Piano Buyer’s Guide

If you’re shopping for a new piano, you will need to choose the size and the brand that you want. You will also need to decide which piano has a touch that suits you and a tone that you like. We’ve outlined easy-to-follow instructions to help you understand each of these points and help you make the right decision.


Pianos are either horizontal (grand) or vertical (such as an upright). Both of these orientations come in many different sizes. Choose which size is best for you, based on these descriptions.

Upright Pianos

Vertical Upright — 49″ to 52″ tall

The upright is the tallest vertical piano, with a soundboard and string length comparable to that of a small grand. It is second only to a grand in tone quality and is often found in professional studios and schools.

Studio Upright — 45″ to 48″ tall

The soundboard and string lengths are comparable to a very small grand. Studio pianos are often found in homes and schools.

Console Upright — 40″ to 43″ tall

Consoles may have drop action or “direct blow action,” which is the more desirable choice. If you’re shopping for a console piano, look for one with direct blow action.

Spinet — 35″ to 39″ tall

The smallest type of piano, the spinet employs “drop action” which describes the angle of the hammers in relation to the strings. The drop action and the shortness of the strings and soundboard make this the least desirable size of piano.

Grand (Horizontal) Pianos

Grand 7′ to 9′ long

This size is usually found in concert halls, theaters, recording studios and auditoriums.

Grand 6′ to 7′ long

This size is common in teaching studios.

Grand 5’6″ to 6′ long

Better tone quality than a smaller grand. This size is common in homes.

Grand under 5′ long

Some tone quality is sacrificed in these smallest grands.

Another factor to keep in mind when choosing a piano is the size of the room you’re going to put it in. Acoustically, a grand piano in a home sounds best if it’s about 1/4 the size of the room. Of course, if you’re serious about getting a piano with superior power and tone quality and you don’t have a very large room to put it in, it’s better to crowd the room with a bigger piano than to sacrifice sound quality.

The size and type of a piano affect how you will move it from one place to another. When the piano is delivered to your home, and, if you later move it to a different home, piano movers will need to be able to fit the piano through a door. (In the case of a grand piano, the legs are removed for moving). If the piano has to travel up or down steps at your home, there may be an extra moving charge for the extra work. If you want your piano to be placed on an upper floor, it will probably have to be lifted by a crane and placed through a window. If you live on an upper floor and don’t want the trouble and expense of a crane delivery, perhaps you should consider a digital piano.

Buying a Used Piano

If you’re shopping for a used piano, you should consider the many choices of size, brand, touch and tone. In addition, you should consider several other points that will help you avoid making a purchase that you may regret.

Check a used piano carefully for structural or mechanical problems:

• Inspect the soundboard (the really big board across which the strings are strung) for cracks.

• Play every key to see if any of them stick, buzz, rattle, or just don’t sound at all.

• Try out each pedal, making sure that they don’t stick or make a noise. Hold down the right pedal and play a few notes. They should keep on sounding after you let go of the keys. Hold down the left pedal and play a few notes. They should sound noticeably softer than they do without that pedal.

• Check the felt on the hammers (where the hammers contact the strings). The felts should not be hard, deeply grooved, or missing.

Most used pianos need some amount of repair work. If you’re serious about buying a used piano, have a qualified piano technician inspect it and give you an objective estimate of how much the repairs will cost, and whether the piano is even worth putting money into. The world is full of sad, old pianos that have been neglected for so long that the repairs they need would cost more than they’d be worth afterwards.

Buying a Digital Piano

Here are some advantages of digital pianos:

• Portability

• Doesn’t need to be tuned

• Lower price

Various brands and models offer helpful features, such as software that actually teaches you to play a transposition (changing a song to a higher or lower key at the touch of a button). This feature is especially helpful for singers. Some digital pianos also give you a choice of several different instrument sounds.

There are also disadvantages to digital pianos. Although a good digital piano closely approximates the touch and tone of an acoustic piano, it doesn’t sound and feel exactly the same. Because the keys don’t actually strike strings, they are weighted to make them feel and respond like acoustic piano keys. When you compare digital pianos, look for the one that feels to the touch as close as possible to the feel of an acoustic piano. This will enable you or your child to develop proper hand musculature and playing skills.

Since the digital piano produces sounds electronically rather than physically, the quality of the sounds depends upon the technology used to synthesize the sounds and upon the quality of the speakers. Try many different brands and models, comparing the sound quality. Think about which ones sound the closest to an acoustic piano, and which ones sound the most pleasing to your own ear.

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