How to Buy a Piano

So you want to start piano lessons!!! Purchasing a piano for lessons is a big and exciting investment, and the more you know about it, the better the decision you can make about which instrument is correct for you!  If you’re not sure about anything you read here,  please feel welcome to call our studio.  If you make an appointment to stop by, any of our teachers will be happy to demonstrate for you on the instruments we have here.  We DO NOT sell instruments or endorse any particular brand.  We’d just be happy to help our community become more informed buyers. 

There are two main categories for buying pianos:  Acoustic and Digital.

“Acoustic” pianos are those that do not plug in. When shopping for an acoustic instrument, there are several topics you should consider in making your decision.  

Sound Quality  

Every acoustic instrument will produce a unique sound.  You have to hear your instrument everyday.  Pick one whose sound you enjoy! If you’re shopping, chances are you do not play yet, and may not hear this initially.  But if you simply play the keys on enough pianos while paying attention, you’ll start to hear that much like people’s voices, they each have unique characteristics.  

Size 

Pianos come with their mechanisms either vertical (upright pianos) or horizontal (grand pianos).  The larger the actual instrument is, the better the quality of the sound will be, and the more ability you’ll have to create a range of volume (dynamics) when playing.  Uprights come in 3 heights, the smallest being a spinet, the next being called a console and the tallest being called a studio upright.  Grands are measured by the length from their keys to the end of the curve.  This length is their size.  Some people refer to smaller ones as “baby grands” but the industry does not really have an actual size that it designates with this name.  While we all like to purchase the biggest instrument we can, be aware some uprights have larger soundboard areas and longer string lengths than do small grands.  Unless you have your heart set on the look of a grand, you can get equal if not better musical sound out of a studio upright at a much lower price.  

Pedals 

Most acoustic pianos have 2 or 3 pedals.  Very rarely do students & hobbyists use the middle pedal, so a piano that only has 2 will work perfectly fine for most players.  


Buying used instruments can be intimidating if you don’t know what you’re shopping for.  Much like buying a used car when you’re not a mechanic.  You can have a piano technician evaluate an instrument for you if you are unsure.  But some basic things you can check yourself are:  

  • Does every key make a sound when played?  
  • Does every key provide about the same amount of resistance to your fingers when played?
  • Does the seller have maintenance records of tuning history and repairs?  

If you’d like more detailed information on acoustic pianos than provided here, the piano technician’s guild offers lots of details. 

“Digital” is the term currently being used for keyboards or electric instruments .  

Sound Quality.  

Digital instruments manufacturers get their sound by sampling sound from acoustic instruments.  The same rules as above apply.  If your ears are not pleased by the sound an instrument produces, you will not enjoy practicing on or playing it.  Try numerous brands to find what you like best  

Touch.  

This is critical.  A key should have resistance when you press it down in order to best control your finger and hand muscles when playing.  Different manufacturers refer to this feature with various terms for patent reasons, but the bottom line is the key should provide resistance against the finger when played.  

Number of keys.  

A standard piano has 88.  While beginners may not need this many initially, they will reach that point pretty quickly.  It is infinitely more important to buy an instrument with more keys than one with more sound features.  

Dynamics.  

You should be able to control the volume of the instrument by how you play the key.  Simply being able to adjust volume with a knob, slide or button is not adequate for lessons.  


Sound Features abound in the digital world. However, they are totally unnecessary for the process of learning to play.  Being able to push a button and suddenly sound like a trumpet or a guitar, or have drums play along with you can be lots of fun (at least initially).  Be careful to balance what you spend on sounds with other criteria that are more important to the process of learning to play. Touch, dynamic ability and number of keys are more important features than sound options.  

If you are unsure whether to purchase a digital or an acoustic instrument, more comparison information can be found here.

How to Buy a Guitar

Buying a guitar is an exhilarating experience. Whether it's your first one or if it's one to add to the collection, there are a few things to consider when selecting the right guitar. First, we need to know what types of guitars are out there. Most people are familiar with electric guitars and acoustic guitar, but not all guitars are the same. 

We'll start with nylon-string acoustic guitars. These typically have smaller bodies and wider nut width (which means the strings are further apart from each other). Also, nylon strings are a bit more elastic than other strings, making them easier on the hands. Nylon-string guitars produce a warm, rich tone. These are the guitars of choice for classical players and other types of finger-style players.  

Next we have steel-string acoustic guitars. The bodies of these guitars can be on the large side, so keep in mind the size of the person who will be playing the instrument. The necks of these guitars are typically longer and narrower than their nylon-string counterparts. This brings the strings closer together, making it easy to play with a pick. The strings on these guitars can feel a bit tight, and the steel digs into untrained fingers.  These guitars can be a little rough on beginners, but nothing a little practice can't fix. Steel-string guitars have a generally brighter tone, and are used for a multitude of musical styles from rock to jazz to country.  

Then we have the electric guitar. There are quite a variety of electric guitars out there, so we'll keep it general just to get the idea. The necks of these guitars tend to be pretty long and the strings are close together, these are built with pick-style playing in mind. The bodies of electric guitars vary in size (depending on whether it's a solid body, semi-hollow body, or hollow body), but most guitars are a pretty manageable size for any player. Because of the design of most electric guitars, the steel strings tend to be a little looser than on acoustic guitars.  

Guitars also come a variety of sizes, and if you are buying a guitar for a child, chances are you will need to purchase either a quarter-size, half-size or three-quarter size guitar.  The body of the guitar should fit comfortably in the child's lap, and their right arm should be able to hand over the top of the body and touch the strings.  You'll notice that there are short, raised lines along the neck of the guitar, which are called frets.  The child should be able to place each finger on adjacent frets without excessively stretching or splaying their hand.  When buying for a child, it is a good idea to go to a store rather than purchase online so that you have a chance to try out different sizes and find the best one that fits. 

For first time guitar buyers, always talk to an expert first (meaning a guitar teacher, sales people are not experts and don't always have your best interests in mind.) This will help immensely with your decision, which can sometimes feel overwhelming. Teachers often have recommendations on types of guitars, brands, sizes, vendors, etc.  

One last tip: always consider the tone of the guitar and its ease of play. Don't buy something because of how it looks just to find out it's hard to play and sounds terrible.