Buying and Moving a Piano
by Doug (e-mail: magicref (at) lycos.com)
My family recently went through the process of buying a new piano. Hopefully this article will help you if you are going down the same path.
Pianos come in many sizes, shapes, and price categories. Pianos range from a small portable electronic keyboards to full-size 9 foot grand pianos and can cost from under $100 to over $60,000. So how do you go about determining what and where to buy?
vs. Mechanical Pianos:
Electronic keyboards have come a long way, and are able to produce a wide variety of musical effects beyond that of a standard piano. Concert grand pianos have been electronically "sampled" to provide digitized sounds for electronic keyboards. If you listen closely, however, you will find that even the best electronic pianos don't match the sound of a good mechanical piano. If you want the sound of a traditional piano, an electronic keyboard probably won't be your best choice.
Another difference is found in the mechanical operation of the keys. The "feel" of the keys is completely different. The stiff feel of a mechanical piano is a result of the "action" that connects the keys to the hammers, which strike the piano strings. Most inexpensive keyboards feel quite mushy in comparison. Some models attempt to mimic the traditional piano feel, but again, they rarely come close. If you are planning to play a traditional piano, it is probably better to learn on one, rather than trying to transition from the soft feel of a keyboard to stiff piano keys.
The rest of this article focuses on traditional pianos.
Upright or Grand?
Pianos come in two basic forms: upright (vertical) or grand. An upright piano is smaller, and looks much like a bookcase with keys. Grand pianos rest on three legs, and come in sizes from just under 5 feet to well over 9 feet long. All are about 5 feet wide.
One of the first considerations in choosing, then, is the size of the area you have to place the piano. An upright is usually placed against a wall, and you only need a space about 5 feet wide and four or five feet deep so you can place a bench in front of the piano. A grand piano, on the other hand, can easily fill a small room with it presence. The exact space requirement will depend on how long your grand piano is, of course.
A second consideration is the sound quality. In general, a grand piano will sound better than an upright, but please note that a good upright will sound better than many of the cheaper grands, so this is only a guideline.
A third consideration is that of the piano action. The action is the mechanics that transfer a press of the piano key to the striking of the hammer on the appropriate key. Because of the limited space in a vertical piano, the action on these pianos is generally not as crisp as on a grand.
If you are seeking an upright, generally taller is better. The basic laws of science come into play as the bass notes need a longer string length. The shorter the upright, the shorter the possible string length and the less "bassy" the sound. Also, since a tall upright takes up no more practical room than a short one, there is little reason NOT to get a tall upright.
If you are seeking a grand piano, the same principle applies: get the longest grand you can fit. However, you also need to consider the size of the room and how loud the piano may play. A larger piano will also play louder, so even if you can fit a 9 foot piano in the room, you may decide to consider a 7 foot version instead so that you can play more dynamically without overloading the room.
The primary consideration for most people will be the cost. Traditional pianos can be purchased from around $3000 to well over $60,000. Uprights run in the $3000 - $12,000 range, while Grands run from $7000 and up. As mentioned above, a $12,000 upright may represent a much better piano than a $7,000 Grand, depending on the particular pianos considered.
Uprights: We were looking for a Grand piano, so I don't have much information on Upright pianos, but I do have a few observations. The Yamaha U1, U3, and U5 pianos were nice, and seem to make good choices at about $10K and under. Freehold Music (http://www.freeholdmusic.com) in Freehold, NJ sells Yamaha and has good prices and the salesmen we dealt with were very helpful. ABC Piano (http://www.abcpiano.com) in Delaware advertises rebuilt Yamaha U3's for about $3500, but I can't vouch for the company and you must be very careful about buying rebuilt pianos. Warner Piano (http://www.warnerpiano.com) in PA sells Steinberg (German) uprights. They sounded very nice and cost about $10K, if memory serves me correctly. I have also heard great reports about Fandrich & Sons (http://www.fandrich.com) vertical pianos. They make a custom action that are reported to be excellent and rival those of the better grand pianos.
Our Grand Experience:
After our preliminary research, we started out thinking we wanted a Yamaha C2. This is a 5'6" grand, and is available for under $14K. We had tried one in Freehold Music, and liked it. The action was sharp, and the sound was crisp. At this time in our quest, we thought that even $14K was going to be too much to spend. However, as we shopped in the central New Jersey area, we began to change our minds.
We went to Warner Piano in Pennsylvania. They are a small shop, and carry Story & Clark and Steinberg. They had a small Story & Clark for about $7000, which sounded okay, but we still preferred the Yamaha. The Steinberg was nice, though it took us getting some used to it, perhaps because we had only played Yamaha's. However, the list price was around $30K, which was certainly more than we wanted to spend. They also told us they were getting in an Eisenberg piano. The Eisenberg is a new economical line made by Steinberg, but in Poland (and soon to be in the Czech Republic) rather than Germany. Warner's said the 6'3" Eisenberg model should be in the $16-20K range, which was closer to what we wanted. However, we did not get to see this piano so I can't say much about it.
Next we went to Jacob's Music (http://www.jacobsmusic.com) in Cherry Hill, NJ. They carry Steinway, Boston, and Yamaha. We didn't like the Bostons, and even the Steinway's we tried were not too impressive, at least to our unprofessional ears.
Our next stop was pure joy. We went to Cunningham Pianos (http://www.cunninghampiano.com) in Philadelphia, PA. Our salesman, Tim, was excellent. He wasn't pushy, and was very informative. Minutes after sitting down at an Estonia piano, my wife loved it. The action was great, the sound was marvelous, and the looks were beautiful. The 5'6" Estonia is about $16K, which is very reasonable. Even the 6' Estonia is only about $19K or so. We also got a tour of the Cunningham Piano Factory where they rebuild pianos, which was a neat experience. I would highly recommend Cunningham's, although we didn't end up with an Estonia.
Our last stop was Altenburg Piano (http://www.altenburgpiano.com)
in Lawrenceville, NJ. The only candidate that we liked there was the
August Forster, which we found to be a tad better than the Estonia. The
5'6" August Forster was also a tad more money, but because of a scratch
on the side (well, who really knows with piano prices), we got a good
deal on it. The salesmanship at Altenburg was not as relaxed as at
Cunningham's, but the piano certainly sold us.
Moving a Piano!
(update Oct 2009)
So we recently moved to a different state, and had to have our
5'7" Grand Piano moved as well. Our moving company told us they move
more pianos than any specialized Piano Movers, and the cost was
certainly good as it was only an add-on to the overall package, so we
decided to let them do it.
In a nutshell, it was a mistake. I do have to say that overall
they did an adequate job, but the problem is that not all of the men
doing the move were experts at moving pianos. During the packing up,
they ended up putting a hairline crack in the fold-back part of the
piano lid because they tried to lift it without adequate support. We
didn't even discover until some weeks after we had moved in. After some
trouble with the moving insurance, we have been reimbursed for part of
what it will cost to fix it.
Lesson learned - next time we'll use a professional piano