We Buy Steinway Grands
Piano Buying Guide
Hello. This guide offers tips on how to buy a piano. I am a piano technician with nearly 40 years of experience tuning, reparing, rebuilding, buying & selling and playing pianos. I won't claim to know every single thing there is to know about a piano, but I do possess as much or more knowledge than most experts in this business. This new buying a piano guide has been assembled based on my practical knowledge and experience. It will be very useful whether you buy a new or used instrument.
I have just written this guide in 2011. The information about pianos and brands of pianos will always be the same. The info about the current American and Asian piano market will most likely change as the years go by. Prices will of course change. Plus used pianos will grow older. Age is not a pianos friend. They can last for a very long time but they will deteriorate with aging. As for the basic construction of the instrument. That probably will never change.
I am determined and able to give you some of the best piano buying advice and tips that will hopefully guide you to make the best possible choice. My thoughts are a combination of technical evaluation, quality analysis and my own playing experiences. Please bear in mind that without actually seeing and inspecting the instrument you are looking at I cannot offer any guarantee that the piano you buy will be a good one. Plus, I accept no responsibility in the event your purchase turns out to be a lemon. That's my disclaimer. Sorry. These things have to be done.
So basically, I am saying that you are responsible for your final decision. And that you should take great care in choosing a new or used piano. So the information I offer should be carefully considered and hopefully your purchase will be a good one.
Since I am a professional piano tuner, I strongly suggest hiring a competent technician to evaluate the instrument in question. This is really the only way to know for sure that what you buy is in good playing condition, does not have any unseen problems and will hold a tune. This is for new and used.
I know that you may be thinking if the piano is new than "I don't need to hire an expert". But, you really should. You may even be thinking that the salesman is your friend. WRONG!! Now, please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying all salespeople are misleading. I feel that somewhere in God's universe there actually might be one or two salespeople who will always be completely honest and tell you the absolute truth.
But since we are on earth I gotta be real. A lot of the time in a sales presentation you may get either wrong information or no information. Now of course this does not mean that the piano being displayed is not a good one. But it could be a bad one. You ask, "what is a bad new piano"?
My answer: 1. Practically all pianos made in China. Now a few of them are somewhat acceptable at first, but none of them will hold up over the long run. Churches and schools especially beware. Chinese pianos will probably fall apart within 10 years. Everybody. Your best bet is to just stay away from these pianos. The hardest part might be getting the salesperson to admit to you where the instrument was made. Some salespeople may withhold negative stuff. Some may flat out lie. Check it out for yourself. Just because a piano has an American or European name on it does not always mean it was made in America or Europe.
2. Basically, any cheaper inferior made piano. All countries have made a few really bad pianos over the years. It is impossible for you to know the difference in the quality of pianos without technical training. A musician may like a certain piano without having technical training. He or she just knows what they like when they hear it. What I am saying here is that sometimes (not always) a cheap (inferior) piano may be good enough for you. Most of the time when I say cheap, I really mean inferior. But not always. Sometimes good pianos are sold at low (cheap) prices.
3. Any piano that cannot do what the salesperson says it can do. Oh I'm sorry. Just because a piano can't do what the salesperson says it can do does not really make it a bad one.
I'll admit #3 is not very clear. Believe me, I have heard salespeople make up some outrageous stuff. For example. One time I went out to tune a used grand(a nice one) at a customers home. The salesman had told the customer that the sostenuto pedal (the middle one on a grand) could be adjusted. At the store the pedal did not work. It turned out that this particular piano did not even have a sostenuto.
The customer was a classical pianist. He had to have a working sostenuto pedal. Of course he sent the piano back! I'm not sure if the salesman was that ignorant or just didn't care. I'm sure he greatly cared about the customers check. Please don't allow yourself to suffer because of a salespersons ignorance or greed.
Now I'm not really trying to bash all salespeople. Their contribution in the history of piano selling is certainly noteworthy. And there are a few honest ones. At least somewhat honest. The truth is, sometimes we all may stretch the facts a little. Or even withhold the truth. Always telling the absolute truth is not something mankind has a good hold on.
Hopefully you'll get the idea of what I'm trying to say here. Just use your head. Do your homework. I know that if you don't play the piano this process can seem difficult. Even if you do play it might seem a little overwhelming. Also there are a lot of books and online info about the piano buying process. Some of the online info might be misleading. Or just too much to absorb. Buying a piano should be enjoyable.
