Buying a Piano – 10 Things to Consider

Are you planning on buying a piano soon? Maybe a Christmas present for a child or grandchild? Do you have any idea what you are doing? Or what you are looking for? I’m here to help! I have 10 key things for you to consider when buying a piano.

Do you want an acoustic piano or a digital piano?

What? What’s the difference? Which one do I want? An acoustic piano is a piano – the kind that has been around for three hundred years. A digital piano is an upgrade to an electronic keyboard. For serious piano students, I would recommend an acoustic piano. While digital pianos have made great progress, they still aren’t quite the same as an acoustic piano.

Digital pianos:

Positives –

  • They can be less expensive.
  • They often take up less space.
  • A student can use headphones so others are not distracted with the sounds of practicing.
  • They can be connected to computers to use with various notation software.
  • Digital pianos are definitely easier to move!
  • Also, they don’t need to be tuned and aren’t affected much by temperature and humidity.

Negatives –

  • Size of the keys on a digital piano can differ from an acoustic piano, causing difficulties switching between the two. (Like at lessons, performances, competitions.)
  • The action of the keys can be quite different between the two types of pianos. (Action of keys – how much effort it takes to press the keys for sound.)
  • Sometimes the pedals on digital pianos do not function the same way that they do on an acoustic piano.

Summary –

Be sure to discuss your thinking with your child’s piano teacher. If you choose to get a digital piano, please try several and compare them to an acoustic piano. You want to get one as similar to an acoustic piano as possible. Check the size of the keys and be sure the keys are weighted.

Acoustic pianos:

Positives –

  • This is the standard that your child will need to feel comfortable playing. Lessons, performances, competitions almost always use acoustic pianos. Sometimes switching from one to the other can be very challenging for a child.
  • Overall, a decent acoustic piano will give the best playing experience.

Negatives –

  • They can be more expensive than digital pianos.
  • They take up space and need to be placed where there is relatively constant temperature and humidity.
  • Acoustic pianos are very heavy and difficult to move – especially up or down stairs!

Summary –

If at all possible, I would recommend an acoustic piano for your child.

Digital or Acoustic Piano
Digital or Acoustic Piano

Do you want an upright piano or a grand piano?

I think every serious piano student dreams of having a gorgeous grand piano. I know I did. But the reality set it. Grand pianos take up massive amounts of space. And cost a lot! I have never had the space for a grand piano, and I expect I will never have that kind of space. A good upright studio piano is a great alternative. A beginner does not need a grand piano. But if you have the space, the budget, and the desire, go for it! Just think it through carefully first!

Do you want a new piano or a used one?

There are advantages to both. A new piano should guarantee that the piano is in great condition, pretty well in tune, and ready to play. A new piano may have delivery included in the price, or it may come as an option. But, a new piano will definitely cost more than a used one. So, a used piano may be a good option for you. The price will be less, and you could get a great piano that way. You will be responsible for moving and tuning the piano, and any other repairs that may be needed. Consider your options.

What is your piano budget?

Let’s face it – buying a piano can be a very big expense. So decide in advance how much you can reasonably afford to spend on a piano and stay with that budget! Maybe you won’t find anything in your price range at the first place you look, but don’t give up. Keep looking.

Who will be playing this piano?

Are you buying the instrument for yourself, for your child, or maybe a grandchild? Consider what the player needs. A beginner does not need the same quality instrument that a pre-professional player needs. Someone who is just going to play for fun does not need the same high-quality instrument that a serious advanced student may need.

Where will you put the piano?

Do you have a dedicated music room for the piano? (I wish!) Will the piano go in your living room? A child’s bedroom? Decide in advance where you will put the piano. Measure the space, then measure the piano you are looking at. Be sure the piano will fit in the allotted space. Old advice said to always put the piano on an inside wall. More recently, from what I have read, as long as the walls and windows are well-insulated, it doesn’t seem to matter as much. The main idea is to keep the piano in a room where temperature and humidity are somewhat stable. Putting it right next to an outside door may not be a good plan.

How does the piano sound?

You (or your child) should like the way the piano sounds. Listen and play several pianos. See how the sound differs from instrument to instrument. Learn what you like and keep trying pianos until you find one whose sound pleases you. Have someone else play the piano so you can listen to the sound. Bring along someone to act as a second opinion – a friend, someone else who plays, a teacher, a technician.

How does the piano feel?

This is almost as important as how it sounds. Play the keys. Are they hard to press? Are they too easy to push down? What feels good? Are the keys slow to respond? When I was growing up I frequently played the piano for our church. I hated the piano at church. The keys were so hard to play, they took so much effort to play. It was difficult to do very technical pieces on that piano because the keys were so hard to work with. And then I got to play on a Steinway! What a world of difference! Loved playing on a Steinway. Too bad they were way out of my price range! But over the years I found several other pianos that I really enjoyed playing. The action and response of the keys is critical to choosing a piano.

How does the piano look?

Granted, this is not the most important thing to consider when buying a piano. Don’t ever let someone try to sell you a piano based on its looks. But you will have to look at this piano for a long time. Is it in a style and finish you can handle? Can you live with it in your house? When I first started learning piano we had an ancient upright piano that someone (maybe my dad?) had painted pale pink! What?! But it worked for us. We didn’t keep it forever, but that is what we started with.

Where will you buy the piano?

Go look at some music stores and piano stores. If you are not in a large city you may have to travel a bit to find a good store. Check several stores. Try different makers of pianos, and different models of each maker. (Kind of like the process of buying a car.) See what you like. Are there certain brands of pianos that have consistent sound and key action among their models? When you find what you like, then you can start looking at the used market. Piano tuners might know people looking to sell a piano. Look for online listings of pianos for sale in your area. I bought my current piano from a private seller about 30 years ago. I have never had any regrets.

If you are looking at used pianos there are several other things you need to look at.

First, check the outside of the piano.

Are there visible cracks or water marks? What about the legs – are they stable? Does a bench come with the piano? Will the top of the piano open? Does the piano have a rack to place music on?

Then, look at the back of the piano.

Are there cracks in the wood piece across the back? Does it look in good condition? Are all the ribs still firmly attached all the way across the back of the piano?

Look inside the piano.

Each hammer should have a good amount of felt left on it. The strings should all be in the same condition – if there are several much newer than others, that could be a sign of a major problem. Look for any cracks in the large iron plate across the back. Cracks are not a good thing!

I found this website that contains very detailed information about what to look for to determine the condition of a used piano. I think it would be helpful for you. The site also has a section with the history of all the major piano makers.   Read Here

Do you know what to look for when buying a piano?
Do you know what to look for when buying a piano?

I hope you enjoy either hearing or playing your new piano, whichever one you choose! And, in case you were wondering, I did get to play on a Steinway again. My daughter’s high school senior violin recital was held at a Steinway store, and they used the best piano they had in the recital area. It was wonderful! No, I still can’t afford one, but they are fabulous to play! And the piano that I do have, the one I bought used 30 years ago? It is a Yamaha Studio model, made in about 1960.