So you or your child has decided to begin piano lessons, but now you need to choose the instrument to learn on. The next question is usually What is the best type of piano for beginners? Let’s say that after looking at all of the relevant information and asking yourself why you should buy a piano, you’ve decided on which type of piano is best for you, and if you’re reading this post, you’ve decided to buy an acoustic piano. Great! However, this decision now opens up a whole host of other questions such as whether it’s better to buy a new or used piano, how to negotiate when buying a piano, or even whether or not a piano is a good investment.
In this post, we’ll explore all of these questions and will offer advice regarding the process of choosing and purchasing a piano for your home.
Is it Better to Buy a New or Used Piano?
The question of whether to buy a new or used piano is a very obvious question to start with. After all, it’s very common to purchase used cars, especially if they can be purchased in good condition with low mileage and a dealer warranty. To some degree, the same logic applies to purchasing a used piano, though for slightly different reasons. A quality piano can last for quite a long time, and if properly cared for, it can last many decades before needing to be renovated, so if you’re looking to save money or are looking for an excellent value, it can be quite advantageous to buy a used piano. However, there are some issues to consider before going down this path.
First, beware those tempting ads offering used pianos for free. I’ve never seen a free piano being offered that either wasn’t a piece of garbage or didn’t need a complete renovation. In the overwhelming majority of cases, you’ll spend so much money on moving and restoring the piano that you could have simply purchased a new piano to begin with. The only exception to this would be if the free piano just happens to be something worth restoring such as a Steinway grand piano or one of the beloved American pianos from the heyday of American piano manufacturing such as a Baldwin or a Chickering. In this case, you should consult with a reputable technician who specializes in piano restoration to gain a realistic understanding of the costs and time frame. If you have the funds and the time to wait for the project to be completed, you could wind up with a truly special instrument that will last many generations. That said, taking this path is not for everyone, and the time you spend waiting for the renovation to be completed will delay your musical journey for quite some time, possibly up to six months or more.
However, if you’re wondering whether it is worth buying a used piano, you may find that it’s very well worth it if you do your research. As for how to buy a used piano, it’s actually fairly simple. Find a reputable piano technician you can trust, preferably from a referral, and once you’ve narrowed down the choices, bring your technician to examine the pianos and offer their feedback. You should be able to find many quality used pianos for sale through local piano stores and local piano teachers, and you might even get lucky and find one being sold by a local school or place of worship by word of mouth.
The easiest way to buy a used piano is through a reputable local piano dealer. On the surface, the price may seem a bit higher, but it will likely include the cost of the move to your home, the first piano tuning, and will probably include some sort of limited warranty. Most piano stores that sell used pianos will also give the piano a thorough examination before putting it on the sales floor and will address any mechanical issues prior to offering it for sale. When I sold my Steinway Model M grand piano several years ago to Faust Harrison Pianos in New York City, they sent a piano technician to my home to give it a thorough examination prior to making an offer. I should also mention that they handled the move from my home to their showroom, and their piano movers were some of the most professional I’ve ever seen. My father purchased a used Yamaha Disklavier piano from Jacobs Music in Doylestown, PA several years ago and in addition to receiving a quality piano at a reasonable price, he’s received excellent post-sale support, and the piano came with a free move to his home along with several complimentary piano tunings.
Based upon my experience, the best way to buy a used piano is from a reputable piano dealer. You’ll have the opportunity to try many different pianos before purchasing, the move to your home and first one or two tunings will probably be free, the piano will probably have been serviced by a quality piano technician, and it will probably come with at least some post-sale support, if not a formal warranty. Unless you find one of those rare needle-in-a-haystack deals or if you and your technician really know what you’re doing, you probably won’t save much (if any) money by buying a used piano independently given the possibility of buying an instrument that requires too much restoration plus all of the extra costs such as moving, repairs, and tuning.
For whom is it worth buying a used piano? Practically anyone, depending upon what your needs and desires are. In my opinion, buying a used piano, especially an upright piano, is an excellent choice for a beginner student. There are many Yamaha upright pianos available for an extremely reasonable price. While on the surface, the price will seem to be several times that of a decent digital piano, a used Yamaha upright piano in good condition will last a very long time. Even if your child discontinues their piano studies, this will be a piano worth having in the home for many years to come in case another family member should decide to begin studying piano. And it can always be resold for a respectable price down the road given that a used piano from a reliable manufacturer can actually be a good investment. I would never recommend purchasing pianos instead of mutual funds when saving for your future, but in general, a piano can be a good investment when comparing the value proposition of a good quality used piano versus an entry level digital piano. It can also be worth buying a used piano for professional musicians. A Steinway grand piano is incredibly expensive when purchased brand new, but a used Steinway piano from the 1970’s or 1980’s can be purchased for a relatively reasonable price. This can be an excellent opportunity to acquire a top quality instrument at an affordable price that will last a lifetime. Also, many people believe that older Steinway pianos are actually far superior to those being manufactured today, so this poses an opportunity to acquire a better quality piano at a far better price.
Which Type of Piano Is Best?
This is a highly individual question. First, there’s the question of whether to buy a grand or an upright. A grand can be significantly more expensive, but can also be far more gratifying to play. For those concerned with aesthetics, a grand piano also looks beautiful in the home. An upright piano is much more affordable and takes up a little bit less space, but doesn’t save as much space as most people believe. If space is your primary concern, try laying out a paper cutout of your piano’s floorplan, also known as a piano floor template, in your home to properly ascertain exactly how much space your piano will take. I kept my Steinway Model M in the living room of a 600 square foot one bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and the room never felt crowded, so you just never know.
