Best piano?

Learn about pianos and how to maintain them

Postby Mins Music » Sun Mar 07, 2004 8:39 am

In your opinion, what are some of the best brand upright pianos, and in what price range would they be?
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Postby 65-1074818729 » Mon Mar 08, 2004 2:42 pm

I would say Yamaha is one of the more popular upright pianos among the more serious players.

The Gallery collection of Yamaha pianos, (44"), is popular for home use. I have also noticed that the U3 (52") and the U1 (47 3/4") are popular with the piano teachers.

I believe at the present time that the Gallery collection sells for around $4300 US and the U3 models can sell for as much as $7000.00 or more. :)
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Mon Mar 08, 2004 9:37 pm

As moderator of this topic, I guess I ought to weigh in by now.

I would echo Aflat's recommendations; In 1983, when we moved the NMSU Music Department to a brand new facility, it was my job as resident pianist to choose the pianos. I specified a package that included 31 Yamahas for studios and practice rooms: 25 U1 verticals (48"), 3 C7 grands (7'4") and 3 C3 grands (6'). They have held up amazingly well, as have the two C7s in my own home. One of the latter (my wife's) was built in 1974, mine in 1968. I have installed the third set of hammers on mine (it takes a beating, and hammers are what wear out the most), but the soundboard is as solid as it was the day I got it.

Yamahas are very uniform, though--they all sound and feel pretty much alike. If you like the sound (you'll love the action, practically a clone of Steinway's) then their value is unbeatable. If you don't, there's not much use in trying others; try a different brand.

The most beautiful uprights I ever played were at the Bosendorfer factory, but they're for rich people. Steinway AT ITS BEST (this has become a real gamble) is, of course, considered by many the premier piano in music history, at least in models D (9' concert grand), B (7') and L (5' 11"), and their 46 upright is fine IF you get a good one. Then, the Baldwin/Hamilton studio model has a distinguished history of surviving many decades of public school and college practice room trauma. And so on.

I always advise potential piano buyers to get "The Piano Book" by Larry Fine, which covers all makes and models and everything else you ever wanted to know; my review of it appears elsewhere in PEP, and their web site is www.pianobook.com.

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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Wed Mar 10, 2004 11:56 am

I would like to emphasize something really important here: piano maintenance.

Not too long ago I gave a recital on a Steinway concert grand. The action was not bad, but the sound was atrocious: the tone from the densely packed and grooved hammers was brassy and ugly, and so uneven overall that it was next to impossible to build a smooth melodic line or control the balance of voices. But it wasn't Steinway's fault. This was a fine instrument, about 20 years old (not old for a premium-grade piano), and there was a lot of life left in it. But due to inattention, lack of funding, or just plain inertia--I don't know which--this expensive concert piano had had nowhere near the care it deserved, especially considering the heavy pounding to which it is constantly subjected. If nothing else, a good filing and voicing, or even replacement, of the hammers was long overdue. But the instrument was being allowed to deteriorate before its time.

My point is that no matter what make or model piano you buy, or how much you spend for it, you won't be getting anywhere near your money's worth if you don't keep it maintained on a regular basis. You can buy a Rolls Royce to go to Wal-Mart in, but if you don't keep enough oil in the crankcase you're going to burn the engine up. The same principle applies to pianos.

As teachers, if we want our students to learn more than just how to type on an 88-digit keyboard, but rather to work for good phrasing, voicing and dynamics and all those other things that separate music from meaningless droning, we must give them an instrument that makes it possible. It doesn't have to be a concert grand. But it does have to be a decent piano that is regularly and expertly kept up to snuff.

My guess is that we've gotten so used to buying microwaves, refrigerators and other appliances that you just plug in and forget, that it's easy to treat our pianos the same way. It doesn't work like that--pianos need lots of attention to give their best. And I don't believe any contributor to these forums is the type who would buy a cheap spinet as just a matching piece of living room furniture to hold grandma's picture and a vase of flowers--we're serious about music. So we need not only to care for our own instruments but encourage our students and their families to do the same.

Several of us at PEP have collaborated on an extensive article which deals with every aspect of piano maintenance; it's called Purchasing and Caring for a Piano or Keyboard. I urge all of you to not only read it but show it to your students as well.

Dr. Bill.




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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Wed Mar 10, 2004 8:28 pm

Bravo to you, too, Nancy, for continuing to fight the good fight.

I see oboe players, clarinet players, string players, trombone players, flute players, etc. sit in a chair and nonchalantly pull their instruments apart, swab them out, clean them, make their own reeds or replace broken strings, and, of course, tune them--but most piano players and teachers are helpless if a pencil falls in the piano or a note or damper hangs up. To be sure, the piano is a more complex instrument and shouldn't be monkeyed with unless you know what you're doing, but it behooves us to know our instruments at least well enough to tell when it needs tuning, regulating or voicing, and maybe in minor emergencies do what the military calls "first echelon maintenance".

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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Tue May 04, 2004 8:15 am

Dr. Bill Leland wrote:it behooves us to know our instruments at least well enough to tell when it needs tuning, regulating or voicing, and maybe in minor emergencies do what the military calls "first echelon maintenance".

Dr. Leland's comment about first echelon maintenance raises the question: Just what kinds of maintenance should the "average" teacher, student or parent be able to do themselves and what things should always be left to a trained technician?
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Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Tue May 04, 2004 2:10 pm

Well, John, since I brought it up I'll weigh in on this.

Far and away the most important thing a teacher or performer should be able to do is EVALUATE. I guess this doesn't really come under maintenance, but when I was running the piano major curriculum at NMSU I installed a mandatory course called "The Piano: It's History and Nature."
All of our would-be performers and teachers had to learn these things:

1. Basic Acoustics: nature of sound; fundamentals and overtones; inharmonicity of piano strings and the reason for it.

2. The Modern Piano: Action Unit, Tonal Unit, Structural Unit--we took a grand piano and a vertical piano apart and learned how they work.

3. Brief History: forerunners (dulcimer, clavichord, etc.), invention and subsequent development from c.1600 on.

4. Maintenance: Tuning, Reulating, Voicing, Repair; what is meant by 'recondition', 'rebuild', etc.

5. Consumer Guidance: How to buy a new or used piano; how to evaluate a tuning, how to find a good tuner, etc.

All this stuff is addressed expertly in Larry Fine's "The Piano Book" (which every teacher ought to own) and in articles on PEP and Muzine.

Basic do-it-yourself maintenance could include knowing how to open the top and front panels of an upright, or remove the fallboard of a grand, to retrieve the paper clips, pencils, rings and dozens of little blue stars that fall into pianos; and, especially, knowing what to listen for in tuning and voicing, and being able to judge whether the action needs regulating (it can be done with just a six-inch ruler and a good eye).

It sounds like a lot, but when you see violinists tuning and replacing their own strings, clarinettists and oboists pulling their instruments apart or making their own reeds, etc., it's amazing how little most pianists and teachers know about their instrument. We shouldn't be so helpless!

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Postby 81-1074658942 » Tue May 04, 2004 9:29 pm

My parents took me to look at three used pianos when I was nine. They aren't musicians, so they didn't really know what to look for. I have a decent piano, but I'm still rather hoping that someday a REALLY nice one will fall out of the sky and into my piano room! This topic is really interesting to read. When I actually buy my own piano, I'll know exactly what to look for!

PS I have a Kohler and Campbell upright. it's about 37-38" tall. It has a very nice tone, but the action isn't that sensitive.
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