BUYING PIANOS

Timpane's picture

Okay, we've got Matt, ben, Sam, Arthur, and God knows who else here who will have an opinion.. and I want them all..

I want to buy a (non digital) 88 key upright piano, but I don't want to spend a lot of money. I know I can walk into a store and pay 3K for an OK piano.. and I'm not looking for perfection.

I also know I can go on Ebay, and pay 400 dollars.. but I'm not looking for something that will suck.

What I am looking for is something inbetween, and I need anecdotes, "where to start"s, opinions and advice.. (and boyoboy is this the place for opinions and advice).

So, c'mon people.. where DO I start?

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matthew's picture

Where not to start!

Rule #1:
Do not start looking in a Piano store. They will convince you to buy whatever overpriced piece of feces they are pushing at the moment.

Rule #2:
If you are serious about playing the piano, do not buy a "spinet" upgright. These are the types with really short tops. Their action is insufficient for good expression. They suck goat nads. Seriously. I hate them. I would even be hesitant about "console" pianos, due to their short height. "Studio" pianos are really your best sounding upright. There's a bit of crossover between "studio" and "upright grand"; many people claim they are the same thing.
Remember the order, from shortest to tallest: spinet, console, studio. Aim for a studio if you can find one for a reasonable price.

Rule #3:
Go with a brand you trust. The ones I trust are Steinway, Yamaha, Kawai, and Baldwin. I am personally quite partial to the Yamaha sound. They go for a brighter, more attack-heavy sound than most Steinways or Kawais. On the other hand, I absolutely LOVE the action on most Kawais. They are made for ham-fisted players like me.

Rule #4:
Buy used. Pianos drop value like used cars, up until they reach "antique" status, and then sometimes rise in price. On a new unit, you lose 15% right off the showroom floor, just like a car.

Rule #5:
Hire a piano tuner to check the unit for you before you buy. The tuner will cost you about $70.00, but can save you hundreds -- or thousands -- on a bad purchase. If you aren't familiar enough with pianos to tell a good one from a bad one, seriously, you need an evaluation from a professional tuner.

Rule #6:
Play a bunch before you buy. Sit down at a Kawai and evaluate its action. Compare the somewhat sharper sound to the smooth resonance of a well-maintained Baldwin console.

Rule #7:
Don't be in a rush to buy. Evaluate what brand of piano you want, and watch the classifieds for a few months while trying to find the piano you want.

Rule #8:
Hire professional piano movers. They're more expensive than the traditional "find a handtruck and a 4x4" approach, but you're much less likely to damage your new pride and joy or hurt yourself. I'm a veteran of many piano moves, and unless you have a small army (more than four guys), it's a royal pain in the toucas to move one. Pay professionals to do it. It's easier on your back, but harder on your bank account.

Rule #9:
University piano sales are frequently a good deal. You get well-worn, but well-cared-for units at extremely reasonable prices. High school pianos, on the other hand, are very likely to have been mistreated.

Rule #10:
Decide how much you have to spend first. Figure out your exact budget, and what you're willing to part with, and then look within it. Piano shops will try to persuade you to go in for their extortionary financing on a unit, and it's much better to have the cash and know what you can afford with the amount of cash you have. If you decide you like a certain expensive piano more, you can always save to afford it.

Rule #11: Avoid upright player pianos. Nice as the MIDI capability is, I have yet to find any which don't interfere with the action. Some MIDI-capable grands, on the other hand, seem to have gotten past the action-interference stuff. However, in both cases, it's very complex machinery which itself requires tuning and maintenance.

That's it for my rules, basically. Treat it much like you would a car purchase. You're shelling out a similar amount of cash. Decide what brand, year, and model you want, that fits within your price range, right up front. Then surf the deals for a few months to find the one you are looking for. You'll be much happier with the deal you find once you're sure you're comparing apples to apples on the model you've decided on.

