Questions & Answers

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What to look for in a piano

It’s difficult to tell merely by looking at a piano how well it plays, how well it’s built, or how much it might be worth in the future. There are several points to consider when looking for a quality instrument.

Most musicians are concerned, naturally, about the tone, or sound quality of the piano. Qualities like long sustain, dynamic control, pitch, timbre (color), or voicing are critical elements when considering the purchase of a new piano.

Also high on the list for most pianists is touch, or how the piano feels and responds. For the best experience, look for a piano that plays with the least amount of effort and noise, good balance, exceptional speed and accuracy.

In addition to the musical qualities of the piano, most people are more or less interested in its appearance, i.e. looks, finish, style, color, sheen, shape, etc.

How well the manufacturer built the piano and what quality it was designed to have. There are many ways to build a piano. However, over the years there has emerged a consensus of sorts in the piano industry as to which types of construction are preferred for the highest quality instruments. These typically include such features as 1) Overstrung bass 2) Continuous Rim 3) Solid spruce soundboard 4) Certain standard types of materials and construction employed in the case, rim, and plate (or frame). The quality of the piano starts with the quality of the wood. Since 85% of any acoustic piano is composed of wood, it makes sense for the shopper to compare the species and grade of the wood. Less expensive pianos compromise on the grade and types of wood, as well as the workmanship used in the manufacturing process.

Finally, one of the most important considerations is cost: this includes such considerations as the piano's price, your available budget, financing options, investment value of the piano, resale value, etc. An investment is a possession acquired for future benefit, with the expectation it will increase in value. The more recognized the brand, and higher quality the piano, the more satisfying the return.

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Piano sizes and types

Choosing a piano is oftentimes a difficult decision. By choosing a piano, you are choosing a musical instrument, a fine piece of furniture, an object of emotional attachment and a monetary, musical, and educational investment. When properly cared for, the average lifespan of a piano is several decades, much longer than the average automobile.

Size is an important consideration in choosing your instrument since, generally speaking, the larger the piano, the better the tone. In large part, the amount of space you have for the instrument will be an important factor in choosing the right size of instrument for you. Many people are surprised to find that they have more space than they had originally thought and are able to purchase a much larger piano. Meridian Music Company can provide you with a paper pattern to place on the floor to measure the space.

But size is not the only factor to consider. Your level of aspiration & the style of your home will also help to determine the type of piano for your needs. By purchasing the best instrument possible within a comfortable price range, you are encouraging an individual to expect to continue playing and to strive for success. This can make all the difference in the world. And since a piano is a fine piece of furniture in addition to a musical instrument, your décor and furniture will help to determine which type of elegant cabinet and finish will adapt to your home. Remember, a piano is an investment that will remain with you for many years, so consider purchasing the best piano that you can afford.

But, ultimately, the only true way to determine the instrument that will meet your needs is to play the piano and listen to the sound of the tones that are produced by the instrument. Let our piano experts answer your questions. Then, listen to yourself and choose the instrument that you prefer.

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Will it fit?

Will it fit?

Request a floor pattern to see what size grand piano will fit in the room you designate.

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Buying a used piano

Pianos age the way houses or people do. When they are 60 or 80 years old, they always need a great deal of work, the cost of which will exceed the price of many new or newer entry level pianos: if a piano is going to be enjoyed inexpensively, then a newer instrument is a better candidate.

Most people buying old pianos focus primarily on the sound, forgetting all about the complex mechanical system controlled by the eighty-eight keys. This mechanism wears out and replacement components are expensive. The older the piano, the more probable it is that the machine is very worn, resulting in "touch" that is noisy and very inconsistent.

Any piano buying decision is a blend of three components:

  1. a good long-term musical instrument
  2. a piece of furniture you like or can accept
  3. an amount of money you are comfortable with spending

You may give up some of one component to get more of another, but remember a piano is something you must live with for a long time; it is important to be comfortable with it musically, financially, and cosmetically.

