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What is the best digital piano?

by Stephen N. Reed

Digital pianos, first popularized in the 1980s, attempt to replicate the sound and feel of an acoustic piano. While great strides have been made towards that end, they still haven’t reached that lofty goal, and depending upon who you ask, never will. Yet, for many, the quality digital piano is a great alternative to the old, out of tune, used piano that many first-time buyers gravitate towards.   

Roland’s HP 702 digital piano. Digital pianos do not duplicate the authentic feel and sound of a traditional piano–they can only simulate it, so the goal is to find one that mimics an acoustic as closely as possible.

At M. Steinert & Sons, we have closely followed the digital piano market since the first ones were available.   While we carry Roland digital pianos and have always been satisfied with their high quality, we acknowledge that some other top brands have quality models, as well.

Four of the most recommended digital brand pianos include:

  • Yamaha
  • Kawai
  • Casio
  • Roland

All four are known for their quality of sound (usually sampled from their acoustic counterpart), and their realistic action, which makes it feel as close to an acoustic as possible.  By the end of this article, you’ll understand better the top four digital piano brands and what we believe is the top digital piano.

Yamaha digital pianos

Yamaha digital pianos are often known by their Clavinova brand name and use samples (recordings) from other Yamaha pianos as the basis for their sound. They have a wide range of quality and feature levels – and are grouped, priced, and marketed differently through a wide variety of e-commerce and retail channels.

Yamaha's Arius YDP-184 digital piano
Yamaha’s Arius YDP-184 digital piano. YDP models have the look of a home-style piano and use different actions.

Model numbers can change quite frequently – and it’s often a challenge to know which models are currently in the line-up.  In general, the higher the number within a given series (ie P125 vs P45), means a higher price point and feature set within the series.

Yamaha digital series overview:

  • P:  The basic entry-level portable digital piano designed to meet low price standards – basically the higher the number, the higher the feature set.
  • YDP: These units look like a home-style piano, and depending upon the model use different actions.    This series of pianos is more widely distributed including some ‘Big Box’ retail, Amazon, and large music store chains.
  • CLP: CLP units and above are marketed through traditional piano stores, and roving Costco tours.  Higher-end actions add wood to the key to give the look of a traditional piano key.
  • CSP: The most recent addition to the Clavinova line seeks to move away from the button-centric CVP approach (see below), to an app and smart device-centered platform.  The CSP Series has lights over the keys.  Actions are similar to CLP models.
  • CVP:  Considered Yamaha’s top-of-the-line digital and reminiscent of the organ days, the CVP units feature a huge array of buttons and features for play-along “boom-chick-a-boom” and recording features.  (Grandtouch, Smart Pianist and Clavinova are all trademarks of Yamaha Corporation.  Model specifications are subject to change).

Kawai digital pianos

While not as well-known as Yamaha, Kawai digital pianos offer a variety of different quality/function options.  They have 7 different piano action designs that appear across their many different models.

Like most, the higher the number within a series means higher feature/price, but some year-to-year changes will blur this

Kawai CN25 Digital Piano.  Feature the Responsive Hammer III plastic key actions.

generality in Kawai’s line.  Kawai digital pianos feature the sampled sound of Kawai acoustic pianos.    Kawai instruments are generally sold through piano stores and major music retailers.

Kawai digital series overview:

  • ES:  Portable, beginner-targeted, some offering auto-accompaniment features, hammer actions.
  • KDP:  Budget-focused home-style pianos, hammer actions and basic feature-set.
  • CN:   Home-style units that add Bluetooth and offer app connectivity.  Units all feature the Responsive Hammer III plastic key actions with 3 sensors and simulated let-off action.
  • CA: Kawai’s top-of-the-line digital focused on wood-key actions, sampling from their higher-end acoustic line, built-in screen display and high-end speaker/amp combos.

Casio digital pianos

Casio Privia PX 770
Casio Privia PX 770 digital piano. Keyboard has simulated ebony and ivory-textured keys provide the weighted feel required for proper piano expression and performance.

Casio, long known for their inexpensive portable keyboards,  has been making digital pianos under the Celviano trade name since the 90s.  They have recently gained broader distribution in the US and have sought to move upmarket from their low-end beginnings.   Their newer trade name, Privia is sold in many mass merchant stores.

Casio series overview:

  • Privia Series:  Models generally start with the PX prefix, higher numbers mean more features (usually) some with battery-operated options, hammer action mechanism. These are often sold online and by mass merchants.
  • Celviano Series:  The AP prefix denotes their home-style pianos which fall into the low-mid price range of digital piano models.  The  Casio Celviano Grand-Hybrid series incorporates all-wood key actions and different sound technology and is not as widely distributed as other Casio products.

 Roland digital pianos

At Steinert, we’ve chosen to exclusively partner with Roland digital pianos.  Roland has served the professional music community for almost 50 years – and while not as widely distributed or well known as Yamaha – Roland has earned its reputation for physical and musical quality as well as excellent durability.

Roland HP-70r digital piano.
Roland HP-704 digital piano. SuperNatural Piano Modeling sound.  The Roland HP line is where quality, touch, tone, and cabinetry combine to make a great home piano experience.

Their focus on physical modeling sound technology has resulted in major advances used in various ways across their digital piano line and distinguishes Roland digital pianos from other digital pianos in the market.  Since Roland doesn’t make acoustic pianos, they are free to select from any piano source they choose–and Steinway-based and inspired sounds are present in every Roland digital piano.

Roland digital series overview:

  • FP: Fully weighted, portable, SuperNATURAL modeling sound.  Bluetooth.
  • DP: A special, ‘convertible’ line that doubles as a credenza style table.  High-quality speakers/amp along with the PHA-50 graded hammer and wood-key action.
  • HP:  The Roland HP line is where quality touch, tone, and cabinetry combine to make for a great home piano experience.  SuperNatural Piano Modeling sound. Action and cabinet/finish choices provide options for the discerning digital piano buyer.
  • LX:  The top of the line in Roland digitals.   Each features PureAcoustic Piano Modelling derived from a decade of experience in modeled sound.  The recently introduced LX708 raised the standard for digital piano sound and touch across the industry.  The PHA100 action on the LX708 introduces longer key geometry and offset naturals and sharps for unparalleled touch realism.  Other LX models offer variants of speakers, action, and cabinetry.
  • GP:  Grand pianos in the digital line, featuring remarkable cabinet design, powerful sound reinforcement, SuperNATURAL modeling, and the PHA50 action.

Roland’s edge in touch and tone

Today’s digital pianos have come a long way as compared to past generations of electric and digital pianos. This goes for each of the brands we’ve reviewed.  The engineers at Yamaha, Kawai, Casio, and Roland are to be commended for their efforts towards making affordable instruments that have improved touch and tone.

Today’s digital pianos have come a long way as compared to past generations of digital pianos.  The engineers at Yamaha, Kawai, Casio, and Roland have improved their digital pianos’ touch and tone.

Having said that, Roland has gone in a different direction than the other leading digital brands.  Patrick Elisha, former piano consultant for M. Steinert & Sons, notes that Roland does not seek to be a hybrid of acoustic and digital solutions.

“Rather, Roland seeks to be a maintenance-free, all-encompassing digital piano solution that does not rely on acoustic components to function,” says Patrick.  “This, coupled with their mastery of acoustic engineering and piano modeling technology, creates an instrument that is reliably accurate, in both touch and tone, and caters to many playing styles.”

As a result, while the competition is comprised of some solid alternative brands, Roland offers more to the buyer who wants a reliable touch and tone, based on the engineering Roland has invested in modeling technology.  For the piano student who wants to play a wide variety of musical genres, Roland offers a digital piano that is just as playable for jazz and contemporary pieces as classical.

For these reasons, a good argument can be made that Roland is the best of these top-of-the-line digital pianos.

M. Steinert & Sons Trade-Up policy

Young man playing digital piano
M. Steinert’s Trade-Up policy allows you to determine if your interest in piano playing is going to stick before buying your ultimate piano.

Should you decide to buy a Roland digital piano from M.  Steinert & Sons, you will have the potential to take advantage of the M. Steinert & Sons Lifetime Steinway Trade-Up policy, which gives you 100% of what you paid for your Roland towards a new Steinway & Sons piano, excluding taxes and delivery, towards another M. Steinert piano that has a higher cost.

This enables many buyers to see first if their interest in playing the piano sticks.  If it does, many then purchase their ultimate piano.

Sample a range of digital pianos before buying

As with shopping for an acoustic piano, the discerning digital piano customer will take in a good sampling of makes and models.   At M. Steinert & Sons, we encourage people to compare different digital models, including our Roland series, before making a purchase.  After all, a digital piano is a significant purchase, one you want to be satisfied with going forward.

