Ian Fairweather
Piano Technician
Servicing pianos in Baltimore and surrounding areas.
Tuning - Repairs - Regulation - Appraisals - Estimates

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Used Pianos
Piano Types

Purchase of a Piano
A Quality Piano is one of the very few investments that can be handed down for several generations, and yet be used for the enjoyment of each and every one.
There are many things to consider when purchasing a piano. These include not only budgetary considerations, but also its purpose and where it is to be located.

Piano Budget

Most people have a budget within which they need to stay. Although those budget numbers will vary considerably for each of us, the principle of getting the best quality possible within your budget is paramount in the purchase of a piano.

The serviceable life of a piano often exceeds 50 years. Many high quality pianos will last up to 100 years – and then get rebuilt to last 100 more! Therefore, if you get the right piano to start with, then you may never need to get another one.

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Piano Quality

Acoustic pianos fall into three primary price or quality ranges. These are the high end hand made pianos, high end mass produced pianos, and entry level mass produced pianos.

Hand made pianos include brands such as Mason & Hamlin, Bösendorfer, Fazioli, Steinway, and so on. Yamaha and Kawai also make high end hand made pianos. This group of pianos will start in excess of $50,000 for a grand piano and around half that for a vertical piano.

High end mass produced pianos are made to exacting standards, with high quality materials. A piano of this type should last for generations and be a joy to play, even for the most discerning of players. These pianos will start in the mid teens and can range upwards of six figures for grand pianos and start at around $8,000 for vertical pianos.

Entry level pianos are generally of a good quality but would not be considered “performance” pianos. They are suitable to learn on and, if properly maintained, should give many years of good service. However, if the player is aiming for Carnegie Hall then a better quality piano will be needed at some point. Entry level grand pianos will generally start at around $10,000 and verticals will start at about $6,000.

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Used Pianos

Everything pertaining to new pianos will apply to used pianos. However, there are extra things to be aware of when considering a used piano.

The age of a piano may be determined by the piano's serial number. By referencing the manufacturer and the serial number a technician can find the age of a piano. Although the age of a piano alone is not the sole reason to purchase (or leave) a piano, it is good to know as pianos do have a finite serviceable life.

The inside condition of a used piano is of utmost importance. Many older pianos have excellent cabinets but the contents do not necessarily match the cabinet. Reputable dealers will put a warranty on their used pianos. If you are looking at a private seller's piano then you should get it checked by a piano technician before you purchase it.

Here is a quick checklist which will help to narrow down a search for a used piano
. A Purchaser's Guide.

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Piano Types

There are many different types of piano available today. These include Grand, Vertical, and Digital. Each of these groups can then be divided into smaller groups.

Grand Pianos

Grand piano can range from concert grands, through conservatory grands, right down to baby grands. The concert grands can exceed nine feet in length, and baby grands can be as small as 4'8”. The size of a grand piano is measured from the back of the piano to the front. Virtually all grand pianos are about 60” wide.

With all else being equal, the longer the piano – the better the sound. This is not just a matter of being louder, but it is also quality of sound. This is similar to driving along the Interstate in different cars. A small car with a little engine will drive quite happily at the speed limit, but a bigger car with a big engine will do the same speed much more comfortably. In the same way, a larger piano will sound, and play, better than a small one.

In fact, a high quality large piano will not only allow you to play louder than a small piano, it will also allow you to play quieter. The total dynamic range will increase with piano length, not only the quality of the sound.

The “Action”, or working mechanical parts of the keyboard, of a grand piano is more efficient than that of a vertical piano. This is because the downward pressure on a key (note) pushes the hammer upwards to strike the string, and then gravity and bounce pull it down again. The vertical piano has to transform the vertical movement of the key to a horizontal movement for the hammer. The hammer then needs strings and springs to pull it back from striking the string.

This allows for more control and a faster response on the grand piano. The result is that the person playing the piano is able to play with more feeling and expression, thus making better music for everyone.

Vertical Pianos

Just as a longer grand piano is better than a shorter one, so a taller vertical piano is better than a short one.

The tallest pianos made today are about 52” from the floor to the top of the piano, the shortest are about 42”. The shortest pianos made in the USA were about 37” tall and (thankfully) are no longer made. These short pianos are called “Spinets”

It is generally recommended that people do not purchase spinet pianos due to the difficulty (read “expense”) in servicing the mechanical components of the action, and other problems associated with such small pianos.

Sometimes purchasing an inexpensive piano can cost more by the time it is made and kept playable. In addition to that, someone learning to play the piano cannot learn the required skills required for musical expression if the piano is not capable of responding to the piano player. Many years of piano lessons have been compromised because the student was trying to practice on a piano that could not adequately respond to the player.

Digital Pianos

Digital pianos have been around since the early 1980's. The quality has improved phenomenally in that time. A modern, high quality, digital piano is an instrument well worth considering.

For a serious piano player or student considering a digital piano there are several things to consider.

The touch of the keyboard is extremely important for a piano player. Marketing terms such as “touch Sensitive”, “Weighted Action”, “Light Weighted Action”, and several others can have several different “understandings” when used by sales people and marketers. It is important to know exactly what is on a particular digital piano before making a decision.

The quality of the piano is very important with a digital piano. Even top end manufacturers such as Yamaha have different ranges of digital pianos, and sometimes the specifications may be confusing.

A good quality digital piano will have a parts and labor warranty of several years. They will also have “in-home” service if there is a problem, rather than a “return to manufacturer” warranty.

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