PIANOLOBBY: A guide to buying an upright piano by Julian Barber

Buying a quality piano is an investment that will last you a lifetime so choose well! South London piano dealer Julian Barber of Pianolobby has written a guide to choosing a piano as a guest post for our blog. We hope you find it useful!

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Julian writes: “Welcome to the Pianolobby guide to buying a piano. For the purpose of this guide I will only be discussing upright pianos, missing out a comparison with grand pianos and digital pianos.

Buying a piano is an exciting event but care does need to be taken as it is a significant purchase. This applies to a professional musician, music teacher, as well as individuals just getting started. An upright piano with its compact dimensions and generally affordable price makes for an ideal option for many musicians and enthusiasts.

The piano is a unique instrument. It is a tool for making music which also serves as a beautiful piece of furniture, so take your time in choosing the piano that is right for you. Generally buying a new piano from a reputable dealer should be no problem. The amount you pay generally determines the quality of the instrument. When you find a piano that is suitable, purchase the one you have tried, another even if it is the same make could be very different. A used piano from a reputable dealer should also present no problems as it will be professionally refurbished where necessary and covered by a warranty.

The elements making up a piano are pretty straight forward. A standard keyboard has 88 keys which the player presses. Through a series of connections of many moving parts called the action, the hammer strikes the strings. The strings then vibrate and these vibrations are transmitted from the strings to the soundboard through bridges. The soundboard is made of wood and acts as an amplifier.

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 A modern upright will be overstrung, which is when the strings have been fitted diagonally to form an x shape. This allows for longer strings which will make an overall better tone. Size is relevant, generally a bigger piano will sound better than a small piano. If the strings are too short, the quality of the sound will be less good. The same is true of the soundboard, the larger ones can produce a better sound. The most important dimension is the height, the taller pianos have longer strings and a larger soundboard.

There are also pedals, there may be 2 or 3. The left pedal softens the tone and the right pedal sustains the sound. The middle pedal is a practice pedal which makes the piano very quiet so as not to disturb the neighbours!

When viewing a piano check its outer appearance, look for discolouration. This may indicate that the piano has been exposed to direct sunlight or to humidity, which are the main enemies of pianos.

Check that all the keys are intact and not hard or sticky to press. These problems are usually not serious and easily solved, but if keys don’t work at all this could be more serious.

Other things to watch out for is a buzzing sound, it could mean the soundboard or bridge is cracked, which would be expensive to fix. If the sound produced fades quickly this could also suggest a problem with the soundboard. Ensure the pedals move easily. Problems with pedals are common on uprights due to limited space, but these faults are usually pretty easily fixed. Make sure the strings aren’t rusty and that the hammers aren’t frayed to too indented.

Do play the piano and spend as much time with it as you can. Listen carefully to the sound it produces and explore its full dynamic range, playing as quietly and as loudly as possible. First and foremost, do you like how it sounds? Focus also on how it feels under the fingers. Are the keys too heavy or too light? Does it feel as though you have complete control? The weight of the keys will vary from piano to piano as does the sound.

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Another thing to consider is where the piano is going to live in your home. Ideally it needs to be located in a room where the temperature doesn’t fluctuate too much, as this may cause tuning issues. Radiators and direct sunlight can also cause damage to your beautiful piano.

Decide on how much you want to spend on your piano. You want to get the best possible piano for your budget. They are worth the investment because you will enjoy the beautiful tone it creates and it is something you will keep for a very long time. There are many factors which contribute to the quality of a piano, playability and durability being the two most important ones for consideration.

Some of the issues discussed above may sound a little scary, but buying from a reputable and knowledgeable dealer should eliminate these concerns. Play the pianos on offer for as much time as you can and enjoy the experience of purchasing one of these most magnificent of instruments.”

The SE22 Piano School own a Barber upright piano from Piano Lobby.