Tip Number One: Who is the piano for?
Pianos can be either acoustic (the old fashioned pianos with wood, strings, metal) or electric/digital (pianos that create sounds electronically). I think it is better to learn to play on a real acoustic piano. However, there are some challenges: Such pianos are usually much more expensive, and unless you are an expert, they are hard to appraise and apprise. And you can’t play them at midnight with earphones. Here is an article explaining the different types of digital pianos and keyboards.
So the first tip is to have a good think. Who are you buying the piano for and why? If it’s just as a decoration for your home, then any piano that looks pretty will do. However, most of us would also prefer one that it is built to last and sounds good.
Tip Number Two: Rent first, buy later
If the piano is for your young child or children, it might be a good idea to rent a piano for several months or a year and ‘test the waters’. Make sure you are renting a good piano. Children (and adults) will be put off trying to learn on a substandard musical instrument (that advice goes for any kind of musical instrument). Some outfits may offer you the possibility of renting with an option to buy. You might save a lot of money in case your young Rubinstein decides that he or she would rather play the piccolo or soccer.
Tip Number Three: Avoid experts unless you are 100% sure that they are acting in your interest, not theirs
Sometimes people assume that an expert (piano teacher, piano school, technician, tuner) can provide them with good advice. There are however two problems with this notion. The first is that the expert will prefer his/her own personal taste in pianos. The second is that some experts receive kickbacks on making a recommendation that leads to a sale (in which case they are going to steer you to a piano that the store or manufacturer wants you to buy). I worked once in a piano store, so this recommendation is based on experience.
Tip Number Four: Do your research
There is no way that you can become an expert on pianos. It’s much more difficult than being an expert in bridge or new and used cars. So read everything, believe nothing (or very little). Especially when people are pushing a particular manufacturer. Pianos are expensive and people can be duped. The best way to do research is to reach out to your circle of internet friends and ‘crowd source’ suggestions from people you hope are trustworthy.
Tip Number Five: Talk to friends and relatives
You know many people who have pianos. Ask them whether they are any good. Ask them who plays them. Ask them whether you can come over and try them. Each piano is different (even the same model from the same manufacturer). And it’s always advisable to hear how a piano sounds in a real home. The piano stores have special acoustics that make ordinary pianos sound like a Steinway.
Tip Number Six: Involve the potential pianist in the decision
If the potential pianist is your child, it’s better to involve him/her in the process and to buy a piano that he or she helped pick. Chances are that children will bond with the instrument and enjoy the process of learning to play an instrument that they chose.
(As a child, I had a piano I didn’t choose and I didn’t like it one bit. I bit it once and left tooth marks. As an adult I have one I chose and love.)
If your child is very young, check out this book that I wrote, it may spark some interest.
Tip Number Seven: Start with the expensive models
When you go to a piano store (hopefully together with the young prospective player), start out by asking the salesperson to show you the BEST piano that they offer. It will probably be the most expensive piano in the store. So what? You aren’t buying it yet. Sit down and try it out. This will give you the benchmark for any subsequent decision. Ask what properties makes it their best piano. If you ask what they have ‘on sale’, they will mark you and try to sell you whatever crap they want to move. Oh, and as I mentioned, a crappy piano can sound great in an acoustic corner in a store. In your home, it will sound like a crappy piano.
Remember that piano salespeople are keyboard psychologists, their job is to read your mind and direct you towards whatever piano they think you will buy. Good, lousy, whatever.
Tip Number Eight: Avoid buying a used piano through a newspaper ad (or any ad)
If a used piano is offered over an advertisement and it is a great deal, dealers will usually get there before you will. Entrepreneurial piano tuners also sell used pianos through private ads, and sometimes even exhibit them in people’s houses. Furthermore, pianos can be forged. The soundboard of a used piano (at the back, the thick wooden board that provides the sound and resonance, much as a guitar) can be irreparably cracked. The piano may need work that will cost you more than you paid.
Tip Number Nine: Grand pianos are not for beginners
Grand pianos tend to be grand in size and (usually) in sound. The bigger they are, the better they usually sound. They are built differently than uprights. But even the smaller baby grand pianos will take up a TON of space in your house. I play piano professionally and sing, and would love to have a baby grand piano at home. I can afford the price, but can’t afford the space. Unless you live in a mansion, think twice. The uprights are bulky enough as it is.
Tip Number Ten: You’ve bought a piano. Take good care of it.
Good pianos do not depreciate and can last well over a hundred years. Place your piano against a solid wall (interior please, pianos hate temperature changes). Don’t place vases, coffee cups or anything liquid on your piano (pianos detest too much moisture). Tune it often (more than once every three years). But most important, play it!!! The piano is one of the greatest musical inventions of all time. And, as my father-in-law likes to say, “Music is the bread of the soul.”
Pianos are more expensive to purchase at the store of the importer. The importer has to protect the price and is unlikely to give discounts. The franchises, however, are allowed to sell the pianos for discount, offer freebies, etc. So it’s a good idea to have a look at the pianos in the store of the importer (lots of models) see what deal you can get on the piano you want, and then compare with the price offered by the a franchise. You might be pleasantly surpired.