So please read on. I will try my best to keep you from being confused. I have successfully helped thousands of customers buy a piano.
Article Titles Found Below:
Buying a Stater Piano
Used Piano Age, Value and Tuning
Buying a New Piano
Tuning a New Piano
Best Used Pianos To Buy
Buying a Starter Piano
What is a starter piano? Sometimes these are also referred to as a practice piano. What is a practice piano? Well by golly, I guess thats just an old cheap piano that you practice on. Cheap is the main word here. Cheap is what most people mean when they say starter or practice piano.
Unfortunately cheap new pianos are mostly junk. Let me say that again. MOST CHEAP NEW PIANOS ARE JUNK! And after they are bought then they become used junk. As for junky used pianos that term can be applied to many instruments built throughout the world in the history of manufacturing. A very basic rule to follow is that the more expensive a new piano is, the better it will be.
This is sorta like saying you pay for what you get. Well, the truth is most of the time when buying a new pianoforte the higher priced models are better. So if you pay the lowest price then you get the worst one. Which is probably a Chinese made instrument. But not always. As I said earlier many countries have built junky pianos.
As for used instruments only the higher end stuff (Steinway, Yamaha, Petrof, etc.) will be higher priced. And mostly grands. Vertical prices can greatly vary. For sure with the older ones. As you can see, I am a piano tuner and player who loves the high quality pianos. Why not search for the best you can get? In the used market sometimes the best or the near best can be purchased for less than you might think.
Notice here that I said the used piano market. High quality new pianos are very expensive. That includes grands and verticals. So if you are trying to spend as little as possible then that only leaves purchasing a used piano. And not from a dealer if you must go the cheapest route.
Used Piano Age, Value and Tuning
The age of a used piano can be determined using the name and serial number of the instrument. Check out our How Old is my Piano page. If you are paying a tech to evaluate a piano, ask him to look up the age. And give you an idea or at least a good ball park idea of the value. Please note that the value is not necessarily the same amount that the piano would sell for. In recent years used piano prices have dropped quite a lot on the open market.
Dealer retail has not dropped as much. But, sometimes you can get a good deal from a piano store. As for the instrument you are looking at, make sure that everything is working and that the piano will hold a tuning. Older ones may tune up but not to concert pitch. Concert pitch is also called A-440. If it will hold try to have it tuned to concert pitch. This will most likely cost 2 or 3 times as much as usual.
The used piano may be around 1/2 step or more below concert pitch. Why? Because 80% or more of all pianos are grossly neglected by their owners. On this issue let me tell you that a piano must be tuned at least once a year to stay up to concert pitch and stay in tune as long as possible. I bet you did not know that a piano does not stay in tune more than a few months at the most. This is true for all pianos. That's just the way it is. If a salesperson said anything different please forget it.
And believe it or not many piano tuners neglect to train their customers about proper tuning maintenance. When I go into a customers home to tune their piano I always tell them it must be serviced every year. Do they listen? 75% of the time, no. I guess maybe all of us(tuner, salesperson, customer, church,etc) share a little of the blame for all those tuning neglected pianos.
Make no mistake about it, this neglect can take it's toll on a piano. Will it completely destroy a piano? No. But if you buy a piano, new or used, please get it tuned at least once a year. You, your child and the instrument will be much better off.
As you can see, having a piano tuned regularly is very important. So is regulation. This is an even more neglected area. Regulation is adjusting the action to play and perform as well as possible. The action is the working part of the piano inside that includes the hammers and sets on the end of the keys. Please at least consider this step even if you feel that you can't afford it. Now if you can't afford both tuning and regulation, then just get it tuned. Lack of proper regulation probably won't damage a piano.
Tuning may average between $100 to $300 depending on severity. Regulation could cost $800 to $3000 depending on if it is a grand or a vertical. And how bad off it is. Upright regulation is a good bit less involved than grand regulating. Bear in mind that a proper full regulation is really only effective if the instrument is in good condition. This means that only newer instruments with less wear are good candidates for a full regulation. Partial regulating is sometimes possible on older as well as newer pianos and will cost much less. Maybe $100 to $500. As for further care and maintenance read our piano care page.
Buying a New Piano
New pianos will be priced at current retail prices. A new piano will of course be bought at a music store. Unless you know someone at the actual manufacturer who can arrange for a direct buy from the plant. In the best quality category I only recommend Yamaha, Kawai, Steinway, Charles R Walter and Petrof. Others are either too expensive or not available at some dealers. Although Charles R Walter and Petrof dealers are harder to find. And these are not too cheap either.
