In the Market for a Piano? How To Find the Right One

Your second-grade daughter has just started piano lessons. Or perhaps you’ve volunteered to play the piano for the school musical, or a church holiday program, and you need to find a piano in order to brush up on your skills. Buying a piano doesn’t have to be a daunting experience. Here are some tips to help you select the right piano for you:

1. Decide Between a Vertical or Grand Piano

Both types have the same number of keys and pedals, but there are some differences.

Vertical pianos are generally less expensive and take up less space. The stringing is parallel to the wall, allowing the depth of the piano to extend from the wall no more than 24 to 28 inches. Nearly all verticals measure about 54 to 58 inches in width.

Most manufacturers no longer make spinets, the shortest of the verticals, but used spinets are occasionally available. Consoles, about 38 to 46 inches in height, are a good choice for a first-time piano buyer because of their excellent tone and touch. Taller vertical pianos, called studio uprights, or full-size uprights, also generally have a good sound.

Grand pianos are strung parallel to the floor, have three legs and a pedal “lyre”, and are designed in a curved shape with a lid that may be raised. This not only adds aesthetic beauty to the piano, but it also allows the piano to project its tone more. “Baby” grand pianos start at about five feet in length, while studio and concert grands range from six feet to nine feet long.

Most grand pianos under six feet in length only require as much floor space as a six- by nine-feet area rug. As a general rule, grand pianos under about six feet eight inches in length work well in homes, while larger pianos are found in teaching studios, recital halls and auditoriums. Concert grands, the largest, stretch out for nine feet, producing the most power and projection of all piano styles.

If the piano player in your family is a music major, or aspiring concert pianist, a grand piano would be preferable. However, most consoles and studio uprights qualify well for regular piano practice also.

2. Decide Between New or Used

Due to changing demographics, quality used pianos are becoming hard to locate, making the selection limited in most areas of the country. You may choose to begin your search by asking your piano teacher, church music director, or a local college’s music department whether they know of a used piano for sale. Occasionally new piano stores offer trade-ins for sale as well.

Unless you know the history of a used piano you’re considering, an inspection or appraisal from a qualified piano technician pays for itself. After the technician has thoroughly examined the piano, ask for his or her overall impression, especially considering how the piano will suit your particular needs.

The average life expectancy of a piano, when manufactured, is 50 to 75 years of normal use. Thirty or forty years of age should not deter you from considering a piano, assuming it has been properly serviced over the years.

Occasionally in searching for a piano you may find a “rebuilt” piano. When an older high-quality piano is fully refurbished or rebuilt, its service life may again last another 50 to 75 years.

Should you decide to buy new, you will have the advantage of being able to compare quite a few pianos in one setting. Most new-piano stores offer in-house financing, and will include delivery and at least one tuning in the sale price. Even if you prefer to buy a used piano, shopping the new pianos stores will enable you to compare values.

3. At the Risk of Sounding Obvious, Buy the Piano you Like

Granted, certain soundboard materials, felt parts, or action designs may be better than others. “Better” is relative, so don’t miss the forest for the trees! Many of these subtle differences matter more to piano technicians, or to a particular genre of artist-jazz, classical, or pop for example-than they will to you.

If you find a piano that simply draws you in, whether by its sound, its touch or appearance, or all three, you’ve found a good match. You’ll be proud enough to want to show it off to all your family and friends. Not only that, but you’ll be drawn to simply sit down and play more readily, and you’ll have hours and even years of enjoyment from playing your piano.

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