Types of Piano
In short, there are three types of piano: an electronic keyboard, a digital piano, and an acoustic piano.
Electronic Keyboard – Electronic keyboards are usually dedicated for home users, beginners and other non-professional users. Electronic keyboards often don’t have full-size keys, the key weighting is incorrect, and their response is, as might be expected, pre-programmed electronically. Although students can manage with an electronic keyboard for the early stages of learning to play the piano they are not recommended. Even though the basic design is the exact same as a regular piano (black and white keys etc) they are inadequate for developing techniques which can only be learnt and mastered on a piano. To put it plainly, you cannot truly learn to play the piano on an electronic keyboard.
If, however you are interested in getting into the realm of music production and creation using a computer then yes these are the way to go. For this type of thing you are looking for a MIDI Keyboard. The basic MIDI keyboard does not produce sound, instead it sends MIDI information to your computer or other sound source in order to produce noise. I would recommend a minimum of 61-keys however a full 88-key version is better.
Recommended Manufacturers: Nektar, M-Audio, Akai, Novation.
Digital Piano – Digital Pianos and Stage Pianos are designed to serve primarily as an alternative to the traditional acoustic piano, both in the way it feels to play and in the sound produced. They are intended to provide an accurate simulation of an acoustic piano. While digital pianos may sometimes fall short of a real piano in feel and sound, they nevertheless have other advantages over acoustic pianos. Digital pianos cost much less than an acoustic piano and most models are much smaller and lighter in weight than an acoustic piano. As well, digital pianos do not need to be tuned. Since digital pianos produce their sound electronically, the volume can be made louder or softer using a volume control. At the same time, most digital pianos can be played using headphones, which means that they are quiet enough for practicing in an apartment or flat. However, in my personal opinion, unless you are prepared to pay a considerable sum of money, digital pianos are still not quite the same as playing a real acoustic piano and as of yet do not produce the feel or have the natural response of a real acoustic.
Recommended Manufacturers: Roland, Yamaha, Korg, Kawai.
Acoustic Piano – The real deal. An acoustic, stringed musical instrument, in which the strings are struck by hammers. If you are learning how to play the piano it makes sense to invest in a proper piano. Playing a traditional piano will greatly aid learning, developing correct technique, building finger strength, while and expanding establishing musical responsiveness.
The grand piano is the "purest" form of the piano we have today. The original, if you will. Upright pianos were designed after the fact as a compromise for cost and space. They take up less room and they cost less. Really there are only a few differences between the two, apart from design, grand pianos are capable of a much bigger dynamic range, fuller tone and characterful nuances.
Grand Piano > Decent Upright > Baby Grand
Personally I would recommend students to go for a good quality upright piano and that is what pretty much what every serious student opts for, with Yamaha and Kawai being the specific manufacturers I would recommend and the Yamaha U1 and U3 being specific models. I would also say that a quality upright is better than a Baby Grand. Baby Grand’s are slightly more form over function, they are still very good, but other that perhaps looking more extravagant are not that much better than a decent upright. A full sized concert grand piano is without a doubt the real deal but they’re much more expensive and you need a large space to put them in! In the end it comes down to your needs, free space and of course budget.
Upright Pianos: Generally, around £2000 - £4000 for a good quality upright. Prices can go higher if you are after a brand new top of the range model, think £5000 - £8000.
Grand Pianos: Generally, around £8000 - £20,000. Prices can pretty much be as high as you like, a top model Steinway can easily go up to £150,000.
Recommended Manufacturers: Yamaha, Kawai, Bechstein, Steinway, Steingraeber & Sohne, Fazioli.
Buying Private vs. Dealer
Either way is fine. Each has their own merits and drawbacks. Buying privately, you often can get more for money and there are plenty of good deals to be found. On the other hand shops usually offer plenty of different makes, having a selection of new and also used pianos, all of which often come with some sort of warranty but they are generally more expensive.
Buying from a dealer:
- New pianos usually come with a manufacturers warranty, a complimentary tuning, moving, and more cabinetry and finish choices.
- Used pianos are generally reconditioned, and they usually come with a dealer warranty, moving and complimentary tuning.
- You can expect to pay a little more for the manufacturers warranty, and the advantage of selecting a piano from a wide variety of new and used instruments.
- They are generally less expensive than retail, assuming the seller has a realistic understanding of the value and condition of their piano.
- Your search requires extra travel to several homes to locate a suitable piano.
- There is no warranty, the moving cost is usually the responsibility of buyer and an extra service can sometimes be required to restore the piano's touch and tone.
What else will I need?
Apart from the piano itself, an adjustable piano stool is a must. I would also recommend picking up some Piano Caster Cups. These are are usually placed under large, heavy items of furniture at the base of their legs to protect the floor and maintain stability. They just slip under the pianos feet or wheels and help stop it from moving about and damaging your floor.
Inspection and Condition
If possible, arrange to look at the piano first to see how well it's been looked after. You can often tell this by just a quick viewing, nothing too in depth but here are some things to check for.
- Does everything look and feel OK?
- Play all the notes and check to make sure all the pedals all work. Generally if there are any strange rattles or buzzes that’s not a good sign.
- Where is the piano kept? If it’s been in a room which is very damp, smells fusty or something that's a big no go.
- Does it seem like it's been looked after? Are there any major blemishes, anything like keys or feet missing?
Take a look inside and make sure it's overstrung (most modern pianos are). Make sure it has an Iron frame and look for any cracks in the wooden soundboard. Here's a video on YouTube explaining some of these things.
Find out how old the instrument is. When you open the lid there should always be a serial number. Note this down and search online for a piano serial number checker to see the date of production. Pianos can last an absolute lifetime but you wouldn't really be after anything much older than 30 years. Of course there are exceptions but generally newer the better.
Delivery and Transportation
If you purchase from a dealer, they will usually always arrange delivery of the instrument themselves. If you buy private however, it’s usually your responsibility to find someone to move it. Make sure you get a proper piano moving company or at least make sure they have experience of moving a piano. Usually if they have a piano trolley they will know what they are doing.
Pianos are incredibly heavy and will take a few people to move it. The company will want to know any details of delivery, where in your house its going and if it needs to go up or down any stairs as that can complicate things greatly.
Certainly after it is has been delivered it will need a tune. But in general pianos need tuning around once a year. If it takes a lot of practise it can be helpful to get it tuned every 6 months. Natural conditions like the temperature and humidity will affect the instrument.