Piano Buying Guide: From Beginner to Virtuoso

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Written By Noah Campbell
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Piano Buying Guide

Selecting the right piano is a critical decision for anyone embarking on their musical journey or continuing their advancement in the art of piano playing. The instrument you choose not only influences your learning experience but also shapes your relationship with music. A well-suited piano can inspire and facilitate growth, while an ill-matched one might hinder progress and dampen enthusiasm. Therefore, it’s essential to approach this decision with care and understanding.

black yamaha piano

The path from a beginner pianist to an advanced player is unique and filled with personal milestones and challenges. For beginners, the piano should foster basic skill development and be forgiving and encouraging as they navigate their initial learning curve. As players progress, their instrument should grow with them, offering the sophistication and nuance needed to explore more complex pieces and refine their technique. This journey is not just about skill development; it’s about cultivating a lifelong passion for music.

Importance of Considering Individual Preferences and Needs

Every pianist’s needs and preferences are distinct, shaped by their musical tastes, goals, physicality, and the space they have available. Some may prefer the rich sound and touch of an acoustic grand piano, while others might opt for the versatility and convenience of a digital piano. Factors like the piano’s size, sound quality, key action, and even aesthetic appeal should align with the individual’s specific circumstances and aspirations. Acknowledging these personal preferences is crucial in selecting a piano that not only meets practical requirements but also resonates on a personal level.

Types of Pianos

The world of pianos is diverse, each type offering unique features and benefits suitable for different players and environments. Understanding these variations is key to finding the right piano for your needs.

1. Grand Pianos

grand yamaha piano

Grand pianos, renowned for their sublime sound quality and classic aesthetic, are the pinnacle of piano design. Their dimensions can range from about 4 feet 6 inches for baby grands to over 9 feet for concert grands. The sprawling nature of their strings and large soundboard allows for rich, resonant tones, making them ideal for concert halls and large living spaces. The grand piano’s curved body and elegant form make it as much a visual centerpiece as a musical instrument. Brands like Steinway & Sons and Yamaha offer grand pianos that are not only musical instruments but also stunning pieces of craftsmanship.

2. Upright Pianos

Upright Piano

Upright pianos are a practical choice for those with less space, offering a vertical string alignment that occupies less floor space. They range in height from 36 inches (spinet pianos) to 51 inches (professional uprights). While they can’t match the grand piano’s expansive sound, good quality uprights like those from Yamaha and Kawai still produce a rich and full tone. Their design allows for a variety of aesthetic styles, from traditional to contemporary, fitting into different room sizes and decor schemes.

3. Digital Pianos

Digital Piano

Digital pianos provide a modern alternative, ideal for those who require versatility and portability. They typically mimic the size of upright pianos but are much lighter and can often be disassembled for transport. Digital pianos like the Yamaha Clavinova and the Roland RD series offer a range of sounds and features in sleek, contemporary designs. They are suitable for both small apartments and larger spaces, providing the convenience of headphone connectivity for quiet practice.

4. Spinet Pianos

The spinet piano, the smallest among upright pianos, is well-suited for tight spaces, measuring around 36 to 38 inches tall. While their sound is less powerful due to the smaller soundboard and string length, they can be a charming addition to small rooms. Their compact size and often antique designs add a touch of elegance without dominating the space.

5. Electric Pianos

Electric Piano

Electric pianos like the Fender Rhodes offer a unique sound profile in a relatively compact form. They typically resemble a small upright piano or a large keyboard and are known for their distinct, mellow sound. Their retro design is a favorite among musicians looking for both a vintage aesthetic and a specific sound characteristic.

6. Player Pianos

Yamaha’s Disklavier Player Piano

Player pianos blend the traditional acoustic piano with automated playability. They are usually the size of a standard upright or grand piano, depending on the model. Modern player pianos, like those from Yamaha’s Disklavier series, combine classic piano aesthetics with innovative technology, allowing for playback and even recording of performances.

7. Silent Pianos

Silent Piano

Silent pianos are typically the size of standard uprights or grands but feature a mechanism to switch to silent mode. This feature is particularly useful in shared spaces or apartments. Aesthetically, they maintain the traditional look of their acoustic counterparts, with the added functionality of digital pianos.

