Due to the high cost of advertising and conducting piano megasales (such as college sales, truckload sales, etc.), prices at these events are often actually higher than the price you could negotiate any day of the week, and the pressure to buy can be enormous. Shop at these sales only after you've shopped elsewhere, and look for the real bargains that occasionally exist.
If you're buying a new piano to replace one that's no longer satisfactory, you'll probably want to trade in the old one. Dealers will usually take a trade-in, no matter how bad it is, just to be able to facilitate the sale. In fact, in many cases the dealer will offer you what seems like a king's ransom for the old one. The downside is that when a generous trade-in allowance is given on the old piano, the dealer is then likely to offer you a less-generous price on the new one. To see if you're being offered a good deal, you'll have to carefully analyze the fair-market value of the old piano and what would be a likely price for the new one without a trade-in. Sometimes it will be to your advantage to sell the old piano privately, though in that case you'll need to take into account the hassle factor as well.
For more information about new-piano prices and negotiating, see the introduction to the "Model & Pricing Guide," elsewhere in this issue, as well as in The Piano Book.
Used-piano prices may or may not be negotiable. If the used piano is being sold by a dealer who primarily sells new pianos at negotiable prices, then the used-piano prices are probably also negotiable. Prices of restored pianos sold by the restorer are less likely to be negotiable, as technical people are usually less comfortable with bargaining. Prices of pianos for sale by private-party sellers are usually negotiable, in part because the seller often has little idea of what the piano should sell for and has just made up a price on the basis of wishful thinking. But even knowledgeable sellers will usually leave a little wiggle room in their price.
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 major 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, including 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.