We would welcome the opportunity to introduce you to our current Roland digital piano models at either of our two showroom locations in Boston and Newton.  Please feel free to set up an appointment with one of our experienced piano consultants to listen to your piano needs and to show you some models to play.

While visiting our showrooms, take a look at our acoustic offerings, too, to compare with our digital offerings.

To learn more about the difference between digital and acoustic pianos, read this article:

Digital vs. acoustic pianos: Which is the best for me?

 


How do I choose the best piano for me?

by Stephen N. Reed


Choosing a piano for one’s home or institution is an expensive proposition.  But there is a difference between “expensive” and “costly.”   An expensive piano may come at a price, but at least you are getting many years of great learning and playing on the keyboard.

Row of Steinway Model D pianos
Though many pianos look the same, they’re not. Understanding the differences between piano brand, models, and designs is key to a sound purchase of a piano that is well-suited for you.

But a piano purchase can become unfortunately costly and disappointing if you don’t have reliable sources for information.  You could end up with an outright lemon of a piano or just something that is different once you get it home than what you thought you were getting.   What could be more disappointing than that?

At M. Steinert & Sons, we have spent over 160 years helping tens of thousands of customers find the piano of their dreams. We do this by listening to each customer’s individual needs and aspirations and advising each and every customer to find the right piano to achieve their goals.

By the end of this article, you will begin to understand the key considerations towards finding the best piano for you. You will be a more informed buyer, ready to approach your nearest piano merchant confidently.

You’ll walk into a piano store knowing that, though many pianos look the same, they’re not. Understanding the differences between piano brands, models, and designs is key to a sound purchase of a piano that is well-suited for you.

Why carefully choosing your piano matters

The day of your piano delivery will be an exciting one. All the research and planning, all culminate in this one key moment when the piano becomes yours.

As a result, the last thing you want is to buy impulsively, not understanding of how wide a quality range of piano brands and models are out there.   What about the pros and cons of buying used vs new?

For many, buying a piano is a huge purchase. Done right, buying a piano can bring years of music to your home.

However, done carelessly, buying a piano can become a source of stress, annoying you every time you see your purchase, sitting there, taking up space.

How to choose the right piano

Any decent piano seller wants their customer to be truly satisfied with their purchase. However, this can only be achieved through careful consideration. Putting thought in ahead of time can greatly increase the odds that your piano purchase will be satisfying to you.  Three key steps are involved:

Step 1:  Decide upon your preferred size, color, touch, and tone

Piano template
If you’re unsure about whether you have enough room to have a grand, piano templates are available to determine if you can accommodate one.

In this previous article, we examined some of the essential aspects of buying a piano: one’s preferred size, color, touch, and tone.  If you’re unsure about whether you have enough room to have a grand, piano templates are available to determine if you can accommodate one.

Step 2: Consider your budget

Of course, one’s budget needs to be examined in light of one’s preferences. This helps to narrow down possible pianos for you to try.  If you find that the piano you resonate with the most goes beyond your budget, some dealers have financing options available.

Step 3: Talk with a seasoned piano consultant

Taking one’s time to sample a variety of makes and models of pianos with the help of a seasoned piano consultant is critically important. Such an expert helps you to further narrow down your choices to a few that meet your budget and other needs.  Then you can zero in on the piano that was meant for you.

Asian woman thinking
A seasoned piano consultant can help you to further narrow down your choices to a few that meet your budget and other needs.  Then you can zero in on the piano that was meant for you.

This is not just an individual buyer’s strategy but an institutional approach, as well.  For example, many colleges and universities that become All-Steinway Schools secure the help of an Authorized Steinway Dealer in their search for a new grand piano for their music program.

Such schools can avail themselves of the Steinway Selection Process, which is available to both institutions and individuals.

After narrowing down their search, they visit the Steinway factory in Astoria, New York, where they try four brand new models, usually the Model D.  After trying each one, the college’s committee decides upon the one Steinway grand piano that meets their needs.

Your guide to choosing the right piano–wherever you decide to buy

There are several more angles to consider when choosing your piano.  Frankly, this additional information is too detailed for a single article like this.  The discerning piano buyer will want to learn more about the other dimensions of finding the right piano by consulting a piano merchant’s buyer’s guide.

Essex grand piano
A buyer’s guide covers everything from the types of pianos, the popular brands of pianos, technology-enhanced options and more.

A comprehensive buyer’s guide like M. Steinert’s can help you make a better-informed decision that fulfills your current and future needs–whether for education or entertainment.  It covers everything from the types of pianos, the popular brands of pianos, technology-enhanced options and more.

Such a buyer’s guide can be very helpful in your selection, whether you buy a piano from the dealer who developed it or another.

Because we want you to succeed in your quest for the right piano for you, we offer M. Steinert’s buyer’s guide free of charge, regardless of whether you buy your piano from us.

Buying a piano should be an educational, interesting, and even fun experience. Learning from your own readings and having the guidance of a seasoned piano is the best way to have a positive experience.

Then the result will be a new addition to your home: a cherished musical instrument that can be in your family for generations.

Go to our main page to download the M. Steinert’s Buyer’s Guide.

 


How do I prepare for a piano appointment?

by Stephen N. Reed


Buying a piano is a significant investment.  Seeking solid information and asking questions of a seasoned, trustworthy piano consultant is simply prudent anytime one buys an instrument costing several thousand dollars.

But how do you prepare for a piano appointment?  If the “piano world” is completely new to you, going into the process essentially blind can be a recipe for confusion.

Jungle scene
It’s a jungle out there,  filled with a variety of brands, price points, and varying degrees of musical quality in each piano you sample.  Without a guide, you could easily get lost.

It’s a jungle out there,  filled with a variety of brands, price points, and varying degrees of musical quality in each piano you sample.  Without a guide, you could easily get lost and quite possibly make a poor choice for your piano, which would be a lasting regret.

In contrast, discovering a guide in the form of a knowledgeable, honest piano store consultant can be a relief.  Now you have a professional who can start answering your questions and who will begin to learn your priorities for your upcoming piano.

M. Steinert & Sons has always taken this relational approach to its customers and prospective customers.  Our piano sales consultants take the time to understand your piano needs and then work to find the kind of models that may hit the target for you.

By the end of this article, you will understand how to reflect and prepare yourself to make this kind of process work best for you.   Additionally, you will learn about the piano buying fundamentals of understanding pianos’ sizes, colors, touches, tones, and budgets.

You’ll come away from this article with the information you need to make the first meeting with your piano consultant a productive one.

What is your goal? Examining your desire to own a piano

Spirio piano with father and daughter dancing in background
Why do you want a piano?  Is it simply for you or a family member to learn how to play?  Is it something you’ve always wanted that you are now in a position to afford?  A little bit of both?

Before launching into your piano search, take some time to reflect on what has brought you to this point.  Why do you want a piano?  Is it simply for you or a family member to learn how to play?  Is it something you’ve always wanted that you are now in a position to afford?  A little bit of both?

Jonathan Yourtee is a piano consultant with M. Steinert & Sons, with a background in playing the piano.  Jonathan encourages each customer to do some thinking on their own before they come to the showroom.

“I ask my customers to sit down for 5-10 minutes or more and just refresh their memory as to their goal in purchasing a piano,” says Jonathan.

Every customer is different.  Some people may have wanted to learn to play since childhood and never had the time or money before to pursue it.  Others played before but life got in the way. So now they want to get back into it.

“The individual customer’s reasons for purchasing a piano informs the five areas I ask them to think about next before buying a piano,” says Jonathan.  “Size, color, touch, tone, and their budget.”

Size:  How big should your piano be?

People who can afford a Steinway Model D concert grand may be swept away by its epic size and volume.  But unless they have a space that can accommodate a nearly 9’ concert grand, it may well be more piano than they can use.

piano template
Piano templates help piano consultants determine what kinds of pianos can fit a given space at a customer’s home.

“A piano shouldn’t take up more than half of a room,” says Jonathan.  “That’s a good rule to keep in mind not only in terms of whether a given piano will fit well in the room but also in terms of the size of the sound.”

The piano industry has accommodated all manner of sizes and sounds for individual buyers over the years.  Not only are there a wide range of grand piano sizes, from concert grands to baby grands, but upright pianos have long had a favored place in smaller spaces.

Jonathan uses piano templates to determine what kinds of pianos can fit a given space at a customer’s home.  Such templates can be extraordinarily helpful early on to narrow down the field of piano models for a given space.

Many are surprised to see how a grand piano can often fit in the space allotted to an upright.

Color:  Classic black, different finishes, and wrapping

Crown Jewel Collection Steinway grand piano
Steinway’s Crown Jewel Collection of grand pianos features a wide variety of cases with exotic woods from around the world.

