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Buying a piano
Source: Singapore Piano Shop
Buying a piano generally is considered to be one of the big ticket purchases or investments we make in our lives. It is important to spend the time by researching properly and taking your time doing due diligence. Of course the following points are only basic bare bones fundamentals to help guide and assist you, but they will provide you with what to look for when you are in the market to purchase a piano.
A piano must be capable of tolerating a variety of different styles of music and players. Look for a piano that posseses pleasing mid-tones with good balance in the higher and lower registers. Avoid a piano that has a metallic sharp edged bite to it. Look for a piano tone that is well balanced and uniform through its entire range.
Realize that no piano will stay in tune indefinitely, no matter who manufactured it or whether it is a grand piano or upright. But a well made piano will stay in tune for a fair length of time. A new piano though requires frequent tunings within its first year or two. Perhaps a couple times a year and then once a year after that. Of course the more it is played the more often it will need to be tuned, especially if the student is practicing upwards to 2 to 3 hours a day. Once a year is fine if a 30 minute to 45 minute practice schedule is maintained. When buying a used piano, ask about its history from the seller if it is a private sale. Most good tuners provide documentation.
Look for a piano that has an even action throughout the entire keyboard. Avoid pianos that have uneven tone or touch; the piano should have a consistent and even quality throughout. The piano should have a comfortable and even response. The touch is a vital and critical area to assess before you make the final decision.
This is an area that has changed dramatically over the years. The manufacturer landscape is quite different then it was 30-40 years ago. Phone up piano tuners or technicians and ask them their opinion about who they feel provide the best pianos. Ask them if they know anyone who is selling a piano privately, or who they would recommend as a dealer.
*Some other points to remember:
Perhaps study up about the aspects of piano size, string length, sound board, bridge and frame at your local library. When purchasing a new piano, make sure you buy from a reputable dealer who stands by their product and make certain by checking out their background. Perhaps make arrangements with a piano tuner to help you decide once you have narrowed down your search.
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Acoustic vs. Digital
What are the advantages of buying a digital piano as opposed to an acoustic one?
*The biggest advantages of digital pianos are:
(1) Relative portability. Most digital pianos weigh less than 200 lbs., as opposed to 450-500 lbs. for a typical upright and much more for grand pianos. You have the luxury of disassembling the major parts of the digital piano for easier mobility.
(2) Does not need tuning. If you have a piano, you will usually have to tune it once or twice a year. The sounds for a digital piano are recordered and stored 'digitally' within the hardware, so it does not go out of tune.
(3) Option to play silently by using headphones.
(4) Relatively low maintenance. Beyond the usual practices of keeping liquids away, keeping it out of direct sunlight, and occasional dusting, etc., digital pianos are virtually maintenance - free.
(5) Electronic interface. Many digital piano models have a MIDI interface capability, which allows you to connect the piano to your computer to enjoy the benefits of digital technology. Some also have built-in recording and playback capability!
(6) Many voices. Most digital pianos come with several different types of piano sounds, plus the sounds of other instruments. For example, with a press of a button you can make it sound like a harpsichord, a pipe organ or a complete orchestra!
*The disadvantages:
(1) Sound quality. No matter how well the piano sound is sampled, you can never truly get away from the 'digital' , 'amplified' sound quality. As digital sampling technology improves, the gap between the acoustic and digital sound may diminish, but digital sound will never equal or be superior to those of an acoustic.
(2) Inability to produce a 'color' to the tone. In an acoustic instrument, by using various playing techniques, you can produce almost infinite kinds of 'color' to the tone. Digital pianos can only produce sounds that were originally sampled (recorded), and are thus very limited in terms of variety in the sound produced. For a very accomplished pianist the limited sound produced by the digital piano can be disturbing.
(3) As with any electronic mechanisms, digital pianos can develop problems like damaged spring action on the keys, bad contact, bad amplifier, bad speaker, etc. Digital pianos in general are considered relatively robust, but there has been reports of key action break down, hissing and crackling speaker noise developing, and having difficulty in getting it fixed correctly.
(4) As with any electronics, the technology used to create the current digital piano may (well, almost certainly will) become obsolete in the near future. Whereas, in an acoustic piano, one can assume if you buy a good piano and take good care of it, your grandchild or great-grandchild can still play it and will find someone who can maintain your piano. This is not necessarily the case with digital pianos. Digital pianos haven't been around long enough to really make a good case study of its longevity.
*Here are some tips for picking a good digital piano*
(1) Action. Does it *feel* like a piano to you? Do the keys have the proper weight and do they move under your fingers the way you remember a good piano does?
(2) Dynamic range. Does it respond to velocity properly? How loudly and how softly can it be played? Is it easy to play and maintain an even dynamic level?
(3) Sound. Pick a note, play it loudly, hold it and listen carefully while it decays into silence. Does it sound natural? Does it take long enough? Does it last *too* long? (Time a note at similar loudness on a grand piano for comparison.) Can you hear obvious, repeating patterns ('loops')? Repeat this test, playing a chord instead of a single note.
(4) Realistic sound source. Play something moving up and down the keyboard (scales, arpeggios, etc.). Does the sound 'move' realistically from side to side?
(5) Polyphony. How many notes can you hear at once? A good test is to hold down the sustain pedal, play the two lowest C's, then play a glissando about five octaves or more long. Stay clear of models which prematurely and abruptly drop notes in a fashion that you can hear clearly.
(6) How powerful is the amplifier/speaker system? Bigger amplifiers and multiple number of speakers generally give you a better sound. You may not necessarily ever use all that excess power, but having it can give you a more balanced sound when you play.
(7) And remember to watch out for the *friendly* salesperson who is always eagerly ready to play a catchy song for you to make a sale!
Good luck!
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