A lot of piano shops, if you walk in knowing what you want, can order you one to your specifications. If it's not one of those giant chain-type stores, for a reasonable fee they'll find the exact used piano you want, in the price range you want, and arrange delivery and all the rest. Once again, it may be an extra couple of hundred bucks, but once you know what you want, it's worth it.

I'm saving -- slowly -- for the $30,000 grand piano I want to buy once my kids are past their early years. I want a 9 foot Kawai grand, brand-new, solid black. Of course, that will be an extra-expensive purchase, as I would need to have a new home to fit it in :)

--
Matthew P. Barnson

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Matthew P. Barnson

matthew's picture

sites

Sites on this topic:

Yeah, I know how to shake the Google tree and see what falls out.

--
Matthew P. Barnson

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Matthew P. Barnson

Timpane's picture

Decide on a price first..

Okay.. so in the range of 2-3k, what's the right price?

I'm so flippin new at this..
Arg!!

But you have given me a good starting point.

NVZ: NINJAS VS ZOMBIES - THE MOVIE - www.nvzmovie.com
THE OFFICIAL JUSTIN TIMPANE WEBSITE - www.timpane.com

Sammy G's picture

High Schools

Justin,

Matt's right in that high school pianos can be mistreated, but I would still look to school districts. Call the fine arts department of MCPS and see if they're trying to get rid of any uprights. You get to play them before you take it and, in my experience, it's always been free.

Definitely get a professional moving company to transport to your place.

matthew's picture

$3,000

OK, so you say that you have $3,000 to spend on a piano.

That's the starting point. That's actually a good thing, because you're very unlikely to find something of reasonable quality for under $1,000. Or, rather, you might find something which is appropriate for a young child learning to play, but not for an old hand like yourself trying to improve his recordings and playing ability.

The main problem you're going to have at that price range is finding a good-sounding instrument less than 50 years old.

If you keep an eye out for deals, you should be able to find a Yamaha or Kawai for about that price, with years... somewhere between 1975 and 1990. If you can find a full-size ("studio") in those two brands for less, or newer, for about $3K, you may want to jump on it. I'm leery of 1970's and early '80's Yamahas, though, because I've never been impressed with their tone. I don't have any experience with pre-1985 Kawais, but I know that post-1985 Kawais tend to sound pretty good.

You're going to have a dickens of a time trying to find a non-spinet Baldwin at that price range, though, that's newer than 1970. Baldwins seem to keep their resale value better than Yamahas and Kawais, and I'm not aware of any quality problems.

Now, of course, you have to ask yourself the question: are you getting this to be a "for-real", serious instrument? If you're willing to settle for a piece of furniture that makes vaguely musical noises, you can find a massive number of beautiful, refinished antique pianos at right around that price. Some of them actually do play nicely, but you have to find an instrument that was really, really well-maintained for it to sound really good after more than fifty years. Despite people's claims about 1920's-era Steinways sounding "beautiful", they have a very, erm, "vintage" tone to them. There's no way they sound as rich as a brand-new instrument. But they sound very distinctive, and some people like that.

Anyway, if you can find a studio-sized Baldwin, newer than 1970, at around $3,000, you might want to jump on it. Be sure to play before you pay, though. Avoid the spinet pianos if you're serious about playing. Consoles will work (the old ones at QOHS in the practice rooms were Baldwin consoles, IIRC), but studio-sized is the best for full bass tones.

If you don't mind me asking, though: why not a quality digital piano? We picked up our Yamaha CVP-59S at a little more than that price, and it's both a nice-looking piece of furniture, and a highly-functional studio machine too.

--
Matthew P. Barnson

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Matthew P. Barnson

Ben's picture

Colleges too

Not just high schools get rid of pianos. UMBC and Peabody both have yearly sales to sell off excess pianos, and they should be coming up anytime now. I'd contact them both and see if you can get some info.

I'm with Matt on Yamahas. I've got a Yamaha upright grand and it's got a great tone. I notice that there are several on eBay in the $2K-3K range.

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Ben

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Ben

rowan's picture

There's not a ton that I coul

There's not a ton that I could say that Matthew hasn't perfectly articulated already. I'll just throw in a few general things I've noticed.

