Piano purchase advice for parents of beginning piano students.
A common misconception about buying a piano for a young student, is that a suitable piano can be acquired for only a few hundred dollars. The fact is that for a young student to progress they need a better piano, not worse.
Parents may not want to invest a lot of money in a piano. After all, the child may lose interest and a cheaper, older piano may seem the logical choice. However, a bad purchasing decision at this point in a student’s learning journey tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. In many cases a piano that is too old, or simply not good enough will soon become useless to the student, unbeknownst to he parent. When a piano’s action cannot be regulated to the correct touch, or the strings tuned to proper pitch, the student, unable to duplicate what was taught in a lesson, will become frustrated, discouraged, and will lose interest. No amount of practice on an inferior instrument can overcome its shortcomings. And, when you add the cost of moving, tuning, repairs, lack of warranty protection, and an older piano’s shorter life span; a new or more recently made piano may start to look like a bargain in the long run.
I would encourage a family to look at quality new pianos, or better used pianos no more than 15 years old. And a young talented student, moving up to a quality grand piano is never a mistake. If an older piano is chosen, it should be one that was of good quality to begin with, and restored to like-new condition.
Although good and bad pianos have been made, every used piano must be evaluated on its own merit. Certain categories of pianos in today’s market should be avoided.
- Old Upright – These are usually 48″ to 60″ high and about 100 years old. Most pianos that are a century old and have not been discarded will need extensive restoration before they are useful to the student. Many have difficulty holding a tuning and desperately need new strings, hammers, dampers, and pedal repairs. Parents who purchase these deteriorating instruments for beginners will probably face a constant stream of complaints. In most cases, this category of used piano should be avoided for use in serious practice. And contrary to popular belief, they don’t have much of an antique value either.
- Small, cheap, American-made pianos from the 1960’s to 1980’s. During this period American companies started feeling the competition from Japanese makers who undercut their prices. The result was that the few remaining American makers of inexpensive pianos began to cut as much cost as they could from their production. Many of these pianos were Spinets, which are 36″ to 40″ high. Spinets have a recessed, or “drop” action that is connected to the keys in directly. These actions are difficult and expensive to repair. Many of these spinets are manufactured with connecting parts, called “elbow”, made of plastic which eventually deteriorate and break off. Installing a set of replacement elbows can cost hundreds of dollars. Spinets were usually the least expensive entry-level pianos manufactured by a piano company, and most are not worth repairing. The first wave of pianos from this era began to enter the used piano market in the 1980’s, as the people who originally purchased them began to retire. Many were passed on to this generation’s children, and now, as they retire, a second wave of these instruments are entering the market. Many of these instruments are now 30 to 50 years old, and need some restoration before they will be suitable for the student. Besides, many of these small, cheap pianos were so poorly designed and constructed that, even when new, and regulated and tuned as well as possible, they played poorly and sounded terrible.
- Early offering from the Korean and Chinese makers. Korean pianos made before 1990 and Chinese pianos from before 2000, often exhibit unpredictable problems. Quality control was erratic, and wood was often not properly seasoned. These pianos tend to be plagued with sticking keys that repeat too slowly due to poor action design, a problem that cannot be inexpensively corrected.
The used piano market also offers many well made pianos from the past, that are of potential value to a student. But even these, including famous names, can also present pitfalls for the unwary. Don’t buy without professional guidance, a piano that is not playable and keep a tune, with the idea that you can simply have a few repairs done once you get the piano home. Get repair estimates before you commit to purchasing a used piano. Finally, don’t rely on a private seller for important information about the piano you are thinking of buying. Hire a piano technician to inspect any piano you’re seriously considering buying.
Better yet, visit a local piano store and talk to a sales associate. The majority of them are very honest and would be happy to answer any questions.
Quality is like buying oats. If you want nice, fresh, clean oats, you must pay a fair price. However, if you can be satisfied with oats that have already been through the horse ………………….. that comes a little cheaper! ~Anonymous.
There is hardly anything in the world that some person cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and people who consider price only are this person’s lawful prey. J Ruskin
Robert Falcón Steinway & Sons Representative 513-252-0445