The first step in purchasing a piano is to evaluate whether it's likely be a long-term or a short-term purchase. For example, if there are several potential players in the family, especially if one is a parent who played piano as a child, chances are that at least one family member will play for many years. With only one potential player, on the other hand, particularly a young child, there is more risk that the instrument will be abandoned after a short while. If the risk of abandonment is high, you may want to start with a less expensive piano or a digital piano, or even to rent one, and then upgrade to a better instrument when you feel confident that the risk of abandonment has passed. If you are already confident that the piano will be played for a long time, it makes more sense to invest in a better instrument right away. For more information, see the article "Piano-Buying Basics."
This is a reasonable approach if the risk is high that the student's interest in playing will disappear after awhile. If the risk is very low, you should buy the best piano you can reasonably afford, as the benefits of better performance will be realized for years to come. Also, even if there is a loss of interest, the better-quality piano will likely retain a greater proportion of its value upon resale than will the lower-quality one. For more information, see the article "Piano-Buying Basics."
Rental is a reasonable option if the risk is high that the student will abandon lessons after awhile. However, if you believe the risk of abandonment is low, you will usually do better financially by purchasing. See the article on piano rental for more information.
A digital piano is fine for beginners. However, it will only take you so far; after a couple of years of lessons, you will likely need a decent acoustic piano to progress. A digital piano is a reasonable alternative if the risk is high that the player will lose interest, or if you move often. It's also suitable for apartment and condo dwellers, or for those who want to play late into the evening, since with a digital you can silence the piano and use headphones. Digitals also have a host of features that make them extremely versatile, from the ability to sound like an entire musical ensemble, to recording. Please see the article "Acoustic or Digital: What's Best For Me?" for more information.
Pianos can have a life expectancy of 60 years or more if well maintained, and they generally perform well for their first 30 to 40 years. However, due to depreciation, a used piano only a few years old may be much less expensive than a comparable new one. Therefore, under the right circumstances, a used piano can be a better value than a new one. There are, however, concerns related to buying used, such as risk, lack of warranty, and the difficulties of shopping for one. See a discussion of the relative advantages and disadvantages of buying new and used. Also see the article "Buying a Used or Restored Piano."
Most new consumer-grade vertical pianos sell in the range of $3,000 to $10,000. Some higher-end ones cost two or three times that, and a few cost less. New entry-level grands generally go for $7,000 to $10,000, mid-range grands from $10,000 to $30,000, and high-end grands for $30,000 to $100,000 or more. Unrestored but playable used pianos, purchased from a private party, cost from 20 to 80 percent of the cost of a comparable new instrument, depending on age and condition, with 15-year-old used pianos coming in at about 50 percent. Used pianos may cost much more when purchased from a dealer, but you will also get a warranty, peace of mind, and greater ease of shopping.
Good used pianos can be purchased from piano dealers, piano technicians and rebuilders, and from friends and family members. Online, you can search at Piano Buyer Classifieds, Piano World, eBay, Craigslist, and several online piano dealers. See also our Local Services Directory for sources. Please read "Buying a Used or Restored Piano" for full details.
It usually costs around the same as the tuning fee, that is, between $100 and $200. There would probably be an extra charge if a written report is required.
The best way to find out the value of a used piano is to have it professionally appraised by an experienced piano technician, whose knowledge of local conditions in the piano market, ability to judge the condition of the piano, and memory of recent similar transactions can probably produce a more accurate estimate of the instrument's fair market value than you can by yourself.
Each piano is given a serial number at "birth." It's usually located somewhere in the tuning pin area of the cast-iron plate, though sometimes it's elsewhere, or difficult to find. See the illustration at www.pianobuyer.com/assets/faq-
serialno.pdf for typical locations. (If there appears to be more than one serial number on the piano, usually the longer one is the real serial number, the other being a number used by the factory during production.) If the manufacturer is still in business, it may be able to provide the year of manufacture from the serial number. Sometimes the information is on the manufacturer's web site. For those not still in business, the Pierce Piano Atlas provides dates of manufacture from serial numbers for thousands of piano brands, both current and past. You can find the book through a piano technician or dealer, in libraries, or from www.piercepianoatlas.com. Where dates are not available in Pierce, or the serial number cannot be found, an experienced technician or rebuilder may be able to estimate the age of the piano from technical features or furniture design.
