Buying a Piano for Beginners!

We are constantly asked questions like

“What is the difference between and grand piano vs. an upright piano?

What is the difference between a new vs. used piano?

How about digital pianos?”

We’ve got all the answers you need!

Let’s jump right in!

Grand Pianos vs. Upright Pianos

I just had a customer that I was showing both grands and uprights to, as they were open to both possibilities. The husband asked the question,

“Isn’t a grand just kind of a prettier version, sort of a souped up version, of an upright?”

I suppose you could twist things around and make that argument, but really the answer is NO. The grand is a completely different animal altogether.

As far as touch goes, I’ll demonstrate with an upright action model. Hammers strike vertically-oriented strings and cross over the center of gravity. The whippin is the part actually subjected to gravity. You don’t have that full speed of the ricochet of the string, as well as the gravity of the hammer pulling it back, because it’s crossing over the center point of gravity. Furthermore, you have the jack and–this is totally oversimplifying it–but it is the only component propelling that hammer towards the string.

More components

On the grand piano, you have two components. Again, totally oversimplifying it, but basically two components is better than one. It provides more precision and more nuance in the touch.

You have a jack that’s pushing up on the knuckle that propels the hammer towards the string. You also have the repetition lever that simultaneously is contacting the knuckle, propelling the hammer towards the string. There’s so much more to it (and I’m happy to get into it with anybody), but what that enables the grand to do is be more precise, have a much more nuanced touch and feel, have greater dynamic range, and have better repetition. All of those things are superior in a grand piano.

The other superior part of a grand piano is the tone, especially in a larger piano. The bigger the piano the better the tone. In grands, it’s the length that matters, and in uprights, it’s the height that matters. There might be some high-end or tall uprights that are a bit better than low-end or small grand pianos, but overall, grand pianos are far superior instruments compared to upright pianos.

New vs. Used Pianos

The second question: new and used. There are certain drawbacks with both. The drawback with a new piano might be that it’s more expensive. I wouldn’t say vastly more expensive, but in many cases the value that you’re gaining for a brand new piano is well worth that extra amount.

As a general rule pianos have excellent service; they have about 20-25 years. In my shop, we’re working on rebuilding and refurbishing a lot of pianos that are a hundred years old. They’ve got new life now that we’ve refurbished them, so that’s not to say that hundred year old pianos can’t be made great again. I’m referring to that 20-25 year period where the service is going to be absolutely top-notch. Beyond that they need to be refurbished. After that refurbishing, they’re going to have another 20-25 years of great service again. Beyond that, more rebuilding will be necessary.

Digital vs. Acoustic Pianos

Many salesmen will say,

“Oh yeah, there’s no difference between digital and acoustic pianos. Digital technology has come so far that it’s virtually indistinguishable.”

This is garbage.

Ultimately what it comes down to with a piano is touch and tone. There is no digital piano in existence that comes even close to a real piano. It’s a synthetic copy of the real thing. With touch and tone there’s no question, and any real musician will agree with me, touch and tone is far superior on an acoustic piano. While you might have some some advantages with a digital piano–it’s more portable, you can play with headphones, you can play the flute or the organ or whatever, they’re (up front anyway) less expensive generally–my opinion comes down very strongly and heavily on the side of acoustic pianos.

Ultimately you’ve got (in terms of touch and tone) levers, springs, and weights in a digital piano that are simulating artificially the real touch, like I was showing you on the action models, the real touch of a real piano. It just falls short. There are a number of specifics that I’d be happy to get into another time if you want to check out some of my other videos.


As far as tone here again, I hear customers that come in looking for pianos and they’ll say,

“I just was looking at digital pianos and they said that this digital piano was sampled off of a $150,000 Bosendorfer piano, and it’s the greatest sounding digital piano in the world!”

And while that may be true–I mean, I don’t know what they’re digitally sampling–but you still have an artificial reproduction of that $150,000 Bosendorfer coming out of speakers, as opposed to right there in front of you, an acoustic piano. You have a felt compressed hammer striking a steel string under high tension that is resonating through the maple bridge into the spruce soundboard that is very large, that is giving you the true tone of a real piano, and there is no substitution for that as far as tone.

And then the final point that I’ll make is from a financial standpoint. They’re actually not more expensive or a better deal, because of longevity. In terms of longevity, they have more in common with a DVD player, or television, or other consumer electronics like that where they’re kind of a dinosaur within five years. By ten years, they’re just absolutely beyond help. By twelve years, they’re on the fritz and they’re pretty much out. They’re pretty much done.


Whereas with pianos, your warranty alone is going to be anywhere from 10 to 15 years and then beyond that you’ve got, like I was talking about a minute ago, you’ve got another 10 years of excellent, excellent service. Have it refurbished, and now you’ve got another 25 years of excellent service. So if you look at it in terms of needing to replace it, a digital piano every 10 to 12 years, it’s not even a good deal from a financial standpoint; it’s not even a better value. In terms of resale, there’s no comparison. An acoustic piano has excellent resale versus a digital piano. I mean who buys a used DVD player? Maybe some people, but, you know, you pay 200 bucks for a DVD player and a couple years later it’s going to be worth 20 bucks maybe. It’s similar to that with digital pianos.

So there you have it!: Piano buying basics. There’s lots more videos for some of those details that we didn’t have time to get into on this video. Thanks for watching!

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