New or used piano?

Digital or acoustic piano? Used or new? Upright or small? Which brand, which manufacturer? Buying, leasing, renting? Which sound pattern, singing or clear? What price range - and how is price connected to quality? What kind of quality is hidden behind all those many German-sounding trade names? There are many questions on which we would like to supply some information to you.

There are about 400,000 acoustic (grand) pianos produced each year worldwide. About 20 % of those are made by the global market leader Yamaha. It is estimated that more than 80 % out of all instruments per year are made in China and other Asian countries. Less than 10,000 pianos per year are made in Germany – more than half of which are going abroad. Several million (grand) pianos accumulated in Europe over many years that occasionally are available on the second-hand market. These are those very numerous German and European brands and now also countless instruments from Eastern Europe, Asia or American series production that are released under very different trade names.

Ideally, you should explore what sort of piano you want. It sounds unusual, but it is worth to answer these important questions in order to make a good decision:

Who will mainly play the piano in my family?
Will the piano be used for piano lessons?
What is important about your piano and how important is it? (Appearance, sound, technical condition, brand, price, follow-up costs, etc.)
Which sound pattern do you prefer?
How much money can you invest?
Where will the piano be set up?
Will you be moving a lot?

It is highly recommended that various experts will show, explain and let you listen to pianos - then you will be sure about what you actually prefer - and also about which type of sound you like. Sound is very different with pianos of different brands, styles and age - but also with instruments of the same brand or even the same model. Because the condition of the instrument and the quality of the intonation and regularization are very crucial for the sound pattern and the playing habits.

Sound patterns of (grand) pianos

The range of sound patterns is very broad. Assuming a decent construction quality, the distinction of sound patterns is not necessarily a question of good vs. bad, but of sound philosophy and manufacturer's preference. Until the 1940s, the sound pattern of the instruments was rather richer and more characteristic for the different manufacturers. Unfortunately, this typical sound lessened with the modern series manufacturing, especially in Asia. All together, the modern instruments assumed a rather more accurate sound. The sometimes almost “hard” or “metallic” sound pattern of the Asian instruments has been widely accepted, due to the market leader Yamaha, Kawai and others. A well intoned instrument can produce a very nice sound even if it comes from these manufacturers - and there are very high-quality instruments from these manufactures as well.

Looking at the older instruments from before 1940, we try to subjectively classify by hearing: The sound pattern range from rather soft, singing and overtone sound patterns, as for example in Blüthner, Seiler and Schiedmayer & Sons instruments, via rather clear and well-balanced sound patterns, as for example in Bösendorfer, Schimmel, Förster and Ibach instruments, to the powerful, succinct and clear sound patterns that we often find in Bechstein, Grotrian-Steinweg, Steinway & Sons instruments. Which sound pattern will you perceive as pleasant? That is very subjective and worth to discover. Besides, the kind of music that you want to play is a factor in selecting sound pattern, dynamics and version of an instrument.

Composers and instruments of their age

A short digression on composers, pianists and their instruments. It is often overlooked that many of the great composers composed and played their great opuses on very early (grand) pianos. The following chart gives a general overview of when certain manufacturers had their prime time and their instruments were used. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin never got to know a Steinway, Blüthner or Bechstein instrument. Neither could Schumann have gotten to know Blüthner or Bechstein instruments before his final three years. And this is often misrepresented in movies. It is certainly interesting for many persons to hear the music of these composers on those instruments which were available and used by them then. There are pianists who are specialized on that - and have published interesting recordings.

Piano manufacturers and piano music composers

Piano players and their main instruments

Composers and pianists had been and are always very much sought by the various piano manufacturers, to utilize a seeming preference for their instruments in advertising. Steinway & Sons commercialized this very successfully in their pianist and concert service program even before 1900. The manifestations of pianists and composers were motivated by the fact that the manufacturers received instruments for concert tours free of charge, or appropriate contracts were signed. The signatures of many composers/pianists are found beneath texts that the manufacturer wrote. Nevertheless, there was an actual enthusiasm and preference for certain manufacturers – or more precisely, for certain instruments from one certain manufacturer. The story of Glen Gould and his Steinway grand piano with the number CD318 is alleged. It is also known from Vladimir Horowitz that he took his own Steinway grand piano on all trips.