How to Choose the Right Piano
Buying a piano - which type to go for?
So you've decided to purchase a piano. That's not a step you should take lightly and buy just any instrument that you think will look well in your living room. Unless you want to buy a piano with the sole purpose of decorating your house and never intending to play it, there are a lot of other things to consider.
The question "how to choose the right piano?" is asked by both amateur and professional musicians when they start looking for an instrument. To answer this question, you first need to answer a number of others: are you just starting to learn how to play? or are you a professional musician? or perhaps an amateur who loves playing after dinner every once in a while? what sort of music do you play? All this influences the type of piano you should consider buying.
First of all you'll need to decide on the type of the piano you are going to buy - an upright piano, a grand, or an electronic one. Let's have a look at different options.
An upright piano is considered a universal option that suits everyone. Upright pianos are not as expensive as grands, but they still have a very nice sound if you choose the right instrument. Upright pianos are good for students, amateurs and even professionals. Plus they don't take up too much room compared to a grand piano.
A grand piano
First of all, let me tell you that there are different types of grand pianos and they come in different sizes. Not many houses can fit a concert grand, so there are smaller instruments like parlor grands (6-7 ft long) and baby grands (5 ft long). A baby grand is always a classy option that both sounds and looks great. Grand pianos are expensive, though, and are best suited for professional pianists or those who can afford them.
An electronic piano is also a good option, especially if you are an amateur or a student. It's also a good choice for those who don't play a lot of classical music. An electronic piano has a huge advantage over acoustic pianos - it doesn't need tuning. Another advantage is that it doesn't take up as much space as an upright piano or a grand. Plus it's more affordable if you are buying a new instrument. There are some very nice electronic Yamaha's that have a great sound.
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New vs Used?
Another thing you should consider when deciding how to choose the right piano is whether you are going to buy a new or a used one. Both options have their advantages and disadvantages.
Buying a new piano
The obvious advantage of buying a new instrument is that it's, well, new. If you are buying from a reputable store, then the piano is guaranteed to be in perfect condition and you can be sure that it has been stored at proper temperature and humidity. This is very important because pianos that have been exposed to heat, cold, dryness or extremely humid conditions may look fine at first, but they will start acting up and going out of tune within months or even weeks. Not to mention the fact that pianos that were exposed to bad conditions may simply crack at one point.
But it's not all that simple. New instruments are generally more expensive than used ones. Of course, that's not the case if you are looking at an antique German grand, which will cost a fortune if it's in good condition. Which brings us to another potential disadvantage of new instruments - buying a new piano means you won't be able to get a brand that's out of production or an antique instrument. These can have amazing sound quality, way better than anything newly made.
Buying a used piano
If you are looking for a practice piano, then it makes sense to buy a used instrument. Not only can you get a good deal, especially if you find someone who's moving and selling quickly, but you can potentially find a real gem with the perfect sound.
However, you have to be really careful when you are buying a used piano, especially if you are purchasing an expensive instrument. You have to be sure that the piano is in good condition and has been taken care of. That's why it's best to ask a tuner/piano repairs specialist to have a look at the instrument you are considering buying. Even if the piano appears to be in tune, it can have numerous flaws that only a professional can spot.
If you can't ask a professional to help you, here is a checklist you can use to make sure the piano is in good condition:
- Play it and check its tuning. Ask how often the instrument was tuned. Remember that a piano needs to be tuned once a year.
- Check it for cracks. If it's an upright piano that's standing against the wall, ask to move it a bit and check the back. If the back is cracked, don't buy it. Same with the bottom of grands.
- Check for moth. Because pianos use wool on hammers and other details, moth loves them. So don't hesitate to open the piano you are looking at look at the hammers and even under they keys, as moth particularly loves that place. If there is any sign of moth, you will need to invest in repairs and that can be a lot of money.
- Ask about storage conditions. A piano is not fruit or veg, but it does need special storage conditions. So make sure you ask the current owner whether the piano has been exposed to direct sunlight, dry conditions, high humidity and whether it's been kept in an unheated room during winter or not. The answer should be "NO" to all these questions.
This checklist includes the essentials, but there is a number of other questions you can ask.
Some CDs with piano music for you to enjoy
Choosing the piano that works for you
And now the important part - how to choose the right piano that sound just right? The answer is both easy and difficult - play. Check out as many instruments as you can. Play your favourite pieces and don't be afraid to play for a while. There is no other way of knowing if it's YOUR instrument or if it's just any instrument. Remember that with pianos brands are important, but the actual sound of an individual instrument is even more important. Sometimes a Yamaha can sound better than a Steinway because it's better suited to your manner of playing. Remember that it's you who's choosing the piano, which means you have to love it's sound and it's feel. For example, I prefer instruments with a really tight keyboard that requires a lot of pressure to play. But I know pianists who prefer light keyboards. The choice is yours and don't let anyone bully you into getting something you are not completely satisfied with.
And now let's have a look at some brands you may want to consider. Of course, the list is not extensive. The brands are not given in any particular order:
Yamaha - everybody knows Yamaha pianos. There are different models, different prices, but the sound is generally bright and sparkly.
Kawai - another Japanese brand loved by many. Again, prices vary and the sound usually has a sparkly quality.
Steinway - considered to be the absolute best as far as grands are concerned. Steinways produce a very versatile sound, which makes them the choice of a professional.
Bösendorfer - a Viennese piano maker with a history. These instruments have a lovely velvet quality of sound.
Blüthner - a German maker with strong traditions. The sound is strong and deep.
Bechstein - a German makes, C. Bechstein, produces gorgeous pianos with an amazing embracing sound.
Note: I have an upright Petroff, a Czech piano. I love my instrument and had it for more than twenty years, since I was six. I love its deep tones and I love the feel of the keyboard.
Remember, that it's up to you which brand to choose. Don't go for the brand alone, go for the sound and you will make the right choice.
© 2012 Snurre