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A wonderful article appeared in The New Yorker in 2001.  I remember being fascinated while reading about the subtle differences among Steinway pianos.

Of course I knew from experience that every piano is different.  This  well-written description made the possibilities even clearer.

(To access the article, you have to be a New Yorker subscriber.)

The salesperson’s approach in the article changed an assumption I had held for years ~ that people who buy pianos for “furniture” really need to play, too.

But what’s wrong with having a piano in your house, whether you play or not?  Maybe the owners will go to concerts.  Maybe they’ll have company over who will play the instrument.  Maybe their kids will take lessons.

If you have a piano in your house for the “look,” though, never place a drink on the instrument.  My piano technician will have words if you do.

One woman who was followed at length in the New Yorker article purchased a Steinway with a case made of rosewood.  She had excellent advice, resulting in the delivery of a wonderful instrument.

The flip side of that scenario may be a situation I witnessed.  One of my students, a child, played on a beautiful antique piano.  That is, the case was beautiful.  Her mother had furnished the entire contemporary house with antiques.  There was just one problem ~ the piano’s soundboard was broken.

Which brings me to my main recommendation for anyone looking to buy a piano.

Most of us don’t have the bucks to walk into Steinway and buy whatever we want.  Many people will be looking for a “pre-owned” piano so their kids can take lessons.

Find a reputable piano technician before you buy.

This can be done by asking piano teachers or schools.  I would suggest calling two or three technicians to find a good “fit” ~ someone you are comfortable talking to.  Please don’t settle for using the Yellow Pages.

When you have narrowed down your possible piano purchases to two or three instruments, ask the technician to come with you.  You need to know whether the piano will hold its tune, whether any major repairs might be needed, whether the soundboard is in good condition, if the pedals operate properly, etc.  Most people, myself included, do not have the skills to assess the condition of a piano aside from the outside appearance.

The piano you purchase should tune “to pitch.”  If it is below pitch, then playing with other instruments (flute, clarinet, strings, etc.) is not possible.

Technicians subscribe to trade newsletters.  They also have clients, some of whom might be selling.  A technician may also have a restoration/repair business.  Very often, a technician will know of several instruments on the market.  So go ahead!  Ask!

Salespeople may be well-informed (or not), but you can’t rely on them to answer your questions about the condition of an instrument.  The same goes for owners who are selling.

Warning signs

Don’t even look at “You move it ~ it’s yours”

If it’s in the garage, forget it.  It hasn’t been tuned or maintained for years.  No one is playing it.  It’s in the way, and the owners just want to get rid of it.

Do you see broken keys?  Stuck keys?  Broken or missing pedals?  Repairs are expensive.  Even if you are willing to buy a “fixer-upper,” you will want to find out whether the needed repairs are possible and ask for an estimate.  I personally don’t think it’s worth it.  You can find a used instrument in good condition without too much trouble.

Hire a professional piano mover.  The instrument must be wrapped (in quilted furniture padding), loaded onto a dolly, secured to the sides of the truck, and moved by at least 3 guys.  Even upright pianos are heavy and awkward.  Paying for movers is nothing compared to protecting your investment.

Never roll the piano on its own wheels to move it.  Pianos are heavy, and the wheels are very small.  And piano legs break off.

Where will the piano be in your home?  Position it away from the sun and drafts.  (And don’t put it directly in front of the air conditioner or next to the heat!)  If there is more than one person in the house, you will want the piano to be in a room with a door that closes.  (Practicing goes much better that way.)  If you live in an apartment, be considerate of your neighbors by placing the piano on an inside wall.  (Stairwells, hallways, wall studs, and elevator shafts all carry sound.)

Good luck!

Are you shopping for a piano?  How is it going?

Please share your experiences and any questions in the comment section below!

While you’re here, please check out the information about my new E-book, “Goal-oriented Practice:  How to Avoid Traps and Become a Confident Performer” ~ you can read several reviews, reader comments, the book’s Introduction, and the Table of Contents.

Leave a comment at Music Matters Blog and be entered to win a free copy!  Three winners will be announced at noon on Thursday, November 11th.

Print version available now (send me an email to inquire:  gretchensaathoffbookgmail.com), with Kindle edition coming soon!!!

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