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- Grands 5' 6" to 6' 4": These mid-size grands have similar actions to their larger counterparts, though sometimes with shorter keys. This, their smaller soundboards, and shorter strings make them too small for professional solo work in large spaces, but fine for rehearsal, accompaniment, smaller spaces, and other less- or mid-critical uses. New performance-quality grands start at around $25,000 and go up to $85,000.
- Semi-Concert Grands 6' 5" to 7' 11": These pianos are usually built for heavy professional use. I especially recommend the larger Japanese, American, and European models. These will do in a smaller hall for solo and chamber music, as well as for more routine accompaniment work. New ones start at around $40,000 and go up to well over $100,000 for the highest quality.
- Concert Grands 8' to 9' (or longer): In large halls, the concert grand is the gold standard. If your institution plans to host professional piano recitals, chamber music, or orchestra concerts, a larger piano is a must. New concert grands start at about $100,000.
New Pianos: Setting Goals and Budget
Create a realistic budget for a new purchase by identifying several models that fit your needs and noting their prices. You'll need time to raise the money, so when you ask for bids, be sure to give the dealer a timetable for your purchase so that price increases can be taken into account.
Establish a budget just prior to announcing the need for a new instrument, so that offers of less expensive, inappropriate pianos can be turned into gifts toward the goal instrument. This will avoid a situation in which, for example, someone gives $10,000 toward a grand for the sanctuary, and that amount then becomes the budget. If someone offers less than the full amount, be sure to inform the donor of the full budget for the instrument, to give the donor the opportunity to make a donation covering the entire amount. Most donors simply have no idea how much a professional piano costs. It always amazes me that a congregation won't blink at spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to restore a pipe organ, but will be horrified that a new piano can cost over $50,000.
Avoid allowing one donor to make the decisions regarding the purchase of a new piano, especially if that person has no musical background. The steep learning curve in choosing a piano is made much more difficult when the donor doesn't play. That said, in my experience, when a church committee visits a piano store to hear a selection of pianos, even though some members may express ignorance, they can readily hear the difference when pianos of varying quality are played for them.
Make sure that you make an appointment to see the pianos. Piano dealers cannot be expected to always have every instrument in tune. Given advance notice, most dealers will put their best foot forward by preparing for your consideration several of the most likely candidates.
Used Pianos: Myths and Reality
Other than in the first year or two, when some pianos may slightly improve as they stabilize and their actions get played in, pianos really do not get better with age. A piano's life is a long, downhill slope toward a complete rebuilding job, assuming the piano is worth it (and very few verticals are worth rebuilding), and sale or disposal if it's not. The myth that older pianos are automatically better is an idea that does not hold up under scrutiny. Some older pianos were built well, and some were not. Some new pianos are cheaply built, and some are better than pianos have ever been. Real strides in piano manufacturing have been made in the last 20 years, making the continued reverence for older instruments insupportable.