1) Every single piano has its own personality. Truly. Certain brands do have certain similarities, but I personally don't think it's possible to know for sure if a piano will fit you unless you've played it. And not just putzed around with the keys for a minute. I mean played it for a good ten, fifteen minutes, gone home for a couple days, come back and played it again.
In this sense, I would advise, if not shopping at a Piano store, at least making full use of them so you can play as many different pianos as you can. Go ahead and waste their time. When my Dad bought his Steinway grand, he spent months wandering to different stores and trying the wares before he found one he liked.

2) If you are buying a piano that is in anyway relatively new, keep in mind that a piano will not sound exactly the same brand new as it will after a year of playing. New pianos usually sound a bit more muffled, since there's still a lot of fresh padding on the hammers; this padding eventually compacts over time, leaving you with a louder, crisper sound.

3) You're looking not only for sound, but also for action: the feel of the keys underneath your hand. How hard is it to make it boom fortissimo, how delicately must you play to achieve piannisimo, etc.

4) I agree completely with Matthew here, avoid a spinet at all costs. I might even go so far as to say that it would be worth settling for a piano of slightly less quality if it means you can get a studio. You like boomy, resonant noises, I know this. You want to give your piano strings room to echo.

5)Yamaha would be my first pick for an upright; it's the upright we have in the music room. It's got a bright, loud sound, but it's not impossible to keep it soft for gentler pieces. Kawaii's are also good, but I find that it's hard to play the soft songs with them. Of course, if by some miracle you find a Steinway in your price range, pounce on it.

6) Pay attention to what the pedals do. Every piano has a sustain pedal, but there are other possibilities beyond that. Some pianos have a pedal that sustains only the lower register, so you can get the boom of the supporting chords while keeping the melody crisp and precise. My favorite pedal is on our Yamaha: it's a soft pedal (which lowers a cloth over the strings, essentially), but most importantly, you can actually leave it in a depressed position, permanently dampening the entire sound without you need to keep your foot on the pedal the whole time. It's perfect for late-night playing.

Ultimately, there's just so much to consider. I'd be happy to come tag along when you go piano browsing, if you like. Just remember that you CANNOT take too much time with this decision. Treat this more delicately than you would buying a car; pianos have more personality, so you want to make sure that you match.

Arthur Rowan

Brother Katana of Reasoned Discussion
Rebel Leader and Suzuki Instructor for the Unitarian Jihad

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"You of all people should know that plastic surgery can do wonders." --Amber Fitzgerald
"And you're living proof that mistakes are sometimes made." -- Charisma Weaver
[a hlink="htpp://buffydc.com"]DC After Dark[/a]

Arth

matthew's picture

Steinways, ham-hands

When my Dad bought his Steinway...

New Steinway Model D: About $30,000. Yeah, I'd take my time, too :)

New pianos usually sound a bit more muffled

I love that sound. The "brand-new piano" sound! Heck, if it's up to me, I'd pay a tuner to soften my hammers yearly. But I have a digital right now, so no luck...

Kawais are also good, but I find that it's hard to play the soft songs with them

I play at three volumes: Forte. Fortissimo. And Forte Fortissimo :)

I think this is why I really like Kawais. The action is quite stiff when the unit is new, but by the time it's about three or four years old, it's just right. Meanwhile, a piano like my old Currier Baby Grand that I had at home growing up... ugh. It was just right when new, and sloppy as crap by the time I'd pounded on it through high school. $6,000 piano, virtually unplayable now due to a loud player. It was really more of a PSO (Piano-Shaped Object) to begin with, because it was so cheap, but now it's even more of a piece of furniture rather than a musical instrument. I'm just really hard on keyboards, I think.

I say, Justin, take Arthur up on his offer. It sounds like he knows pianos pretty well, and nothing beats having a knowledgeable friend with you. Particularly one who's willing to tell you "Buddy, no, you don't want to buy that one".