Whether it’s an ebony polished look or a black satin matte, black has emerged over the years as the color that goes with anything and has top re-sale value.   A walnut or mahogany finish might be popular one year but not another; meanwhile black is always “in.”

Having said that, many buyers like having the option of individualizing their purchase.  They enjoy reading information about different colors and designs for a piano’s case online before their visit with their piano consultant.

For example, Steinway’s Crown Jewel Collection of pianos features a wide variety of cases with exotic woods from around the world.  These are the same exact Steinway model otherwise–just a jazzy exterior to add something special to a room.

One new trend that offers the buyer even more solid colors to choose from involves wrapping.  Wrapping is becoming more popular and is offered at M. Steinert & Sons.

Touch:  Lighter or heavier?

Steinway piano action
A piano’s touch is one of the most practical of considerations, because if you take home a piano whose touch is one the player doesn’t like or is not able to express their musical intentions, there goes the ballgame!

How do you want the keys to feel?  Unless you’re a professional pianist, you may not have thought about this before.   But brands differ in feel and weighting of touch, which involves the piano’s action, the hammers hitting the strings. Is the feel stiff, easy, or something in between?

A piano’s touch is one of the most practical of considerations because if you take home a piano whose touch is one the player doesn’t like or is not able to express their musical intentions, there goes the ballgame!  This is especially true with young piano students.

“I always tell customers to bring their children with them, too, if they will be playing the piano,” says Jonathan.  “Bring them to the first visit with the piano consultant.  Have the kids involved from the beginning.”

Tone:  Bright or rich?  A piano’s tone is part of its personality for a lifetime of playing

The various colors stemming from a Steinway’s soundboard and rim can be used to express emotions in a wide range of music.

While some jazz pianists like the way a brighter sounding piano punches through the sound of the other instruments in the band, more classically-associated brands like Steinway have their jazz pianist fans, as well.

After all, the same various colors stemming from a Steinway’s soundboard and rim can be used to express emotions in a wide range of music.

Steinway’s tone is characterized by its warm, well-rounded, bell-like tone. Elements of that Steinway sound is found in the designs of its sister brands, Boston and Essex.

Reading about how others describe the tone of various piano brands will give you a better understanding of what you hear when you sample different pianos later with your piano consultant.

Budget:  The most musical value for what you can afford

As with any significant purchase, calculating your budget is naturally a key factor for the piano you purchase.   Would a better model be worth stretching one’s budget?

Like anything else, the more expensive piano models have advantages, like a more nuanced touch and tone, resulting in greater musical expression.

Moreover, if they are made of better woods, they will usually last longer and will definitely have greater resale value if you want to buy another piano later.

The higher-priced pianos like Steinway, which are handcrafted rather than manufactured, have prices that reflect U.S. and German labor costs at their factories.

However, the piano industry has met the need for more affordable pianos, so if your budget is something lower than a new Steinway price, look into Steinway-designed Boston and Essex lines, as well as Yamaha and Kawai.

Readying for your first piano appointment

Jonathan says that as you begin to get familiarized with these five subject areas for pianos, you’ll be able to hit the ground running with your first piano consultant visit.  You’ll have a lot to talk about, so try to carve out adequate time for your visit to the showroom.

“I ask customers to try for a 60 or 90 minutes initial meeting, just so we can get acquainted better and so that I can begin to get a feel for their particular piano needs,” noted Jonathan.

Choosing a piano deserves a bit of time to do it right.  If you were in the market for a luxury automobile like a Lamborghini or a Porsche, wouldn’t you want to know about their features?  What makes them special.  How are they made?

An experienced piano consultant can save you time and money by spending a little more time upfront to really understand why you’re buying a piano and what your expectations are.

We hope to see you in one of our two showrooms in Boston and Newton, where one of our highly-experienced piano consultants will show you hospitality and start understanding your piano needs.

In the meantime, keep reading in preparation for your first meeting with the piano consultant of your choice. If you want to learn how a piano maker like Steinway makes their piano, you’ll enjoy the following piece.  Steinway craftspeople create the company’s pianos touch and tone daily:

What is a Steinway factory tour like?

Click here for Jungle image attribution.


Where should I place my piano? Does piano placement in the home really matter?

by Stephen N. Reed


Buying a piano is an investment–an investment in the musical quality of the instrument, which, in turn, is protected by thoughtfully caring for the instrument and the high-quality materials used to make it. As strong as the woods are in a grand or upright, they are still susceptible to the elements, like high humidity in coastal regions like Boston.

Steinway grand in foreground with father, daughter dancing
Piano placement is an important decision, perhaps an even more critical decision than regular maintenance. Why? Because once a piano is placed, it often remains in that position for years.

As a result, determining the best place in your home for your new piano is an important consideration. After all, what could be worse than investing thousands of dollars on a beautiful instrument with exceptional musical value, only to see that value diminished more quickly than necessary over time?

At M. Steinert & Sons, we have been helping our customers not only buy the best piano for them but also always consider how they’re going to be happy after any purchase. That includes thinking about things like the best placement for their new piano in the home or institution.

Piano placement is an important decision, perhaps an even more critical decision than regular maintenance. Why? Because once a piano is placed, it often remains in that position for years.

All the more reason to make that placement a good one.

By the end of this article, you will know where the best potential places are for piano placement, understanding why some places are best while others are not. You’ll also understand how piano placement affects the mechanical, structural, and aesthetic dimensions of your piano, even its longevity.

Where you should NOT place a piano in your home

Understandably, your piano placement may be constrained by the space and structures in your home or institution. Having said that, there are some areas to avoid placing your piano.

Near a poorly insulated window

While having a piano by a window may seem a pleasant placement, this may be one of the worst possible places for the overall well-being of a piano, whether a grand or an upright. The air around windows change with the conditions outside, both on a daily and seasonal basis.

Temperature and humidity rise and fall, and a piano placed near a window experiences all of those atmospheric changes. This causes your piano’s wooden action parts to shrink and swell. Additionally, your piano’s tuning will be affected, causing your piano to need tuning more often.

Not close to air vents

Another place to avoid for atmospheric temperature issues is an air vent. Obviously, in this case, the atmosphere affecting your instrument is from inside your home, not outside.

Whether with air vents or other areas affecting the interior environment (e.g. fireplaces, heaters, air conditioners), your piano will not respond well to a frequently changing environment. The fewer changes in temperature and less airflow, the better.

Think “climate-controlled” for your piano’s space.

Not around direct, extended sunlight

Whether near a window or skylight, you risk more harm than you may suspect from allowing direct sunlight to hit it even a little while each day. Even that much sunlight, day after day, month after month can cause your piano’s beautiful finish to fade. Worse, glue joints can weaken and the all-important soundboard can dry out, even crack.

Where should you place your piano in your home?

Upright piano against inner wall of room
Grand pianos, when placed in a room are better secured and sound better when their straight edge is against an inner wall, distanced from sunlight, air vents, or windows. Uprights should be similarly placed.

Good piano placement safeguards your piano’s structural, mechanical, and aesthetic condition. One major advantage is to put the piano in the best place in an insulated room. Having good piano placement results in your piano having its best possible performance, sound, and longevity.

According to Total Piano Care, a home or building’s inner walls and climate-controlled conditions are paramount when considering piano placement. Grand pianos, when placed in a room are better secured and sound better when their straight edge is against an inner wall, distanced from sunlight, air vents, or windows. Uprights should be similarly placed.

Ideally, grand pianos should be placed in such a way as to allow the pianist to look into the room and not into a wall. The bass side of the piano should run parallel to the wall. This allows the bass to bounce against the wall to the wider room and the treble to project into the middle of the room.

If necessary, a grand piano can also be placed at a 45-degree angle towards a diagonal corner.

Are there exceptions to the inner wall piano placement recommendation?

A few exceptions to the inner wall placement are possible for adequate piano placement. For example, the middle of the room can be used if exceptional acoustics are possible with high ceilings and hardwood floors, or materials that aid in sound amplification and continuation are in place.

Again, wherever the specific piano placement is, the main concern is airflow and atmospheric changes near the piano. This safeguards your investment and its musical quality from unnecessary deterioration and tuning instability.

A bit of good news: Mature piano brands like the Steinway Family brands, Yamaha, and Kawai are more resilient to environmental changes due to their careful materials selection, expertise, and experience via warranty claims over the years.

Request a floor pattern to help with your piano placement

piano form template
M. Steinert & Sons piano consultants can bring a piano floor pattern template to your home to determine which pianos will fit in your space.

Homes are not always built with pianos in mind. As a result, a few inches may make the difference between placing your piano in your favorite room or another.