8. Stage Pianos

Stage pianos are designed for performance and portability. They are generally more compact and lighter than traditional pianos, making them easy to transport for gigs. Models like the Nord Stage and Korg SV-2 combine sleek, modern designs with a range of sounds and features tailored for live performance.

9. Clavinova Pianos (Yamaha):

Clavinova Piano Yamaha

Yamaha’s Clavinova digital pianos are designed to emulate the look and feel of traditional pianos while incorporating digital technology. They range in size but typically mirror the dimensions of a small to medium upright piano. Their sophisticated design ensures they fit elegantly into a variety of room settings.

10. Console Pianos:

Console pianos are taller than spinets but smaller than full-size uprights, usually standing about 40 to 43 inches tall. They strike a balance between space-saving and aesthetic appeal, making them popular in homes where space and design are considerations. Brands like Yamaha and Baldwin offer console pianos that provide a good blend of performance and style.

Considerations for Beginners

When starting on the piano, beginners have specific needs that differ from more experienced players. Budget, learning tools, and the right kind of support are crucial in this early stage.

beginner piano

A. Budget-friendly Options for Entry-Level Players:

  1. Affordability: Beginners often look for options that provide the best value for money. Entry-level digital pianos or keyboards can be a great choice, as they offer the essential features at a more affordable price compared to acoustic pianos.
  2. Brands and Models: Brands like Yamaha, Casio, and Roland offer a range of budget-friendly digital pianos. Models like the Yamaha P-45, Casio CDP-S100, and Roland FP-10 provide a good balance between quality and affordability.
  3. Second-Hand Pianos: Consider purchasing a used piano. Second-hand acoustic pianos, when properly maintained, can be a cost-effective option. However, it’s advisable to have them checked by a professional technician before purchase.

B. Features that Enhance the Piano Learning Experience:

  1. Weighted Keys: For a beginner, a piano with weighted keys is essential as it mimics the feel of an acoustic piano, which is crucial for developing proper finger strength and technique.
  2. Built-in Learning Tools: Many digital pianos come with learning aids such as built-in metronomes, record functions, and sometimes even educational apps or software compatibility.
  3. Size and Number of Keys: A full-size keyboard with 88 keys is ideal. However, for very young beginners, a keyboard with fewer keys might be more manageable and less intimidating.
girl learning how to play piano

C. Recommendations for Piano Teachers and Schools:

  1. Durability and Reliability: For teachers and schools, where pianos face frequent use, durability is a key consideration. Upright pianos or robust digital pianos are often preferred for their ability to withstand extensive use.
  2. Sound Quality and Variety: Good sound quality is important for students to develop an ear for music. Digital pianos with a variety of sounds can also be beneficial for engaging students in a range of musical styles.
  3. Group Learning Features: Some digital pianos come equipped with features that facilitate group learning, such as headphone jacks for silent practice and dual keyboard modes for teacher-student sessions.

Advanced Features for Intermediate and Professional Players

As pianists progress to intermediate and professional levels, their requirements from a piano become more sophisticated. Features that offer a realistic playing experience and superior sound quality become paramount.

hammer action keys in a professional piano

Hammer Action and Key Weight:

Advanced players often seek an authentic piano feel, which is primarily provided by the hammer action and key weighting of the piano. This mechanism replicates the feel of an acoustic piano, where hammers strike the strings to produce sound. Hammer action in digital pianos involves mechanical hammers to simulate this acoustic piano action. The weight of the keys is also crucial, as it affects the touch response and dynamics of playing.

Weighted keys are essential for developing and maintaining finger strength and advanced playing technique. They allow for nuanced expression and control, which is vital for intermediate and professional players. Progressive or graded hammer action, where the weight of the keys varies from lower to higher tones (heavier in the bass and lighter in the treble), can further enhance the realistic feel and aid in technique development.

Sound Sampling and Quality:

For more advanced players, the quality of sound is non-negotiable. In digital pianos, this is determined by the quality of sound sampling. Sound sampling involves recording real acoustic piano sounds, which are then reproduced digitally. High-end digital pianos use sophisticated multi-sampling techniques, capturing the sound of each key at various volumes and durations to produce a more authentic and expressive sound.