Yamaha and Kawai are Japanese. Let me point out here that the Japanese pianos are and always have been way much better than pianos made by other countries in Asia. Petrof is Czech Republic (used to be Bohemia then Czechoslovakia). None of the Chinese pianos please! The fact is, they simply are building inferior quality instruments. I painfully must point out that some piano companies in China are American owned. A new Chinese grand may cost now in 2011 $6000 to $10,000. A new vertical probably starts at $2500. Maybe even less.
As I said earlier, these pianos will not hold up in years to come. Churches and schools will be lucky to get 10 to 15 years out of them. So, institutions please don't buy these pianos. As for in your home? Well okay, if you need a pretty little grand to decorate the living room curtains, then do ahead and buy one. Oh! Did I just imply that you enjoy throwing away your money on junk? Sorry, but that's exactly what you would be doing.
Why not put that 8 or 10 thousand in the bank (or some investment), save up another $20,000, then buy a really nice new Yamaha, Kawai or rebuilt Steinway? Okay, that's still for only the wealthier population. Some of you will have the extra $20,000 any way. But for the average person, if you must buy a new piano and 7 to 10 thousand is all you can afford for a grand then of course do your homework and shop around. Remember, to get a grand piano that only leaves you the possibly of buying a used one or a new one made in China.
One Chinese made instrument that I will suggest is Pearl River. Verticals may price around $3000. Notice I say this only if "You Just Gotta Buy New". Otherwise use that 3 to 10 thousand to buy a nice used grand or vertical. There might be one or two Yamaha or Kawai pianos available in your area. Plus a few others I will mention. I believe the cheap new China piano market won't last forever.
What I'm saying is that someday(maybe soon) those instruments will go up in price. Then who wants to pay 15 or 20 thousand for a piece of junk? Nobody! It's coming (may already be here) in the future that only the extremely wealthy, concert halls, mega size churches, etc., will be able to buy a real good new piano. Right now (2011) a new Steinway baby grand (5' 1") sells for around $50,000! And they increase their prices every year.
Tuning a New Piano
Tuning is very important to a new piano. It needs more tuning in the first two or three years. Why? Because the new strings will stretch a lot when the piano is new. Plus it must stabilize to the surroundings. Heat, cold amd moisture affect all pianos. New or used. So have a new piano tuned 2 or 3 times a year for the first 2 or 3 years of it's life. If you can't afford 3 yearly tunings, then try to do at least 2 times a year the first 2 years. After that once a year may be enough.
Sometimes it can take longer than three years for some new pianos to stabilize. This does depend on over all quality of the instrument plus surrounding conditions of heat and cold. Just don't forget to have it tuned no less than once a year from now on. At this time an annual tune up costs between $100 to $120, depending on where you live. So at that rate an annual tuning averages about 8 to $10 a month. If you can't afford that, then can you afford the piano??
Remember I said that 75 to 80% of all pianos have never been tuned. Please don't do that to your new piano. After all, it is an expensive investment and a beautiful musical instrument. Tuning it once a year is the least you can do. And don't listen to the old comment that it should only be tuned if it is moved.
Now of course I realize that the comment people usually make is "a piano should be tuned when it's moved". I point this out because I suspect that most people, in their minds, hear the comment as meaning "it should only be tuned if it is moved". What if it is not moved for 50 years??? So again tune it once a year no matter what! Sorry if I sound like a broken record. Once a year, once a year, once a year.
I've been tuning so long I'm certain that I could tuna fish! For a piano tuning in Memphis, Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Arlington and Lakeland, Tennessee call 901-827-3609. Mississippi and Arkansas customers are also welcome.
Rebuilding an old piano is a good idea if the instrument is of good quality in the first place. No point spending a lot of money on rebuilding a cheap poorly built piano. If it were left up to me, I would have all pianos built to high quality standards in the first place. But, that's the world we live in. Not everyone is wealthy. Nor understands high quality. A properly rebuilt Steinway, old Baldwin, Yamaha or Kawai is a joy to see.
There are some other brands worth rebuilding. Now on the other hand, I have seen many bad rebuilding jobs. Not all technicians are quality rebuilders plus some just don't care. Pay a tuner to look at a rebuilt piano. This is definitely worth the fee, because a rebuilt instrument will most likely be a grand and also most likely be more expensive. Rebuilding a grand nowadays can cost $20,000 or more.
