Buying a Piano
A piano is a source of joy for any household, whether the main player is an expert or a “plunker.” If cared for properly, a piano is a good investment as well.
First, decide how the piano will be used. If a concert player, entertainer, professional songwriter or music instructor will use it, the cost is actually a kind of business expense and it should be a major part of the business setup, or studio. Dedicated players who use a piano regularly for pleasure should also have a fairly high piano budget. Those who have a child who wants to try piano lessons, and “plunkers” who will not be dedicating a great deal of time to the instrument, can get by fairly inexpensively.
Next, decide if you have a lot of time to wait for a bargain. This means you will be scouring want ads and waiting for the slow seasons on the piano sales floor. If you are hoping for a freebie, note that those are usually not great pianos, but every few years one standout will show up. It might be a long wait, and certainly you will want to spend the money to have a technician check the piano before accepting it. However, if it is the only option, make a project of it and hang in there.
Do your research (bookstores and libraries offer excellent books for piano consumers) and you will discover what pianos of different qualities and ages are worth. The ads in city papers usually feature a piano store here and there. Internet research is tricky; but if you look at a lot of sites you will begin to see who has a real clientele and who is picking up pianos anywhere and just pushing them off onto someone. Have your budget ready for your purchase, including the cost of a once-over by a technician (some calls to technicians will yield the information about what they expect to be paid for this) and moving the piano (again, make some telephone calls). Consider having a climate control plan; keeping the climate stable in your “piano space” will help keep the piano in better health. A whole house climate control system is best; but do the best you can on your budget.
Figure out where you will make a space for your piano, and make sure it is not in front of a big window (unless you have curtains that will keep the sun off the piano and the room temperature is very stable) or too close to a heating/cooling register. Many piano movers not only deliver a piano, but also are usually a help to the customer regarding these issues.
When you are ready to shop, make sure the piano(s) will be available to be played. Getting the feel of a piano is important. How it sounds to you is more important than what the seller thinks of it. Remember to ask a technician or two about the structural condition of the instrument. Knowing a piano’s history can be helpful, but it is not critical…your aunt may have kept the cabinet very well, but done a poor job of keeping the insides tip-top. Ask the seller if there can be a “buyer’s remorse” or “warranty” agreement. This is where a piano store usually excels over other sellers.
Once you are confident that you have selected the correct instrument and made the right deal, prepare for the delivery by clearing your space and contacting the piano movers. A few weeks after moving the piano to your home is the right time for the technician’s first service call, as the change in climate from one building to another will probably upset the piano. Your technician can see to it that the piano is reacting normally.
Caring for a piano
The most important thing to do for your piano is have a piano technician tend to it regularly! It costs about the same as a weekly “treat” of cappuccino or movie matinee.
If you have your piano manufacturer’s manual, read it and follow all advice. If not, your technician can fill you in on most issues. Care of the cabinet is touchy because cleaners can be harsh. Sometimes cleaners get on the keys or strings and cause problems. If in doubt, wad a T-shirt so that there are no seams or pockets to catch on anything, spray it with two light sprays of plain water, shake it, and lightly go over the sides, then the top, then the keyboard, then the legs of the piano. This is just a dusting, but it will work on any piano that still has a finish. Ask your technician how to polish your piano specifically, and if you do not have a technician either get one, or sell the piano. Best to have a tuning, quickly dust it off and play it! A piano that is not tuned and played will lose value; a piano that is tuned faithfully and played regularly will sound better and retain more value as an instrument than a piano that has a perfect finish but wasn’t tuned and/or played.
Cleaning the soundboard is best done with a vacuum cleaner hose held *just above the strings* on a grand piano. Don’t touch anything with the hose. Your technician can help you with this. The back of an upright can be carefully vacuumed with a brush attachment. Small paint brushes can be used in conjunction with vacuuming in the corners if your technician has given you some training. Please have the technician remove foreign objects from your piano if the vacuum will not pick them up from above the strings. The bottom of an upright is where the dust settles, your technician will leave that open for you to vacuum if you so desire.
One great favor you can do for your piano is climate control. Whether by room or whole house, stable temperature and humidity will help keep a piano in good shape.
Finding a Technician
Official Master Piano Technician Listing
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