If you are thinking about buying or renting an acoustic piano, you have many options! Whether you choose to purchase an upright or a grand piano, it’s important to understand the difference between purchasing a new piano, a used piano, or a refurbished piano.
New pianos are sold in piano stores and come with a guarantee that there are no defects as well as manufacturer’s warranty. If you are buying or renting an upright piano from a reputable store, then you can be assured that you are not going to get a “lemon” – a piano with such flaws that make it worth nearly nothing.
For example, one of the most important parts of the piano is a soundboard: a piece of plywood located right below the strings on the grand piano and behind the strings on the upright piano. Just like the body of the acoustic guitar, this is a piece that creates the “voice” of the piano – the full colorful sound that the piano is designed to produce. If the soundboard is cracked, then this “voice” disappears and the sound becomes weak and muffled. Replacing the soundboard can cost more than buying a new piano altogether, so such pianos are usually completely worthless. One of the benefits of purchasing a new instrument from a piano store is that you are not in danger of getting such a dud!
If you have some experience in playing the piano, make sure to try all of the instruments in your price range Choose the one that feels good for your hands and sounds good. Don’t be in a rush. Spend several minutes at each piano and try each piano more than one time. If you don’t know how to play the piano yet, then we recommend you invite someone who knows (your piano teacher for example) to help you choose one. Remember, pianos are not like cars: two pianos of the same model and size can feel and sound absolutely differently!
There’s one very minor challenge when you buy a brand new piano: you often have to “break it in”. This means that the action of the piano needs some time to fully loosen up. It might feel a little hard at first but then it gets lighter a few months in. Beware of this issue if you are getting the piano for a very young child – you might want to select the piano with the lighter action to begin with.
One of the benefits of buying a used piano is that pianos are never “too old.” Unlike buying a used car, a piano has no “mileage” after which it is impossible to play on. One of the pianos that we have in our music school in NYC is an upright that was built in 1909! We properly maintain it and tune it twice a year and it plays and sounds gorgeous. Before we acquired it some 30 years ago, the piano technician thoroughly inspected it and then worked on it for 2 days straight: regulated the action, cleaned and checked all the parts and tuned it (had to tune it several times). The piano has the original ivory keys, and even all original strings! For a used piano, this was a very good and somewhat lucky purchase.
The danger of buying a used piano, as mentioned before, is getting a piano that is broken beyond repair. The case of the piano, and more importantly, the action and the soundboard, are all made out of wood, which can naturally break if the piano is not properly maintained over time. We recently looked at the piano that was not moved properly and because of that had a crack in the soundboard. Our piano technician had appraised it at $0.00!
When you see pianos that the owners are offering for free (and you have to pay for moving it), chances are that this is not a usable piano. You may get very lucky with pianos that cost very little or nothing, but it is important to to bring a piano technician with you to inspect it.
If the owner tells you that no one used the piano for a while, be prepared to pay the piano technician for more than just tuning it: it could be from an extra hour of work, if you’re lucky, to a few days of work in the shop.
In some countries, like Japan for example, there isn’t really a market for second hand pianos. People strongly prefer to buy only new ones. So the pianos that are 25-40 years old and no longer needed by the owners are sent to factories where they are usually fitted with new parts: strings, hammers, dampers, and whatever else is needed to be replaced. The cases and metal get parts re-polished, action regulated, strings tuned. They look nearly like new pianos. After that, the refurbished pianos are shipped to Europe and America and are usually sold in smaller local piano shops with the price tag of less than half of a new one. Buying a piano like this is a very valid and popular choice these days. Refurbished pianos won’t really retain their value for long, but with proper care and tuning you will be able to use it for a very long time.
At our music school in NYC, we primarily use brand new grand pianos for all piano lessons. For lessons with other instruments (such as voice), where piano is needed for accompaniment, we use refurbished upright pianos with great success!
We hope this helped you to make your choice – enjoy your search for a piano!