How to Shop for Pianos

How to Shop for a Piano

Upright, grand, digital, electronic, keyboard, synthesizer – there are so many kinds of pianos out there! How do you choose what’s best for you or your student? 

Let Hoffman Academy guide you through the world of piano shopping! Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at what’s involved in shopping for pianos – where to buy them, how to choose the best one for your needs, what you can expect to spend. We’ll even have a 2019 update on our picks for the best acoustic, digital, and keyboard instruments for beginners. 

Today, we’re looking at how to shop for a piano – what to look for, some helpful terminology, and how to decide the best instrument for your needs. Let’s get started!

Quality Matters

No matter what type of piano you choose, quality is the most important thing to consider! An instrument that sounds bad, breaks down often, or is difficult to play will turn any beginner off. Plus, you’ll wind up spending more in the long run in repairs and replacements. 

Also, remember that mastery takes time. Pick a piano that will carry you through your music journey. 

Know Your Pianos

There are three main types of pianos: acoustic pianos, digital pianos, and keyboards. For a complete breakdown of each type, check out our previous post on How to Choose a Piano or Keyboard

There’s a more recent option, too: Hybrid pianos! These are instruments that can act like a digital and an acoustic piano. They tend to be a bit pricier though, so we recommend them for seasoned players who really want the features of both. 

The Essentials

Imagine trying to practice basketball or soccer skills, but all you have is a beach ball. It’s still a ball. You can still kick and throw it. However, it feels completely different and doesn’t really prepare you for the field or court. 

Practicing on the wrong instrument is sort of like that. Here’s what you need to get started:

Must-haves

88 Keys: The standard, full-sized keyboard.

Weighted keys: Also known as “hammer action,” “graded action,” or “natural touch.” For digital pianos, this means that the keys are designed to feel heavier, more like an acoustic piano. The added resistance helps with muscular development.

Touch sensitivity: Sometimes called “velocity layers” or “dynamic response.” This means that how you press the key changes how loud or soft the sound is.

A music stand/rest: Don’t forget a spot to put your music! 

Useful, but not totally necessary:

 

Stand/base/cabinet: The stand or base is what the keyboard of the instrument sits on. Some are built in (like a cabinet), some are separate. 

Note: While you can get by without a fitted stand or cabinet, we highly recommend getting one. The piano will feel sturdier, letting the student move easily while playing.

Bench: Some pianos are sold with a bench included, but not all! Check with the seller if you need a bench.

Pedals are also great to have, though you can do without them in the beginning.

Acoustic pianos have all of these automatically, and generally, so do hybrids. Most digital pianos have them too, but check the specs to be sure! Electronic keyboards rarely have all three of these qualities, if any.

Shopping Tips

  • Try it out! Like test driving a car, it’s an important part of the buying process. Playing the piano lets you hear how it sounds and test how it feels. Anyone selling a piano, be it a private seller or a large store, should allow you to play the piano(s) you’re considering.
  • Try several different instruments. Whenever possible, shop at a piano store or dealer, where you’ll have many options to choose from. When you’re there, try a lot of instruments - even ones you don’t plan to buy! Doing so will help you (or your student) determine what you like and don’t like.
  • If buying a used acoustic piano: Take a tuner with you. This is especially helpful if you’re buying from a private seller. A piano tuner can tell you whether a piano is in good working condition, if it’ll need repairing, and what its value is. To find a registered piano technician (RPT) near you, ask people you know who have pianos, or visit the Piano Technicians Guild’s RPT finder.
  • Look inside. Again, this is mainly for acoustic pianos, and a piano tuner can do this for you! Cracks in the wood, parts coming undone, and notable wear on the felt of the hammers can be big red flags. On the other hand, things like missing keys or keys that don’t play are actually easy fixes.

Final Considerations

What are you willing to invest? Do you want a quick, cheap solution, or would you prefer to start with good quality that will last years? How much can you budget for that quality? Answering these questions will help you make a decision you’ll be happy with!

In our next post, we’ll talk about where you can buy pianos. There are more options than you think! Here’s what else is coming up in this series:

Hoffman Academy's Ultimate Piano Buying Guide!

Choosing a Piano for the Beginning Student (2017) 

Coming soon:

Where to Buy Your Piano 

How Much Does a Piano Really Cost? 

The 2019 Piano Buying Guide 

Best Digital Pianos Under $1000

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*Need a refresher on the types of pianos? Check out How to Shop for Pianos! So you have an idea of what to look for

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