Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Buying a piano, part 2

The previous post really just talked about my journey in piano shopping, without giving any advice based on what I’ve learned. Here’s some actual advice:

1. Consider a digital piano or keyboard. If you’re happy with a digital, there are tremendous advantages: no expensive tunings every 6 months, no specialized movers, volume control, and many computerized bells and whistles. Literally. You can make it sound like bells and whistles.

2. Try lots of different pianos, both expensive and cheap, both new and old. Figure out what you care about and how picky you are. You may decide you strongly prefer certain types of pianos, or you may find that any piano is fine as long as it works and the case is attractive.

3. Get a copy of The Piano Book by Larry Fine. He includes lots of great explanations and advice, as well as descriptions of many current piano manufacturers.

4. Avoid large piano sales events you see advertised—they’re rip-offs. Realize that most piano stores run like car dealerships, except the pricing is far more variable and you’ll never see the dealer invoice. All the usual cautions about buying a car apply.

5. You can save a lot of money by buying a used piano, and even more by buying from a person rather than a store. Some people have an inflated sense of how much their piano is worth, but spending a bit of time poking around craigslist should give you a good sense of the market. It’s hard to evaluate a used piano’s condition yourself, and if you’re spending a significant amount of money you may want to ask your piano tuner (or piano technician) to take a look at the piano before you buy it. You have a piano tuner, right? No? Ask friends or neighbors for recommendations for a piano tuner. They can also be a good source for finding a used piano. [Edit: I meant the piano tuner can be a good source, but so can friends and neighbors.]

6. The way a piano was cared for and the conditions it was kept in matter far more than its age. Avoid a piano that has spent any significant length of time in a storage facility, or in a church basement, or in a daycare.

7. You do not get what you pay for. Prices, particularly at the low end of the used market, are highly variable. From free to $1000, the prices are essentially random. And no piano is free unless you want to move a 500-pound instrument yourself and learn to tune it yourself.

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