Electronic Player-Piano Systems
Prior to the Great Depression, most pianos were outfitted with player-piano mechanisms — the kind that ran on pneumatic pressure and paper rolls. Today's player pianos are all electronic; they run on CDs, iPods, floppy diskettes, or electronic downloads from the Internet, and are far more versatile and sophisticated than their pneumatic ancestors. Now you don't have to wait until Junior grows up to hear something interesting from the piano! A substantial percentage of new pianos, especially grands, are being outfitted with these systems. In fact, many pianos are being purchased as home-entertainment centers by buyers who have no intention of ever playing the piano themselves.
Several companies make these systems. Yamaha's Disklavier system is built into select Yamaha models at the Yamaha factory. PianoDisc and QRS Pianomation, the two ma-
jor after-market systems, can be installed in any piano, new or used, typically by the dealer or at an intermediate distribution point. If installed properly by a trained and authorized installer, none of these systems will harm the piano or void its warranty. However, such installations are complicated and messy and must be done in a shop, not in your home.
The most basic system will play your piano and accompany it with synthesized orchestration or actual recorded accompaniment over speakers attached to the piano. These systems generally add about $4,000 to $7,000 to the price of the piano. Add another $1,500 to $2,000 to enable the piano to record your own playing for future playback. For a little bit more, you can mute the piano (stop the hammers from hitting the strings), turn on a digital piano sound, and listen through headphones. The range of prices reflects the variety of configurations and options available, in-
cluding what music source you use (CD, iPod, MP3 player, etc.) and how much memory storage you purchase, among others. There are also higher-level systems at twice the price that provide touch screens with wireless connection for instant downloading of songs from the Internet. See the article "Buying an Electronic Player-Piano System" elsewhere in this issue for more information.
Furniture Style and Finish
Although for most buyers the qualities of performance and construction are of greatest importance in selecting a piano, a piano is also a large piece of furniture that tends to become the focal point of whatever room it is placed in. This is especially true of grands. Add to that the fact that you'll be looking at it for many years to come, and it becomes obvious that appearance can be an important consideration. For some buyers, it may be the most important consideration.
Vertical pianos without front legs are known as Continental style (also called Contemporary, European Contemporary, or Eurostyle). They are usually the smallest (42 to 43 inches high) and least expensive pianos in a manufacturer's product line.
Pianos with legs supported by toe blocks are sometimes known as Institutional or Professional style, particularly when the cabinet also has little in the way of decoration or embellishment.
School pianos are a subset of the institutional-style category. Generally 45 to 47 inches in height, these are institutional-style pianos made specifically for use in school practice rooms and classrooms. They usually come equipped with long music racks for holding multiple sheets of music, locks for both the lid and the fallboard, and heavy-duty casters for easier moving. They are generally available in ebony or satin wood finishes. Sturdy and sometimes plain-looking, they are also often purchased by non-institutional customers for less furniture-conscious locations. (If you're buying a piano for an institution, please read "Buying Pianos for an Institution," elsewhere in this issue.)