At M. Steinert & Company we know that it’s difficult to fully think about placing a piano until you have it in your home. That’s why we created piano templates that our piano consultants can bring to your home, if you’re in the greater Boston area, to ascertain the best piano placement and size.

Learn more in the articles below. Read how about floor patterns and how to determine what size piano will fit in your space. You’ll soon see why floor patterns can be so helpful.

Request a floor pattern

Will a grand piano fit?

Make an appointment to talk with one of our piano consultants at our Boston or Newton location. They can assist you as you decide on the right piano–and right piano placement–for you.


Which upright piano is best? Yamaha, Kawai, or a Steinway-designed model?

by Stephen N. Reed


Upright piano
Upright pianos have long had a welcome place in many American homes. For those who don’t have the space or the budget for a grand piano, uprights can be a perfect fit.

Upright pianos have long had a welcome place in many American homes. For those who don’t have the space or the budget for a grand piano, uprights can be a perfect fit. But which among the modern top quality uprights is the best model and why?

Let’s explore the main contenders for “best quality upright” among the models produced today.  After all, who would want to select a new upright, only to find out later that a better upright would have only cost a bit more?

Here at M. Steinert & Sons, we’ve sold thousands of upright pianos over the past 160 years, including the period at the turn of the 20th century when they were intensely popular in America.  As an Authorized Steinway Dealer, we naturally believe Steinway pianos have a lot to offer.  However, so do other high-quality piano brands, some of which we’ll examine in this article.

Then and now, we have helped our customers find the best pianos for them, many of which were upright pianos, whether serving as a beginner’s first piano or a starter piano that could lead eventually to a further investment in a grand piano.

By the end of this article, you will understand the upright piano’s background and will be familiar with the top upright piano models across several top-quality brands.  From these top models, we’ll explain which one is the best upright.

Background to the Upright

Sir John Issac Hawkins' portable grand piano, circa 1800.
Sir John Issac Hawkins’ portable grand piano, circa 1800.

The immediately noticed difference in an upright piano is that the strings and soundboard run vertically, perpendicular to the keyboard.  Early uprights had strings that started upward from the same level as the keys.

As a result, these earlier instruments were considerably taller, providing ample space on the case for a variety of decorative designs.

The strings in today’s upright pianos run upward from the bottom of the case, that is, near the floor.  This design dates back to 1800, created by Sir John Isaac Hawkins,  a leading English piano maker living in Philadelphia.

Taller uprights now the standard

Uprights have come in a variety of heights.  The shortest ones are cons0les or spinets.  Due to their shorter strings and smaller soundboards, they have less power and quality to their tone.  The larger upright pianos (more than 50” tall) took off in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and remain the preferred size for uprights today.

Who is a good candidate for an upright piano?

One important difference between the grand and the upright is in the action of both. Grands have a quicker, more responsive action due to the horizontal strings, which allows the hammers to fall naturally back into place thanks to gravity after they strike strings.

The upright’s action returns to a resting position with the help of springs rather than gravity alone.  As a result, the upright has a different touch.

Uprights, therefore, are not made for the concert stage.  A practice room, yes.  Definitely the home, especially one with a premium of square feet.

What are some of the top modern upright piano brands and models?

Yamaha’s U series

Yamaha’s U-series uprights, like this 48″ U1, have refined scale designs, as well as wider music desks for the player’s sheet music or music books.

Yamaha has put considerable effort into a comprehensive redesign of their U series of upright pianos. These uprights have refined scale designs, as well as wider music desks for the player’s sheet music or music books.

Steve Hauk, Sales Manager for M. Steinert & Sons, says that Yamaha’s U Series of upright pianos are well-regarded.  He notes that the U-1 (48” tall) and the U-3 (52” tall) are popular first pianos for many piano students.

“Beginning piano students are often enamored with the brightness of the Yamaha sound,” said Steve.  “In a way, it compliments a lot of the early repertoire, like Bach and Handel.  But as students progress musically, more tonal complexity is desirable.”

Kawai’s K series

Steve Hauk says that Kawai K-series uprights compete with the Yamaha U-series and have a similar tone.

Kawai's K-800 upright piano
The 53″ tall K-800 is part of Kawai’s K series. Kawai calls this series its “Professional Upright Pianos.”

Kawai calls this series its “Professional Upright Pianos.”  Popular with some parents and teachers, these pianos are produced with the Kawai Upright Action with plastic/composite parts rather than wood.

Kawai swears by this composite action, citing its stability.  Others maintain that a quality wood action, despite its occasional swelling and shrinking, is still the standard.

Merriam Music has an unbiased take on the wood vs. composite action debate.  They state that a composite action might last longer than a low to mid-grade wooden action.  However, a top-quality wooden action can last just as long.  Additionally, composite actions appear to have no impact on tone.  Also, they have no discernible benefit or risk to resale value.

Steve Hauk says that, like the Yamaha U series, Kawai’s K series uprights remain a popular choice for first-time piano students.  They come in three sizes:  the K-400 (48”), the K-500 (51”), and the K-800 (53”).

The Essex upright pianos: The beginning of the Steinway sound

Steinway-designed Essex pianos, the least expensive of the three brands in the Steinway Family (Steinway, Boston, and Essex), are considered the gateway to the full Steinway sound.

Essex's EUP-123 upright piano
Essex uprights, like this 48″ EUP-123, share many features with the more expensive Boston and Steinway uprights, including a tapered solid spruce soundboard.

Steve Hauk cites four popular Essex uprights:  the smaller EUP-108 (42”), the EUP-111 (44”), the EUP-116 (45”), and the EUP-123 (48”).

“The Essex uprights are excellent for everyday use in the home,” says Hauk.  “And they are quite affordable.  They share many features with the more expensive Boston and Steinway uprights, including a tapered solid spruce soundboard for long sustain, lower-tension scale design for a richer tone, and a responsive all-wood action made from high-quality maple.

One benefit to buying an Essex upright is that any payments on a new Essex (or Boston) can be applied to a later Steinway purchase, per Steinway’s Lifetime Trade-Up Policy.  This is due to their being a part of the Steinway Family of pianos.

Boston upright pianos: High-grade production pianos

Boston is a step up from its Essex cousin, both in materials and design.  Aside from being a production piano in contrast to a handcrafted Steinway, the distinctions between Bostons and Steinways can be hard to discern.  Both have the Steinway touch and tone.  Both have enormous power in their grands, as well as their uprights.

Boston upright models, like this 49.5″ UP-126E, have an exceptional sustain and clarity, due to Steinway’s renowned lower-tension scale designs.

“When Steinway engineers started to consider their designs for Boston pianos, they decided to get feedback from many music professors,” says Steve Hauk.  “To a large extent, what you see in today’s Boston pianos is what the music professors wanted in a piano.  They are built with music conservatories in mind, as well as for residential use.”

Steve notes three popular Boston uprights:  the UP-118 (46”), the UP-126 (50”), and the UP-132 (52”).

“All of these models have an exceptional sustain and clarity, due to Steinway’s renowned lower-tension scale designs,” notes Steve.  “The soundboards are of the highest quality.  They each have the Hard Rock Maple you see in classic Steinways,  including the patented Hexagrip pin block.  All Boston uprights feature the staggered backposts for added structural integrity.  In short, Bostons play better and last longer.”

Boston’s launch in the early 1990’s was the most successful in modern piano-making history.

Steinway’s handcrafted K-52 upright piano

Steinway & Sons is best known for their iconic grand pianos, whether for the stage, practice room or home.  However, they are quick to point out on the upright piano page on their website that their famous Model K-52 is handcrafted in the same Astoria, New York factory as their grands.

Steinway’s uprights continue to have the same materials, techniques, conditioning processes and craftspeople.  They are simply built in the “vertical department” at the Astoria factory, where the processes are vertically oriented.

Steinway's K-52 upright piano
Introduced in 1903, the 52” K-52 uses the highest grade of materials and features a larger soundboard than many grands, giving it an unusually resonant voice for an upright.

Steinway’s 1098 upright is no longer in production, though one can still find several of these models on the used piano market.  It was a small upright, 46.5” in height.

Currently, Steinway is putting all of its upright focus on the K-52, a large, powerful instrument. Introduced in 1903, the 52” K-52 uses the highest grade of materials and features a larger soundboard than many grands, giving it an unusually resonant voice for an upright.

Many professional piano players seeking an upright piano buy the K-52, because of that resonance and power.  Additionally, they like the structural integrity that the solid wood, staggered backposts provide the K-52.

“Steinway doesn’t want to cede any part of the piano market,” says Steve Hauk.  “That’s why they have intentionally chosen to retain and refine the K-52 upright over the last hundred years. What gives it that rich, deep sound is its design.

