Buying a piano is a significant decision, not only because of the expense but because a piano can take up a sizeable amount of the space in your home for many decades. Here are some basic considerations for choosing the best piano for your home.
1. Portable or stationary?
Do you expect to be moving soon, or frequently? Will you want to play this piano in other venues? If so, a digital/electronic keyboard may be the way to go.
2. Digital, acoustic, or hybrid?
An acoustic piano is the traditional wooden type, dating back to the 1700s; it uses a complex array of keys, strings, hammers and pedals to produce sounds. Digital pianos emit recorded sounds, and can be played soundlessly using headsets. Hybrid pianos use strings etc. like acoustic pianos and therefore retain the benefits of that type of piano, but have the benefit of the recording and playback capacities of digital pianos.
If acoustic, are the strings stretched vertically (spinet, console, studio, or upright) or horizontally (grand piano)? A tall vertical piano can produce perhaps 6/10 the sound of a horizontal. This relates to the next point:
3. How much space is available for it?
If your quarters are cramped, you won’t want a grand piano (which ranges from 4’5” to 9’ in length). The spinet uses the least space of any acoustic piano (height of 36 to 38 inches). By comparison, the upright piano (the “old clunkers” that our grandparents played and that you’ll see around the edges of meeting halls around the country; we vigorously discourage purchasing old clunkers, because the savings you make in buying them will be eaten up by the costs of moving them—even just into the next room) can be 60 inches tall. Most vertical acoustic pianos are 58 inches wide. If even a spinet is too large, you probably are looking at a digital piano instead.
4. Your Home Furnishings
What is the style of your home’s existing furnishings? You’re selecting a piece of furniture as well as a musical instrument. Unless it’s a keyboard that you will be storing under a bed when it’s not in use, everyone who is in your home will be looking at it.
5. Who will be playing it?
Older serious piano students will need an acoustic or a hybrid since a digital piano lacks the tonal resonance and the touch and tone of an acoustic piano. Anyone can use an electronic piano for the first year, to acquire the beginning skills. Some teachers of serious students will require an acoustic piano, because it can be difficult or even counterproductive to try to develop performance-level skills on a digital piano.
6. What is your budget?
The cost (which is very negotiable) can range from a few dollars for a cheap digital keyboard at a thrift store to six figures for a Steinway concert grand. We believe this is not the time to go into debt, even for such a wonderful investment as a beautiful piano. Also, think of your ongoing expenses for tuning, repairs, and insurance: digital pianos never need tuning; tuning costs anywhere from $80 and up, at least once a year, depending on the stability of the environment of the room where the piano is kept. It can cost $6,000 to rebuild the mechanism of a grand piano. Also, sometimes someone needs a good home for their lovely piano, and will loan it to you rather than have it suffer in a storage unit. But, good deals on fine acoustic pianos are readily available these days.
7. New or used?
Unlike other items, a good used acoustic piano can maintain or increase its value over time. A key consideration is whether the used piano was kept in a stable climate, without extreme swings in temperature and humidity.
8. Ask a piano tuner.
If you’ve decided on an acoustic piano, ask someone who has spent many hours around hundreds of different piano. A piano tuner will be able to tell you what instrument has been known to produce (and retain) a beautiful sound — and may also have some leads as to used pianos available for sale or loan. In addition, he or she may be able to inspect and evaluate a specific instrument you are considering purchasing (especially if it is a used acoustic piano). However, you are the best judge of the sound that you will be hearing for a long time.