Piano Buying Guide: 20 Useful Piano Buying Tips | Piano Buyers Guide to Purchasing a Piano | What to Know When Buying a Piano-O Briain Pianos, Lucan
20 Useful Tips on Buying an Upright Piano – The Piano Buyers Guide to Purchasing a Piano
Buying a piano privately is generally not advised, as many sellers do not take care of their pianos properly or tune them regularly. If you buy from an owner who has truly cared for their piano, you should be able to get a good instrument, but will still have to get it tuned and serviced by a professional technician. It’s a bit like buying a car, which is only as good as its owner, where the consistent servicing they have carried out on it over the years is now of vital importance to you, the new owner. If buying privately, it’s advised that you bring a professional piano tuner/technician to assess it properly, as you don’t want to be inheriting old problems that are expensive to fix. If you cannot find a tuner, then perhaps bring a piano teacher with a basic knowledge of pianos. They can test each keys response and let you know if the pitch is stable and whether or not it is holding tune.
If you decide to go it alone, then check that each individual key is working as it should, from the lowest bass note to the highest treble note. Press each key down four or five times and listen to hear is each press creating a tone. If there is an intermittency issue, where you don’t hear a consistent tone when you press the keys repeatedly, or where the tone is only there every second or third press, then there is most likely a problem within the internal mechanism known as the ‘action’. If the piano sounds very out of tune on certain notes, there is likely to be a problem with the tuning pins and pin-block that the tuning pins are screwed into. Avoid pianos like this; as loose or slipping tuning pins is one of the worst possible issues. A piano that does not hold its pitch is to be avoided. If you buy from a reputable dealer, in most cases the piano will be fully restored, reconditioned, regulated, tuned, and with a warranty. If the piano does not look restored, then it is not restored, and this type of piano from a dealer should be avoided. The least it should be is restored, and the majority of good piano dealers put a lot of time and effort into their instruments.
Buying from a good dealer is preferable to buying privately. If for example you see a piano for free on the internet, by the time you transport and service it, you will have paid the same amount as buying a cheap upright piano from a dealer. Old pianos that are given away for free, in general, are rife with problems and issues. When you buy your child a piano that is in poor condition, this alone is enough to make them give up playing piano altogether. Children get into bad habits from the start playing on an old, un-restored, out of tune piano, where the keys are stiff or the tone is harsh. The keys of an old piano may require significant pressure to make them play, causing the learner to become a heavy handed player. At the beginning, you should have a good piano that plays and sounds well. Buying a cheap, old piano privately is not advised if you want to enjoy daily practice and stay learning. A bad piano is like a bad car and will get you nowhere.
If you get offered a piano for free from a friend, it is usually you that is doing your friend the favour of taking their piano away and not them doing you the favour of giving you a piano to play. If a friend or colleague offers you a piano, have it thoroughly checked out by a tuner before collecting it. Make sure the removal company have the correct removal equipment. Do not attempt to move the piano yourself, as the castor wheels underneath are usually stiff and rusty and will damage the floor as you move it. Lifting it is a sure way to pop a disk in your back, as pianos are very heavy. When you buy from a dealer, you don’t have to worry about transport, tuning, servicing and warranty. When the piano is delivered it is checked over, and after three or four weeks, when it has settled into the house and new climate, then it is tuned. This ensures that the buyer gets the most out of their instrument and that the piano performs at optimum level.
You can buy either type at the beginning, intermediate, or advanced stage of learning. Some top players like old reconditioned or rebuilt traditional pianos. Others prefer modern pianos such as Yamaha or Kawai. If your house is more traditional in design, then a good quality British or German over-strung piano may look well and suit the design and decor of your home better than a high sheen Polyester finished contemporary piano like a Yamaha. Your first priority is sound quality and purchasing a solid instrument that serves you well. Second is aesthetics and how you want it to look in your home or musical venue. If looking for the very best in traditional, then buy a German brand name. If looking for the very best in contemporary design, then buy a German or Japanese name.
There are thousands of piano brands names and manufacturers. Research the top twenty best makes and try and buy one that is from a credible manufacturer.
Choose a space in the house where the temperature is the most consistent and doesn’t fluctuate up and down, from hot to cold. Pianos often survive well in school halls, mainly because it is consistently the same climate in this type of environment. They can survive in the cold, so long as it’s consistently cold. Changes in humidity and temperature causes the wood in the piano to contract and relax. This causes the piano to go out of tune, even a brand new one. Find a place that is away from a radiator or stove, where you may be more inclined to keep the windows closed. A piano is happiest in a place where things don’t change too much. 18 to 24 degrees is an acceptable climate. If the room is damp, this will have an adverse effect upon the piano also. If you place the piano in the same room as the TV, this may cause conflict and sometimes it’s best to position the piano in a room that is set aside just for learning, music, and relaxing.
