What type of piano should you buy as a new piano student? Part 2 of 2
In my last blog post, we briefly discussed the first 2 key questions to ask yourself before deciding what type of piano to get.
Today, let's talk about the COMPROMISE and BUDGET questions
But before we dive in, If you're a bit unsure what the different piano types are, here is a quick overview!
TYPES OF PIANOS
Acoustic pianos need no introduction I’m sure! They come in a variety of brands and models, from tiny 1m spinet pianos to big, 188cm long concert grands. Typically, most piano students and teachers in Australia will play on an upright.
A digital piano is a keyboard with fully weighted keys to emulate the feeling of a real piano. They often come in a wooden case, giving them a more 'furniture-style' look. Some even look like mini-uprights!
Hybrid pianos are technically digital pianos, but they come equipped with a fully functional, real piano keyboard inside the cabinet. That means they include not just the keys, but the hammer action and even the damper action in some models. The result is an authentic piano action, but with the sound produced digitally rather than via strings and a soundboard.
SILENT ACOUSTIC PIANO
Silent acoustic pianos are entirely acoustic models, with strings and soundboard, but they carry a digital 'soundbox' that allows you to plug in headphones. You flip a switch which stops the hammer from striking the strings, and the sound is produced digitally instead.
If you've read my last blog post, you should by now have a pretty firm idea whether you will go for an acoustic or a digital piano, or possibly a hybrid or silent piano. So let's move on to question 3!
QUESTION 3: WHICH FEATURES ARE NON-NEGOTIABLE?
The question I want you to ask yourself is: what specific element of your new piano is non-negotiable? Is it the touch? The sound? The cabinet/furniture style? Must it be portable or have the ability to connect to your iPad so you can play along to backing tracks? You have to pick one, and only one!
If it is the GRAND PIANO TOUCH/ACTION that is so important for you, you can rule out upright pianos and cheap digitals. The touch is a direct consequence of the action in a keyboard, and a grand does have a particular feeling when you play it. Uprights can be an absolute joy to play on, but the action will differ slightly from that of a grand piano. If this is important to you, a baby grand, top of the line digital model and a hybrid piano might offer a better choice.
If the SOUND QUALITY is what is important to you, you’re best to go for an acoustic or a silent piano. While digital models are fantastic these days in reproducing accurate piano sounds, they are not yet at that level that a discerning ear can’t pick up the difference in quality in the sound. Usually, the piano sound samples are superb when wearing headphones, but are much less impressive when produced through the speaker system - even if the speaker is of very high quality.
If the LOOK of the piano is essential for you, you might want to stick to those furniture styles that appeal to you - (baby) grands or digitals with a grand piano look.
If the TECHNOLOGICAL features are what appeals to you, you need to look at digitals, hybrids and possibly silent pianos (though check the specs on the last option VERY carefully!). You cannot use your acoustic with a lot of apps out there, so if access and use of technology are vital for you, skip the acoustic!
QUESTION 4: WHAT IS YOUR BUDGET?
The final question that will narrow down your choices will be the one most people start with - how much can you spend? Or, in some cases, how much are you comfortable spending?
Before we dive into the options, let me just tell you an essential bit of information. Some of you might already know this, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t realise this!
A piano is NOT a cheap instrument, and an OLDER model is NOT necessarily BETTER.
A good quality acoustic piano will set you back anywhere from $4000AUD for a beginner upright to tens of thousands of dollars for a grand piano. Even digital pianos of sufficient quality will require a budget of 4 figures.
If you’ve read my previous blog post and you’ve already made the decision that you’re going to go for an acoustic piano, you basically have 3 options.
- Buy new
- Buy second-hand
If your budget is minimal, or if you are a little unsure what piano to get, renting one could be a great choice. Many piano stores have rent-to-buy packages, allowing you to rent a piano first before committing to purchasing it.
If you do have some money to spend but not enough to get the shiny new professional Yamaha upright you had your eye on, a second-hand piano can be an excellent choice. Often music stores sells fully refurbished pianos, or schools might off-load their instruments on regular intervals. For private sales, look through local or online listings to find pianos for sale. There is one caveat to this last option though: whatever you do, make sure you get a technician to come with you to view the piano and assess it! You are unlikely to spot any trouble or defects without a trained eye!
Finally, the third option is to purchase new. This is usually the most expensive option, not only because the prices will be at their peak, but also because new pianos require more frequent tunings in the first years than ‘settled’ older models, increasing the maintenance costs for those first few years.
If you just can’t justify spending that much on a piano yet, or you have determined at this point that an acoustic is not the best option for you, the world of digital pianos is just as vast and complex.
In my experience, the higher the price point of the digital, the better the piano it will be. Higher priced models usually come with more features, better quality sound, more realistic touch or action and a more sophisticated look.
I usually do not recommend buying a second-hand digital piano, unless the model is relatively new (a model from the last 5-7 years) or you find one that’s an absolute steal. The technology advances very fast and older models might not be able to connect to your devices.
A good quality digital can be had from around $1000AUD for an entry-level model, up to and exceeding $10,000AUD!
If you are going to spend a vast chunk of money like that, do make sure you have thought through your reasoning for purchasing the digital over a similarly priced acoustic. I only mention this because acoustic pianos will typically hold their value in the long run whereas digitals will not, and when you’re spending thousands of dollars, you need to have thought about that too.
I hope this blog post (and the one before that!) helped you a little bit in your quest for finding your perfect piano.
If I may offer one more piece of advice, that is whatever option you decide to go with, ALWAYS PLAY YOUR CHOSEN PIANO BEFORE BUYING!
It is absolutely vital you love the sound, look and feel of your chosen instrument, even if you had to make a compromise here or there.
If you are a complete novice, this may sound impossible ("I can't play! How can I assess the piano?") but even just depressing some random keys will give you a feel for the keyboard and allow you to emotionally 'connect' with the instrument. By all means, ask the people in the store or the technician you brought along to play the piano for you while you just listen, but make sure you sit down at the keyboard yourself too. A piano is an investment, and you want to ensure you're going to love your choice for years, even decades, to come!
PS - If you’re curious, my own pianos are a Yamaha CLP-575 (a digital piano, second top of the line model in the Yamaha CLP range) and an acoustic Kawai K-300 upright, a professional studio piano made in Japan. Yes, I recommend both models for students from beginners to advanced stages!