Striking the right key(board) or piano

Posted: March 09, 2014

SHOPPING FOR a piano can be incredibly overwhelming because the range of prices for a new one can be anywhere from $2,500 all the way up to $2 million. Add in used pianos, and the price range expands.

There are also thousands of brands, and if you don't know what to listen for, you may think every piano (regardless of price and brand) sounds the same.

"It's kind of like shopping for anything," said Pierre Julia, owner of Pierre's Fine Pianos, based in Los Angeles. "The range of quality goes from made-in-China to hand-built in Europe."

The first thing to decide before you begin shopping? Your piano's use.

"I notice that parents tend to buy digital pianos like keyboards because they don't require tuning," said Dina Paolucci, founder of the New York Piano School. As opposed to a real piano, which can easily start at $2,000, a full-size keyboard costs around $200. Because a piano should be tuned twice a year at a minimum of $100 a pop, the keyboard saves a significant amount of money - and it's not necessary to buy a real piano until the child starts learning more advanced pieces in his second or third year of study, said Paolucci, who recommends a Yamaha or a Casio weighted keyboard because they feel similar to an actual piano.

Another popular option for people who want to buy a piano so that children can learn to play - or for fun - is to buy a used piano.

The first thing you may notice when shopping for a used piano is the overwhelming array of piano brands. That's because many piano companies were only in business for a few decades at a time, though pianos can last for more than a century if they are tuned and kept in a stable room in the house.

"What I tell customers is to not worry so much about the brand, but to look at each individual piano as a separate entity," said Newell Hill, executive director for Keys 4/4 Kids, a nonprofit organization based in Minnesota with locations in Chicago and in Kansas City that sells donated used pianos - and gives 100 percent of the profits to support various music and arts programs for children.

But there are ways to tell if the used piano will last over time.

"One thing you do want to worry about is the pin block, which is where the pins go into the piece of wood," Hill said. "If there are cracks, it won't be able to stay in tune."

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