Selecting the Right Piano
It’s wonderful to find a piano that fits in with the decor of your home. But please don’t compromise on the quality or craftsmanship, or on the tone or touch that you want, just to get a piano that looks a certain way on the outside.
If you want the case (the outside of the piano) to be a certain color or style of wood, look for that color in a good quality piano. If you visit a piano showroom and find an instrument that you like, but want in a different color, don’t just buy that same model in a different color without trying it out first.
No two pianos sound or play exactly alike, and you might find that the one you ordered in your chosen color does not have the same touch or tone that you liked so much in the one you tried in the store. Insist on playing and examining the exact piano that you’re going to buy before making a commitment.
Touch and Tone
Touch means how the keys respond when they’re played, and how that response feels to the player. Again, this won’t mean much to you unless you’re a skilled player. But as you or your child learns to play, touch will be a critical factor in pianistic development. If your piano offers too much resistance to pressure on the keys, it may be frustratingly difficult for a beginner — especially a child — to play. If, on the other hand, a piano doesn’t offer enough resistance, it will be hard for the player to control the force with which the hammers strike the strings, and this can be equally frustrating. A beginner should have a piano with a moderate touch, or somewhat lighter for a small child.
Every piano has a tone that is unique. Some tend to be louder than others, some have a brighter tone, while others have a warmer, mellower tone.
If you’re not a skilled player or an experienced listener, comparing the tone qualities of several pianos and deciding which you like the best can seem baffling. If you have a friend who plays, take them along to the piano store and ask them to play the instruments that you are considering. Or ask the salesperson to play each piano for you.
Don’t rush this process. Sit down, relax, and really listen to each piano, asking yourself which sound is the most pleasing to you. Don’t let a salesperson try to tell you what type of tone you want or need. A good piano salesperson wants you, the customer, to be happy with you purchase, and should allow you to make the choice with which you’ll be satisfied.
Acoustic or Digital?
You may be debating the purchase of a traditional acoustic piano or a modern digital piano. Both have advantages and disadvantages that should be openly discussed.
A case for acoustic…
In general, acoustic pianos have superior tonal qualities. There is nothing quite like the sound of a “live” hammer striking a string, or the feel as you press down on a well-balanced key. The lingering vibration of a well struck chord is a sensation like no other.
The cabinetry of an acoustic piano (whether a grand or upright) is also a beautiful piece of furniture that adds an element of style and elegance to any room. A well cared for piano can retain its value for generations.
A case for digital…
Modern digital pianos (as opposed to electric keyboards) feature advanced technology that almost exactly replicates the sound of an acoustic piano, without requiring as much space, and at a lower cost. Thus you can achieve a near-acoustic sound in a much more compact package.
For example, the Roland digital pianos available through M. Steinert & Sons replicate the sound of a Steinway, and even have specially weighted keys to provide the sense of playing an acoustic piano.
In addition, digital pianos can reproduce a number of tones other than piano, providing a flexible and versatile instrument.
You should choose the brand of your piano that you want based primarily on quality of craftsmanship. Here are some points on which to evaluate quality.
Parts and Materials
Avoid pianos that have any plastic parts. Pianos with plastic parts don’t sound as good as better-made pianos, and they will wear out or break down sooner. The case should be made of veneered wood, not plywood, hardboard or compressed sawdust. The pedals should work smoothly and silently. A piano with 3 pedals is not necessarily better than one with 2 pedals. A piano only needs a sustain (right) pedal and a soft (left) pedal. If there is a middle pedal, it may sustain selected notes, sustain the bass only, or mute the entire piano for quiet practicing.
The piano should have 3 strings per key for the higher notes and 2 strings per key for most of the lower notes. The keys should all work! Make sure that none of them stick down after playing, and that no note makes a rattling or buzzing noise.
Although mass-produced pianos are often less expensive, a hand-made piano sounds better, lasts longer and offers better overall value.
A manufacturer that makes a good-quality piano will stand behind their product. Make sure your new piano comes with a warranty.
Find out how much a particular brand will be worth in a few years if you decide to sell it or to trade it in for a better instrument. Some pianos actually increase in value with age. Others become practically worthless with just a little wear. Find out which brands make a smart investment. Discuss these points with your retailer to determine which of the available brands are best suited to your priorities.