Most people pay too much for old pianos; the as-is value of old pianos is actually quite low. Unfortunately however, a naive buyer may see new vertical pianos for $5,000 and think an old one for $900 is a bargain. In reality they will probably pay $600 too much, particularly if it requires thousands of dollars worth of work.

Do not think that pianos age like violins and guitars. Unlike violins and guitars, the strings in a piano create literally tons of stress which eventually takes its toll on soundboards, bridges, and pin-blocks, aging a piano far more quickly than other strung instruments. Moreover, there is nothing between your fingers and the strings of a violin or guitar, but when you play a piano, you express yourself through a very complicated machine which, like any machine, wears out as it is used.

Many parents think any old piano will do for their children starting out. If these parents knew as much about pianos as they do bicycles, they would realize that their children were about to ride a bike with flat tires, a bent frame, and twisted wheels.

If you find an older piano, which is in fact in good condition for its age, bear in mind that even if you have been very lucky and found an instrument in excellent condition, it would cost at least $400-$700 to put it in a similar condition to one you'll find at a reputable dealer or a piano technician's collection. Unfortunately, most older pianos require far more expensive repair.

There have been great, mediocre and terrible pianos manufactured in the last 100 years. Age is not a reliable indicator of quality. The best pianos ever built are built today. Virtually all concert halls, recording studios and broadcast facilities either have late model pianos or are working to acquire new ones. All of the technologies involved in building a piano, especially wood curing and processing and metallurgy, have improved over the past 100 years. There are some fine older instruments, but they are not better than the best pianos built today.

Pianos are 85 percent wood, and therefore are subject to the effects of moisture over time. In the dry climates they shrink, in the humid climates they mold and rust, and in the Midwest, they shrink in the winter and swell in the summer, potentially causing cracking and warping.

However, there are many cases where a good used piano is better than a lesser grade new piano. The critical elements to check are:

  • the Soundboard
  • the Pinplank
  • the Plate
  • the Action
  • the Hammers

Rebuilt Pianos

A piano that has been properly rebuilt may offer performance close to that of a new piano. Unfortunately, most rebuilt pianos have not been properly rebuilt. Rebuilding is required when the pinplank dries out and constricts, causing the tuning pins to become loose and rendering the piano untunable. The pinplank is a multilaminated plank of wood about 2-1/2 inches in depth - behind the plate in an upright piano and under the plate in a grand piano - in to which the tuning pins are driven. There is no other proper repair for this condition, and the plate must be removed to replace the pinplank. If the plate hasn't been removed, the piano hasn't been rebuilt.

While the plate is out, the soundboard can be repaired if necessary. It is usually not necessary or advisable to replace the soundboard if it still has sufficient downbearing. The plate and soundboard can be refinished while the plate is out of the piano. It is advisable to refinish the case at the same time. However, a piano does not have to be refinished to be considered rebuilt.

When the plate is removed, the action (key and hammer assembly) is also removed. Action rebuilding may not be necessary. Often only regulation (adjustment) is required. Hammers may need to be replaced or only voiced. Complete action rebuilding involves replacing and calibrating thousands of expensive parts. The older the piano, and the more use it has had, the more action work likely to be needed. This is a very gray area and the astute consumer will need to ask a lot of questions.

A piano that has been completely and properly (including action) rebuilt and refinished is likely to be as expensive as a new piano. Only a few technicians in any town are capable of doing this work, and they are likely to insist upon proper compensation for their work. It is important to be aware of the credentials of your technician, to be sure that he or she is capable. If you find a rebuilt piano that seems like a great deal, you can be reasonably sure that the work was not completely or properly done.

