Buying a Piano

Considerations in Selecting an Instrument

When buying a piano the first-time buyer will naturally hold off purchasing a really expensive instrument until he sees whether or not he or his children actually take to the piano. In exercising due caution, however, the worst thing the buyer can do is to acquire a truly inferior instrument or some wreck, in which case no one—and certainly not an accomplished pianist—will ever want to sit down and play it. Making beautiful music presupposes making beautiful sound. And an instrument that makes beautiful sound and that responds well to the touch invites one to sit down and play it every time one passes by it—whereas a piece of junk does not.

Renting a good instrument is one solution to the problem of needing a trial period before buying a piano, i.e., before committing to a superior instrument, although the rental period on which one gambles may not be the most fortuitous period in one’s life for making the fateful decision. A child who resists learning the piano in his sixth year, for example, may relish the opportunity in his seventh. Thus it makes more sense to acquire at least an adequate instrument to have around for a number of years, “waiting for love to strike”, than it does to expect the child to become enamored of playing the piano exactly on demand during the rental period.

When selecting a used instrument one is well-advised to hire the services of a good piano tuner-technician who can advise one not only on the quality of the sound but on the physical condition of the instrument, which MUST be good! One should bear in mind that a piano is a mechanical contrivance with several thousand moving parts, and that even the best of them do eventually wear out. Old pianos of exceptional quality that are still possessed of a good tone can and should be repaired or rebuilt. Remember that in buying a used instrument one can always sell it at a later date, often for as much or even more than one paid for it, especially if it is a good instrument.

Once one commits to learning the piano and to making the piano a permanent part of one’s life, one should pick out the best instrument one can afford, as a great piano to the impassioned player is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. One is particularly well advised when buying a piano to get a grand piano rather than an upright, as the greater size of the sound board and the greater length of the bass strings on a larger grand piano make for a sound that no upright can match. (For these same reasons, all other things being equal, longer grands are generically superior to shorter ones). Moreover, the vertical action of the upright requires a set of metal springs (called hammer springs) for bringing back the hammers after they have struck the strings that a grand action, operating on the pull of gravity, does not need, making, in the latter instance, for a more responsive mechanism.

Another factor to consider is the desirability of a light action over a heavy action, as the arbitrary over-weighting in the balancing of the keys in a heavy action obliges one to labor in depressing the keys. Bear in mind that the pianist obtains control through accelerating the MASS and not the weight of the keys, just as a child at a playground casting down the high end of a seesaw with his hand towards the ground casts down the mass but not the weight of the seesaw, that weight being completely borne by the balance bar! One is also well advised to choose a piano with minimal resistance in the escapement mechanism (one of the best known makes of American pianos has an action with much more resistance than the others!), as excessive resistance at the point of escapement or let-off, like a little speed bump or sand pit, tends to retard the downward motion of the keys at the very point at which they have finally attained their desired speed, thus subverting—perversely—one’s musical intentions at the precise end of every stroke.

When buying a piano the common complaint of not having enough room in one’s house for a grand piano is often more a problem of impoverished thinking than of actual lack of space, as even a full-length nine-foot concert grand takes up only slightly more space than a really large couch.

[Note: electronic keyboards are crude imitations of real pianos with an utterly different keyboard mechanism. In the long run these toys, which are novel at first, will only discourage your child from ever getting really involved].