Hauk believes that the K-52 simply has one of the best-engineered scale designs of any piano, grand or upright.

“Obviously, many people need an upright for its smaller size.,” notes Steve. “But you know what?  When a potential buyer sees that they can get this kind of Steinway sound in a much less expensive package, that speaks to them, too.”

What’s the best upright piano?

For the aforementioned reasons–a well-engineered scale design, the highest grade of materials, a larger soundboard, and a deep, rich Steinway sound–Hauk believes that the K-52 is simply the best upright piano built today.

“The others we’ve mentioned are all respected piano brands and models,” says Steve.  “Yamaha and Kawai each have something to offer.  For example, some pianists may prefer the quicker composite-based action in the Kawai piano.  Similarly, some jazz pianists may prefer the brighter sound in Yamahas.”

But Steve maintains that Steinway’s K-52 is unique, particularly its bell-like Steinway sound.

“It’s handcrafted, and that adds so much to every dimension of a piano, especially an upright, with its super responsive action,” says Steve.  “There’s a reason Steinway has been making the K-52 since the turn of the 20th century.  Professionals and regular players just like them.  They like the power, the resonance, and that warm Steinway sound.”

Any payments made on a new K-52 can be applied to a later Steinway grand, per M. Steinert & Sons lifetime Trade-Up policy.

Learn more about the cost of modern upright pianos by reading the following article:

How much does an upright piano cost?

 


Best First Piano Wordcloud

What is the best piano for a beginner in 2022?

M.Steinert & Sons is often asked, “What is the best piano for a beginner?”

Vivian Handis, piano teacher, piano expert and retired team member of M. Steinert & Sons contributed material for this article.  Vivian is known to “not hold back” in her conviction that the piano makes a difference, and takes great pride in having served many hundreds of families and pianists at Steinert’s over the years. 

This popular article has been updated for 2022. 

To answer this question, it is first very important to understand that (at any level of proficiency), the instrument is the musician’s “tool.”

Most of us are aware that in any professional or recreational endeavor, the better tool increases one’s chances for satisfaction and success. 

A quality acoustic or digital piano, in essence, partners with student and teacher to implement instruction, supports effective practice between lessons, and awakens the artist within.

The instrument, hands down, makes a significant difference. Without a proper instrument, the learning process is compromised from Lesson One.

Ultimately, the best piano for a beginner is the best quality piano one can afford.

There are a number of best piano candidates and paths to choose from that lead to inspiration. Once understood, the following question is where the journey really begins.  

Which piano, and which piano path is the best fit for you and/or your beginner? 

Creating the ideal environment for a beginner’s piano study.

Consider that a student typically meets with their teacher for a piano lesson (in a studio or school) once per week, anywhere from 30-60 minutes. In most cases, the student will be practicing at home during the week between lessons.  If the teacher travels to the student, regular instruction may rely exclusively on the piano in the home.

As a result of the current pandemic, remote piano lessons have become increasingly popular, making it even more challenging for teachers and students to create the ideal environment for piano study. Restated, without a proper instrument, the learning process is compromised from Lesson One.

Teacher, Student, AND Instrument – Keys to Success

Many well-intended parents (who may, or may not have ever played an instrument) seek out the finest and most compatible piano teacher for their child. They are willing to pay dearly for quality instruction, which IS worth every dollar of tuition.

Unfortunately, too many of these same parents do not think it is of equal importance to invest in the piano, or “tool” that is the best fit to implement the teacher’s instruction, support effective practice between lessons, awaken artistry, ignite inspiration … help actualize their child’s potential. 

What happens when a teacher simply cannot effectively teach with the instrument at hand?

What is the outcome when a student cannot read music with accurate translation to the keyboard because they do not have the correct 88 key orientation? Do expression and musicality have a chance when a piano or keyboard cannot express a range of dynamics, sound a pleasing tone, or help develop a budding pianist’s technique and discerning ear? 

Investing in Musical Success

In consideration of a child’s formative years … this is time we do not get back. What we may get back is the opportunity to begin again, as I experience with adult learners either coming back to piano, or fulfilling a lifelong dream of learning how to play. 

A Powerful Message: Your music study is important and worthy

An adult beginner can choose which piano path offers the best fit … a child, however, is completely dependent upon the instrument chosen by a parent or guardian. Children receive a beautiful and powerful message, unspoken, when the best piano a family can afford is invested in, on their behalf.

Whether it is a beginner’s first piano or an upgrade at any stage of a pianist’s development, the message is the same: Your music study is important and worthy. I/We value, respect, and support you and your hard work, as well as your teacher’s hard work. I/We believe in you. 

Things to consider when buying your first piano

There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to a first piano, but there are a number of paths for choosing a beginner’s best piano fit.  First, a few minutes of homework that will provide you with the best chance of success, inspiration, and enjoyment! 

1-Think about the following criteria and which are important to YOU?
Addressing and thinking about these will clarify and simplify your piano decision. 

2-Term of use:  Is it a short-range or long-range piano plan?
Are you thinking “quick fix” or a potential heirloom?

3-Type: The Major Categories of pianos:
Do you know about these?  Grand Acoustic  /  Upright Acoustic /  Digital 

4-Condition: New or used?
Contrary to myth, pianos don’t last forever – but sometimes used makes sense.  

M. Steinert and Sons offers loaner floor templates for sizing the piano.

5-Your Environment and Space limitations:
Are you willing to tune and maintain an acoustic piano?  Are there options for the location of the piano? What size and location combo is best? 

6-Commitment and timing of ownership:
Will it make sense to rent, purchase, or finance?  

7-Features:
Which of these statements might apply?:  Touch and tone is the highest priority /  Technology is a priority / Practicing with headphones a must 

8-Assistance:
Know whether your teacher or a technician is able or willing to assist with the selection process.  

9-Warranty:
What level of purchase security are you looking for? Sample warranty terms include Manufacturer’s New, a Certified-Used, or a 90-day warranty.  

10-Case Design and Finish:
Will the piano be featured in the room, somewhat important, or ‘just there’. 

11-Investment Range:
The realistic range of investment you might consider today with an eye towards musical growth. 

See our article on what does a piano cost for more information on pricing and cost ranges.  

Sometimes, you have no idea what is important at this point (that’s ok too, we can help!)

 

First piano options at M. Steinert & Sons

Answers to the questions above may lead anywhere from the purchase of an entry-level Roland digital, to a quality acoustic rental at just over $100 per month, to a Steinway Spirio | r at well over $100,000.  The range is truly that wide. Most importantly, if the piano fit is right, the goal of VALUE has been achieved, to provide the best quality affordable piano for a beginner’s success, inspiration, and enjoyment. 

Picks and Paths: some 2022 piano recommendations for beginners

1) EZ Start rental 

Offers flexibility for folks not ready to purchase or who prefer a step-by-step longer-range piano plan with a solid quality acoustic piano. Up to 12 months of rent can be applied toward purchase. Credit approval is required, with arranged automatic deduction payments. See rental page.  

2) Digital Purchase

 Offers lower purchase price.  Never needs to be tuned. Receive 100% of your purchase price as trade value towards any piano of double value for up to 5 years. Roland currently offers desirable interest-free financing for 12 months. Scholarship or value certificate option with school or teacher affiliate on a new digital purchase.

My picks: HP702, HP704  for child/teen/adult. DP603 for teen/adult. HP704 offers outstanding value over time and is our best seller with state-of-the-art touch and tone, 10-year manufacturer’s warranty parts + labor, and piano essentials kit. A student will not outgrow this model quickly. Prices range from low $2K to mid $3K exclusive of tax and delivery. 

3) Acoustic Piano Purchase (Steinway, Steinway designed Boston, Essex, Other)

This collection of pianos includes many options in new/used/rental return/trade-in/ and consignment upright and grand pianos. I advise folks if they are stretching their budget to afford a Steinway-designed Essex, it is a wonderful choice. With a Steinway-designed piano, they will benefit from longer sustain, a smooth key action, and a lively colorful tone.

If one can afford a Boston for a beginner, it is my consistent recommendation. Boston is the closest relative to Steinway and offers exceptional value in its price point. You may stay with your Boston for several years, or as I have experienced with many Boston owners, trade up to a larger Boston! 

With Essex and Boston, you will receive 100% of your purchase price as trade towards any piano of double value for up to 5 years. Also, any piano, new or used, acoustic or digital, purchased from M.Steinert & Sons receives 100% of the original purchase price for the life of the original purchaser towards any new Steinway & Sons piano of greater value. All pianos come with a warranty: New, Certified, or Used

Vivian worked with folks who chose a Steinway from the start for their child’s music journey, or as adults, are coming back to music (often after decades) to invest in themselves, and in the piano of their highest aspiration. If you are interested in exploring the full Steinway family please visit our pianos as well as the used piano listings. All pianos on our website include pictures, video, commentary and text. 

