Piano Buying 101 With Author John Perry
If you’ve been taking piano lessons and are ready to invest in your own instrument, there are some things you need to know. At first glance, the range of options can seem overwhelming. However, author John Perry explains that a little bit of research goes a long way towards finding the right instrument at a fair price. As an avid player, John Perry provides some helpful tips when it comes to investing in your first piano.
Research, Research, Research
For beginner piano players, the easiest course of action is to visit a local piano store, play the used pianos in stock, and buy the one you like and can afford — that is what John Perry tells friends when they ask for his advice. There are also thousands of pianos for sale online, both locally and nationally through sites like Ebay. Unfortunately, because a piano is a complicated piece of machinery, there is a lot that can go wrong and not all of it will be obvious. John Perry explains that if you don’t buy from a dealer, it is worth the time and expense to have a piano technician look at it before you purchase. If you can, hire a member of the Piano Technicians Guild; they are experts who can give you a thorough report. Members can be found all over the country, so if you’re considering an out-of-town instrument, look for a PTG member in that area and send them over.
Two questions that John Perry is asked most often when friends are looking for a piano are: what brand should I buy and how much should it cost? He explains that he could write entire books answering those two questions but provides some quick suggestions.
As no two pianos are alike, the brand alone will not automatically direct you towards a good instrument. Author John Perry explains that a high-end brand of used piano that has been neglected may not be as good as a medium quality piano in top condition. However, brands give some indication of the quality of your purchase. One brand John Perry often ends up recommending is Kawai — a Japanese company that offers consistently good quality at a fair price. Another excellent Japanese maker is Yamaha, whose pianos are generally a little more expensive and are extremely popular. Several Nashville recording studios have Yamahas because they’re a quality instrument for the price, hold up under heavy use, and are very consistent in tone. As John Perry adds: “Other brands I like are Mason & Hamlin (American made), Petrof (Czech), Schimmel and Seiler (both German). I own a Seiler and enjoy it very much. It’s the only new piano I’ve ever bought.”
At the top of the piano totem pole is a handful of companies producing exquisite works of art, the best sounding and most expensive pianos in the world. John Perry’s list of favorites includes Fazioli (Italian), Grotrian, Blüthner, Bechstein (all German), Bösendorfer (Austrian), and Steinway (American, with a second factory in Germany). However, he points out that many beginners are not interested in paying $50,000 and up for their piano. But if you are, you will be the proud owner of a masterpiece that will last a lifetime. In addition to the Seiler, John Perry plays a 1925 Steinway that he describes as “an absolute joy every time I sit down at the keyboard.”
At the bottom of the totem pole is a sea of low-priced pianos that are best avoided. John Perry explains that most of these pianos are from parts of Asia where piano building is a new art and practiced on a huge factory scale. It may be better to purchase an older Kawai or Mason & Hamlin than one of these. Some of the big names in this category are Pearl River, Young Chang, and Samick. There is definitely a market for these makes and sister brands from the same companies (there are many of them), but John Perry would not steer anyone in that direction.
Pianos are one of the most wide-ranging of all consumer goods when it comes to cost. A fair price will vary based on the region of the country and your personal taste. John Perry reports that he has played a decent, serviceable piano suitable for beginners that cost $695. Depending on location and condition, a used Kawai upright similar to what he has recommended in the past might cost anywhere from $4,500 to $9,500. A good used Steinway grand will cost around $30,000 and up. A new top-of-the line Bösendorfer will set you back $225,000 in ebony or a little over $300,000 in mahogany. However, in 2121, it will still sound fantastic.