Student Pianos. Where to begin & what to watch out for.
Finding the right piano for a student can be tricky. There seems to be an overwhelming availability of pianos in all shapes, sizes, colours and price ranges and an equally overwhelming availability of opinions on which is the best kind to buy.
We thought we’d take some time to focus on the Student Piano this month and provide some advice that will cut through the noise for you, and dispel a few common myths. We’ve broken this article up into some simple rules, which if you can remember them on your next piano shopping venture, you won’t go wrong.
We really can’t drive this one home enough. When purchasing a piano, you can pay from as little as $1 right up to around $400,000 (we’re not suggesting either for your first student piano), and pianos tend to be really honest when we’re talking about price. If a deal seems to be too good to be true, it probably is. The best way to get a feel for what you should be paying for an instrument is to look at the market around it. Check out multiple piano dealers and even look at online sites such as Ebay or Gumtree to get a feel for the market price. You should always expect to pay a little more from a dealer, though there are advantages to that which we’ll cover further down.
Rule Number 2. Get the best you can.
As a general rule, the higher you can go in terms of quality of a piano, the better the performance of the instrument, the longevity and eventual resale. We’re not saying that you should necessarily spend as much as you can, but certainly aim for the best quality. This will ensure that you’re getting a piano that is going to work hard and work well for you.
If you are buying a pre-owned piano, make sure you know the providence of the instrument. There are so many piano dealers – both public and private – that import second hand pianos by the container from Asia and the US. We see so many Yamaha and Kawai grey market instruments selling for thousands more than they’re actually worth, as well as used Steinways being imported from the United States that fetch a huge profit, simply because the bear the Steinway & Sons name.
In Japan, there is almost zero demand for preowned pianos. This means that the instruments have very little value and are cheap to buy. In Japan you can pick up a used Yamaha U3 or Kawai US-70 for well under $1000, and can then expect to see it for sale in Australia for much, much more. The problem is that these pianos have usually spent more than 20 years in a climate that is very different to our own, often missing out on the necessary service to keep a piano in top shape. It may look and sound good in the showroom, but give yourself 12 to 18 months and you’ll be regretting your purchase when the piano starts to buzz, click and fall apart around you as the timbers dry out in our climate.
Similarly, the United States is experiencing a huge surplus of used pianos. Baby-Boomers are downsizing, and many of their pianos are quite literally being taken to the rubbish tip. You can pick up a used Steinway & Sons grand piano (NY Model) for under $10,000 in the states, and you’ll then see that same piano sell in Australia for amounts over $50,000. This is for a piano that is tired, worn and certainly not worth the asking price.
Rule Number 4. Beware of “European” brand names
There is a great tradition in the piano business of using the brand name of old, once great piano manufacturers on cheap, low quality Chinese and Indonesian made instruments. The piano dealer knows that you usually associate European brands with high quality, so the name will do the selling for him.
The best way to see your way clear of these kinds of pianos is to check the actual country of manufacture, and also check to see whether the brand name on the piano belongs to a company that had previously gone out of business.
There is nothing wrong with purchasing a piano that is made in China so long as the manufacturing process is overseen by a reputable piano builder (a great example of this is the Essex piano, designed by Steinway & Sons). The manufacturing process of the Essex is supervised from start to finish by Steinway, and the pianos are then individually finished and inspected by Steinway technicians. This ensures that every Essex piano meets the quality and standard expected of a piano associated with the Steinway name.
You’ll usually know if a piano is a “copy” or a stencil piano just by the name – it will be an established sounding European or American name on a piano that is usually selling for under $5,000. If you see one, walk in the other direction.
There are certainly many advantages to buying a piano from a reputable dealer rather than a private sale. Whilst you’ll pay a premium for shopping with a dealer, you’ll also have your associated costs taken care of (such as delivery, purchase of a piano bench and the first couple of tunings) as well as enjoy the security of a warranty on the instrument. This can be of great assistance if you are a first time piano buyer.
This said, make sure that you get your money’s worth from the dealer. You need to understand and remember that a piano dealer still needs to make a profit on the piano in order to stay in business, and they will have also spent time pre-servicing the piano, tuning it, and making any necessary repairs.
Do be careful of a dealer who offers you a big discount up front. There are some piano dealers who will offer as much as a 50% discount from the listed price almost as soon as you walk in the door. Don’t be fooled by this tactic – you can rest assured that the piano is worth nowhere near as much as the dealer is listing if he or she is offering such a discount. You can expect some small movement on the price, but make sure it’s within reason!
The Final Word
Our final word? If you are shopping for a student piano, make sure you get them something reasonable. You wouldn’t teach your son or daughter to drive in a car that is 30 years old, in disrepair and needing major servicing (or worse, a car that isn’t even roadworthy), so make sure you don’t do the equivalent when it comes to a piano. If you can purchase them a quality instrument that isn’t too old, you can bet that the money you’re paying for lessons will be far better spent, as their chances of developing and improving on a quality piano are far, far greater.