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The Top 10 Mistakes People Make When Buying A Piano

At Alamo Music Center we believe that people unlock joy, fun and community through musical instruments. We love to help people find their perfect instrument the first time. We've put together this list of common mistakes we see when people are looking for pianos. 

People stumble on their search for a piano when:

1)  They haven’t decided if they really want to learn/play - If you ask most people if they would like to learn piano or like their progeny to learn piano, they will say, “yes, of course!” But most people leave it there. One of the most common things we see is people who sign their kids up for a month of lessons at the lowest price they can find, and then follow-up with the purchase of an inexpensive unweighted keyboard. And while some of these unweighted keyboards are incredibly impressive instruments with robust features, they sometime lack the real feel and response that help aid the learning process. After a month, the child/student hasn’t learned a thing and $200-300 could have been better spent. We discourage people from buying if they are don’t actually want to invest the time and money to learn. You have to decide whether you want to unlock the secret benefits of music, to which there are many!

2)  They don’t understand how much a piano costs to move and maintain - Professional piano movers and tuners are expensive. Locally, it costs, roughly, $200-400 to move an upright, and factors such as stairs and distance can increase the cost. If shipping from outside your city/state, greater distances across the US might set one back as much as $700-$2000+ and can take up to 3-4 weeks. A grand piano can cost between $300 - $1000+ to move locally depending on the logistics, and the cost of moving a grand nationally is $1000 - $2500+! Want to save money by using regular movers or doing it yourself? No worries, but please be aware of the costs if something goes wrong. Every finish nick will cost about $150 per, a broken pin block renders most pianos worthless, costing $8,000+ on high-end grands and being close to impossible on uprights. Tuning, a necessity after a move, costs between $100-$175 each visit and should be done at least once a year, ideally twice.

3)  They under-commit with lessons or quality of piano - This is similar to the first point but a little more nuanced. You can do one right and the other wrong and you are going to render your proper investment worthless. We sometimes see people buy very expensive grands, uprights or digital pianos, and when we ask them if they’re taking lessons, they say they’re using YouTube, going to teach themselves via a book or have a friend teach them. Usually, we offer a teacher referral at this point, with someone whom they can trial, unless the person is fine with the piano simply being a piece of furniture in the house (believe it or not, this is more common than not). We also see people sign up for lessons with a prestigious teacher in town, paying $100+/ per lesson but be concerned with spending too much on an instrument in case lessons don’t work out. The problem here is that the $100s of dollars spent on lessons ends up being a waste and costs the customer more than the savings that were made on the inexpensive instrument.

4)  They use “Grandma’s” piano - Now this is actually not always a bad thing as a family heirloom piano can sometimes be of excellent quality, especially when music runs in the family. Often, though, there are severe issues with the “family” piano. If the piano has tuning stability issues, the player will develop a bad ear. If it is missing strings, it is impossible to play many pieces. If the piano action is broken, the proper playing mechanics will not be developed and/or strange playing techniques will develop to compensate for the uneven action which will make playing on other instruments difficult.

5)  They don’t ask for their teachers advice - Teachers are a great source of information and guidance. They also usually have strong opinions on what is best for the student because of their method of teaching. The improper instrument then gets in the way of the relationship between the teacher and the learning/playing of music. Teachers are also great at sniffing on a good deal or a bad one for that matter.

6)  They buy a used piano with a critical flaw - Much like points 2 and 4, you don’t know what you don’t know. A $500 piano on Craigslist is a really good deal if it’s indeed a good deal. If it’s not, like when it’s got broken strings, pin-block, tuning stability issues or action issues, you are looking at a $700-1250 loss (how so? Well, you have to pay to get it to your house, get it tuned and then, finally and sadly, thrown away...we actually get paid to pick people’s junker pianos and dispose of’s sadly somewhat expensive as you can’t put them in the regular trash.

7)  They don’t get buy-in from their significant other - Communication is key. We’ve seen many well intentioned future musicians not come to fruition because parents weren’t on the same page about the value of music for their children. One did it growing up and the other didn’t, so one wants to do the “trial” version and the other wants to take out a second mortgage on the house. Usually no one wins here. The other situation we see is that the child is asked to participate in the decision and they side-rail the whole expedition because it doesn’t look fun enough. Teachers and music stores can be great partners and helping parents convince their children that music is a journey they will never regret. Unless, of course, they don’t take it and then they’ll be another person telling us about how they wished their parents would have made them “stick with it” when they were growing up.

8)  They put it on-hold - The saddest story I remember hearing was a Dad who saw us at an outside piano sale event and he told us that he remembered when he’d almost bought this exact piano for his daughter when she was in high school. He said, “Wow! I can’t believe how much more expensive it is now and I regret not having done that for her. She really loved music so much and she doesn’t play anymore.” He talked about potentially buying it for her college graduation but said he “still needed to think about it”.

9)  They buy too quickly - And then they end up with issue 2, 3, 5, 6 and/or 7. The pain, money, and time spent increases and regret builds on an instrument that should bring joy and build memories in your home. You don’t think about the sound factor of an acoustic piano and realize that a weighted digital piano was probably a better choice for your situation. You don’t think to match the colors to your furniture and style. You buy a digital and you really wanted the feel and sound of an acoustic instrument. This list can go on for days, but doesn’t have to with an informed and well planned decision!

10)  They spend too much or too little - You can buy too much piano and you can buy too little piano. If you have a 4 year old beginner, a 9' premium grand piano might be overkill. If you've been playing for 5+ years, a $1000 used spinet of $500 keyboard is going to hold you back as a musician and stunt your growth. The key is to make sure you understand where you are in your musical journey and where you want to go, so you get the right instrument, maximize your investment and save money and time. 

Use this list wisely! There are many factors that should be addressed when purchasing the right instrument, and if you just stop and breath for a moment, the right piano will let itself be known. We would also like to point you to our  Piano Buyer’s Guide as that will also give you further insight into how to approach the process. Good luck on your quest, and remember , “Play A Note, Change Your Life!”

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