J has been attending piano classes for a few months now. But before we take the plunge and invest thousands of dollars in a piano, my wife and I want to make sure that she really likes it.
In the meantime, the only piece she uses for practice is a toy keyboard she borrowed from her cousin!
Fast forward to today, from the look of it, she seems to enjoy playing piano very much. That is a sign that we have to fork out some money for her new-found passion. And it has to fit in nicely into our motto:
“Invest only in things our children are passionate about… not just to keep up with the Joneses.”
Then we started our hunt for a used piano by telling our piano teacher about our intention of owning one. He happily gave us a free 30-minute lesson on what to look for when you buy a used piano. And for the first time in my life, I set my eye on the inner working of a piano and what it is consisted of.
One or two weeks later, the teacher told us that one piano supplier has a few units of pianos that we might be interested in. He told us the pianos from this particular vendor are of certain high quality and we can be sure of what we pay for.
About two weeks ago, I took J to check out those pianos. I let her try all that were there and highly recommended by the teacher. Finally we settled on one. One that J likes and it is within our budget.
After negotiating, both of us agreed to a reduced price. And I confirmed the order the following day. The piano was delivered to us 11 days ago – that is two days after we viewed it. The package comes with a piano bench and two cover sheets. It has one free tuning (which was done 3 days after delivery) and 5 years warranty.
I know I know, this is one of the big purchases I made with lightning speed. All done and delivered in just 3 days! We only checked out one vendor… and done deal.
Easy as pie.
I know nothing about pianos and buying a piano is not something you want to learn from me. Fortunately we have our teacher to source for us some really good pianos. So if you are like me, getting someone who knows about pianos to be your shopping partner is a smart thing to do.
So far so good as J likes the piano and she almost uses it everyday.
Here, I will highlight to you what to look for when buying a used piano. Get yourself familiar with the parts and terms of a piano as this will definitely help you during your shopping.
I have found an excellent article on this topic. It is taken from ClassicPiano:
Size: First, how big a piano can your house and budget afford? In this case, size really does matter: the larger the instrument, the better the sound. If you have the room and the money, go for the grand. If not, choose a sturdy well-build upright. Remember, a tall upright has long bass strings, so a 55" upright will approximately deliver the sound quality of a 5' grand piano. The longer the bass strings, the lower the fundamental bass notes. There are fine used pianos – often better than new – on the market, but approach the purchase of either new or used with some basic knowledge before buying.
Condition: When purchasing a used piano ask about the condition of the instrument: Where has the piano been? Who used it? Has it been cared for? When was it last tuned? If the piano has spent any time outside, or in an unheated/cooled structure such as a shed or barn, it will most likely need work. This is not to say it will not hold a tune, but there will be soundboard cracking, case & finish damage and possibly bridge damage/separation. Although a cracked soundboard is serious, usually a little rib tightening can make all the difference in the world, both structurally and sound quality wise. Believe it or not, after the ribs have been tightened in a piano with soundboard cracks, the quality of sound is very near equal to that of a similar piano with no cracks! It has been proven by piano technicians time and again.
Personal Appeal: The right piano for you must appeal to both your ear and your heart – but go after the sound first. Everyone has an individual response to music, so go with what you like, not what someone else tells you you should like. An instrument that gives almost, but not precisely the sound you want can be adjusted by "voicing", which is performed by a technician who regulates the action of the keys and softens or hardens the felt on the hammers.
Touch: Touch is almost as important as tone. Play every key and feel for sticky or squishy action – it should feel as if there is no obstacle between you and the instrument. Listen for notes that are out of tune and for buzzes and rattles. These few things are as important as a look inside.
Strings: When "looking under the hood", there are several checks you can perform: look for rust around the tuning pin where the string is wrapped. These wraps should not be covered in rust. Some, slight rust is OK, but a furry rust is bad news. That means when your tuner tunes the piano, you can expect strings to break! Any missing strings? You should be able to see all three strings of a unison, from the treble down to the tenor section. The exception is double strings where the first few unisons in the tenor section have double bass strings, as in a Steinway grand. Missing strings generally indicate the strings have rusted somewhere along the string and the string has broken. Another common place for strings to break is under the damping braid/felt in the non-speaking length of the string. This located between the bridge and the plate.
Hammers: Deeply grooved hammer faces can be bad too. While a hammer can be shaved down, this can only be done once, maybe twice in a hammer's life.
Once you find a piano you love, call in a pro to give it a thorough exam. Although a cracked soundboard may not be easily spotted by an amateur, it may be very serious and require major rebuilding. It's always best to hire a registered piano technician you know or who has been recommended by friends.
Even if you're buying a piano without knowing how to play, remember it's never too late to learn. At the age of 51, Noah Adams, host of the National Public Radio show All Things Considered, bought a piano before knowing how to use it – chronicling his adventures learning to play in his 1996 book Piano Lessons. What happened when he finally played Schumann's Traumerei for his wife? She cried and so did he.
Besides the above, the most important thing is to bring your child along to try out the piano. Let him or her feel it, touch it, and hopefully fall in love with it. Make sure you get one that is well liked by your child. Because you don’t want to let the piano end up collecting dust in one corner of your home.
I got this tip from my teacher: When you have found your ideal piano and get it delivered, remember to place it 6 inches or a foot from the wall. This makes the sound more solid and loud. If you have wood flooring (this makes piano relatively louder) and you want to reduce the sound, put carpet underneath the piano.
Oh one more thing, in order to make our investment more worth it, I have put “learning piano” as one of the items on my 2010 New Year Resolution. With that in mind, I have to go now as the piano is waiting for me for some early practice.
Note: On top of the one-on-one lessons, I also encourage J to learn through piano software. This serves as a revision for what she has learned in the class. The second reason is to expose her to the use of computer. By using the software, it can train her the basics of computer interaction using mouse and keyboard. This is good for her as she is not a “computer junkie” by nature as compared to other kids.