Beware of the bargain piano! by Ryan Sowers, RPT
Buying your first piano can be an exciting time full of dreams and expectations of beautiful music in your home and the challenges and rewards of exploring a musical instrument. Many times, it becomes an important part of a child’s education and personal development.
As a piano technician, I have seen the whole range of what people purchase as “starter pianos” for either themselves or their family. It is exciting when a family takes the plunge and buys a better piano than they think they need. I have never met a person who is disappointed that they bought too nice a piano! Nothing is more disappointing than seeing people waste money on a clunker.
Children especially have difficulty separating the quality of the instrument from how they feel about their music. While an adult may be able to rationalize that a mediocre piano will at least get them started, how a child feels about their music relates directly to the quality of tone that is produced. If the piano has a beautiful singing tone, the child thinks, “that’s me!” Likewise, a piano with an unresponsive touch and flat tone can be a source of discouragement and frustration.
I have heard many times, “I’m not a concert pianist, so I don’t need a great piano”. My response is that the only prerequisite to owning a wonderful piano is to love it! It will enrich your home and your life, and will become a source of pride and culture.
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IF YOU DON'T KNOW PIANOS, KNOW YOUR PIANO MAN! From the Pierce Piano Atlas
Buying a used piano privately can be dangerous and costly. What appears to be a rare bargain may prove to be a real liability. Unless you are a piano expert, your best assurance is to rely on the judgment of the most experienced dealer in your area with a proven record of integrity and fair dealing.
It is unwise to pick up an old piano privately "To get started with". A poor piano offers discouragement to the child and is at best, a questionable investment for the parent. Here are "Just a few" of the many danger areas encountered when a non expert piano buyer buys a piano privately:
1-PLATE: May be cracked or broken which cripples the piano musically & renders it useless.
2-STRINGS: Bass strings may be "Tired and Tubby", totally devoid of tone.
3-SOUNDBOARD: May be cracked or worse yet, may have lost its crown to become tonally deficient.
3-RIBS: May be broken or pulled away from soundboard.
4-BRIDGES: May have lost proper bearing, be broken, split or cracked, necessitating a major expense.
5-TUNING PINS: May be loose, or may have previously been "doped". May require new pin block. Avoid like the plague any piano with evidence of the tuning pins being pounded in further.
6-PIN BLOCK: May be split and is very costly to repair. Since this is concealed, experienced judgment is required.
7-ACTION: May be literally worn out rendering piano useless. If re-bushing is required, this is very costly. A complete regulation requires much time of an expert and is very expensive if properly done.
8-HAMMERS: May be worn out or improperly filed so as to require replacement - Another costly repair.
9-TRAP WORK: The internal leverage controls of the expression pedals may need complete overhauling.
10-REFINISHING: Many people learn to their sorrow that refinishing pianos is not a home do-it-yourself project; It requires much hard work and know how best left to a skilled craftsman. Good refinishing work is expensive.
Most of the piano market consists of people who don't play much, if at all, buying for someone else, such as a child. They usually end up purchasing a piano that looks good, has a recognizable brand name and is bargain priced. The most common result is that the player, often a child, soon tires of the instrument, not realizing that their loss of enthusiasm is due to a poorly prepared and maintained piano that is not rewarding for anyone to play or listen to.