What pianos do you recommend if I have a budget of $1,000?

If you have a budget of $1,000 or less, your best option is to buy a digital piano. As I stated in the free piano question, free and low-cost acoustic pianos tend to have hidden cost that is not listed in the ad. At this price point, you can get a decent new digital piano or a very old and neglected acoustic piano. Which one would you choose?

If you decide to buy a digital piano, I highly recommend entry level Yamaha or Roland digital pianos:

  • Roland FP-30 is highly rated by professional reviewers and online shoppers. It costs around $700 (July, 2018).
  • Yamaha P-125 is cheaper than Roland FP-30 but is also a very good entry-level digital piano. Choose either Roland FP-30 or Yamaha P-125 that feels right to you. Yamaha P-125 costs around $600 (July, 2018).

At this price point, I would avoid other digital piano brands such as Alesis and Casio. Casio’s digital pianos receive very good reviews online, but personally I can’t stand the sound of Casio digital pianos. I find Roland and Yamaha digital pianos sound more like real acoustic pianos.

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.

What are the rule of thumb for buying a used acoustic piano?

There are a few important rules of thumb to remember if you decide to buy a used acoustic piano:

  1. When buying an acoustic piano, most of the time you get what you pay for. I am not saying that there is no bargain to be had, but most piano bargains you find on Craigslist or other classified ad sites are purely junks. Good piano bargains are quickly grabbed by dealers and piano re-builders. Hunting a piano bargain takes time and you must be knowledgeable about pianos and are willing to travel. What I am saying is don’t expect a $3,000 piano to sound and play like a $30,000 piano.
  2. Don’t fall into piano dealers’ selling tactics. Piano dealers have a reputation no better than car dealers, and they both utilize psychological tactics to push for sale. Remember this: pianos are always for sale but never on sale. The big selling event that ends tonight will still be there next week and next month.
  3. Unlike cell phones or cars, each acoustic piano has its own characteristics. No two acoustic pianos play and sound exactly the same even within the same brand and the same model. Therefore, it is very important to try out the piano before you buy and only buy the piano you have tried.
  4. Generally speaking, when buying an acoustic piano, the bigger the better. There are some exceptions, but those exceptions tend to be very expensive. If you are buying a vertical/upright piano, it is recommended that you buy one that is 48″ or taller. If you are buying a grand piano, it is recommended that you buy one that is at least 5’5″ (165 cm) long. This is only a recommendation, not a law.
  5. Do not buy a vertical piano that is shorter than 40″ height or so-called spinet piano. Do not buy a grand piano that is shorter than 4’10” (148 cm).
  6. Pianos are not hot-selling items. The piano you fell in love with at the dealer’s shop will still be there tomorrow and possibility next week. It is okay to sleep on the decision but don’t wait too long.
  7. Generally speaking, it is better to buy a used acoustic piano from a piano dealer or professional piano technician than from individuals. Most piano dealers and professional piano technicians will make repairs and tune the pianos for sale and they offer warranty between 1 to 10 years for used pianos bought from them.
  8. If you decide to buy a used piano from an individual, it is highly recommended that you hire a professional piano technician (find a professional piano technician here) to check out the piano before you buy.
  9. Don’t forget to include the cost of piano moving and piano bench in your negotiation. If you buy from a piano dealer or piano technician, you can also ask for one-time free piano tuning.
  10. If you buy from a piano dealer or piano technician, the seller will usually arrange the delivery. If you buy from an individual, please hire an insured professional piano mover to move the piano. Do not hire a regular moving company to move the piano.

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.

Should I buy a new or used piano?

If you plan to buy a digital piano, I would recommend you buy new. As I said previously, digital pianos need no maintenance but it is also irreparable when they break down. Instead of saving a few hundred dollars buying a used digital pianos that may break down at anytime, you should just buy a new one with manufacturer warranty.

