Piano Buyers Guide: Where to start

If you’ve made the decision to want to learn piano, or perhaps are looking to return to it once more after a few years away, congratulations!

Learning the piano is not only an incredibly satisfying skill that you can carry with you for the rest of your life, but it also opens you up into an exciting world of like minded people, appreciation for music and a rewarding learning experience.

Whatever your musical goals are, the most important step to beginning your journey is finding the right instrument for you. For those not in the know, this can be incredibly confusing and leave you rather overwhelmed, opting for the first instrument you see or find.

This guide is here to help you discover not only what kinds of pianos are out there, but also to explain the kinds of things you might want to consider before you make your purchase. If you would like to speak to a member of our expert piano team, contact us today!

Where to start

The absolute first question we always ask during any of our piano consultations is: “Who is the instrument for?”

When buying a piano, it’s easy to say: “It’s for myself”, or “It’s for my child”, but what we also want to uncover here is also: Does anyone else intend on using the instrument? Have you been playing a while? Is this your very first instrument?

This then opens a whole dynamic of other questions, for example: Where is the piano going to be kept? Does the instrument require a wooden action? Do you need a silent system etc… If you’re unsure of the answers to these questions, that is not a problem at all and is what our team is here for!

The Different Types Of Piano

Ultimately, pianos can be split into two main groups: Acoustic pianos and Digital pianos. Both have their pros, both have their cons and finding the right instrument depends on your musical requirements!

For example, it wouldn’t be right to recommend a gigging musician always on the go a heavy upright piano as it doesn’t suit their needs of portability! Once we’ve understood your needs, it’s up to us to help find the right choice for you.

Here is a very brief overview of the main kinds of instruments you are likely to come across.

Acoustic Pianos

Acoustic pianos are real instruments with real working parts to produce their sound. Where digital instruments aim to replicate a sound via recorded sampling, an acoustic instrument creates it’s sound physically by a hammer striking a string, that then vibrates and resonates throughout the instrument and into the surrounding air. To learn more about how acoustic pianos make their sound, read our guide here.

Examples of these instruments include: Upright pianos, grand pianos and silent pianos.

Inside an upright piano

These instruments are made from over 6000 moving pieces and made from authentic materials, woods, cottons, metals and can require years of manufacturing time. Because of this, acoustic pianos are generally more expensive than digital pianos. However, second hand instruments can also be a great choice for those on a budget.

For those just starting, acoustic pianos are a fantastic choice because if you are planning on learning with a teacher, this is likely the instrument that they will be using during lessons. Because it is an authentic sound, acoustic instruments allow for a little more expression and sensitivity into your play as you are always able to get the exact sound that you are looking to produce.

The main difference between upright and grand instruments is that grand instruments are larger and able to create a louder, richer tone. Upright pianos take the same action of a grand piano and flip it vertically, creating a more compact instrument that is more suited to most living rooms but is still incredibly powerful.

Some argue that acoustic instruments encourage a better technique as again, you are working with authentic sound over a digital representation of sound so you are able to truly feel the instrument’s nuances in play.

This being said, acoustic instruments certainly aren’t for everyone. As acoustic instruments generally weigh around 200kg+ and produce authentic sound, those who live in places such as flats where weight, movement upstairs and noise may be a concern may prefer something lighter and quieter.

For those concerned about noise however, many are unaware that acoustic instruments can be fitted or retro-fitted with dedicated silent systems – these are known as ‘silent pianos’, so you can still play well into the night with total peace of mind. Learn more about our silent system fittings here.

Things to consider when buying acoustic pianos:

1) Where is the instrument going to be kept?

Acoustic instruments really do not like changing temperatures as heat or moisture causes the wood to expand and contract, which overtime can cause the piano to come out of tune and potentially damage it. Acoustic instruments should be kept away from radiators or conservatories.

2) What kind of sound are you looking for?

Whilst many upright or grand pianos may look the same, they all sound different due to the parts used, the ways in which the wood is treated, even down to the finest details such as the felt that the hammers of the piano are made from.

Generally speaking, most acoustic instruments can be categorised by being either European or Asian manufactured. Most Asian instruments, such as those produced by Yamaha or Kawai, are typically associated with having a slightly brighter, more ‘pop’ like sound with a lighter response, whereas European produced instruments can generally be considered to have a deeper, warmer and richer sound. This includes manufacturers such as C.Bechstein, W.Hoffman, Zimmermann and Ritmüller (who are manufactured with German technique although they too are produced in China).

3) What size are you looking for?