Buying privately is a bit of a minefield, so it’s best to bring someone with you to explore the 5000+ moving parts, which all have to work in harmony for it to be defined as a capable working instrument. The majority of privately owned pianos are not tuned regularly, and most, if not all, have never been regulated, not even once. The inner working mechanism of a piano is called the Action and is meant to work and perform exactly as it was built by the original manufacturer. Periodic adjustments to the action must be made in order to correct problems generated through wear and tear of natural time. Having the action regulated annually ensures that all its parts and points work collectively and perfectly together. Bringing a tuner with you to assess the instrument helps you identify the amount of work and cost required to get the piano you are buying, to perform as it should. This meeting with the tuner is usually the start of a relationship that lasts many years, as all pianos require regular annual servicing. Some players tune their pianos two and three times a year depending on usage, so having a good tuner that will regulate and tune your piano is essential.
When choosing a dealership, pick one that restores and reconditions their instruments. This means that the piano you are buying is both restored and internally serviced. If they have a tuner that can tune your piano annually, this is an added bonus and means they can fulfil what is written on the warranty. Compare prices and quality and settle for the one you feel offers the best deal. Knowing you can get your piano fixed if something happens is important. Pianos have thousands of parts and it is common for pianos to suffer as a result of climate, especially when they are settling into a new home in the first six months. Even going from a piano showroom to a home can create issues in the first few weeks, so have a tuner at hand is a must and we recommended buying from dealerships that provide tuners and aftercare services.
Decide how much you can spend, but remember not to get a free one unless it is well checked over. If you are feeling flush, then spend a decent amount and get a top name.
500 to 1,000 - average upright piano by a reasonably good maker.
1,000 to 1,500 - good upright piano by a good maker.
1,500 to 2,000 - good upright piano by a good maker.
2,000 to 2,500 – good upright piano by a good maker.
2,500 to 3,000 - very good upright piano by a good maker.
3,000 to 4,000 - very good upright piano by a good maker.
4,000 to 5,000 - new or restored high quality upright piano by a very good maker.
5,000 to 10,000 - new or restored high quality upright piano by a very good maker.
10,000 to 20,000 - new or restored high quality upright piano by a top maker.
20,000 to 50,000 - new or restored high quality upright piano by a top maker.
Some pianos have a wooden frame or plate, instead of a more suitable iron frame. Pianos with wooden frames should be avoided, as these pianos do not stay in tune for any great length of time. Pianos nowadays are all built with iron frames. If the piano you are buying is old, then first check is it wooden or cast iron framed. The frame or plate is made to support the many tonnes of pressure the strings create. The full iron frame is able to hold this tension better than a wooden framed piano, providing the frame isn’t cracked. You can see the frame or plate when you lift up the top lid.
If you buy an un-tuned piano, one which has not been tuned in the last five years or never at all, it is difficult for a tuner to rescue the pitch back to where it should be, and could require two or three tunings or pitch raises before it’s right again. A piano that has not been tuned for years is to be avoided, as the pitch will have dropped significantly and could be significantly below Concert Pitch. When people are selling their piano, they will often say, ‘not tuned, but will need to be tuned after transport anyway’. Avoid pianos like this. It is better when the seller says, ‘piano was tuned regularly’. During war times people had to migrate long distances with their pianos using a horse and cart. Naturally after travelling long distances a piano would require tuning, and this is why the myth has stuck that all pianos require tuning after transport. Nowadays, pianos are well built and have a iron frame and do not go out of tune during transport, and if they do, it is only very slightly. People use the old nannies tale as a way of justifying why they haven’t tuned their piano prior to selling it.
Slipping pins are when the tuning pins that hold the tension of the strings are no longer able to maintain stable pitch due to a deterioration of the pin block which the tuning pins are screwed into. You will know a slipping pin by the sound the note produces when you press down the key. The note will be dramatically out of tune by comparison to other notes on the piano. The note will simply sound terrible, flat, dead, and jangly. Avoid these pianos. The piano should always sound good..
