Price Range: $500 – $2000
Examples: Casio, Kawai, Yamaha
Electronic Pianos can be awful or fantastic. But because an electric piano is essentially a computer, a newer electric piano will often trump an older electric piano. Because of the jump in audio sample quality with each year that goes by, a new electric piano selling for $700 may sound much better than an older electric piano selling on Craigslist for $1000. The main key is to hear the instrument in a quiet room before you buy it.
Because the sound of the electronic piano comes from speakers and not the instrument itself, good speakers are very helpful when trying to enhance an electric piano’s sound. Electric pianos that are meant to emulate acoustic pianos, such as Yamaha’s Clavinova, come with decent speakers built in, making them a better choice.
A real piano of any kind has 88 fully weighted keys. Any other number of keys means that it is not a piano, but a TOY. If you are interested in learning piano, do not buy a keyboard with any less than 88 keys, because you will be forced to upgrade the instrument later on!!
The big plusses of electronic pianos are that they can talk to your computer and that you are not limited to just piano sounds. For instance, you can hook up your electric piano to an iPad and buy an entire orchestra of sampled sounds — in this case, you are using the electric piano as a controller, and that means that the sounds live in the iPad (or computer, or whatever you’ve got hooked up) and not the keyboard itself.
Another issue with some electric keyboards: Many electric keyboards are not intended for piano practice, but more for makers of electronic music who want to create movie soundtracks, techno music, pop music, or rap. They don’t have the two to three foot pedals of a normal piano, and that can be a major hindrance, because practicing piano properly means you will have to use the damper pedal at least (the one on the right) if not the una corda (the one on the left). If you end up with an 88-key electronic keyboard with no pedal, plan on buying a cord-attached damper pedal duct taping the pedal to the floor.
Upright & Spinet Pianos
Examples, Spinet: Baldwin Acrosonic, Wurlitzer, Kimball
Examples, Upright: Yamaha, Young Chang, Steinway
Spinet pianos are a short type of piano that is no longer manufactured, however, there are many good used spinets out there in the $300-$800 range. I DO NOT recommend buying pianos more than 50 years old unless they have been meticulously maintained. Free pianos are usually 120+ year old uprights that have been trashed beyond repair–this type of piano can only be given away because the sound is horrible. However, if you want a big, expensive renovation project and aren’t concerned that your piano that sounds like it is submerged in a lake, go for it.
Ideally, every aspiring pianist would practice on a grand if I could snap my fingers and make it happen. Why? A grand piano provides the ultimate piano-playing experience. The sound is rich and deep. You sit differently at a grand than at an upright — it almost forces better posture just by its layout.
A used grand piano can cost anywhere from $1500 for one in bad shape to $20,000 for a nicely refurbished vintage instrument. A new grand piano can cost anywhere from $25,000 on up. Used grand pianos vary drastically, so if you plan on investing in one, plan on having your piano technician check it out first.
I do not recommend buying a baby grand. A baby grand is the inside parts of an upright piano stuffed into the shell of a small grand piano. Since a normal grand piano is 5’3″, go for that instead of a “baby” grand.
Vintage grand pianos are often worth restoring because almost any part of a grand piano can be replaced except the old, now increasingly rare or extinct hardwoods that were used to make the cabinet of the instrument.
Buying Used Pianos
When buying a used upright or spinet, check to make sure that the soundboard has no cracks or warps. The soundboard is the giant board underneath a detachable panel that rests just above the piano’s pedals. Look inside the piano by the strings to make sure there strings are not broken. Don’t buy a piano with rust or water damage if you can help it. Always buy a piano based on sound. If it sounds bad, it probably is bad. Many people who sell pianos list it as untuned, but I don’t feel it is too much to ask someone who is selling a piano to get it tuned first. Piano tuning costs from $85 – $100. Beware garage-kept pianos, because all pianos are very sensitive to dampness changes and can be ruined by one winter or summer in a garage.
A piano kept well with no soundboard damage and unrusted strings and keys intact will work out fine. Keep your piano in good shape by getting it tuned twice a year by a professional tuner–this will keep your piano in wonderful shape and costs about $100 per tuning. Also, if you are in an area with hard winters or low humidity, plan on running a humidifier when the temperature drops.
Where to Buy Pianos
Call your local University’s music department. Larger universities (like Roosevelt, my alma mater) sell off their “old” pianos in yearly unadvertised piano sales. Much like cars, pianos come down in price once they are used.
Piano stores will often rent pianos on a temporary basis or allow you to rent to own! Ask Steinway about their rent-to-own program.
Where to Buy Electronic Keyboards
Costco or Sam’s Club, based on seasonality
Ms. Steele’s piano technician: Mark Kiser (630) 910-1960
Moving Your Newly Purchased Piano
Sad but true: when people move, they are often forced to leave pianos or electronic keyboards behind. If you are in the market for a piano, ask around: someone might be selling an instrument on the cheap. Pianos are heavy, bulky instruments. It takes three strong men to move an upright piano properly. Moving a piano has almost always cost me about $200-300. Sometimes, people will be willing to give you a piano for the cost of moving it!
Oddly, grand pianos are easier to move than spinets or uprights. The reason for this is the cabinet can be locked and the legs come off on a grand.
Once again, moving any piano locally costs about $200. Add more money if there are stairs. If you want to move a piano yourself, try to get three very strong people, a moving truck, and a ramp to roll the piano in and out of the truck and various buildings. Two strong people can move a piano but three makes it super-easy.
Also, check these sites on the web for affordable pianos:
Imagine buying a piano and putting money down and then mysteriously, the piano never shows up! For instance, the now defunct Piano Experts store in Naperville allegedly sold pianos that it never delivered: meaning, the victims purchased or financed instruments that never arrived, but the CEOs of the company masqueraded as several music corporations in order to scam innocent people. Make sure that you buy a piano from a reputable dealer: Google their name and do research before making the purchase or providing your information.