The greatest mistake a consumer can make is to attempt to save money by purchasing a piano and attempting to supervise the restoration themselves. They always spend more money and frustration than if they had just bought a proper piano at the start. They are almost never satisfied with the end result and almost never end up with an instrument worth what they paid. If you want a rebuilt piano, it is best to find one that has already been rebuilt, hire an independent expert to evaluate it and make a decision on its aesthetic appeal and cost relative to new instruments. Of course, if you have a family heirloom, you may well want to have it professionally restored or rebuilt.

A few rules of thumb:

  1. It is almost never economically viable to rebuild uprights.
  2. If someone tells you a piano has been rebuilt, ask a lot of questions.
  3. If it doesn't say Steinway (or a very short list of other names) on the plate, it's probably not worth rebuilding (from an economic perspective).
  4. Antique pianos are like antique cars - they're fun to own and drive on Sundays, but impractical for daily use.
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Buying a piano on the internet or from the local newspaper

Would you buy a used car without having a mechanic look under the hood? Of course not. Buying a used piano on the internet or from an ad in the local newspaper is no different. If a piano passes a common sense test - i.e.: the price is right and it does not seem to have been abused - then you might leave a deposit subject to approval by a technician.

Many advertisements in the paper which appear to be private people selling pianos are, in fact, really dealers, and they are usually selling dubious pianos with inadequate work performed. Remember they've already deceived you once with a misleading ad. Some ads are from technicians who independently rebuild or refurbish pianos at their own private workshop. Since they don't have the pressures of operating costs and overhead like a retail store does, their prices can be very competitive compared to dealers. The amount of actual "rebuilding" and replacement with new parts, however, can vary considerably from one technician to another, or one piano to another. Once again, if you like the piano's look, sound and feel, bring a technician to inspect its structural and mechanical condition before you decide to buy it.

Beware of Internet piano buyer scams. The convenience of the internet has spawned new opportunities for scam artists. Credit card fraud, identity theft and international scams are constantly evolving. Although misrepresentation is a compelling reason not to purchase a piano on the internet, there are even bigger things to worry about, such as making sure the piano and seller actually exist.

A word about warranty. If you purchase a piano from a private party, the warranty will most likely be non-transferable. A local dealer will not only include a warranty, but also skilled technicians who can uphold it.

A piano should be bought from someone who can service it after the sale is made. Pianos need service their entire lives, and you should buy it from someone who is prepared to service it. A piano contains over 8000 parts that all work together to create touch and tone. Wood is a delicate material which moves and changes over time. A local piano dealer will be there to fine tune and adjust your instrument, both before and after the sale.

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Renting vs. buying a keyboard

Educators agree that playing a "good quality" piano gives students a much better opportunity for success. Understandably, many parents are reluctant to make an investment in a fine instrument until they have a reasonable expectation that their children will proceed with lessons and have a positive musical experience. It is a "Catch 22" situation. Our rental program is designed specifically to address this dilemma. To find out more about our rental program, give us a call, or stop by the showroom.

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The best place to shop

Pianos are generally sold by small independent retailers. No piano store is any better than its ability to obtain high-quality products and service them. Generally, smaller, community minded dealers will be able to give you more value and service after the sale. You also have a better opportunity to work directly with the owner. Smaller dealers are typically family run businesses, with employees who are loyal and committed to the long term success of the business. They will go "the extra mile" to insure that you are happy with their service and your piano long after the sale. Look for a dedicated piano store staffed by people who know and love pianos.

Pianos are generally sold by commissioned salespeople, which is not a bad thing. Many of the best salespeople genuinely care about their clients and have been through the process of helping with the selection of a piano hundreds or thousands of times. A sincere piano salesperson will want to spend 5-10 minutes asking questions about how and where you plan to use the instrument before they start making recommendations. Beware of fast talkers who are mainly interested in talking about a particular product. If there are fifty pianos in a store, probably only one or two of them are just right for you.

Many tuners actively sell pianos. Most are reputable, but be suspicious of tuners who sell a lot of pianos. While tuners may be knowledgeable about the technical aspects of pianos, most are not reliable sources of information on the value. In general, you are much better off buying a piano from a dealer.