Generally, the question of whether to buy a grand usually comes down to price. If you can afford a grand and have the space for it, I’d always advise going in that direction. If you’re unsure of whether your child will continue with lessons or if you’re not ready to invest the amount of money needed for a grand piano, you can still purchase an excellent quality upright piano used that will last for many years to come.
Certain piano brands are more recognizable than others, and for good reason. Steinway is a household name, and that’s because they’re excellent instruments that can be handed down from generation to generation. I love Steinway grand pianos, but I’m not a fan of their uprights. For upright pianos, I much prefer Yamaha. A Yamaha U1 upright piano sounds and plays great, and will last for many years to come. There’s a reason why so many schools and universities purchase Yamaha pianos. They’re very consistent in quality and they last for a long time with minimal repairs or maintenance. For more comprehensive information about various piano brands, I strongly recommend consulting the classic book, The Piano Book, by Larry Fine.
How to Negotiate Buying a Piano
Now that you’ve decided which type of piano is best for you and you’ve found the piano you want to buy, it’s time to negotiate. If you’re purchasing a piano from a private party, it’s simply a matter of settling on a price that you’re both comfortable with. Purchases from private parties tend to be much more emotionally driven, so I’d advise approaching the seller with the same information you’d have when purchasing a piano from a dealer, but be prepared for more unpredictability in the negotiation process.
When purchasing a piano from a dealer, Larry Fine’s The Piano Book pretty much spells out everything you need to know. In fact, using his guidance, when I purchased my Steinway Model M back in 2005, I was even able to negotiate around 15% off the retail price, which is quite unusual, even per Larry Fine’s advice! But if it were not for the knowledge I gained from reading the book, I never would have been able to secure the deal. Any piano buyer would also be well served buy purchasing a copy of Larry Fine’s Piano Buyer Model & Price Supplement as this will help you to understand what to expect to spend for various models of new and used pianos, and will give you much more negotiating power.
As you read the book, you’ll soon learn that certain brands tend to be discounted more or less than others. Steinway usually isn’t discounted at all, though it’s possible to negotiate better pricing on Yamaha pianos. Supply and demand will play a factor too. Yamaha uprights are in much greater demand, so you’ll likely not be able to negotiate as much of a (or any) discount on the instrument. When you go to negotiate with the dealer, have a realistic sense of what price is reasonable for both parties and go from there. Financing is sometimes done for piano purchases, but it’s usually a terrible deal for the buyer. If you’re prepared to pay cash and purchase right away, you’ll always get a better deal. Often, when financing, you’ll pay full price. If you’re planning to purchase a more expensive piano and want the benefits of financing while still being able to negotiate the price, consider options such as a private loan or even using a home equity loan if such a loan is appropriate for your situation. And if you’re a professional musician, you could consider a business loan. While any of these loan options will surely be a better deal than using financing offered by the piano dealer, always consult your accountant to ascertain which option is best for you as I’m not a tax or finance expert.
In short, your main leverage when purchasing a piano from a dealer will be the ability to pay cash and readiness to purchase, and knowledge of the market with respect to knowing how much pricing flexibility the dealer has. If you’ve made multiple trips to the dealer to try out different pianos and have noticed that the piano you want has been on the showroom floor for a long time, use this knowledge too as the dealer is likely eager to find a buyer for the instrument. When I purchased my Steinway Model M, the piano had been sitting on the showroom floor for at least a month, as far as I could tell.
Once you’ve settled on a price, you should always ask for free tunings for a specified period of time and free moving. These are small items that the dealer will likely offer anyway, but any little bit helps. And if you live in an apartment or any place that has an elevator or stairs, let the dealer know this and confirm that this won’t result in any extra charges.
Is a Piano a Good Investment?
The dealer will always tell you how great of an investment a piano is. Here’s the truth – it’s not. At least not financially. Except for two very specific scenarios. If you get a great deal on a quality pre-owned piano by a top end brand such as a Steinway, your piano will likely hold its value and may even appreciate a bit. The other scenario is if you hold onto your piano for many years, you may see the value go up somewhat. However, even in this scenario, to see the value continue to increase, you’ll need to invest time and money in regular maintenance such as tunings, regulation, and other slightly more expensive maintenance that is typically required after many years of ownership.
On the other hand, a piano is a good investment when viewed from the point of view of how much it will enhance your life. Seeing a family member learn how to make beautiful music and hearing the sound of the piano being played in your home is priceless. The feeling of being able to sit down at your piano and make beautiful music or hearing a family member or friend creating such beauty right in front of you is simply indescribable and makes the purchase of a piano for your home worth every single penny. As you can see, there are many factors to consider with regard to how to buy a piano, and all have subtle nuances which will resonate differently for every prospective buyer.
When deciding whether to purchase a digital piano or an acoustic piano for your home, I would always advise everyone to opt for an acoustic piano whenever possible. It will bring you many years of enjoyment and will enhance your life in a multitude of unimaginable ways.
Available on Amazon
The Piano Book, by Larry Fine
Piano Buyer Model & Price Supplement, by Larry Fine
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