Here are some of the favorite models for beginners. Costs below reflect 2022 pricing.  Feel free to inquire regarding current promotions. Also, please ask if we have any rental returns or used inventory. Essex upright: EUP108 or E – $6,900 plus tax and delivery. Essex grand: EGP173 – $20,500 plus tax and delivery. Boston upright: UP120S PEII ebony polish – $9,800 plus tax and delivery. 

Also, the Boston grand: GP156 PEII – $24,400 plus tax and delivery.      

Let us help when you’re ready

If you embrace these ideas and answered the questions above, we are confident that it will be well worth the self-discovery you will experience on your piano journey!  We believe you will be delighted by how efficiently we can guide you to find your best fits, and by how generous we are with our time to do a “deep dive” into any and all models of interest.

And, if we do not have the right piano for you … we will still help! M. Steinert & Sons has adapted to historical events since 1860 and continues to create new opportunities for supporting pianists regardless of where they buy. As we celebrate 160 years, there has never been a better time to welcome a piano home. We look forward to serving you!

Check out our Free 2022 Piano Buyer’s Guide

In 2022, we introduced our new PIANO BUYERS GUIDE to help you learn about the amazing world of pianos.


How much does an upright piano cost?

by Stephen N. Reed


Ever since the first true upright (i.e. vertical) piano was built by John Isaac Hawkins in 1800, these pianos have been quite popular. Their smaller size has made them perfect for use in the home.

Upright piano in modern parlor
Upright pianos have helped introduce piano playing to millions of people, especially in America, where they became a fixture in many families’ parlors.

Uprights have often been seen as a good first piano, especially for beginners.  Culturally speaking, they have helped introduce piano playing to millions of people, especially in America, where they became a fixture in many families’ parlors.

Like all musical instruments over the years, the cost for upright pianos has steadily increased.  You may wonder if they are still the most cost-effective way to enjoy an acoustic piano.  Unless an upright is at the end of its life cycle, the answer is yes.

However, uprights come in many brands and models, new and used, and the smart buyer will investigate the range of upright options in the current market.

Here at M. Steinert & Sons, we have listened well to our customers for over 160 years, allowing us to help them find the right piano for each of them.  In matters of price, size, and learning to play the piano, uprights can be a good first piano for many.

By the end of this article, you will become familiarized with several upright models across a range of prices. As a result, you’ll be in a better position to choose the upright piano that is best for you.

Low-end uprights: $0 to $1,000

At the low end of the upright spectrum, one can expect to find many free pianos, which are generally worth what you pay for them.  We examined this before in a previous column.

Occasionally, a used upright piano from a less expensive line, of fair quality, may be possible if an upright owner simply wants to expedite the sale of their piano.  Craigslist and other sites like it might have the occasional deal in this range worth a look.

Threshold of reliably playable used uprights:  $1,001–$3,000

Within this range, a recent and more lightly-used upright is possible in a fair to good condition if from a reputable brand.  The difference between these uprights and those in the $0-$1,000 range is the quality of the brands of the used pianos available.

Examples in this range, as advertised online*, include:

  • Used Kawai 48” professional upright, $2,980
  • Used Young Chang upright, U-131, $3,000

*Please note that used piano prices posted here and online are ballpark figures and not actual values. Those can only be estimated after review by a trained independent technician.  Age and musical quality are key factors in determining value.

The better used and new economy/stencil uprights:  $3,001–$5,000

In this price range, we see even better quality used uprights and even the beginning of some brands’ economy new uprights. Naturally, these uprights are better than the prior range categories.

However, for many buyers the relatively low cost does not make up for the instability and poor tone quality found frequently in used pianos within this range.  Stencil and economy pianos are manufactured to a single design.

Stencil and economy pianos tend to use lower-quality materials and easier-to-build designs.  They are built to meet a price point rather than a standard of quality.

Examples include:

  • Used Baldwin 248-A professional upright, $4,740
  • Used Yamaha M-1A upright, $2,650
  • New Economy Yamaha upright B-1, $4,999

Good new and quality used uprights:  $5,001–$10,000

Within this range, one’s options greatly expand when it comes to buying a good, production upright, whether it is new or used.  The quality of both new and used uprights in this price range is higher.

Essex EUP-123
The Steinway-designed Essex line has new uprights between $5,001–$10,000.

Buying new in this range allows for some significant benefits, including multi-year warranties and, for Steinway-designed models, a Trade-Up policy that allows all of one’s investment in a new upright to be applied later to a new Steinway if desired.

This range begins to allow for some used handcrafted pianos, like Steinway and Bosendorfer.

Examples include:

  • New Kawai 506N upright, $5,895
  • New Young Chang upright Y-131, $7,590
  • New Yamaha P22-D upright, $8,099
  • Essex EUP 111E upright, $6,900

 Top quality production uprights, along with best used models: $10,001–$20,000

This range essentially covers most quality new production brands and top used models. For example, the Boston, Steinway’s top brand next to Steinway itself, has some new upright models within this range.  Also, better quality used handcrafted pianos are available.

  • Kawai upright K-400, $12,795
  • New Boston upright 126E, $14,700
  • New Yamaha upright YUS1, $16,099
  • Used Steinway upright Model 4510, $13,500
  • Used Bosendorfer upright 130, $12,557

 

Best new production uprights and some new handcrafted models: $20,001–$50,000

Steinway Model 1098 upright piano
The Model 1098 has been Steinway’s most popular upright model.

This is the range in which one’s quality options for a new upright piano really kick into high gear. The selection includes a wide variety of excellent new production pianos, as well as a growing number of new handcrafted pianos.

Examples include:

  • New Yamaha upright SU7, $39,999
  • New Steinway upright K-2, $46,500
  • New Kawai upright K-800, $24,895
  • New Brodman PE 132 V,  $21,390

A good upright is better than a poor grand

Hopefully, the examples of used and new uprights above give you a better idea of what you can get within each price range.  Now we’d like to offer one thought for your consideration on your buyer’s journey.

A poor or mediocre quality grand is not better than a fine quality upright. Indeed, there are fine uprights several times more costly than lower quality grands. It is not merely the design that establishes the overall quality of a piano, but the materials and workmanship as well. Only the best grands are better than the best uprights.

But if a grand piano really isn’t an option right now, then getting the best possible quality upright is a fine choice, especially in terms of fitting the space available in one’s home as well as the space within your checkbook.

In the end,  a good quality vertical piano will outperform and outlast a poorly made, inexpensive grand piano.

Age is a significant factor in an upright’s price

The best way to get a feel for the differences between upright models is to try some models for yourself.  We encourage you to go to other stores first to try their models.  Then come to M. Steinert & Sons to look into the uprights in the Steinway family of pianos;  Steinway, Boston, and Essex.

The upright models in all three of these brands possess the Steinway tone and much of the same materials.  Boston and Essex are production uprights, while Steinway’s K-52 is handcrafted.  Any payments on a new Boston and Essex can be applied to a later Steinway purchase, per Steinway’s lifetime Trade-Up policy.

For more information on New vs. Used pianos and how pianos age, click here.


What first piano should I get for my child?

By Stephen N. Reed


One of the most common desires expressed by piano shoppers, especially those making a purchase for their child, is to buy the cheapest possible piano that still does the job.  Those are the two main considerations:  cost and general performance by the instrument.

After all, the future is unknown.  Will the child stick with piano lessons for the long haul or give up after a while?

Boston Grand Piano
A Boston grand would be a more afforable choice than a Steinway for a first piano, if one has room for it at home.

At M. Steinert & Sons, we identify with any parent’s need to find the best piano for their needs.  Spending hard-earned money on a large musical instrument deserves focused attention.

But focus is also needed to find an affordable piano that will give one’s child every chance of success at the keyboard.  No parent wants to go to the trouble of purchasing a piano without their child wanting to play it.

However, that unintentionally happens frequently.  A child who feels that their family piano is not worth their hours of practicing can often give up too easily.

Then the family is stuck with a rather large and heavy piece of wooden furniture that collects dust in the corner of a room–or a digital piano that is given away to a relative.

Through the eyes of a customer

In this article, we will track the thoughts of one of our customers, Chris of Arlington, Massachusetts, whose daughter is about to begin piano lessons.  As a result, Chris is beginning to explore what kind of piano to purchase for her.

Balancing that with Chris’s present budget and space in his home will be a key factor in his upcoming purchase of their family’s first piano.

Before getting into the options available for beginners, we spoke with Chris at length about what was behind his interest in supporting his daughter’s upcoming lessons.

