In all likelihood, your purchase of a new piano will include a matching bench. Benches for consumer-grade pianos are usually made by the piano manufacturer and come with the piano. Benches for performance-grade pianos are often provided separately by the dealer.
Benches come in two basic types: fixed-height or adjustable. Consumer-grade pianos usually come with fixed-height benches that have either a solid top that matches the piano’s finish, or a padded top with sides and legs finished to match the piano. The legs on most benches will be miniatures of the piano’s legs, particularly for decorative models. Most piano benches have music storage compartments. School and institutional-type vertical pianos often come with so-called “stretcher” benches—the legs are connected with wooden reinforcing struts to better endure heavy use.
Both solid-top and padded benches work well. The padded benches tend to be a little more comfortable, especially for those who have little natural padding of their own. They tend to wear more quickly, however, and are subject to tearing. Solid-top benches wear longer but are more easily scratched.
Adjustable benches are preferred by serious players who spend hours at the piano, and by children and adults who are shorter or taller than average. The standard height of a piano bench is 19" or 20". Adjustable benches typically can be set at anywhere from about 18" to 21". By adjusting the bench height and moving it slightly forward or backward, one can maintain the proper posture and wrist angle to the keyboard.
High-quality adjustable benches have a very heavy steel mechanism — so strong you could almost use it as a car jack! The duet-size bench (seats two) weighs well over 60 pounds. These benches are made of hard rock maple and come in most leg styles and finishes. The deeply tufted tops come in a heavy-duty vinyl and look like leather; tops of actual leather are available at additional cost. Both look great and wear well. The best ones, such as those made by Jansen, are expensive ($500 to $750) but are built to last a lifetime. Over the past few years, lesser-quality adjustable benches have come on the market. While these benches are adjustable within a similar range, the mechanisms aren’t as hardy. They may be fine for light use, but most will not last nearly as long as the piano. A new style of adjustable bench, with steel legs, may be useful in high-use institutional settings.
A new type of adjustable bench on the market contains a hydraulic or pneumatic mechanism for raising or lowering the seat. There are different versions, but a typical one uses two nitrogen-gas cylinders, one on each side, and is good for 30,000 up-and-down cycles. The bench can be adjusted quickly and effortlessly by means of a handle on the side of the bench. This can be an advantage to players whose wrists are easily fatigued by turning the knob of the traditional or standard type of adjustable bench, or for musicians who need to make height adjustments quickly and silently during a performance. These benches can also usually be set higher than the traditional kind. Most hydraulic or pneumatic benches are very stable, with metal legs (see photo), avoiding the wobbliness that can sometimes afflict four-legged wooden benches. Standard models range in price from $500 to $900; fancier versions, on which the metal is covered by wood, cost from $1,300 to $2,200.
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