If you’re looking to buy a piano, whether new or used, you may be wondering how to ensure your purchase is of good quality. After all, purchasing a piano can be a significant investment, depending on whether you’re purchasing a beginner piano or an advanced piano, and a higher quality piano will not only last longer, but also retain its value if you decide to resell or upgrade down the line.
There are several aspects that go into producing a quality piano, but not all of them are visible or obvious to the standard piano player or someone who is not privy to the manufacturing process. In this blog, we share tips that even beginner piano players can use to identify a quality piano.
How Can You Tell a Quality Piano?
Being able to spot a quality piano is more than just looking at the aesthetics–as they say, you can’t judge a book by its cover. Instead, there are some key components, craftsmanship, and sound that you should take into consideration.
1. Brand Name
One of the first things to look for in a quality piano is the brand name. There are well-known, quality brands in the music industry that consistently produce high quality instruments. While there are variances based on which factory or country in which the instrument was produced, the average piano player wouldn’t be able to recognize the difference.
The following are some of the most renowned piano brands for their quality and sound. Most have economical lines for everyday players as well as concert pianos for advanced players: Yamaha, Bösendorfer, Steinway & Sons, Kawai, and Bechstein.
The benefit of going with a high-quality brand is that you can feel much more confident that you are getting a quality product compared to a “stencil piano,” which refers to a piano that is branded by nameplate only and may be manufactured by a low-quality, unknown, or inconsistent brand. In addition, a higher quality brand will retain its value and is more recognizable in a used piano lineup, so if you plan on trading in or reselling your piano later, a well-known quality brand such as those listed above significantly increases your advantage.
There are lesser quality pianos that don’t have the level of quality, sound, and workmanship, such as Samick, Young Chang, Wurlitzer, Casio, Lindner, and Suzuki. These will typically be less expensive and can be a reasonable option for beginner pianists, but they don’t have the name recognition or quality that allows for strategic sale or trade-in down the line when the player is ready for a better quality piano..
2. Manufacturing Materials
Manufacturing materials will be more difficult to distinguish to the untrained eye, but are an integral component to identifying a quality piano. If you don’t have the tools or knowledge to identify these differences in manufacturing, do your research online based on your prospective piano brand and model. You can even look up the serial number of the piano to get more information about its manufacturing materials and standards.
One thing to look out for is foam cores or particleboard. While most quality pianos utilize solid wood in its cabinet components, there are some piano brands who will opt for cheaper materials to save costs. However, these materials are more sensitive to moisture, sun damage, and everyday wear and tear than solid wood. This means the piano won’t have as good of sound as better quality pianos, won’t last as long as its higher quality competitors, nor will it have the same value to a consignment shop or for trade-in with a buyer who knows what to look for.
In addition to the manufacturing materials, look for spruce soundboards (or ask your piano salesman if you’re not able to identify the wood species). Most piano manufacturers are clear about the species of wood of their soundboard as well as whether the soundboard is solid wood or laminated, and be wary of brands that don’t state the species of wood in their soundboard. Stay away from laminated material and take a little extra time to inspect the soundboard. You want to look for something with straight grains and that is free from knots or irregularities as these can affect the resonance of the piano sound.
3. Precise Craftsmanship
As well as quality manufacturing materials, a good quality piano will have precise craftsmanship. Take a closer look at the craftsmanship of the piano. This is more necessary when you are looking at used pianos for sale or when you are considering purchasing a lower quality or stencil brand piano.
Look for things like swelling wood, excessive seams on the rim, and inconsistencies on the soundboard. If there are cracks or swelled wood in any of these areas, it signals a significantly lower quality piano (or even irreparable damage; check out our blog on what to look for when buying a used piano for more information). Look for wooden vs plastic parts on the hammers or bridge. Then, look at the keys: are the gaps between keys consistent or varied? If you wiggle a key sideways back and forth, does it wiggle a lot or very little (precision-crafted pianos will have very little movement during this test).
4. Sound Quality
Finally, a good quality piano will have a round, pleasant tone. This can sometimes feel more subjective than objective, as some people prefer brighter piano sounds, such as those from Yamaha pianos. Others will prefer a more mellow tone, such as those from Kawai pianos. However, pianos can be “voiced” to a degree, mellowing brighter tones or brightening mellow tones.
Instead, look for a well-rounded tone. If you’re new to piano, this will be more easily distinguished if you play multiple pianos. Play a top-quality concert grand piano and a lesser quality piano (an unknown brand in the used piano section can be a good choice) as it will give you a broader range of sound, then play some pianos in-between. Play the same riff or ask your piano salesperson to play the same riff on each. This is most effective if the riff extends from the upper range of the piano to the lower range. If you’re new to playing the piano or insecure about playing in front of others, your piano salesperson will be more than happy to test-play an appropriately dynamic riff for you.
Then, play many (or all) of the piano’s keys individually. Play a key and hold it, taking note of the decay, which refers to how the sound decreases as you hold the note. You’re looking for a gradual, even decay across the piano’s entire range. As you get to the upper register, make sure the notes don’t sound tinny. They should sound more bell-like and pleasant, not harsh.
Finally, choose several notes to test the sensitivity. Piano music, especially in intermediate and advanced music, is nuanced, with some notes being played softly and gently, and others played with more power and resonance. Press the key multiple times in succession starting from soft to loud or loud to soft. Does the sound disappear as you press softly? Does the note ring together or muddy as you play? The joy of playing piano comes in being able to play expressively, and those players who have made the mistake of purchasing a piano without a sensitive touch will attest to the disappointment of having notes drop or muddy when playing an emotional piece. Even if you’re not there in your playing capabilities yet, you will be at some point!
If you’re unable to afford the quality of piano you’d like, there are several options for choosing a quality budget piano, considering financing opportunities, exploring quality digital pianos such as Clavinovas, or planning a trade-in strategy. You may explore our article on buying an affordable piano for more ideas. In the end, most piano players would agree that having a lesser-quality piano is better than having no piano at all.
Do you have questions or would you like to explore quality piano options within your budget? Please feel free to reach out. Our piano experts are happy to help!