While digital pianos strive to replicate the sound of acoustic pianos, there are inherent differences due to the nature of sound production. Acoustic pianos produce rich, resonant tones through the physical vibration of strings and soundboards. Digital pianos, although advanced in technology, can sometimes lack the depth and overtones produced by an acoustic piano. However, top-tier digital models come very close in sound quality, with added benefits like sound variety and volume control.

Room Acoustics and Size Considerations

Choosing the right piano also involves considering where it will be placed. The room’s acoustics and size can significantly impact the piano’s sound and overall playing experience.

Assessing the Room for Optimal Piano Placement:

  1. Space Analysis: Begin by evaluating the size and layout of the room. The piano should be placed in a spot that allows for free sound projection without being cramped by furniture or walls. For grand pianos, ensure enough space for the lid to open comfortably.
  2. Acoustic Properties: Rooms with hard surfaces like wood or tile tend to reflect sound, making them more resonant, while carpeted and curtained rooms may absorb sound, resulting in a muted effect. The height of the ceiling also impacts the sound – higher ceilings tend to enhance sound projection.
  3. Environmental Factors: Avoid placing the piano near windows where it can be exposed to direct sunlight, drafts, or moisture, as these can adversely affect the tuning and wood quality. Consistent temperature and humidity are important for the piano’s longevity.
upright piano in acoustic room

Impact of Room Size on Sound Projection and Quality:

  1. Room Size and Piano Type: The size of the room can dictate the type of piano you choose. Larger rooms can accommodate the powerful sound of grand pianos, whereas smaller rooms might be better suited to upright or digital pianos, which can offer more control over volume and sound projection.
  2. Sound Balancing: In larger rooms, a piano’s sound can feel lost or overly diffuse. Positioning the piano strategically and using furnishings like rugs and curtains can help in balancing the acoustics. In smaller rooms, a piano with a softer tone or volume control (like in digital pianos) can prevent the sound from becoming overwhelming.
  3. Experimenting with Placement: Sometimes, the best position for a piano is found through trial and error. Experiment with different placements in the room to find where the piano sounds best, keeping in mind the room’s acoustics and your seating position relative to the piano.

New vs. Used Pianos

Deciding between a new or used piano involves weighing the benefits and considerations of each. Both options have their pros and cons, depending on factors like budget, quality preferences, and long-term plans.

Factors to Consider When Buying a New Piano:

  1. Latest Technology and Design: New pianos come with the latest advancements in design and technology, ensuring optimal sound quality and playability.
  2. Warranty and Reliability: They usually include a manufacturer’s warranty, offering peace of mind regarding their condition and performance.
  3. Longevity: A new piano will typically have a longer lifespan, as all its components are brand new and have not undergone wear and tear.
  4. Customization: Purchasing new often means more options for customization in terms of finish, size, and sometimes, features.
  5. Higher Cost: New pianos are generally more expensive, which can be a significant factor for budget-conscious buyers.
  6. Depreciation: Like new cars, new pianos can depreciate quickly in the first few years.

Factors to Consider When Buying a Used Piano:

  1. Condition: Assess the piano’s condition, including the soundboard, strings, keys, and external cabinet. Check for signs of damage or excessive wear.
  2. Age and Usage: Inquire about the piano’s age, history, and how it’s been used. Pianos that are too old or have been heavily used might require more maintenance.
  3. Brand and Model: Research the piano’s brand and model to ensure its quality and longevity. Some brands hold up better over time.
  4. Tuning and Maintenance: Understand the piano’s maintenance history. Pianos that have been regularly tuned and cared for are likely to be in better condition.
  5. Cost of Repairs: Consider any immediate repairs or tuning needed and factor these costs into your budget.
  6. Seller Reputation: If buying from a dealer, check their reputation. For private sellers, try to gauge why they are selling the piano.
  7. Professional Assessment: It’s advisable to have a professional piano technician inspect the instrument before purchasing.