If a piano is less than 10 or 15 years old and has not been in a high-use situation, chances are good that it doesn't have any fatal defects, and may only need routine maintenance. Other than that advice, there are only a limited number of things you can do yourself to determine the condition of a piano. Most will give results that are only suggestive of possible problems, perhaps enough to rule a piano out, but not enough to be confident about buying it.
If you would like your kids to develop a good musical ear and not get frustrated by notes that don't work or sound right, then you should be concerned with the condition of the piano. It's possible to be concerned without being overly fussy.
It depends on the quality and value of the older piano and how much it would cost to rebuild it. The complete rebuilding of a grand piano can cost from $15,000 to $40,000 (sometimes even more). Obviously, this is only worth doing to a piano of the highest quality, such as a Steinway, Mason & Hamlin, or some of the top European makes. For lesser pianos, however, sometimes partial rebuilding or reconditioning at a much lower cost can make sense. This is something that must be determined on a case-by-case basis through consultation with piano technicians and rebuilders. Note that if your piano is a cheap one that has serious problems, in most cases you would clearly be better off buying a new one. Please read more about piano restoration in "Buying a Used or Rebuilt Piano," or in The Piano Book, by Larry Fine.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each. A dealer with a regular storefront will likely have a great selection of instruments to choose from, both new and used, and will give a warranty. However, dealers often have the high overhead that comes from needing to be in a prime location, keeping the store staffed, keeping many pianos in tune, etc., so prices will usually be higher. The attributes of a good piano dealer are discussed in the article on the subject in "Piano-Buying Basics."
I suppose one might give away a piano that is no longer needed if it has minimal monetary value, as a philanthropic act, or if the owner is moving and doesn't want to pay the cost of moving the piano. If the piano is not worth much because it needs a lot of work, and the owner doesn't want to spend the money to have the work done, he or she might feel that the only way to get rid of the piano is to give it away — and let the buyer pay for the moving and repair. So buyer beware, and be sure to have the piano inspected by a piano technician before agreeing to take it. Keep in mind that a "free" piano is not really free. You have to pay to have it moved, tuned, and repaired, and, if it turns out to be junk, to dispose of it. Free pianos can be great deals — or they can turn out to be very expensive. You can avoid much trouble and unpleasant surprises by having the piano professionally inspected before agreeing to take it.
No. Pianos can have serious problems that are not obvious just from playing.
If the problem just involves fixing or replacing a few action parts or strings, that's usually not a big deal. However, if many keys don't work, there could be wholesale destruction or deterioration of parts, and more could break after you start using the piano. Better to have a technician advise you about this before taking the piano.
It depends on your needs and on the relative merits of the new and old pianos you are considering. There aren't any generalizations that can be made.
That's a great idea. Just be aware that it's possible the technician may feel some kind of loyalty to the current owner and may not want to tell you the complete truth. Nevertheless, the technician is not likely to out-and-out lie to you, especially if you suggest that you may be calling them to service the piano in the future.
Then you should have the piano inspected by a piano technician before offering it to others. The technician can advise you as to the condition of the piano and for whom it might be appropriate. You can then pass that information along to prospective takers.
First determine if it might be appropriate for a piano restorer, or for a beginning technician on which to practice repairs. If not, and it really needs to be discarded, then call piano movers or contractors who clean out basements, attics, and the like, and get estimates of how much it would cost to remove the piano and take it to the dump or landfill. Note that in addition to the cost of hauling the piano away, the landfill may also charge a fee based on weight or volume.
No. Some are too far gone to be worth saving.
