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How to try out piano for purchase (Read 2069 times)

Offline tinctoria88

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How to try out piano for purchase
« on: April 09, 2016, 12:58:32 AM »
Any suggestions for how to try out a 7 ft. grand piano for purchase?  I'm always leaning towards Steinway.  Never had a beautiful grand to call my own!  Thinking of short pieces or excerpts from  bach, beethoven, chopin, scriabin, prokofiev, etc. repertoire.  After lapse of 20 years, I'm plunging headlong back into literature and hope to find instrument.  Located in western United States.  Thanks for ny observations about how to choose pieces that give indication of instrument's tonal potential.

Offline indianajo

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Re: How to try out piano for purchase
«Reply #1 on: April 09, 2016, 01:24:41 AM »
The voicer, factory or repair shop, will concentrate his efforts on the middle of the keyboard, where Bach and Scriabin are played.  If you ever intend to play 88 keys, you need to try them out for tonal match and overtone structure.  I played Ernest Lecuona Malaguena when i tried out my piano.  It goes over most of the keyboard, all in two measure, to detect tonal mismatch easily.  It also demonstrates in a hard key to tune right, many sharps.  
If you are going to buy used, 'repaired' or 'restored', definitely go through the following inspection routine before spending $125 on a tech inspection.   Run a chromatic scale end to end to ensure all the notes work and none are sticky.  Try notes in several registers for how fast they will play:  Hit the key alternating with the fingers of two hands, as fast as you can go.  Play every note as loud as possible to listen for buzzes.  Play every note as softly as possible to ensure the action is even.  check dampers come up and release all at the same time on different chords, as many notes as you can play.  Check the una chorda pedal that it hits only one wire on every key.  Check some notes with the middle pedal that the ones sustain that you had down when the pedal went down, and not ones you play later.  
Visually inspect iron frame for welds or screws in odd places, and visually inspect the soundboard from the bottom for cracks wood patches or plastic compound repairs.  Make sure a lot of light is available.  Inspect the hammers and damper felts that they are all the same thickness; that  there is not a noticable scoop in the middle from excessive hours use.  Check the bass strings match visually, and if not, check that the sound if the different looking ones is the same as the neighbors.  
All that you may find a unit that is worth having inspected by a pro.  If a piano has been recently tuned you can't tell if the pin block is tight or loose, not until the second tuning about 6 months out.  One or two loose pins can be repaired in several hours work with power tools.  My "scratch and dent" Sohmer had one loose pin but the tech from the local premier dealership  wouldn't do the job or even discuss mechanical work, and instead sold me a useless humidifier.  The Sohmer also had a bass string spliced at the end, which has not been a problem.  By contrast the spliced string on my 1941 Steinway 40 I paid not much for, goes "boink" and is going to be replaced after I replace the hammer shaft I broke.  Spliced strings have two loops interlocking up near the tuning pin. 
There are different sounds of pianos, and there are different rooms they are demonatrated in.  I rejected a Steinway 44 studio in 1982 because the sound was dull and boring compared to the Sohmer 39 I bought.  I was testing in an open mall store.  Had the Steinway been a foot from a brick wall, I might have been able to hear overtones coming out the back - I don't know.  
Search around on here for opinions of durability of different brands and models.  Some brands and models are great initially, and deteriorate faster than some others.  Steinways have great durability, but many have very high hours use in music schools and have to be totally rebuilt with new felts and pivots to achieve the same reliability again.  
In the US used market don't be afraid to audition great brands from the past.  Mason & Hamlin, Chickering, Sohmer, Baldwin,  Howard,  all made great pianos prior to globalization of old brand names lowered the standards about 1985. Knabe went under in the thirties.   Pre 1927? pianos will be happiest at A=427 instead of 440.  Depends on whether you play in ensembles or not whether that is important.  Otherwise back to about 1890 piano actions have been the same.  Of European pianos available over here, be aware Bosendorfer uses thinner treble strings that have to replaced periodically, for the bright Ping they have.  On most pianos, 100 year old treble strings are fine.  
One dimension amateurs buying grands should be aware of, they come in different levels of force required to play them.  I  have a very light frame and small forearms, and find Steinway and  Baldwin grands require too much force for me to play comfortably.  My joints aren't big enough that excercise to build muscle would improve the situation.   The only other brand grand I have played I found comfortable was a Willis, a store brand from the sixties made by whonose?.   A small female minister has complained to me about having the same problem with the Steinway grand donated to her previous church.  She had to limit herself to playing the electric organ in that church.  The donor replaced the Steinway in his home with something he could actually play.  So we are not alone in not being massive Prussian/Russian males.  
Happy shopping.  

