How to choose the piano? New or Used piano?

By: peterson

Before buying a grand acoustic piano or an upright acoustic piano, be sure to look out for:

1. The sound 
Before buying a piano, try playing it to determine whether you like the sound. This is subjective; some people prefer a brighter tone, while others prefer a mellower tone. Generally speaking, a good piano sound is round and full. You can also get a professional’s opinion, preferably from an experienced music teacher or a registered piano technician.  Listen to the consistency of the piano’s sound. Are the volumes of the keys consistent? Play all the notes of the piano with the same strength, and listen for any unexpected deviations in loudness. Also, is the quality of the sound consistent? Listen for notes that sound unexpectedly brighter or mellower than the rest.  

There are a variety of factors that affect a piano’s sound and tonal quality. The size of the instrument, the quality of the components used and the overall construction all affect the tonal output. Both the tonal quality and volume of a piano are directly related to the size of the soundboard and the string length. A taller piano (upright) or longer piano (grand), provides a larger soundboard and longer string length, giving more powerful and richer tone. Every acoustic piano has its own distinct tonal character... even two new identical models may vary due to the many natural materials and components used and the hammer voicing by individual technicians.

Fine quality materials such as better grade of merino wool for the hammer felt has a positive impact on the tonal quality as does the quality of strings used. The tone of a piano is often described as ‘mellow’, ‘medium’ or ‘bright’. However, the tone can be adjusted according to individual preference by either reducing tension in the hammer head using toning needles if the tone is too bright, or by re-shaping the hammerhead slightly and applying piano technician’s dope to the shoulders of the head to make tone brighter if too mellow. It is important to remember that every piano will sound different in various environments. If after installation you decide you require the voicing to be changed to suit your room, it is best to let the piano settle in for at least 6 months prior to adjusting this.


2. The keys 
Ensure that the keys have a smooth surface and are free of damages and cracks. When you play the piano, the keys should have adequate resistance. If playing the keys require as little strength as typing on a computer keyboard, the keys probably don’t have enough resistance. Lastly, when you strike the keys, there should be sufficient cushioning to reduce the shock transmitted to your finger joints. 

The touch of a piano (like tone) is a personal preference and whilst tone and touch are independent of each other, they are psychologically connected. Invariably a brighter sounding piano feels lighter to play! This is because less pressure is required to achieve a similar volume to that of a more mellow piano! It is important to play a variety of pianos as the touch of each instrument will vary.

A piano with a ‘heavier’ feeling means the action will provide more resistance and may be less responsive compared to a lighter action ... although better for developing technique and building finger strength! The touch of an acoustic piano can be adjusted with regulation that adjusts key depth, set-off and check-off. More serious adjustment requires lead to be added or removed from inside the key sticks. The average down-weight of the keys is 50-55 grams and the up-weight is 20-25 grams. However, touch weight and responsiveness of piano keyboards are a very individual choice and acoustic pianos can be adjusted to suit most personal preferences.


3. The location where you will place the piano
Get the exact dimensions of both the piano and the designated space where you are planning to place it. If there isn’t much space available, you might have to choose either a traditional upright piano or a spinet piano, the latter being the smaller of the two.  Also, it is crucial to choose a suitable location for your piano. Acoustic pianos are vulnerable to humidity and temperature fluctuations, so they should NOT be placed near the radiator or a spot with direct sunlight. If not kept in a suitable environment, the components of an acoustic piano—especially parts made of wood and felt—could be affected. (Ideally, your acoustic piano should be kept in an environment of relative humidity ranging between 45% and 70% and a constant temperature of approximately 20˚C or room temperature.)  

4. The length of warranty
For big-ticket items like acoustic pianos, a warranty is crucial. Most brand new pianos have warranty of at least 5 years.


5. The brand
A number of brands have consistently produced reliable acoustic pianos. These brands have earned themselves a good reputation and are generally considered as safer choices.


6.Should I buy a second-hand acoustic piano?
The biggest draw of buying a second-hand acoustic piano is its price. Good-sounding acoustic pianos can be expensive, so a second-hand one is a good option for those without a big budget. 

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to this and it is strongly recommended that prior to purchasing a new piano you should research the possibility of a good pre-owned version of the same model. There can be dramatic savings made when purchasing a used piano and in the case of pre-owned acoustic pianos, the tonal qualities are often better suited to a domestic environment because the soundboard has matured.

It is vitally important that when purchasing a used acoustic piano you enquire as to its history and what works have been carried out to the piano. If it has received any renovation or overhaul work, it is imperative that this has been done using genuine parts – this is especially important when considering refurbished Yamaha instruments (please ask a member of the Coach House team for a separate guide specifically about buying a used Yamaha piano). It is essential to purchase a used digital piano from a retailer who has trained electronic repair engineers and can warranty the instrument for a minimum of 2 years. Purchasing a pre-owned digital piano from a private seller should be wisely avoided without a warranty.

New

• No marks or scratches to the casework
• Interior components in perfect condition
• Acoustic pianos will adapt to your playing style over time • Will be covered by a Manufacturers Warranty

Used

• Get more for your money – extensive savings compared to new
• The tone of an acoustic piano often improves with age as the soundboard matures • Higher residual value as initial depreciation already been lost
• Better tuning stability (not applicable for digital pianos)

When buying a used piano, it is important to ensure any of the required repairs or maintenance has been carried out using 100% genuine parts. Only an authorised dealership of the piano brand will be able to guarantee this. It is important as it will greatly effect both the performance and playing experience of the piano but also the resale value, as a non-genuine instrument will be seen as a far less desirable instrument.

Overall, a second-hand piano is a good option if it is in good working condition. Otherwise, a brand-new acoustic piano is still a better long-term investment.

For more information, please click and download our Buyer’s Guide.