The most obvious non-technical difference between upright (also known as vertical) pianos and grand pianos is that verticals have a smaller footprint and usually cost less. Grands are more likely to be purchased for their value as room-enhancing furniture, take up more space, and cost more. In fact, many who don't play or play very little buy a grand as much to make a statement about themselves as for any other reason.
All other factors being equal, taller uprights and longer grands sound better, particularly in the bass and mid-range, than smaller or shorter ones. This is due to the physics of piano strings, which dictates that longer strings produce a more harmonious sound. In some cases, the larger pianos may also have better keys and actions. Of course, unless you're comparing different-size models of the same brand and model line, all other factors are rarely equal, so one should not pursue size to the exclusion of other attributes, but as a general rule of thumb, when it comes to selecting a piano, bigger is better.
In the old days, grand pianos of different sizes had cute, romantic names such as "baby grand" or "parlour grand." These days, piano professionals usually speak of grand pianos simply by their exact size in feet and inches or in centimeters. The term "baby grand" is rarely used. If any names are used at all, they are likely to be "small grand" for instruments up to about 5 feet, medium grand for those 5½ to 7½ feet, and concert grand for those over 7½ feet long. (These names and sizes are not set in stone; slight variations on them are common.) See the article in "Piano-Buying Basics" for more information about piano types and sizes.
Spinets are vertical pianos, 35 to 40 inches tall, whose hammer mechanisms are located completely or partially below the level of the keys. This arrangement was invented in the 1930s to satisfy consumer demand for a shorter, more compact piano. Spinet actions (key-and-hammer mechanisms) work less efficiently than other types of action because of the way the keys and hammers are connected, and the difficulty of accessing or removing the recessed spinet actions makes even small repairs and adjustments complicated and expensive. The small size of spinets also means their tone will be compromised. New spinets are no longer being manufactured, but many older ones are still on the used-piano market. Beginners can learn to play on a spinet, but expect to have to upgrade to a better instrument soon. See the article in "Piano-Buying Basics" for more information about piano types and sizes.
Furniture style is entirely a matter of personal taste and has no effect on the quality or functioning of the instrument. One caveat, however: Free-standing legs on smaller vertical pianos are prone to breakage if the instrument is moved often. Legs attached to the instrument sides with toe blocks, common on medium-size and larger verticals, represents a sturdier construction. For more information on piano furniture styles, including pictures, see the article in "Piano-Buying Basics."
Different parts of a piano are made of different materials. For some parts, the type of wood used strongly affects the quality and musical character of the instrument. In today's global economy, most manufacturers have access to and use materials that are appropriate for the level of quality and musical characteristics they are seeking.
The right pedal is called the sustain or damper pedal. Its function is to lift all the dampers off the strings so that any notes played thereafter will sustain (continue to sound), and all other notes will ring sympathetically. The left pedal is called the soft pedal (vertical) or una corda pedal (grand). Its function is to reduce the sound volume somewhat by moving the hammers closer to the strings (vertical), or by shifting the keyboard so that only two out of each group of three strings is struck by the hammers (grand).
Before you can "look for" anything, you need to answer a number of basic questions, such as whether you need a vertical (upright) or grand piano, whether you should buy new or used, whether you should rent or buy, what your budget is, etc. Answering these questions will narrow your field considerably; otherwise you'll be swimming in possibilities and will never be able to make a decision. We've written an article just for you in "Piano-Buying Basics."
Piano tone is a matter of personal preference, which is influenced by how well and what kind of music you play, and by what you've been used to playing or listening to in the past. Your taste in piano tone may also change with time. One way to begin to recognize what is generally considered good tone is to play or listen to some of the most expensive pianos, including ones you can't afford to buy, and then compare them to less-expensive instruments. A warning, however: As your taste in piano tone becomes more sophisticated, this can be end up being a very expensive exercise. Alternatively, ask a piano teacher, technician, or dealer for assistance in evaluating the tone of pianos in your price range. See the article on touch and tone in "Piano-Buying Basics" for more information.