Brands and Models

Navigating through the plethora of piano brands and models can be daunting. Each brand offers its unique qualities, and models vary significantly in features, catering to different skill levels and preferences.

traditional young chang piano

Overview of Reputable Piano Brands:

  1. Steinway & Sons: Renowned for their exceptional craftsmanship and superior sound, Steinway pianos are often considered the gold standard in the piano world. They are a top choice for many concert pianists and institutions.
  2. Yamaha: Offering a wide range of pianos from entry-level to concert grand models, Yamaha is known for its consistent quality, durability, and innovation, especially in their Clavinova digital piano line.
  3. Kawai: Praised for their rich tone and advanced action design, Kawai pianos are a popular choice among both students and professional players. They also offer a good selection of digital pianos known for their realistic key action.
  4. Bösendorfer: With a distinctive warm and rich sound, Bösendorfer pianos are revered for their handcrafted quality and artistic value. They tend to be a high-end choice for serious musicians.
  5. Casio: Known for their affordable and feature-rich digital pianos, Casio is a great choice for beginners and intermediate players. Their Privia series is particularly popular.
  6. Fazioli: A newer brand compared to others, Fazioli has quickly gained a reputation for its outstanding quality and exquisite sound, often found on international concert stages.
  7. Roland: Roland’s digital pianos are acclaimed for their technological innovations, offering quality sound and touch in their various models suitable for players at all levels.
  8. Baldwin: Once the largest US piano manufacturer, Baldwin pianos are known for their quality and affordability, offering a range of upright and grand pianos suitable for both beginners and advanced players.
  1. For Beginners: Yamaha’s entry-level models like the P-45 or the Casio Privia PX-160 offer great value, combining quality sound and feel with affordability. For acoustic options, consider Yamaha’s U Series upright pianos.
  2. For Intermediate Players: Intermediate players might look at Yamaha’s Arius series or Kawai’s CN Series in digital pianos, which offer more advanced features. Acoustic choices like the Kawai K Series uprights or Yamaha’s mid-range grand pianos are excellent upgrades.
  3. For Advanced Players and Professionals: High-end models like the Steinway Model D or the Fazioli F212 are ideal for advanced players. For those preferring digital pianos, the Yamaha Clavinova CLP series or Roland’s LX series provide advanced features and superior playing experience.
  4. For Specific Preferences: Player pianos like Yamaha Disklavier or silent pianos for practice in noise-sensitive environments are available for those with specific needs. Stage performers might prefer portable yet sophisticated models like the Roland RD-2000 or the Nord Stage series.

Budget Planning

When planning to purchase a piano, understanding the price range for different types and balancing your budget with desired features are crucial steps. Pianos can vary significantly in cost based on type, brand, features, and quality, so it’s important to have a clear idea of what you can expect within your budget.

A. Range of Prices for Different Types of Pianos:

  1. Acoustic Upright Pianos: Entry-level upright pianos can start from around $3,000, with mid-range models costing between $4,000 and $8,000. High-end or professional upright pianos can go upwards of $10,000.
  2. Grand Pianos: Baby grand pianos usually start around $10,000, with prices increasing significantly for larger and higher-quality models. Concert grand pianos from prestigious brands can exceed $100,000.
  3. Digital Pianos: Budget digital pianos can be found for as little as $500, making them a viable option for beginners. Mid-range models range from $1,000 to $2,500, while high-end digital pianos with advanced features can cost between $3,000 and $7,000.
  4. Used Pianos: Prices for used pianos can vary widely based on condition, age, brand, and model. It’s possible to find used upright pianos for under $2,000 and used grand pianos for under $5,000, but ensure they are in good condition.

B. Balancing Budget Constraints with Desired Features:

  1. Prioritize Needs: Determine which features are essential for your needs. Beginners might prioritize touch and sound quality, while advanced players might look for specific action mechanisms or sound characteristics.
  2. Consider Long-Term Value: Investing in a higher-quality piano from the start can be more cost-effective in the long run, especially if you are committed to playing long-term.
  3. Explore Financing Options: Many piano dealers offer financing plans that can make purchasing a higher-quality piano more affordable.
  4. Look for Deals or Promotions: Keep an eye out for sales, promotions, or discounts, especially during holiday seasons or special events.
  5. Consider the Total Cost of Ownership: Include maintenance, tuning, and potential repairs in your budget planning, especially for acoustic pianos.

