THE EDUCATED PIANO PURCHASE
By: Larry Fine
Problem: Each year about 150,000 new pianos are sold, and hundreds of thousands of older ones change hands. Yet most people-even many of the twenty million piano players-know little about how a piano works or how to buy one.
Solution: Information. Here, then, are some of the basics to know when it’s your turn to buy.
* The Money Question
Money is the biggest factor preventing people from getting the piano they want. Piano prices vary widely according to size, brand, condition, local market, and so on, but very generally speaking, a used, old upright in half-decent shape purchased from a private owner might cost from $300 to $800, while a used grand in similar condition could run from $1,500 to $3,000.
Used verticals of more recent origin (or older verticals that have had significant repairs) could be priced at $1,000 to $2,000, and younger or better-quality grands from $2,500 to $5,000 (and much more for fine makes).
New verticals of reasonably good quality begin at about $3,000, new grands at about $7,000.
Suggestion: If you can’t afford to buy a reasonably good-quality piano rather than temporarily settling for a poor one. Reason: A poor-quality piano will cost you more for maintenance and repairs and will
rob you of your enthusiasm.
Further costs: Don’t forget to set aside money for moving, tuning, and other maintenance. Generally, a budget of about $300 to $500 a year will suffice for tuning and maintaining a church piano. A used piano may initially require a larger expenditure to bring it into normal operating condition.
The bottom line: If you can’t afford to maintain your piano, you really can’t afford to buy one.
* What Size Piano?
Both grands and verticals come in a number of sizes. The size of a vertical piano is measured in height from the floor to the top of the piano. The the back of the piano, with the lid closed.
* Full-size upright: 48″ to 60″
* Studio: 43″ to 47″
* Console: 40″ to 43″
* Spinet: 36″ to 39″
* Concert grand: 7 1/2′ to 9 1/2′
* Medium grand: 5 1/2′ to 7 1/2′
* Small (baby) grand: 4 1/2′ to 5 1/2′
The names and sizes are quite general, and there is some overlapping. In addition, vertical-piano types are defined not only by their height, but also by the kind of action (the mechanism that strikes the strings when a key is pressed) they have, which also tends to vary with the size.
Note: Old pianos labeled “upright grand” or “cabinet grand” are really uprights.
Key: The size of a piano is probably the single most important factor influencing its tonal quality. The smaller the piano, the worse the tonal quality, especially in the lower bass. And because, the tonal
quality of small pianos tends to be poor, manufacturers sometimes invest more of their money in the appearance of the instrument than in its quality. The result: Smaller pianos are often more poorly built.
* Grand or Vertical?
Whether to buy a grand piano or a vertical depends on the space and money you have available, and on your playing requirements.
* The action of a grand piano generally allows for faster repetition of notes and for more subtle control of expression and tone.
* The horizontal construction of a grand also allows the tone to develop in a more pleasing manner.
* The grand is always the choice of concert artists.
* A vertical takes less space. A grand may need even more space for aesthetic reasons than a mere measuring of the instrument would indicate.
* A vertical costs less. Grands usually cost from three to six times as much as verticals of similar quality and condition.
* Although the imposing quality of a grand piano can appear prestigious, be forewarned: The faults of a cheap grand or one in poor condition will be more noticeable because your expectations will be higher.
Solution: If your musical needs truly require a grand piano, save up and buy one of sufficient quality to be worth your while. If your musical artistry doesn’t justify a grand, or if you cannot spend the money for a good one, buy a high-quality vertical.
If space and money were no obstacle, this would be my order of preference:
* Concert grand
* Medium grand
* Full-size upright
Small grand: The placement of a particular small grand in this list would depend on its size and quality. Reason: While most grands have longer strings and larger soundboards than most verticals, some larger
verticals may surpass some smaller grands and be better instruments.
Suggestion: If you can, buy a grand piano at least 6 feet long or a vertical at least 48 inches tall; but in no case should you buy a grand less than 5 feet long or a vertical under inches tall.
(The above material appeared in a March/April 1991 issue of Your Church.)
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