As with tone quality, this is a matter of personal preference, but only within certain limits. If the touch is too light, your fingers will get weak and lazy; if too heavy, you can injure yourself over time. This is not usually a problem with new pianos; all manufacturers' instruments, when properly regulated, are within a reasonable range of touch. But with older pianos, the touch can vary widely with the condition of the instrument. You will need some assistance from someone who plays, such as a piano teacher or technician, to determine if the touch is within a normal range. See the article on touch and tone in "Piano-Buying Basics" for more information.
More often than not, piano prices are negotiable. However, determining the extent is a bit more difficult. For new pianos, the best way to determine a typical price range for a specific model is to use the pricing guidelines in Piano Buyer. Before looking up models and prices, be sure to read and understand the introduction to the section so that you know what the prices represent and how to use them. For used pianos, see the FAQ "How do I figure the value of a used piano," or read the article "How Much Is It Worth?" in "Buying a Used or Restored Piano."
For new pianos, this is a complicated and potentially controversial subject because every brand has its enthusiastic promoters and detractors. The best we can do is to refer you to the article "The New-Piano Market Today," and specifically the section "A Map of the Market For New Pianos," for a run-down and comparison of pianos from different parts of the world. Be sure to read the text and not just the "map."
This depends in part on what you mean by "reputable." It would be very rare, for example, for a dealer to take your money and not deliver the piano, so I wouldn't worry about that. On the other hand, dealerships and individual salespeople do differ in how helpful they are in selecting an instrument, handling warranty issues, and other aspects of the buying experience. In addition to checking with the local Better Business Bureau, google the dealership and check them out online. You can also check with local music teachers, piano technicians, and school music departments. Read the article in "Piano-Buying Basics" about the attributes of a good piano dealer.
Believe it or not, the floor sample is usually the better choice. Pianos need to be prepared for use before delivery. This includes removal of external and internal packing materials, tuning, and making any adjustments needed to be sure the tone and touch are uniform throughout the keyboard. Since they are relied on to promote sales, floor samples need to sound good. They often receive more attention than non-floor samples prepared for delivery. They usually are tuned several times and tweaked to bring out their best performance. In addition, individual instruments, even of the same brand and model, often sound and feel slightly different. To avoid an unpleasant surprise, purchasing the actual piano you evaluated, even though it is a floor sample, is much recommended over having a different instrument delivered in its original box. If the floor sample has incurred a few small scratches or dings to its cabinet, the dealership can easily repair these for you before delivery.
Most manufacturers' new-piano warranties cover any defect in materials or workmanship for a specified length of time, ranging from 5 to 15 years. Besides the length of the warranty, the major difference between them is whether or not the warranty is transferable to future owners within the warranty period. A few are; most are not. Most cover the cost of shipping the piano back to the factory for repair, but this rarely becomes an issue because most warranty repairs are carried out in the home, or the piano is replaced, not repaired.
It's probably not necessary to have a new piano inspected by a piano technician unless you have specific issues or concerns of a technical nature about which you need advice. Sometimes a teacher or piano-playing friend can be helpful in selecting an instrument. We definitely recommend having a used piano evaluated by a piano technician before purchase, especially if it is more than 10 years old and/or being purchased from a private party. Pianos can have expensive problems that are not obvious to the owner or player. For more information, see the article in "Piano-Buying Basics."
What is included in a purchase from a commercial seller is a matter of negotiation and should be clearly noted on the sales agreement. Typically included are a matching bench, pre-delivery preparation of the instrument (unpacking, tuning, and adjustments), tuning in the home at least a few weeks after delivery (giving the piano time to acclimate and be played in a little bit), and either a manufacturer's or dealer's warranty covering defects in material and workmanship for a specified period of time. Other common negotiated inclusions are delivery, a more expensive bench, and additional tunings during the first year.