He explained that his father was quite a piano player, though he played by ear, not by sight-reading.  Chris hopes that this daughter may have inherited some of his father’s abilities at the piano.

In addition to Chris having a piano in his home growing up, he has become a musician himself, playing both the mandolin and the guitar in a local music group.

He’s bought top instruments for both of those efforts, so he’s aware of the benefit of having a quality musical instrument, especially for the ongoing motivation of a young beginner.

However, he still wants to be careful with this first piano, as he waits to see if his daughter “takes” to her piano lessons or not.

Narrowing down best options

Essex EUP 111-E
The Essex EUP 111-E is a popular upright model for first-time piano buyers who want an acoustic piano at a more affordable price.

Chris has a second-story townhouse, reached by a narrow staircase.   As a result, a grand for his daughter’s first piano might be a tall order, both in terms of space and in hauling it up that staircase.

That leads us to recommend options in upright piano models like Essex, a Steinway-designed, less expensive brand, as well as digital pianos like Roland. Roland makes a credible case that a good, digital piano can serve well as a first piano.

Chris is committed to read some articles on our M. Steinert & Sons website to learn more about pianos in his price range.  Then he can start to know some actual options.

Rent-to-Own can be a viable compromise

We suggested that one way for Chris to slice the Gordian Knot on price/quality would be to rent a quality piano for a number of months.

That way, Chris can wait to see if his daughter seriously takes to playing the piano, while giving her every opportunity to succeed with a quality upright piano that Chris doesn’t have to buy.

Roland Digital Baby Grand
Digital keyboard options include Roland’s Baby Grand.

Chris would be putting a “toe in the water of acoustic pianos” without having to make a huge investment yet.  That could wait for their second piano some time hence.

Giving his daughter an acoustic piano to play will give her a better idea of the pianos yet to come in her life, as opposed to the still good but much different experience of playing a digital piano.

Simply put, one shouldn’t expect to replicate the acoustic piano experience through a digital model.

Chris found this renting idea to be an interesting one and said he’d keep it in mind as he did his reading and research. To allow for the possibility of purchasing the piano he is renting, Chris will want to look into a rent-to-own arrangement.

M. Steinert’s commitment: the right piano for you

Chris echoes the concerns raised frequently by parents wanting to do right by their promising child while still making a wise choice for a piano.

Until enough time has passed to determine the seriousness of the young student’s genuine interest, a parent has every right to wait and see.

Nevertheless, a parent like Chris also wants to give his daughter every chance to enjoy playing the piano as a lifelong pursuit.  That begins with one’s very first piano and whether the young student feels empowered to play it.

In short,  Chris realizes that he can’t just give his child anything to play.  His choice needs to be one that his daughter looks forward to playing.

True, a beginner need not have the most expensive of pianos. However, getting the cheapest piano can backfire, too.  Young students can be surprisingly sensitive to the pianos they play.  If the piano given to them is not inviting and seems more like a temporary arrangement, so, too, can their interest in playing music become temporary.

M. Steinert logo
M. Steinert & Sons: Finding the right piano for each customer since 1860.

Finding just the right piano for you–that is what has set M. Steinert apart since 1860.  Each of our tens of thousands of customers has known that their concerns and needs were heard by our experienced piano consultants.

If you are considering a piano purchase for a young person in your family or simply to enhance your home with live music, come visit one of our two showrooms in South Boston and Newton.

Meantime, start your own research with these articles to learn more about what could be your very first piano!

 


A review of Steinway’s Model S:  The baby grand

By Stephen N. Reed


So you’d like to experience the “Steinway sound” but don’t think you have an adequate space for a grand piano in your home.  What to do?  You could compromise and get a nice upright instead, but what if you feel unfulfilled–and after spending thousands of dollars?

Young Girl at Model S
Steinway Model S grand pianos are beloved for their unique capacity to bring the essential grand piano experience into smaller spaces.

Baby grands may not have the full power of a full grand piano.  However, they are beloved for their unique capacity to bring the essential experience of a grand piano into much smaller spaces in a home or small venue.

The Steinway Model S is a well-conceived piano that conveys the famous Steinway sound despite its small scale design.  At 5’1” (155 cm), the Model S is the smallest of the Steinway grands. The first ones were made in mahogany.

Depression-era rollout

According to M. Steinert & Sons President Emeritus Paul Murphy, to compete with smaller and less expensive pianos built by Steinway’s competition, the S was introduced in 1936 at $885.

Steinway newspaper advertisement during the Great Depression
Steinway’s Model S was part of Steinway’s Depression-era strategy to offer reasonably-priced grand pianos.
We’ll take a look in this article at the Model S’s history, scale design, soundboard, and action, demonstrating why it can be the perfect fit for a buyer who wants the Steinway experience in a smaller package.

Murphy notes that this amount was lower than Steinway’s Model M at the time, which was priced at about $1,250.

During the difficult days of the Great Depression, some believe the less expensive Model S was key to keeping Steinway & Sons afloat.

Small scale design

To accommodate a significant section of the piano market requiring either a smaller piano in terms of size, price, or both, piano engineers at Steinway & Sons had to tackle the issue of small scale design.

Low bass register issues in baby grands

Strings in the low bass register are among the longest in a piano.  In light of the lost length due to the smaller piano size, bass strings are wrapped in copper and made thicker.

This additional density makes the bass strings stiffer, which can lead to “inharmonicity.” That is when a string’s harmonics deviate from their natural frequencies.   The challenge for piano engineers is to avoid having the ear hear an indistinct pitch.

In addition, bass register strings must have soundboard flexibility.  Otherwise, the bass tone in baby grand pianos can sound dull with limited sustain.

In six years, the Model S’s scale comes a long way

According to Paul Murphy, Steinway took about six years to develop what is now the Model S scale. In the late 1930s, most scale designs had to be built into pianos to prove themselves.

The Model S’s scale had to wait six years because Steinway & Sons insisted that it have the “Steinway sound” like the other, larger Steinway grands.

Today, piano scales can be designed with computers, which is how the Boston and Essex scales have been designed. This modern technology allowed Steinway to design a full line of pianos before they built the first one.

Steinway craftsman working on a grand piano soundboard.
The first Steinway Model S grands featured the company’s newly-patented Diaphragmatic Soundboard.

The Model S’s Diaphragmatic Soundboard–the best ever made

Steinway’s enormous amount of work in building the Diaphragmatic Soundboard–seen as the best soundboard ever made–helps to avoid such bass register problems.  This patented soundboard was one of the distinctive features of the Model S.

This new soundboard was tapered around the edges where it meets the rim by about the thickness of a kitchen match.

This allowed the board to vibrate more freely and project sound longer than the uniform thickness board which was the prior design. In fact, the Model S, with the new soundboard, projected tone better than the Model M (5’7”).

The Diaphragmatic Soundboard was so successful that it was ultimately used in all Steinway models as it is today.

The action of the baby grand

True, in shorter grand pianos, there is a discernible difference in touch weight when playing at the front of the key, as well as the place immediately next to the fallboard.  As a result, the keyboard may not respond as well to sensitive touch as with longer pianos.

However, Steinway managed to install the same key length in its grands all the way up to the Model A at 6’2” feet in length.  This gives the Model S a distinct advantage over many of its competitors.

The Model S shares the same exact materials and handcrafted workmanship as the Steinway flagship concert grand, the Model D.  The only difference is size.

Model S’s action’s touch response is excellent, with a skilled pianist having no problem with techniques like legato and staccato. For a smaller piano, the Model S’s range of volume is impressive, as well.

The Steinway Model S’s ideal owner

Steinway’s Model S is not for everyone.  A professional concert pianist will want to have a Model B or D, which will allow them a wider dynamic range due to their larger size.

However, if you want the Steinway sound but have real space considerations, the Model S can be the perfect fit for their home or small venue.  The S is a special order piano from Steinway, only a little smaller than the Model M.

Cost of the Steinway Model S

The least expensive of the Steinway grand pianos, the Model S’s price is $75,500 with an ebony finish.

The Steinway Model S has always had devoted fans

Steinway logo on cast iron plate
The Model S has allowed many people to enjoy the Steinway sound despite their more modest home size or lower budget.

Despite the Model S’s small size, from its beginnings the S has had its backers.  When the Model S pianos were rolled out in 1936, no less a performer than Steinway Immortal Josef Hoffman went public with his appreciation for this new baby grand.

Hoffman was so impressed by the Model S that he bought 50 of them for the Curtis Institute.

Today, you’ll hear Model S owners coo over their “little Steinway.”  The reason is clear: the Model S has allowed them to enjoy the Steinway sound despite their more modest home size or lower budget.  Without the S, they simply would not have that daily experience in their home.

