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I am amazed at the lack of concern some folks have for themselves as they go shopping for a piano. There are some steps that you can take to insure that you at least get close to a good deal, or possibly, the best deal in town. Here they are some consideration taken from my experience, and rest assured, I am getting NO commission from anyone for this advice:
A. The best deal is a used Yamaha upright that is ten years old and has been tuned regularly. It has settled down, and the stretch is out of the wires. Most other brands of the same age and condition are also great deals. Yamaha simply rates tops with me. Beware: There are importers who are buying Yamahas in Japan and shipping them into the USA, and I hear into Europe. These pianos were not conditioned for humidity like the ones made for, or in, the USA. I am told that the Japanese will throw a piano away sooner than Americans, so the Yamaha Company in Japan makes a cheap model for their own people. The Yamaha parts supplier in the USA calls these "gray market" pianos, and they will not sell you or your technician parts for repairs if you need them. I would never buy one of these.
B. Some universities and music camps (Interlaken in Michigan) sell good pianos which have only been used a couple of years. They are tuned frequently in a professional setting and may have been professionally adjusted.
C. If you get the warm fuzzies out of being the first owner, go to a music store. Be sure it is "an old established firm." Ask around about their reputation on delivering pianos and servicing them. DO NOT buy one of these "repossessed" pianos off of the back end of a truck from far away. They are JUNK and often are factory rejects.
Buying from the loading dock at the factory will save you quite a bundle, but a piano from a show room has been tuned a good number of times to keep it sounding presentable.
D. When buying new, take along your piano tuner friend WHO DOESN'T WORK FOR A PIANO STORE. Ask him to tell you the strengths and weaknesses of every piano. You will of course have to pay him a commission for his time, but it is definitely worth it.
If a piano store gets nervous because you bring a piano tuner look their pianos over, grab your pocket book and run to the next store.
E. The salesman may play the piano and make good music. So what? Is he going to come to your home and play it for you? Whoever is going to play the piano later should play all the pianos you look at before the purchase. If that cannot be done, take along a good friend who is a musician, or piano teacher, to play them. Tell him who is going to play the piano and their age and skill levels. Ideally, take along a piano tuner who is also a good musician.
If your child has only played for a year, don't be embarrassed by his low skill. Have him play the pianos to see his reaction to the touch and feel. Would you buy a $1000 wedding dress for your daughter without her trying it on? OK, take her along now to "try on" the piano. Ask her, or your musician friend, about the touch of the keys-- hard or soft. If you have a child starting out at music lessons, you need a soft touch. If you are buying for a virtuoso, hard touch most likely.
F. If the music store doesn't offer you free delivery AND a free tuning, run for cover. When you are all done bargaining on the price, which is perfectly good form, ask for TWO free tunings over the next year. This is not asking too much considering the price you will pay.
G. Make sure you are getting at least ten years of warrantee. Some brands still give a life time guarantee, but this is often because they don't have a good reputation and they expect to go out of business soon. Caveat emptor.
H. When buying a used piano, try to find out how long the present owner has had it. First, make small talk. Ask where they came from, and find out how long they lived in the present location. Then go on to ask about how long they owned the piano. Ask how often they tuned it, and open the piano to see if tuning dates are written on the harp. The more the better.
I. Take your tuner along, and pay him to take his time and look the whole piano over well. I will not even try to tell you how to do it. The investment is worth it, and the tuner can see things in a minute that would take me ten pages to cover. Just do what I tell you, OK?
J. Beware of trying to rip off a seller. Your tuner will not trust you if you do this. Tuners have to live with everyone in the community for many years, and they lose trust in creeps who push and shove their way through life. Be fair. A clear conscience is also good for your heart.
K. You can often get a better price if you move a used piano yourself. Don't demand the seller deliver. Make other arrangements.
L. Pay attention now, this is very important-- DO NOT GET IN A HURRY. Put a classified AD in the paper, or call one of these early morning radio "call lines" to let your friends know you want a piano. Talk about it at work, at church, and to music teachers. Let a local piano tuner know you need a piano. He may even have one he is selling. Patience will be rewarded.
M. Most of all, Caveat Emptor-- Let the buyer beware. Do not assume people who sell musical instruments are high toned honest folks. Most of them are, but you will have to be cautious.