Offline tinctoria88

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Re: How to try out piano for purchase
«Reply #2 on: April 09, 2016, 09:50:02 PM »
Thank you indianjo for the wonderful advice on checking over an instrument's condition before deciding to purchase.  I'm not aware of what areas of worn condition to check out.
But i'm amused you have assumed that I'm a slight female player.  Actually I hope the piano I choose will have some "resistance" to its overall touch.  I do thank you for your observations about different brands to consider.

Offline huaidongxi

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Re: How to try out piano for purchase
«Reply #3 on: April 10, 2016, 12:49:31 AM »
if you have a chance to play a large sample of upper tier grands, you will find many exceptions to the stereotypes -- even brand new steinways vary because different technicians prepare them for dealers, and 'pre owned' instruments diverge further according to their use and maintenance.  two of the most robust male pianists in recent times, richter and cziffra, loved their yamahas for their responsiveness to touch.  where we live there are probably more high end, heirloom grands on the market than ever, because the kids and grandkids liquidated their parents' or granny's estate, and digital pianos have become more sophisticated and popular than before.

Offline hfmadopter

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Re: How to try out piano for purchase
«Reply #4 on: April 11, 2016, 11:45:40 AM »
if you have a chance to play a large sample of upper tier grands, you will find many exceptions to the stereotypes -- even brand new steinways vary because different technicians prepare them for dealers, and 'pre owned' instruments diverge further according to their use and maintenance.  two of the most robust male pianists in recent times, richter and cziffra, loved their yamahas for their responsiveness to touch.  where we live there are probably more high end, heirloom grands on the market than ever, because the kids and grandkids liquidated their parents' or granny's estate, and digital pianos have become more sophisticated and popular than before.

I rarely play my grand piano these days, now and then I do it as a novelty actually. The digital has taken over and I can do more with it. And I'm 66yo now, when I kick out it is for sure my kids won't want the grand piano. They can't even relate to the grand piano ( well maybe my 42 yo son can a little bit, he took lessons and practiced on this grand way back when but he has a digital for his daughter LOL), a piano to them is a digital devise. It's just how it's getting to be today. Most lounges and function halls around here that had grands got rid of them. Some brought in digital pianos, others just let who ever is going to entertain bring in their own. Hah, the big hospital 12 miles from here has a grand piano in it's lobby with a sign on it " do not touch". Of course, who wants to pay a tech to upkeep the thing and have people beat on it ? A better question, why is it even there ?
Depressing the pedal on an out of tune acoustic piano and playing does not result in tonal color control or add interest, it's called obnoxious.

Offline quantum

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Re: How to try out piano for purchase
«Reply #5 on: April 12, 2016, 03:15:28 AM »
Came up with a list a few years ago:
http://www.pianostreet.com/smf/index.php?topic=27871.msg322628#msg322628

Generally I evaluate pianos with the following procedure:
Tickle the keys for an overview, if there is interest continue to next step
A very thorough list of tests (linked above)
Repertoire

If the piano was for purchase, calling a piano tech for an technical evaluation would be the next item on the list. 

I have found good repertoire for evaluating pianos tends to be music one has played for a long time, and on many different instruments.  The familiarity with the music allows one to focus on what the particular instrument in question brings to the piece.  Yes, it is fun to play new pieces on nice pianos, but they do not always allow for the amount of perspective familiar music does. 

Made a Liszt. Need new Handel's for Soler panel & Alkan foil. Will Faure Stein on the way to pick up Mendels' sohn. Josquin get Wolfgangs Schu with Clara. Gone Chopin, I'll be Bach