How to Pick the Perfect Acoustic Piano

By Holly Day, Jerry Kovarksy, Blake Neely, David Pearl, Michael Pilhofer

If your pro and con list reveals that an acoustic piano suits your needs best or you have decided that you can’t live without one, the following may help select the right model piano for you.

Take location into account

Most older pianos were produced with a particular climate in mind. The wood used to make them was weathered for the finished product’s climate. Japan, for example, has a wetter climate than many locations in the United States.

Therefore, the wood in many pianos manufactured for use in Japan has been dried out more than the wood used to make pianos for use in the U.S. If you live in the U.S. and you buy a piano made for use in Japan, you may face some serious problems with the wood parts of your piano drying out.

Many manufacturer websites allow you to trace the serial number of your piano, so you can check the vintage and country of birth for a piano you’re looking at.

Get all the pedals you deserve

Some underhanded dealers claim that they can save you money by offering you a piano with no middle pedal. Baloney! You may never use the middle pedal, but just in case Lang Lang comes over for lunch, you need to have one.

Getting a middle pedal isn’t like adding a sunroof to a new car. Three piano pedals shouldn’t be optional or part of a special package that costs more; three pedals are part of the overall purchase. If you want three pedals, ask to see piano models with three pedals.

Many upright pianos just don’t have a middle pedal. So, if the piano you want is an upright with only two pedals, it’s probably perfectly fine. Just ask about the third pedal to be on the safe side.

Finding good buys and avoiding scams

If you shop around and find a piano for a ridiculously low price — far lower than the same model anywhere else in town — it’s either used, broken, or a Memorial Day sale to really remember.

If you decide to shop for a used acoustic piano, be patient and take a look at a variety of instruments. There are many very good pianos out there, and sometimes people need to sell them because they don’t play them anymore, they’re moving, or they need to make room for a new 70-inch HDTV setup.

And if you’ve found your dream piano at a garage sale, the low, low price is not necessarily an indication of anything wrong. It’s a garage sale! You may just find a perfectly good piano with many glorious years left in it for a fraction of the cost of a new one.

Be smart about any deal that seems too good to be true. If most stores offer a certain model for $20,000 and suddenly you’re staring at the same model at PianoMax for $5,000, something’s wrong. The soundboard may be cracked. It may be missing strings. Who knows? Hire a professional to look the piano over before you purchase it.

Demo models are also good buys. Stores frequently loan pianos to local universities or concert halls for use by students, competitions, and guest artists. Even if it has been used only one time, the piano can no longer be sold as new. Of course, pianos don’t have odometers, so you have to take the dealer’s word for just how used a piano really is, but most dealers will be honest.

If you’ve heard one, you haven’t heard them all

Not only do different brands sound completely different, but the sound of two pianos made by the same company can sound and feel different, too. This is why you must, must, must put your hands and ears on every piano you consider. Play every darn key, and play at all volumes. Many pianos sound beautiful except for one key. You’ll notice the bad one when you get home.

Play and listen to those keys again and again. Trust your instincts. Don’t be rushed. Only you know what you like. Some people don’t like the sound of a Steinway; some don’t like a Baldwin. You’re entitled to your own taste.

Look at specific piano brands

The following are some good brands of pianos from around the world. Contact these companies directly and ask where to find their pianos in your area.