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Jan 23 / Greg

Buying A Piano

piano keysFor many people, buying a piano represents a big unknown, and is even a slightly scary prospect. In my experience, many students and parents of students are under the impression that it costs a lot of money and the outlay/investment may result in a monetary loss if the time comes that the student no longer wants to learn. Their rationale is – it’s better/cheaper to buy an electronic keyboard instead (less outlay, less loss).

Students or their parents are tempted to buy a 61-key electronic keyboard instead. Quite often, the cheaper, the better. The reasoning here is often along the lines of, “We’ll see how it goes and, later, if they keep going we will consider buying a piano”.

Often enough, a student (adult or young person) will start with an electronic keyboard and then come to the conclusion that a piano is really what is needed. In some cases they will take the next step and approach me as to how to go about getting a piano.

I have helped many people buy pianos over the years and have referred many more, to a select few piano retailers whom I have come to trust and respect.

The main reason I encourage students and potential students to buy a piano is because I am a piano teacher. This should come as no surprise. I specialise in the art of learning, teaching and playing the piano, so it’s obvious I am somewhat biased.

But that is not the only reason, nor necessarily the main reason. I have a few adult students who have high quality electronic digital pianos, and while they are nowhere near the feel and sound of a real piano, they are the next best thing. I also have some students with the 61-key ‘spring’ keyboards. These are really not much more than toys and the inadequacy of these keyboards is brought home again and again when students either tell me that their little keyboards are no longer satisfying them, or I notice a waning progress rate. This, usually brought on by a growing dissatisfaction with the sound and, primarily, the feel of the keyboard. If the student wishes to continue, the only satisfactory remedy is a ‘real’ or acoustic piano.

There are a number of reasons why I consider keyboards to be unsatisfactory, the primary one being the jarring effect through the fingers and arm when playing them for any length of time.

On a piano, some of the energy transferred to the key via the finger is lost through the key mechanism, due to the laws of physics and mechanics. This dissipation of energy results in a softer, less jarring effect as felt through the arm. This does not happen with electronic keyboards. The keys on these are essentially switches. There is no mechanism through which energy is dissipated.

Primary concerns about buying a piano…piano installation

Firstly, the rationale that a little keyboard will do to start with. This line of reasoning is usually accompanied by the idea that it will not cost so much if it doesn’t work out. Try selling a 12 month old keyboard of any type, let alone the spring variety. It’s resale value will be about 30 to 50 per cent of what was paid. It is equivalent to buying a new car. You will virtually never get what you paid for it.

This will not happen when you buy a piano in reasonable condition. When/if it needs to be sold, the chances are you will get back what you paid for it, perhaps even more.

Buying a piano is equivalent in investment to buying a house. In normal circumstances, both appreciate or hold their value. Buying a keyboard is like buying a car, its value won’t appreciate.

There is one factor I think far more relevant to deciding on buying a piano than the cost. Will it fit?

If you live on the 5th floor of a high-rise with small elevators, or a bedsitter with paper thin walls, a piano may not be appropriate at all. Also, will it affect the amenity of the household. That is, will it drive others in the dwelling crazy? These considerations are of far greater relevance than conversations about cost.

Given that a piano will fit, the main concern is usually cost. Inexpensive, used pianos are out there and there are hundreds of them. Some of them are fit for firewood, but the greater majority are a working instrument.

How to find the piano that suits your need?

Set your money limit. Chances are you will not get a working piano in any great condition for less than $500, so you need to think beyond that.
There are many good pianos that can be bought for $700 – $1000. The sky is the limit, price wise. An outlay of up to $3000 can buy a piano that will last a lifetime. There is absolutely no need to buy new.

Remember, you are investing in an instrument. It is not money down the drain. Your investment can be returned on sale, should that be necessary.

You need to get an idea of the condition of the piano.

A piano technician told me many years ago that if a piano looks good, the chances are, it is good. This means the condition of the case is a guide to how the piano has been treated. This is not an absolute, there will be exceptions. However, as a general rule, it is worth keeping in mind.

If a piano has been valued, loved and cared for, it will generally be in good condition all through. It will have been tuned somewhat regularly and, best of all, it will have been played. So, beware of mistreated exteriors.

Does it sound like a piano?

Silly question, you might think, but if it is so out of tune it sounds like a sound effect from a cartoon, it is probably only good for wrecking.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with a piano which is out of tune – even badly out of tune, as long as it is uniformly out of tune. That is, no area of the keyboard sounds particularly dreadful, compared to another section.

piano instrumentThree most important things to be wary of are cracked bass bridges, cracked soundboards and, most serious of all, cracked pin blocks.

Every piano has its foibles, even Steinways. Some are prone to mechanism failures (not the whole mechanism, but a part of it). Old Yamahas come to mind here. Still others have a tendency for the string (bass) bridge at the bottom of the piano to develop cracks with age – old Ronisch’s can do this.

By far, the most serious thing is cracks in the pin block. This is a timber laminate, into which the tuning pins are driven. If that develops cracks, with age or carelessness e.g. placing the piano near an air conditioning duct for any great length of time, the piano is pretty well useless – it will never hold tune. ‘Lipp und Sohn’ pianos are prone to this problem.

Any piano can develop cracks in the soundboard. Some can seriously affect the sound, some don’t affect it at all. Depends on where the crack is and how big.

Now, this doesn’t mean these pianos will have these problems, it means there are always things to look out for.

The best insurance is to take someone with you who knows about these things when you go to look at a piano.

A piano technician may well charge at their usual tuning rate and if the exercise takes a couple of hours you could be up for two or three hundred dollars for their services.

See if your piano teacher will do it for you. There are some who know just enough to aid you in your decision, though in my experience, many know nothing about what’s under the lid, and have no interest in learning.

I have always taken a keen amateur interest in the technical side of piano construction and know enough, to help buyers make a decision. So far, I have not made any fatal calls of judgement on pianos I have advised people to buy, and I have helped plenty.

I am always willing to assist people in the buying of a piano, with one condition – you have to be a student of mine, or the parent of!

Piano Installation & Piano instrument by Carolina Vigna-Marú – Piano Keys by Vera Kratochvil

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Greg Norman’s Piano lessons and/or Music Theory lessons…
Styles: Classical, Modern
Skill Level: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, Post-Graduate, AMEB/ABRSM exams
Suitability: Ages 7 years and up to any age, any experience level. Lessons are weekly.

Click the following link to Call or send me an Email


  1. adjustable piano benches / Mar 27 2013

    Hi there, I enjoy reading all of your post. I wanted to write a
    little comment to support you.

  2. Greg / Apr 17 2013

    Thank you Jeannette. I appreciate that. 🙂

  3. Steve Smart / Dec 14 2013

    Great read! I’ve been playing guitar and fiddle for many many reays, and just recently interested in piano. This site is really helpful. Steve

  4. Greg / Dec 17 2013

    Thanks Steve. 🙂

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