What pianos do you recommend if I have a budget between $1k and $3k?

At this price point, you begin to see some serviceable used vertical (upright) pianos. In my opinion, digital pianos are still the better options in this price range, but if you insist on buying an acoustic piano you should be able to find a decent one if you are patient. Let’s talk about digital pianos first.

Roland and Yamaha both have good digital pianos in this price range. I would also consider Kawai digital pianos in this price range (the problem with Kawai digital pianos is that they are difficult to find). My recommendations are:

  • Yamaha Arius YDP-184 is one of the best-selling digital pianos and it is a great choice for most families. We have an earlier model in our house too. It costs around $2,200 (July, 2018).
  • Roland DP603 is another good offer from Roland. It costs around $2,400 (July, 2018).
  • Kawai ES8 is highly recommended by professional reviewers. It costs around $2000 (July, 2018).

Again, I would avoid other digital piano brands in this price range unless you really can’t find anything you like in the 3 major brands. This is also the top price range I would spend on a digital piano unless you are ready to jump to hybrid pianos, which will cost you a lot more.

If you plan to buy an acoustic piano in this price range, there are a few things you need to pay attention to:

  1. Do NOT buy a “spinet” piano.” Most acoustic pianos you will find in this price range are small vertical pianos. When buying an acoustic piano, the general rule of thumb is that the bigger the better. Smaller pianos are compromised in both sound and action. Among the worst of them is so-called spinet pianos. Spinet pianos were made primarily for decoration purpose in the mid 20th century. Generally speaking, you should never buy a vertical piano that is shorter than 40″ height.
  2. Be wary of pianos that are older than 30 years. As I stated earlier, the typical life span of acoustic pianos is 50-60 years. Piano that are older than 30 years old are on a downward spiral. Piano strings put a lot of stress on piano frame and soundboard. It doesn’t matter if the piano has been played often or just left in the corner of the house. Acoustic pianos are going to deteriorate over time no matter what.
  3. Do NOT buy a piano without actually seeing and playing it. There are more and more people and dealers selling their pianos online and promising free shipping. No matter how tempted you are, do NOT buy an acoustic piano without actually seeing and playing it. There are potential problems in acoustic pianos that you cannot detect in a video. This leads to the next point.
  4. Learn to evaluate a used piano. It is usually recommended that you hire a professional piano technician to evaluate a used piano before you buy it. The cost of professional evaluation ranges from $100 to $500 depending on travel distance and condition of the piano. At this price range, most people forgo the professional evaluation process because of cost. No matter you decide to hire a professional piano technician or not, you should learn some basic techniques to evaluate a used piano. Search “how to evaluate a used piano” on YouTube and you will find many useful instructions. Here is one I recommend: https://youtu.be/1TqTIroFaac. Also, there are a few tools you should bring with you when you go on a piano shopping trip:
    • Measuring tape – As I said earlier, it is important to know how tall a vertical piano is (the taller the better). It is also important to measure the exact dimension of the piano and make sure it can go through your house’s doorway and fit into your desirable location.
    • Camera: You can bring a camera or use your cell phone’s camera. Other than taking pictures of the piano exterior and interior, it is very important to take a picture of the serial number of the piano. Every piano has a serial number and you can find out the age of the piano by checking the serial number. In my experiences, at least two-third of private piano sellers would lie about the age of their pianos. Do NOT take the word of the seller; check it yourself. If you can’t find the piano serial number online, call piano dealers in your town and ask if they have a copy of “Pierce Piano Atlas”, which has serial numbers of all pianos that have ever been made.
    • Flashlight: If you watch the video above, you will learn how to open the bottom board. If you see cracks, water marks, or mouse droppings, that tells you something about the piano and its environment.

In this price range, you are likely to find two categories of vertical pianos:

  1. Older used vertical pianos from established brands: In this category, you are likely to find 20+ year-old pianos from Yamaha, Kawai, and Baldwin. Generally speaking, pianos built by these brands (including Baldwin before it was bankrupted and sold) are of very good quality and I would recommend this category over the next one.
  2. Newer used vertical pianos from Korean and Chinese brands: In this category, you are likely to find all kinds of used pianos from Korean and Chinese brands. There are too many of them but the most famous brands are Samick, Young Chang, Pearl River, Hailun, Perzina, and Weber. The quality of these pianos depends on the condition and you have to evaluate each piano with its own merit.

Buying a used piano in this price range takes time and patience. It is unlikely you will find a perfect piano in this price range: some of them may have cosmetic damages and some of them may have been neglected for a long time. The most important thing to remember is to evaluate each piano individually and don’t rely solely on brand recognition. With patience and efforts, you should be able to find a decent vertical piano in this price range.

One more thing, don’t forget to include moving cost and piano tuning cost into your negotiation with the seller/dealer.

This is one of the articles in a series called “Piano Buying Guide for Parents of Young Students“. You can find other articles of the series through this link.

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