Come in and learn more about the Model S from one of M. Steinert & Son’s professional piano consultants.  Meantime, read more about Steinway grands from these articles:


Digital Vs Acoustic Digital vs. acoustic pianos: Which is the best for me?

by Stephen N. Reed


The difference between digital and acoustic pianos is one of the first questions you will face in your quest for a piano.

You may already have strong feelings about which piano you would ideally purchase.  Maybe you don’t.

Either way, this article will outline the differences between digital and acoustic pianos to help you decide which one is best for you.

The most important thing to bear in mind is that acoustic and digital pianos offer vastly different playing experiences. As a result, depending on how you intend to use your piano, choosing the right instrument–digital or acoustic–has serious implications.

What could be worse than buying an expensive piece of musical equipment, only to discover later that it doesn’t do what you had hoped?

Taking one’s time, talking to professionals in the industry, and testing different pianos as part of the process is the best way to avoid a poor purchase.

Let’s start by looking at each type of piano.

What is an acoustic piano?

Photo of Model D Steinway
A Model D Steinway grand, an acoustic piano

Acoustic pianos are what most people picture when they think of a piano.  Since Cristofori invented the ancestor to today’s acoustic piano, the general principles behind piano design and the mechanisms responsible for producing its sound haven’t changed too much.

However, over the years, there have been subtle evolutions resulting in today’s acoustic pianos having an incredibly nuanced sound.

The piano sound is achieved naturally through vibrating steel strings, resonant woods, and natural damping and friction-absorbing materials such as felt and leather.

It uses a mechanical system that operates by pressing the key. This then engages a lever, which moves a felt hammer to strike the corresponding string which is made of high tempered steel.

It’s a complex mechanical process that digital pianos cannot replicate. A true traditional piano sound and touch can only be achieved with an acoustic instrument.

Did you know:

The word “piano” comes from the musical term meaning “soft,” as it was an instrument that you could play at different dynamic (musical speak for “volume”) levels.

This was a dramatic shift from other keyboard instruments of the day (e.g. organs and harpsichords) which could produce only one dynamic from their keys.

There are a number of advancements, many made by Steinway & Sons, that have been made with acoustic pianos to make it more versatile than earlier pianos.

What is a digital piano?

Unlike acoustic pianos, digital pianos have no hammers or strings. The sound is achieved electronically, with each key corresponding to an acoustic piano counterpart using high quality sound replication to mimic the tone produced by the very best acoustic pianos.

Photo of a Roland baby grand digital piano
A Roland baby grand digital piano

Therefore, the quality of sound created by a digital piano depends on the method the instrument uses to generate the acoustic tone.  Some use sampling (actual recordings of an acoustic piano) while others, such as Roland, use advanced modeling technology to create their acoustic piano tone.

For decades, digital pianos have failed to achieve popularity as they only approximated a piano-like sound and touch. However, due to advances in technology, today’s digital pianos have gotten closer to an authentic piano sound and feel.

All of our Roland digital pianos have incorporated acoustic modeling technology into their digital pianos. In layman’s terms, the modelling algorithm “calculates” a unique sound every time you press down the key.

The result is a natural and individual sound based on your own playing. It never creates the same sound twice, exactly as would be experienced on an acoustic. This digital effect is still not the same as a traditional acoustic piano, but the experience is much closer than it has been in previous years.

Digital pianos are also capable of realistically producing other musical instruments, from the saxophone to the cello, making it possible to create an orchestra of sound.

The “extras” that digital pianos offer are nearly limitless, making them one of the most versatile home instruments imaginable. Among the most popular additional features  are:

Playback & record: Modern playback features allow you to record and hear your own performance which is particularly helpful for students.

Bluetooth connectivity:  When you have a Bluetooth-compatible piano, your iPad becomes a controller and the world of apps can be fully explored.  Music can be displayed digitally while you play-a-long, and you can enjoy interactive educational software.  Plus the speakers of your piano can be your home stereo!

Notation capability: Probably the most valuable feature of all is the ability to capture the notes you play and have them displayed promptly in a musical score format.    Perfect for amateur (or professional) composers.

It is worth noting that each of these features can now be added to any acoustic piano.

Comparing digital and acoustic pianos

The bottom line is that, despite technological advances, digital pianos cannot truly replicate the sound or touch of an acoustic piano. They can only simulate it.  This is usually apparent in the quality and tone of the piano’s sound.

So, are digital pianos as good as acoustic pianos?

Like so many things, it depends.  If the alternative piano is a poor condition or old acoustic, the modern digital is the better alternative.  If the budget allows for a better quality or new acoustic vertical or grand,  most pianists will choose the acoustic over the digital.

However, the digital’s strengths in mobility, headphone practice and connectivity to the digital world are other reasons why digital pianos are often selected.

Photo of the Amalfi Coast
Virtually visiting the Amalfi coast is educational and can be rewarding. But there is nothing to compare to actually visiting there. So, too, with the experience of playing a good acoustic piano.

To their credit, digital piano makers like Roland are working hard to approximate the acoustic piano’s touch and tone.  However, a more helpful way of viewing the difference between digital and acoustic pianos is to accept their differences and to applaud both for what they can do.

Let’s take an example from the world of travel for an analogy:

Consider a person who is unable to afford a two-week vacation to Europe right now.  However, they have really been studying European history and culture, particularly the Amalfi coast of Italy.

At this time, they aren’t able to actually get to Italy yet, but they are able to get a kind of feel for it by using a set of virtual tour goggles and exploring the Amalfi coast that way.

Probably they would like to go to Italy in person someday–for the full cultural experience.  However, in the meantime, their virtual headset has given them a better understanding of the Amalfi coast than before.

That is what the digital experience can do:  it can give you a better understanding of the keyboard arts while leaving you something more to discover when you are able to afford an acoustic upright or grand piano.

Both categories of piano have their advantages and disadvantages, which might make one or the other better for you.

Advantages of an acoustic piano

  • Produces a resonant authentic piano sound
  • Longer lifespan (can be 50+ years)
  • Better touch sensitivity of keys, allowing for more musical control
  • Higher resale value
  • No power source required
  • Player systems capable of high definition acoustic playback ie SPIRIO
  • Statement feature, aesthetically pleasing in a room, especially the grand piano.

Disadvantages of an acoustic piano

  • Generally more expensive than digital pianos
  • Requires regular maintenance including tuning 2-4 times per year as well as technical adjustments periodically.
  • Is susceptible to temperature and humidity changes
  • Often take up more room
  • Less portable than digital
  • Offers just one sound (the piano)
  • Louder (silent play optional but not standard)

Benefits of a digital piano

  • Generally less expensive than acoustic
  • Doesn’t require tuning
  • Not susceptible to humidity or temperature changes
  • Capable of a wide range of voices/tones/instrumentation beyond the standard piano tone.
  • Recording capability including multi-track
  • Headphone for silent practice standard
  • Enhanced learning with educational software.
  • Light-weight
  • Portable

Disadvantages of a digital piano

  • The sound produced can seem less authentic
  • Shorter lifespan
  • Lower resale value
  • Some models have compromised touch sensitivity
  • Compromised pedal function
  • Power source required
  • Not always as aesthetically pleasing (although some can be)

While examining these advantages and disadvantages, take into account your individual circumstances.

Yes, many acoustic pianos respond better to the nuances in touch (particularly grand pianos), and this is reflected in the tone that they produce.

Photo of Boston grand piano--acoustic
The interior of an acoustic piano produces its unique sound. Here a Boston grand piano, with its lid up, will have rich resonance.
However, is this something that all players need?

Possibly not.

Such nuances might be necessary for advanced or classical pianists. But digital pianos can often suffice for early stage learning, those with limited space, or a need for quiet play, or when adults are downsizing or need a quieter solution.

The question is about finding the right piano for you.

Ultimately if you do opt for a digital piano, the goal should be to emulate the sound of an acoustic as much as possible. It is important to feel and hear a digital piano before you make your choice.

Our top tip: Take your favorite piece of music into a store. Find the largest, grand piano in the store and play the piece. Really listen. Then compare the sound on a digital. The digital piano that is closest in terms of tone and touch to an acoustic grand piano is usually the best.

Consider a visit to test some digitals and acoustics for yourself

So if you live in New England and are curious about a range of digital and acoustic piano options, consider a visit to one of our two showroom locations in Boston and Newton.  Our seasoned salespeople have broad experience and deep knowledge of both digital and acoustic pianos.  Fill out the form below and we’ll get right back to you.

And for more information about the different kinds of pianos we feature at M. Steinert, & Sons, click on the links below.  To set up a time to talk with one of our seasoned sales consultants, please fill out the form below.


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1069 Washington Street
Newton, MA 02465
Phone:
508-655-7373
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Boston, MA 02127
Phone:
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