinets. Because they are taller, uprights have longer strings than spinet pianos (other than those with a “folded” harp), and the rule of thumb with pianos is, “The longer the strings, the better the sound”. An upright will actually take up about the same floor space as a spinet, though it is considerably higher, making it less desirable as a window-fronting instrument.

    And so we come to the best of all pianos: the grands. If you live in a tiny one-bedroom apartment or a Tornado Ally trailer, this is not the piano for you. First of all, they’re expensive; even a quality baby grand will set you back more than a grand (which may be where the name came from); secondly, you’d have to sleep either on the piano or under it, as you would have no room for a bed.


     Baby Grand Pianos are less than six feet long with a harp only slightly longer than that of an upright. However, the horizontal layout of the strings allows one to open the top and expose the strings fully, which makes it not only louder but adds nuance to the music played. Standard Grand Pianos are longer than six feet and provide the richest sound.


     The longest of these, the Concert Grand, can be up to twelve feet long and will set you back at least a couple hundred thousand, so you had better be very serious about your piano playing before you shell out the dough for one of these.

    Brand names are important when buying a quality piano, not only for the sound value but also for the longevity of the instrument. Steinways are generally the most expensive, and many built over a hundred years ago still play splendidly. Other brands of note include Baldwin, Fazioli, Yamaha (and you thought they only made fast motorcycles), Bechstein, Bosendorfer… the list is nearly endless.

    The best way to determine what piano is best for you is to sit down at several and play them one at a time. Determine which action you prefer (light, heavy, or something in between), pedal pressure that feels comfortable, and a sound that pleases your ear the most. Strangely, the comfort of the piano bench is also very important, for you may spend hours a day on it. Of course, if you love a piano and hate the bench, go ahead and buy the piano; you can always get a new bench.

    The determining factors when choosing a piano are largely objective, so whatever feels and sounds the best to you is the best piano for you.

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