When strings run in a straight line from top to bottom, this is known as Straight-Strung or Vertical-Strung. When strings run in diagonal lines, crossing over each other in an overlapping slanted arrangement and forming an X shape, this is known as Over-strung. Many old wooden frame pianos are vertical strung and with a wooden frame. When strings run diagonally, you get greater length from them, meaning a bigger and broader tone that is superior in sound quality to a vertically-strung piano which has shorter strings that do not cross over each other. Longer strings produce more depth of tone and large or tall pianos have greater presence and sound quality because of their larger size, whereas smaller pianos have a weaker tone with less volume and depth. The sound long strings produce also lasts longer and resonates in the air for longer. With vertical-strung pianos there are distinct register differences and there is no blending of tones which you get with an over-strung piano. Some piano manufactures produced very good vertical-strung pianos, such as Bluthner and Bechstein, but in general, over-strung pianos are better than vertical strung-pianos and we recommend you buy an over-strung piano.
Many old pianos have woodworm holes, usually inactive, but sometimes active. If woodworm has been treated, it is not a problem, providing there aren’t too many holes, as the holes can affect the integrity of certain parts, such as the keys. If active, there will be evidence of eating in the form of minute dust particles, and the holes will look whiter on the inside, freshly chewed looking wood. Do not buy a piano with active woodworm. Even when you treat the entire casing, they often resurface after going into hiding until the treatment wears off. They will destroy your house if active. Best thing is, if you see a hole, active or inactive, don’t buy it.Pianos that are played regularly usually do not have any moth infestation; the sound of the piano disturbs them. It’s usually un-played pianos or pianos in storage that have moth infestation. The moths chew their way through all the felts, destroying play. Have your tuner check it over.
The soundboard is the heart and soul of the piano and should present with no cracks. If cracked, it will have a negative effect upon the overall sound quality. If the crack is repaired (or shimmed) that is perfectly fine, so long as the soundboard functions as it should.
Old pianos that are not reconditioned may have significant wear to their hammer head tips, or a deep grooving on the heads from striking the strings for a long time. This is okay providing the grooves are not too deep. If the grooves are minor, the hammers can be reshaped (or voiced) whereby the grooves are removed. But if the grooves are too deep, by the time you shape them out, you would barely have any hammer head left, meaning you would need a hammer head replacement, which is expensive and not worth doing unless the piano is a top make.
If buying privately, ask if the piano has been played regularly. A piano that is played regularly functions much better than a piano that is not played. Some sellers will say on their ad ‘piano has had very little us’, as though this is a good thing to mention, but it is not. Like a car, if left lying up, it deteriorates internally from a lack of use and movement. If the piano looks un-played, with dust all over the keys and sounding out of tune, stay away from it.
Avoid pianos that are in storage, sheds, garages, bars, nightclubs etc. They are the unloved pianos, moths and damp get into them. A piano that has functioned perfectly in a house for fifty years, within the space of a week in a shed, will cease up internally as wood swells. One week in a shed can ruin a piano. The pianos in bars often get drink spillages, which creates rust and tuning pin issues, avoid them too.
It takes many years of continuous training to become a capable piano tuner. It is not like tuning a guitar, which anyone can do after a little practice. It is difficult and time consuming and if you attempt it, you will end up having the call the tuner to fix the mess you’ve made of it. Leave tuning and repair to a professional, it is cheaper and yields results.
Do not offer your piano to a friend unless it has been tuned and serviced annually. It is not fair to give someone an old piano that is not tuned and serviced, as it costs hundreds to get them right if they have not been looked after. A child or adult beginning piano for the first time must have a fully functioning, in tune piano, and not an old crummy one with dozens of problems. If you are giving someone your old piano, make sure you are giving them a good one that was tuned regularly.
In general, the bigger the upright piano is, the better the sound is. Tall pianos have large sound boards meaning greater volume and presence. They also have longer strings if the piano is over-strung, and with that comes a broader, richer tone, especially in the tenor and bass range. This doesn’t mean that small pianos are inferior to larger ones, as many small pianos have a great sound. It’s just that they’ve less volume, presence, and fullness of tone. Pianos which are small in height make up for this in width, so are extra wide with a big soundboard also. Big soundboards are good, so are long strings, and bear this in mind when picking a piano, especially if you intend to record.
If you decide to buy beginners, intermediate, or a new piano, it’s nice to know you have the ability to trade it back to the piano dealer you bought it from, if in the future you want to trade up or change it. Some traders offer a percentage back and others offer the full amount back that you originally paid. Some don’t take trade in deals at all. Being able to trade back removes the worry of selling or transporting your original piano when the time comes to trade it up.
O’Briain Pianos © Copyright 2018 | All Rights Reserved. Article by Cathal O’Briain | May be used with permission from the author: firstname.lastname@example.org