I doubt that you will see too many rebuilt uprights. Compared to grands very few verticals get a rebuilding. But the few times that I've seen an old rebuilt upright, it was truly wonderful to behold. I wish more of those old uprights built around a hundred years ago could get rebuilt. The cost might be almost as much as a grand. I suppose in some parts of the country more vertical rebuilding may be going on. Around my area there is practically none. I think that's sad because as I write this those big old uprights are being junked and thrown away probably every day.
Best Used Pianos To Buy
If you are ready to buy a piano, here is a list of some of the better used pianos to buy. Remember though that any individual one on this list could be a lemon or have some problems due to aging, abuse or neglect.
1. Baldwin Acrosonic Spinet: Best years for this one. 1940's and 1950's. 1960's are ok. 1970's = Some were good and some were not. Forget it by the late 70's, 80's and 90's. Anyway for about the last 25 years that Baldwin made a spinet they only had the Baldwin name on them. Not the Acrosonic name. If you can get one of the later ones really cheap (which sometimes you can) then it may be a good buy, but not necessarily a good piano. At least in comparsion to the early Acrosonics, which were quite good and very respected spinets. They are no longer being built.
2. Yamaha Spinet: All of these that I've tuned were good pianos. I have noticed sometimes that the bass strings have gone dead. I'm not sure if this is all of them or just certain ones. Restringing the bass section is worth it for this one. Even if you don't get the piano dirt cheap. Overall, this is a very good spinet. Even with a dead bass section, I might rank this one as number one on my spinet list. No longer being produced.
3. All Yamaha Consoles, Studios and Grands: All are worth looking at. There have been varying levels of quality in the cheaper models thru out the years. But, overall, these are good pianos to consider.
4. All Kawai Consoles, Studios and Grands: I rate Kawai about the same as Yamaha. All are worth looking at.
5. Everette Spinet: Built in Southaven, Michigan. The best ones are from the 1940's and 1950's. Mid 1960's and later maybe ok but not as good. Consoles were decent thru the late 1960's but in my opinion no better than some of the spinets. No longer produced.
6. Older Baldwin Grands: Pre 1960's Baldwin grands were very good pianos. The later ones up thru about the mid 1970's were sometimes good and somtimes not so good. The quality of Baldwins in the 80's and 90's was even more hit and miss. Based on many I've seen they missed quite often. And not just the grands. Sad. Baldwin used to be a very highly rated piano. The original Baldwin company went bankrupt in 2001.
The Gibson Guitar Co. bought them. From my view point, Gibson has not yet brought Baldwin back to the greatness it once enjoyed. I don't know if they ever will. One problem. Almost all are being made in China. I don't care if it is American owned. One of the main reasons US companies are in China is to cut costs. Cutting costs was what the original Baldwin company did when it moved from Cincinnati, Ohio to Arkansas and Mississippi in the 1960's. Another phrase I use when talking about cutting cost is "making it cheaper". Unfortunately cheaper usually means inferior. At least with pianos.
Fact=If you make a piano cheaper. Some quality is lost. Another words, cut cost = quality lost. I don't care what the dealer or piano salesperson said. Making a really good piano is not a cheap process. That includes the craftsmen and materials. To put it simple. Good quality stuff costs more. If you want a high quality piano then you MUST PAY A HIGH PRICE. Don't forget I'm now talking about new production. Sorry I jumped from the used piano category over to the new piano category. I just felt the need to explain some things that bother me about the current piano business.
Plus I noticed all of the piano manufacturers in America that moved south in the 50's and 60's are now gone. Every one of them. Although I think the Arkansas Baldwin plant is still there. Maybe? Moving to China is sort of the same thing as our US companies moving south. Will all of our US companies that moved to China go out of business?? In my opinion, past history says yes. Whatever happens, I am certain that the piano making business in America and the whole world, will never quite be the same again. That's why I am glad we still have so many good used pianos in America.
Back to used. Older Baldwin consoles and studios were good but not much better than an older Acrosonic. Just bigger.
7. Sohmer Consoles and Studios: Used to be a good piano and quite dependable. Currently, I'm not sure if it's being produced. If it is currently in production, it's probably made in Asia. So, again same old story. The older it is, the better it is. But not too old. An 80+ year old piano will need rebuilding.
