Buying Pianos for an Institution
George F. Litterst
[This article assumes you are already familiar with the basics of piano-shopping (see "Piano Buying Basics" and other appropriate articles in this publication), and treats only those aspects of the subject that are specific to the institutional setting. — Ed.]
Institutions vary so widely in size, makeup, and needs that it is impossible to cover in a single article all the variables that might apply. For example, the studio of a graduate-school piano professor might be 12 feet square, carpeted, and cluttered with bookshelves, desk, and chairs, but still needs a performance-grade instrument. A church sanctuary — often a carpeted, irregularly shaped room with a raised dais and filled with pews, glass windows, and lots of sound-absorbing people — needs a piano that can accompany the choir, be heard throughout a huge room, and also be used as a solo instrument for visiting artists. A school may need dozens of pianos for everything from tiny practice cubicles to a concert hall.
However, regardless of whether you're purchasing a piano for a church, school, performance space, or another institutional location, you need to start with some basic questions that will help identify the piano (or pianos) that are appropriate for your situation.
- Who will use the piano — beginners, advanced players, or concert artists?
- How often will the piano be played — in the occasional concert, or for 18 hours per day of intense student practice?
- How will the piano be used — lessons for graduate students? church services? recordings?
- Will the piano's location be fixed, or will it be moved often?
- In what size room will it primarily be used?
After answering these questions, this article will help you establish some basic parameters, including:
- Grand vs. Vertical
- New vs. Used
- Digital vs. Acoustic
- Traditional Acoustic vs. Acoustic with Record/Playback/Computer Features
Once you've narrowed down the parameters of your ideal instrument or group of instruments, you need to consider your budget. In doing so, it's best to remember that quality instruments properly maintained will last a long time. Accordingly, it's best to view the cost of each instrument not as a one-time expense, but as a total expense amortized over the life of the instrument.
When figuring out the true annual cost of an instrument:
- Spread out the instrument's purchase price over the span of its working life
- Factor in the cost of money, that is, the interest you would pay if you were to finance the purchase (even if you don't actually plan to finance it)
Include costs of tuning (typically three to four times a year, but far more often for performance instruments), regulation, and repairs
When you figure the cost of an instrument this way, you may even discover that certain more expensive instruments are more affordable than you thought.
Once you've determined your budget, and the size and other features of the instruments you desire, you can use the online searchable database accessible through the electronic version of this publication to assist you in finding the specific brands and models that will fulfill your needs.
Grand vs. Vertical
Many situations are adequately served by vertical pianos, including:
- Practice rooms where the piano is used primarily by, or to accompany, non-pianist musicians
- Places where there is no room for a grand
- Instruments that are not used for intense playing or difficult literature
A number of features of vertical pianos are commonly sought by institutional buyers:
- Locks on fallboard and tops
- A music desk long enough to hold multiple sheets of music or a score
- Toe-block leg construction with double-wheel casters — particularly important if the piano will be moved often
- Heavy-duty back-post and plate assembly for better tuning stability
- Climate-control systems
- Protective covers