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Digital vs. acoustic: which one is best?

Both in the way it feels to play and in the sound produced, digital pianos are designed to serve primarily as an alternative to a traditional piano. Some digital pianos are also designed to look like an acoustic piano. While digital pianos may fall short of the genuine article in feel and sound, they nevertheless have many advantages over acoustic pianos:

  • Compared to new acoustic pianos, digital pianos are generally less expensive.
  • Most models are smaller and considerably lighter.
  • They have no strings and thus do not require tuning.
  • Depending on the digital piano, they may include many more instrument sounds including strings, guitars, organs, as well built-in rhythms and accompaniments, and the ability to record and play recorded music, and much more.
  • They are much more likely to incorporate a MIDI implementation.
  • They may have more features to assist in learning and composition.
  • They usually include headphone output.
  • They often have a transposition feature.

In addition to a superior sound and touch, an acoustic piano has its set of advantages as well:

  • Digital pianos use sampling technology to reproduce the sound of each piano note. However, with such technology, it is difficult to duplicate a crucial aspect of acoustic pianos, namely that when the damper pedal is depressed, the strings not struck vibrate sympathetically when other strings are struck, as well as the unique instrument-specific mathematical non-linearity of partials on any given unison. Since this sympathetic vibration is considered central to piano tone, many digital pianos do not sound the same as the best acoustic pianos. Some higher end digital pianos, such as the Yamaha Clavinova series, produced in the last few years incorporate string resonance technology to overcome this limitation.
  • A digital piano will never sustain notes for nearly as long as an acoustic piano can.
  • Realize that beyond a certain level, some piano teachers will not teach students who have learned on anything other than an acoustic piano. Digital pianos are frequently counterproductive when it comes to technique and dynamic performance. These skills cannot be practiced on a cheap digital keyboard and later applied to a real piano. An acoustic piano generally represents a stronger commitment from a student.
  • Don't forget about investment value. Consider that an acoustic piano will hold its value far better than a digital unit. An acoustic piano can last 100 years or more, while a digital piano may be obsolete in 5 years. An outdated keyboard is often difficult to sell.
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Is it time to tune my piano?

Piano manufacturers and technicians recommend that a piano be tuned twice per year – especially in our region. This is particularly important for new pianos. There are only three reasons a good piano will go out of tune:

Strings stretch. Strings stretch throughout the life of the piano. The older the strings, the less flexible they become. When piano wire is new it has irregularities in its diameter. As it stretches, the diameter becomes more uniform, producing better tone because the overtones rings more precisely. Therefore, a new piano requires more tuning. Experts recommend four tunings the first year and twice a year thereafter. Not tuning a piano this often will not damage the piano, it will just delay the time until the piano reaches its tonal potential.

Soundboards move. Even good spruce soundboards have cellular matter between the grains. These areas take on humidity in the summer, causing the board to swell. Because the board is crowned, additional tension is forced on the strings causing them to go "sharp," or up in pitch. Additionally, the increased tension may cause the tuning pins to slip or the string to sit on a new spot at the bridge pins. In the winter, when the humidity is reduced, the board shrinks, resulting in an out-of-tune piano. If you live in a tropical area that is always humid, or a desert that is always dry, your piano will be more stable with regard to its tuning. The tighter the grain of the soundboard, the less susceptible it will be to changes in humidity. Air conditioning and furnace humidifiers will help, but will not completely eliminate the effects of seasonal changes in humidity.

Tuning pins slip. If the wood holding the tuning pins (called the 'pinblock' or 'wrestplank') has dried out and constricted, the tuning pins will not be able to hold the proper tension on the string and the pitch will go flat shortly or immediately after tuning. This problem is only correctable by replacing the pinblock. Moving a piano with loose pins may cause it to go out of tune, but the problem wasn't caused by moving. It was caused by the defect in the piano.

Any piano that can't hold its tuning through a normal move should be avoided.