Acoustic pianos are a different story. Because acoustic pianos are made of wood, steel, and wool, a qualified piano technician can repair any acoustic pianos regardless of the brand. There are also piano rebuilders who take old pianos and make them like new again though quite expensive. Generally speaking, you will find better deals in used pianos than new pianos. New pianos, like new cars, tend to lose their values more sharply in the first few years.

The challenge of buying a used piano is to evaluate the piano and know what to avoid. I will address the tips for buying a used piano in the next question.

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.

I found a free piano on Craigslist, should I take it?

Be very wary of those so-called free pianos on Craigslist or any other classified ad sites. Why? Because nothing is free especially for a piano. Let me break down the cost of a free piano:

  • Piano moving: It costs around $150-$300 for a professional piano mover to move a vertical piano and $250-$500 to move a grand piano. Do NOT try to move piano by yourself. Not only is piano heavy, it is also very tricky to move. If you move the piano by yourself and anything goes wrong, you will (a) damage the piano, (b) damage the property of the seller or yourself, (c) probably hurt yourself. Remember to hire an “insured” piano mover and not just any mover.
  • Piano tuning: A free piano is almost guaranteed to be seriously out of tune. (A side note, Craigslist sellers usually say, “The piano hasn’t be tuned for a few years but it is still pretty much in tune.” It is a BS, don’t believe it.) A regular tuning costs around $100-$200 but a seriously out-of-tune piano will need more than one tuning to get back in tune, which means you will spend at least $200-$400 for tuning.
  • Repair: Most free pianos will have a few keys that do not respond and probably strings that are broken or rusted. You will need a piano technician to repair the piano before the piano can be tuned or played. Prepare to spend at least a few hundred dollars to repair a “free” piano.

If you add up all the cost, it will come to around $1,000. For that kind of money, you can get a decent new digital piano. If you add a little more, you can get a decent used acoustic vertical piano from a reputable piano dealer or piano technician/rebuilder who will not only delivery the piano for free, give you a free tuning, and possibly provide a warranty between 1 to 10 years in case anything goes wrong.

Conclusion: Forget about the free piano; they are not free, really.

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.

When should I choose a digital piano instead of acoustic piano?

Digital pianos do have advantages over acoustic pianos in a few areas:

  • A digital piano can be played silently with headphones whereas most acoustic pianos cannot. Except for a few Yamaha models, most acoustic pianos cannot be played silently. If you live in close proximity with other people such as in an apartment or you plan to practice piano late in the night or early in the morning, a digital piano will be a much better fit than an acoustic piano. Actually, a high percentage of acoustic piano owners, including ourselves, also own a digital piano because of digital piano’s ability to play silently.
  • Acoustic pianos need more space than digital pianos. You can literally place a digital piano anywhere in your house as long as it has access to electricity. Acoustic pianos, on the other hand, need careful placement for acoustic reasons. A vertical acoustic piano is usually placed against a wall, and it may be more difficulty than you think to find an empty wall in a house. A grand piano may look like it needs a lot of space but in my experience it is no more than a upright piano needs.
  • Digital pianos are generally lighter and easier to move around. Some digital pianos can be carried around in your car, which is impossible even for the smallest acoustic piano.
  • Digital pianos need no maintenance whereas acoustic pianos need regular tuning and servicing. Acoustic pianos need to be tuned at least once per year and possibly twice per year, which will cost you between $100 to $400 per year. Digital pianos are always in tune and never need tuning. Acoustic pianos are made of wood, steel, and wool. These parts will eventually break down and you will need a piano technician to replace broken strings, worn out hammers…etc. A typical acoustic piano can last about 50-60 years, and at that time, you can either spend big money to rebuild the piano or give it to your child for free and make it her problem! Digital pianos, on the other hand, are usually irreparable. Because digital pianos are made of electronic parts and companies always come up with new models year after year, replacing a digital piano is almost always cheaper than repair a broken digital pianos.

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.