Selecting the right piano for you!

When it comes to selecting the right piano, several things need to be considered before making the best choice for your circumstances.

You need answers to the following questions –

  • New or second hand?
  • Am I a beginner or more advanced?
  • Will I do classical exams or play for fun?
  • Short term purchase or long term?
  • What budget should I consider?
  • Does Country of origin make a difference?

So often we see customers not making the best choice due to not being fully informed, getting bad advice or a salesman just selling what he wants to sell and not what the customer actually needs. At Carlingford Music, our staff have many years of experience in selling pianos and they take the time and effort to find out what you need and advise the best possible options. This is a testament to the many piano teachers that recommend students to us with a simple message "don't bother going anywhere else, Carlingford Music will make sure you get the best piano". A fact we are very proud of.

Following are explanations of the questions above. Piano specifications are not discussed here, as that is a very detailed subject in itself and can take many years to understand fully. Many customers do become over-obsessed with specifications, technology and country of origin. The main criteria for any instrument are how does it sound? How does it perform? And what is the correct piano for my individual circumstances? The best theory may not always produce a better instrument.

New versus second hand?

This is the biggest debate you will have and influence where you start in the process of looking for a piano. Many consumers believe that older pianos are better, usually, the advice is given from family or friends that say the old ones sound better and that's all you need to get started on. These days the cost of restoring an old piano makes it an unviable proposition (in the range of $5000-$10000). It is certainly true that some second-hand pianos can represent good value if they have been maintained properly and are not very old, 10-20 years or less. If a car dealer told you that the 25-year-old in the yard is better than a brand new model you wouldn't believe them. It is no different with a piano when you consider it has thousands of moving parts and approximately 20 tonnes of pressure per square inch on the iron frame. Pianos DO NOT IMPROVE WITH AGE. Choosing between new or second hand and how much to spend are likely to be the most important decisions you make in the entire process of buying a piano. There are many piano stores that only sell second hand and are obviously discouraging people from buying new.

Because a piano has so many moving parts they eventually wear causing the touch and the response of the instrument to diminish. This is particularly evident in pre-World War II pianos that should be avoided due to their excessive age. These pianos will have a detrimental impact on beginners playing technique, not to mention aural perception skills, as the piano will unlikely be perfectly in concert pitch

We are certainly not advocating you never buy a second-hand piano and as earlier stated it can be an acceptable solution. With the price of new pianos maintaining the same levels for many years and in some cases decreasing the cost difference between new and second hand has never been so small. Most of the second-hand pianos on the market in Australia have been imported second hand from Japan. The costs associated with importing such as shipping and GST make them in a lot of cases not much cheaper than a new piano. We here it many times from customers who say if I only knew that new pianos were not that expensive they would certainly have chosen to buy a new piano. The prospect of owning a brand new piano is that much closer to being a reality rather than a dream.

Beginner or Advanced?

The answer to this question will determine what range of products you should consider and is decided more on the basis of size. As a beginner, you have the choice of purchasing any good quality piano that the budget allows. If you are already playing the piano and are approaching a grade 5 examination level or equivalent, teachers recommend you to consider a piano that is 122cm in height or above. This size piano will allow for the development into further grades and produce the required dynamic range for further examination levels. You may like to consider a 132cm piano or a Grand piano if you are likely to surpass grade 8 or love to hear a huge sound.

Classical Piano Exams or Play for Fun?

If you choose to do the classical piano and examinations the quality and size of the piano are paramount! To be proficient, the playing technique is critical and therefore you should consider only purchasing a new piano as any piano is at its best when it is new. When you are playing for fun this is not such an issue. The range of products available will be much wider and varied.

Short or Long term purchase?

This comes down to just two things, size and new or second hand.

Height Range

108cm – 112cm
Studio (narrow dynamic range)

118cm – 125cm
Intermediate (wider dynmic range)

128cm – 136cm (large dynamic range)

An intermediate or professional piano will certainly cover most piano player's needs immediate and into the future. Also, a new piano will have the longest lifespan from the date it is delivered. A 30-year-old piano, for example, has already finished the best 30 years of its life and will only deteriorate further. Generally, pianos require an action overhaul every 40 – 50 years depending on usage and maintenance levels. Once you have achieved a grade 7 or 8 exam level the 30-year-old piano purchased at the beginning is now 40 years old and will not produce the dynamic range or touch response required. Unless you spend several thousand dollars on the action the piano will need to be upgraded. At Carlingford Music Centre if you do not have the budget to stretch to a bigger new piano we will trade back your new beginner piano purchased from us for up to full amount originally paid. Terms & Conditions Apply Please see {Money Back Trade-Up Policy}.

What budget should I set?

  Good quality pianos new or used generally start from $2500 upwards. Our advice would be to concede a digital piano with correctly weighted action if your budget doesn't stretch to this. Very good digital pianos are now available from $1000 - $2500. They have 88 notes like a piano and the keys are weighted. Even though the feel is not exactly the same as a properly functioning piano, the key weight is and it is the key weight that develops piano playing technique. It is for this reason that the A.M.E.B. accept digital pianos for classical piano exams up to fourth grade. They will not recommend you to buy a very old piano to do examinations on. A digital piano is definitely a better alternative to learning on than an old clapped out a piano, that the keys play unevenly with strange sounds on different notes. This only serves to frustrate the player not encourage you to play more.

Does Country of origin make a difference?

This has become a contentious issue over recent months to the point where manufacturers are now producing advertising to change customer perceptions of where pianos are manufactured. It has become less critical when the major manufacturers have set up their own factories in other countries. What matters is the company's country of origin. Today's electronics appliances of all major brands are made in many different countries of which China is the largest. No one thinks twice about buying these products because you have confidence in the brand. This should also apply to pianos. When major companies go offshore they set up a factory with the same machinery, the same manufacturing skills and technology. The only difference is the labour cost which is significant when you consider that it takes approximately 11 days to manufacture 1 piano. This trend is also driven by consumer demands for cheaper priced products that are still good quality.

A perfect example of this is Kawai's new facility in Indonesia. They are a Japanese based company with a plant in Hamamatsu producing between 600 and 1000 pianos per week. A large percentage of this is their grand pianos and Shigeru grand piano range. Recently they purchased land in Indonesia and built a brand new facility. The most experienced technicians are employed by the Japanese facility and other Indonesian technicians were sent to Japan for several months of training. The other innovative thing Kawai did was to still manufacture the action (the 5500 moving parts) in Japan and send it to Indonesia for installation.

Kawai even awards the same factory warranty terms and conditions to these pianos 12 years see in store for details.

The end result is an instrument that is more technically advanced at an affordable price with no difference to the country of manufacture.