Let me say here that if you are looking at a used one on a dealer's floor, then try to get them to come off some on the price. Older Sohmer's for sale on the market are rare, but if you try, you just might get a good deal. Sohmer did make a spinet many years ago. They did not impress me. Mainly because the pin blocks don't hold up. Which means they won't hold a tune as they age.
8. Older Young Chang Grands: The ones made before around 1995. Not as good as Yamaha or Kawai, but still good enough. Unfortunately many of the grand actions and keys start clicking and clacking as they age. This may irritate some people. Then again some of you may not notice. Some of them got worse than others.
If you find one you like, then you should consider buying it. The clicking keys and action cause no harm. I'm not sure what caused this flaw. As for the Young Chang verticals again some are better than others. If you find one really cheap ($500 or $600) that might be a good purchase, if the keys do not randomly stick. Although tuned up and key eased they may at least satisfy most piano players.
9. Steinways: Sometimes you can buy the older verticals at low prices. $700 to $2000 maybe. Rebuilt ones at a dealer will be higher. Maybe 5 to 10 thousand or more. The grands will almost always carry a higher price tag. From a dealer or an individual. Even Steinways that are not rebuilt will probably start in price at around 20 or 25 thousand. Maybe less of course if it is a real old one. But then most likely it will need rebuilding. That's another $20,000.
This is the Cadillac of the piano business. Unless you are wealthy or just inherited a lot of money you probably won't be buying a Steinway. New or used. But if you can afford one then I highly recommend it. Most piano dealers don't sell more than about 20 to 25 new ones a year. Steinway is just about the last great American piano. God forbid that we ever lose them to China!!!!!!!!!
10. Misc.: There are of course other brands that are good. Kemble (Not Kimball), Petrof, Charles R Walter etc. It is rare to find some of these used. Last but not least, very rarely you may still find an old upright in excellent condition. Notice here I am talking about those big tall heavy old pianos. Most of them right now are at least 100 years old and almost all of them are pretty well shot. There may still be a very small number of them around that are still in excellent playing condition.
The ones in northern regions are still in better shape than ones found in southern regions of the US. Why? Because southern heat and humidity is too harsh on a piano. This harsher southern humidity caused these instruments to deteriorate much faster than in northern areas. Only a piano tuner can show you this. And if you find one in excellent shape. BUY IT! In this case brand name may not matter.
Final Thoughts on Buying a Piano
Of course your personal opinion about any piano does count. If you like it, even if it's not one I would recommend, have a piano tuner look at it. If the instrument is in good shape, tunable and the price is right then maybe you should consider buying it. It's possible that the tuner you hired might say go ahead and buy it. I think at this point you realize that most pianos used or new are going to have at least some slight imperfections.
But if the instrument is of decent quality and you have it tuned and regulated regularly then you or your child should have an enjoyable playing experience. A horribly out of tune $50,000 Steinway sounds just as bad as an out of tune $50 spinet. And yes in recent years it has been possible to buy a spinet for as little as 40 or 50 dollars. Used vertical prices have been all over the map. This is partly why I said that you might be able to buy a used piano for less than you might think. Although lately (2011) I've seen prices coming up a little.
Spinets for 2 or 3 hundred and consoles for maybe 5 or 6 hundred. Dealers will charge twice as much or more. At least in my area which is Memphis, TN. Prices will vary throughout the US. But in the last 3 or 4 years it has been a buyers market in the used spinet, console and studio arena. No one knows how long this will continue.
As for used grand pianos. Newer name brand quality grands are bringing higher sale prices for dealers and individuals. These are mostly pianos sold in the last 30 or 35 years. Although somtimes grands 40 or 50 years old are still in excellent condition. Old grands (pre WWII) are just not in very good shape mainly because of their age. Rebuilt some would be quite good. There were hundreds of piano names back then. But who's going to spend $15000 or more on an old lesser known grand? Not me. You neither. And let's just forget the big old uprights.
Hardly anyone is going to spend $15000 to rebuild one of those. I know grandma loved her big old piana, but when it's time to go then it's time to go. Speaking of going. I do hope I have been helpful. See. Buying a piano is fun! So, buy a piano from a neighbor or friend, in the newspaper, on Craigslist, at a garage sale, from your church or from a dealer.
Here's a list of other piano names you may encounter during your search. They are a mix of American and foreign made. Some are no longer being made. There is a wide variation of quality in this list. Buy with caution.
We welcome any questions you may have about a certain piano that you might be interested in buying. Send your piano buying question to: email@example.com There is no charge.
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