--
Matthew P. Barnson

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Matthew P. Barnson

christy's picture

Leave your wallet in the car!

When you go into a piano store to try out the different types of pianos, leave your wallet in the car. Don't make a spontaneous purchase.

A piano salesman is as eager to sell you an expensive piano as a car salesman....and of course it's a great deal that you can only come across today.

Are you not going to record with this piano? I'm curious as to why you don't want a digital piano. Costco sells a BEAUTIFUL mini grand digital for $2K. It's a player piano and so cool to watch the keys going up and down with nobody playing it! There are two things in particular that we love about our digital: 1. It's easy to move. 2. It never needs tuning!!!

Remember to watch the newspaper! I bet you can get a great deal! And if you're moving, wait to buy it 'til after you've moved. --

Christy

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Christy

JB's picture

It's also nice..

I am not too knowledgable about the Piano purchasing, but it is usually a good idea to have a unbaised person come with you to look at big purchases. Someone who will be able to have the objective view on the purchase rather than the buyers goggles on.

Just my .02

JB

buy a Suzuki piano online

NO matter what kind of piano you are looking for we have it at a very reasonable price. call 1-800-854-1594 if you would like to know more information about suzuki pianos or visit a costco website and type in suzuki pianos.

Timpane's picture

You suck!!

OMG, did you just post an ad??

You suck!! NEVER CALL THAT NUMBER IF YOU ARE A PERSON READING THAT. THAT NUMBER MAY WELL GIVE YOU HERPES!!

Oh, and dude, dont ad on Barnson.org.

NVZ: NINJAS VS ZOMBIES - THE MOVIE - www.nvzmovie.com
THE OFFICIAL JUSTIN TIMPANE WEBSITE - www.timpane.com

Sammy G's picture

Buying A Digital Piano

Thinking about buying a Yamaha Clavinova CLP-220, mainly because there's not enough room in the house for a real piano, and because I'm just looking for the cheapest entry point.

Do you guys think a digital piano is something to be bought used?

matthew's picture

Rocks...

I have a Yamaha CVP-59S as my only home piano (same reason, space requirements), and have only regretted how much I paid for it. I would not buy one sight-unseen, but if I did, I'd insist on a warranty.

If I could sit down to the piano and check out all its functions, particularly the A/V in/out jacks to make sure they aren't worn out like many are, I'd be willing to buy it if it played well and didn't have obvious defects.

--
Matthew P. Barnson

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Matthew P. Barnson

Ben's picture

Yamaha

I just today read a review in the Musician's Friend catalog for the new line of Yamaha YPG Portable Grand Keyboards, and the reviews are very favorable.

The YPG-625 is a full 88-key portable grand with fully-weighted keys for $749, and comes with a stand and everything. There's also a lightly-weighted version (YPG-525) for $599.99. Could be a far cheaper alternative to the Clavinova, plus with the added benefit of portability.

Here's a link to the full line of keyboards. Good luck!

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Ben

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Ben

No no to Suzuki

I was looking at the T48 Upright suzuki. Because of overzeleous people like you who push these sub-standard pianos -I will not buy one.

matthew's picture

Never been impressed...

I've never been impressed with Suzuki pianos. Some folks say they like the "light, responsive action", but I find that I feel like I'm playing a toy.

I've got strong enough fingers... Give me a piano with a solid, heavy action and a sounding board which really resonates the bass over a tinny, plastic-feeling instrument any day.

--
Matthew P. Barnson

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Matthew P. Barnson

YPG-625/635

Since getting rid of my home-made synthesizer in a suitcase organ back in the 70's, I had been wanting to start playing keys again. I wanted something with a good piano sound and decent action, so I shopped around and bought a YPG-625.

Ben is right. They are quite nice for the money. The 625 has been discontinued. The current model is the YPG-635. Check them out at your local music store. You might find some 625's on clearance.

I've since added some other older synthesizers and a Yamaha MO8 workstation. But the YPG still sees a lot of use when I want to just "play piano."