We welcome guest blogger Robert Furst, for a series on “Everything you wanted to know about pianos …”
Perhaps you have always imagined that selecting the right piano calls for some special knowledge or advice that would not be necessary in buying an automobile, a computer, furniture, or a diamond ring. People who don’t know anything about those products buy them by the thousands every day. They simply walk into a reliable store that sells such things and pick out what suits their tastes and pocketbooks. And that is exactly what you should do if you want to buy a piano.
Shy away from spectacular bargains and be wary of attempts to give you the low-down on various makes. For reason, many who attempt to find a piano for their home soon seem to have the erroneous idea that the quality of piano tone is measurable, like the fineness of gold; that a jury of 30 experts, or perhaps laboratory tests, demonstrate that one piano has a 14-karat tone, so to speak, another an 18-karat tone, while the 24-karat tone is the supreme.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The appeal of piano tone is one of personal preference, a piano purchase is not a logical choice, it’s an emotional decision. Many of the top concert artists, even those who play the same make of piano, differ in their opinion of the tone best suited to the virtuosity of each. It may surprise you to know that two identical pianos may have different tone characteristics by the technical process known as “tone regulating”, as well as by mere pitch adjustment, or tuning.
Tone is an intangible something that is difficult to define and is unfortunately subject to nearly everyone’s personal choice. A piano has a definite quality tone which is ‘built in’. A soundboard with a high crown and strong downward pressure from the strings produces a ’round tone” that is associated with some beautiful pianos. A board with a less decided arch would produce a sharp, brittle tone, such as we associate with some other very fine instruments.
You are buying a piano for your home, for yourself, your children and musical friends to play on. You are going to live with the instrument, and it is you who should be pleased with that tone. Don’t discount your own ability to judge the tone that pleases. Of course, if you happen to be tone deaf that you cannot distinguish between a violin and a clarinet, you might want to take a friend to assist you in your selection, be sure it is a friend and not a technician or a piano teacher whose judgment might be swayed by the hope of a commission. Some, but not many, technicians are a bit on the commercial side. Fortunately, the best music stores don’t pay commissions, they don’t have to.
When you want to go piano shopping, go to a store that has a reputation for reliability in your community. Look with suspicion upon one that is constantly advertising bargains. The salesperson, if a professional, may ask you several questions before he or she even attempts to show or demonstrate any piano. Don’t resent this, they are simply trying to help you select the best piano adapted to your purse and purpose. He or she may ask you if you have children who will be expected to study the piano, they may want to know the approximate size of your living room. Frank answers to such questions will save you much time.
Don’t make a chore of buying a piano. It should be fun. You will never forget the person who sells you the piano. If you find the piano that pleases you at the price within your budget, buy it with confidence in the full knowledge that the seller, if he is a respectable merchant in your community, is very anxious that you are happy with your purchase forever. If the dealer sells you a piano, he hopes you will tell everybody you know that you really “love” your piano and where you got it. He knows that he is the only dealer that sells that particular brand – and the name is easily seen by all who visit your home. The best advertising in the world is customer referrals, and that’s the best reason for providing value and service.
The first thing you must determine in order to make a wise decision is what you want the piano for. That decision will have a bearing on the price and quality of the piano you eventually buy. You must be aware of the many details that make up a truly fine quality piano. By knowing what to look for, you will be able to determine the best value for the dollars you are going to spend. If you are an aspiring artist or a professional musician, you should buy the finest piano built in your own estimation. That piano should have nothing less than complete artistic capabilities. The extra cost will not amount to much, and you will receive the extra benefit of owning and playing a piano of superior quality.
The factors to be considered are size, new vs. used, tone quality, action, appearance, and durability. You must consider the beauty of what you see, the beauty of what you hear, and the value of your investment. The final answer to each of these considerations depends largely on each personal situation, we have put together a few guidelines and resources that can be helpful when making those decisions.
Determine where the piano will go in your home. That will determine the size, style, and finish and in some cases the price of the piano you will eventually buy. Once you have made the new vs. used decision, large vs. small, grand vs. vertical, you can shop around. But first, read the information contained in our September 2010 blog post, “How to Get Your Money’s Worth in a Piano.”
The instrument which you choose for your home should bear a name that indicates its enduring qualities of tone and stability. The trademark on the fall board alone should be your assurance of its distinction and musicianship and its enduring qualities of tone and stability. Each piano has a character all its own. This pedigree that sets it apart even from other instruments of the same make, model, and style is inevitable. No two trees ever grow exactly alike. Grain and densities differ between different species and between individual trees of the same species. Plastics and other materials used in keys differ in color. Wool from which hammer and damper felts when made vary in texture and length of fiber. Such variations are present in all materials from which pianos are made.
By Robert T. Furst, Author
Bluebook of Pianos and Piano Times © 2011 Bluebook of Pianos
*Piano Times copyright used by agreement in the State of California.
In the next part of this post, we’ll explore how pianos are constructed.
Our thanks to guest blogger, Robert Furst. Visit his website—bluebookofpianos.com—for more information about pianos.