As much as many of us wish, not all homes are suited to housing a full concert grand piano. For those looking for a richer, louder and more sound however, upright instruments are sensational. The main difference between many upright instruments is actually their height. Starting from around 110cm and going all the way up to around 140cm, as the height grows, the strings inside the piano can be made longer, which helps enhance the sound’s depth, power and precision of play.

Pros:
Authentic sound quality
Greater expression
Hold their value
Piano in its purest form

Cons:
Heavy, very hard to move
Loud (although silent systems can be fitted)
Large, require a dedicated space

Ideal for:
New learners
Those learning with a teacher
Advanced players who require fast actions and response
Those who want to add more expression into their play

To enquire about acoustic pianos, contact our team today!

Digital Pianos:

When looking into digital pianos, there are 3 main things to consider: The action, the processor and the sound output. Due to their enhanced connectivity, lower price point and ease of movement, digital pianos have become increasingly popular for those looking to dip a toe into piano for the first time.

Many have an idea of digital pianos (or keyboards) from the 80s being incredibly clunky and sounding pretty…terrible. Thankfully, the market has changed immensely since then and now digital technologies are able to almost completely replicate the sound of acoustic pianos.

Unlike acoustic instruments, digital pianos generally generate their sound from sampling, meaning they have a selection of pre-recorded sounds to choose from and when a key is pressed at a certain speed and force, the piano’s computer ‘decides’ how this will sound. There are a few different approaches to this, such as Roland’s SuperNATURAL piano sampling system, but ultimately the process is rather similar.

Things to consider when buying a digital piano:

1) What kind of action do I need? 

If you are just starting out, this likely won’t be too much of a problem initially, however as you progress through the grades or your skills increase, many players require actions that are more akin to acoustic instruments. This means that you will need an instrument that can keep up with your playing and expression.

An example of a basic action is those found in many entry level portable pianos, this is a simple sensor under the keys. For a far more intricate and advanced action, the likes of the Casio Grand Hybrid range are designed to near brilliantly replicate the acoustic feel and touch.

2) What features and functionality do I need?

This also ties into level of play, but also for those looking to either record or play music live.

The processor is a vital part of any digital piano and essentially opens your instrument up into different avenues. If you are a beginner, the pieces you will be playing are less likely to overwhelm the piano’s computer. More advanced pieces however require advanced techniques that many lower end models will not support, leaving you with a hollow sounding piece that does not support your play. This is where polyphony comes into play and is definitely something you should consider before buying a digital instrument.

Likewise this also ties into the question: What do you want your piano to do?

If you are a gigging musician who needs to be able to pack up and move, you’re almost certainly going to need a portable piano, perhaps one that can be easily connected to a PA system. For those looking to record songs, interact with learning apps, or use their piano as a part of music creation, you’re going to need a piano with MIDI capability or even bluetooth audio or playback.

3) How do you want the piano to sound?

Different digital pianos have different speaker systems, different samples and sound generation systems. This means that no two digital piano ranges sound the same or have the same level of functionality. It’s important to try to understand what kinds of sound you prefer and how you want your piano to feel whilst playing.

This then leads us onto the final crucial element of digital pianos, the speakers. Are you just looking to practice in a bedroom without disturbing others? You won’t need much in the way of speakers, just a 2x speaker system will suffice. However if your piano is a home digital, or hybrid piano that you are looking to either perform or fill a room with the sound, you will require a more sophisticated speaker system that emphasises both the treble and bass notes just as an acoustic instrument would. Many flagship digital instruments have up to 6 or even 8 speakers to help achieve a version of ‘acoustic resonance’. 

Pros:
More variation and choice of instruments
Low entry price point
Digital connectivity built in
Personalised playing experience from sampling
Lightweight, movable and sometimes, portable

Cons:
Not a real acoustic action – allows incorrect technique habits to slip in
Do not hold their value well (new models being released all the time)
Easy to outgrow entry level instrument capabilities – Will need replacing far sooner than an acoustic instrument

*For 2021/2022, supply of digital pianos is currently facing a crisis due to lack of microchips available. Read more here.

Ideal for:
Gigging musicians
Those with smaller living spaces

We hope this quick guide has offered a brief insight into the fantastic world of piano and helped you begin your journey into discovering the right instrument for you. If you would like to learn more about advanced piano manufacturing concepts and how they impact the play of your instrument, you may be interested in: How Wood Types Affect A Piano, or if you are considering purchasing a second hand instrument, our buyers guide will tell you everything you need to know! If you would like further assistance or would like to try some of our instruments in our showroom, our expert team would be happy to help find the perfect instrument for you! Contact us todayor book a piano demonstration here!

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