Maintenance and Care

Proper maintenance and care are essential for preserving the quality and longevity of your piano. Regular tuning, along with other maintenance practices, ensures that your piano not only sounds its best but also maintains its value over time.

maintenance of used piano

A. Regular Tuning and Maintenance Practices:

  1. Tuning: Regular tuning is crucial for any piano. Acoustic pianos should ideally be tuned at least twice a year. Changes in humidity and temperature can cause the piano to go out of tune, so adjustments by a professional tuner/technician are necessary to keep it sounding right.
  2. Cleaning: Keep the keyboard clean by gently dusting the keys with a soft, dry cloth. Avoid using household cleaning products, and for deeper cleaning, consult a professional.
  3. Humidity Control: Pianos are sensitive to humidity changes. Using a dehumidifier or humidifier in the room where the piano is located can help maintain a consistent level of humidity, preventing damage to the wood and internal mechanisms.
  4. Regular Inspections: Have a professional technician inspect your piano annually. They can identify and address issues such as sticky keys, misaligned hammers, or worn strings before they become more serious problems.

B. Tips for Preserving the Piano’s Condition Over Time:

  1. Avoid Direct Sunlight and Heat Sources: Place the piano away from direct sunlight, radiators, and vents, as excessive heat and UV exposure can damage the finish and warp the wood.
  2. Control Room Temperature: Keeping the room at a consistent temperature helps in preventing the wood and strings of the piano from expanding and contracting, which can lead to tuning instability.
  3. Gentle Use: Treat the piano with care. Avoid placing heavy objects on it, and teach children to play it gently to avoid damaging the keys or internal components.
  4. Cover When Not in Use: When not in use, close the piano’s lid to prevent dust accumulation. For grand pianos, using a cover can also help protect the finish and keyboard.
  5. Professional Moving: If you need to move the piano, always use professional piano movers. Pianos are heavy and their internal parts are delicate, so improper moving can cause significant damage.

FAQs on Piano Buying and Maintenance

Q: How often should I tune my piano?

A: It’s recommended to tune an acoustic piano at least twice a year. However, new pianos or those exposed to significant environmental changes might require more frequent tuning in the first year.

Q: What is the lifespan of a digital piano?

A: Digital pianos typically last between 20 to 50 years, depending on the build quality, technology, usage, and maintenance. Regular updates and careful handling can extend their lifespan.

Q: Is it worth buying a used piano?

A: Buying a used piano can be a great value, especially for beginners. However, it’s important to thoroughly check its condition, ideally with a professional piano technician, before purchasing.

Q: Can I teach myself to play the piano?

A: Yes, with the plethora of online resources, books, and apps available today, it’s possible to teach yourself piano. However, taking lessons from a qualified teacher can significantly enhance your learning.

Q: How do I choose the right piano for my child who is a beginner?

A: For children beginners, look for a piano with 88 weighted keys to develop proper technique. Digital pianos are often a good start due to their headphone compatibility for silent practice.

Q: What should I look for in a piano if I have limited space?

A: Consider an upright or a digital piano. These types are compact and can fit in smaller spaces while still offering good sound quality and playing experience.

Q: How can I maintain the finish of my piano?

A: Keep the piano away from direct sunlight and use a soft, dry cloth for dusting. Avoid harsh chemicals and consult a professional for polishing or deeper cleaning.

Q: Are digital pianos easier to maintain than acoustic pianos?

A: Yes, digital pianos require less maintenance compared to acoustic pianos as they don’t need tuning and are not affected by humidity or temperature changes.

Q: Does the brand of a piano matter?

A: Yes, the brand can be an indicator of quality, reliability, and resale value. Renowned brands often provide better craftsmanship and sound quality.

Q: How much should I budget for a good quality piano?

A: Budget varies widely depending on the type of piano. For a decent acoustic upright, expect to spend at least $3,000, while good digital pianos start around $500. Grand pianos and high-end models can be much more expensive.

black yamaha piano

Conclusion

In conclusion, choosing the right piano involves a thoughtful balance of various factors, including the type and size of the instrument, your skill level, room acoustics, and budget. From the resonant grand pianos ideal for professional performance to the compact and versatile digital pianos suitable for beginners, each type caters to different needs. Remember, for beginners, it’s about finding an instrument that aids in learning, while advanced players should focus on features that enhance their technique and musical expression. Maintenance and the instrument’s longevity are also crucial considerations. Before making a decision, it is essential to explore and play different pianos, experiencing their unique qualities firsthand. This process is not just about purchasing a musical instrument but about finding a lifelong musical partner that aligns with your personal preferences and inspires your musical journey.