That depend a great deal on how much the piano is used, how well it's maintained, and on the climate in which it resides. A piano played 16 hours a day in a school practice room in a cold climate might be "dead" in ten years or less, whereas one pampered in a living room in a mild climate might last nearly a century before requiring complete restoration to function again. A rule-of-thumb answer typically given is that an average piano under average conditions will last 40 to 50 years. However, even after a piano has ended its natural life for a particular purpose, it may still have a new life as a used instrument for a lesser purpose. And if it has enough intrinsic value, it may eventually be rebuilt and start its life all over again!
Pianos are, unequivocally, a great investment. However, the return on the investment is the joy of making music, having a hobby that will give pleasure for a lifetime, and other advantages of ownership. From a financial perspective (excluding instruments with special historical or artistic value), pianos are a depreciating asset. They depreciate quickly for the first few years and then slowly thereafter. They may eventually appear to appreciate in value, but the appreciation is entirely due to inflation. Unless you are a serious collector or dealer who trades in pianos with special historical or artistic value, buying pianos and holding them for the long term is not a good way to make money. See the sidebar about buying a piano as an investment.
Until a decade ago, it was not. However, virtually all the pianos being made in China today and sold in the West are competently made and suitable, at least, for beginners. Many are better than merely competent and are suitable for mid-level players. Due to the low labor costs, they can be a very good value. There are also higher-priced instruments that are partly manufactured in China and then finished up elsewhere. For more information, please read "The New-Piano Market Today."
There was a time when people were advised not to put a piano against an outside wall. Today, however, most homes are insulated well enough that that advice no longer holds. That said, I would suggest allowing an air space of a few inches between an outside wall and an upright piano. Note: Sometimes heating registers are placed on outside walls. Pianos should definitely not be placed anywhere near heating registers. The warm air will dry out the piano and cause damage. For more information, see the Piano Maintenance FAQ page on www.PianoBuyer.com and "Caring For Your Piano" about humidity control.
Not if you ever use the fireplace. The heat would likely do significant damage to the instrument, and the change in temperature and humidity from times of fireplace use to times of non-use would make it difficult to keep the piano in tune. For more information, see the Piano Maintenance FAQ page on www.PianoBuyer.com and "Caring For Your Piano" about humidity control.
It depends on how much you play and on how conscientious you want to be about piano maintenance. Typically a piano will be tuned twice a year at a cost of $100 to $200 per tuning, depending on geographic region and the experience and reputation of the tuner. Some tuners in high demand charge more. In addition, every so often a piano will need regulating (adjusting the piano action to compensate for wear and bring it back to the manufacturer's specs), voicing (adjusting the tone for changes that take place as a result of use), internal cleaning, and repairs. For most piano owners, budgeting an average of $300 to $500 per year will suffice, although the actual outlay will be less in some years and more in others. Teachers and performers who use the piano more, or need to maintain optimal performance, should budget accordingly. See also the Piano Maintenance FAQ page on www.PianoBuyer.com and "Caring For Your Piano."
Basically, if it physically fits and is aesthetically pleasing to you, you have enough room. Most vertical (upright) pianos are about five feet wide and about two feet deep. Most grands are about five feet wide, and the length varies by model from around five to nine feet. Be sure to add a couple of feet for a player and bench. Piano dealers usually have templates they can lend you, representing different types and sizes of piano, so you can figure your space requirements. See the article in "Piano-Buying Basics" for more information.
Most vertical pianos weigh between 350 and 650 pounds, grands between 500 and 1,000 pounds. A 1,000-pound concert grand weighs about the same as six average adult men. Most floors should be able to support that easily. If in doubt, consult a building engineer.
That depends on what your long-term musical goals are. If you're aiming to be a pianist, you'll need only basic features, such as an 88-note weighted keyboard, a few different piano sounds, perhaps an organ or two, and a harpsichord. Transposition and the ability to record while practicing would be nice. If you plan on using the digital piano to do arranging, you'll need a sequencer, and a full array of instruments such as those found on many "ensemble" digital pianos. Please read "Buying a Digital Piano" for full details.
No, digitals do not need to be tuned.
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