IMPORTANT INFORMATION ON BUYING A PIANO (for a more detailed approach to choosing a piano please see our Restoration page which also serves as a guide to different aspects of pianos)
New or second-hand?
Less than 10,000 new pianos are sold in the UK annually and over 100,000 pianos change hands each year (2013). Only a small percentage of new pianos are well made – especially when looking at the cheaper ranges. Many upright pianos from the Far East which sell for under £3000 are in our opinion of really unacceptable quality, having a brash or uneven tone, action problems after a few years and unstable tuning. The new Yamaha GB1 baby grand piano is in our opinion badly designed and we recommend paying the extra for a C1, or buying a Kawai or Feurich, or buying a top reconditioned baby grand from the 1920s or 30s.
Unlike your car, computer or digital piano, a quality real piano will be as good (and possibly better, as most new hammers take time to settle) in 10 years time as it is today, based on normal 1 hour’s use per day. After 20 years it will need light adjustment and toning of the hammers by a qualified tuner. In 50 years it will probably need two or three days’ reconditioning and possibly new hammers and bass strings. During all this time it is highly unlikely to go wrong at all. Older pianos sometimes carried lifetime guarantees! There are over 3 million pianos in the UK. Therefore the number of used pianos sold in the UK far outweighs the number of new pianos sold, which is around 10,000 per year.
The important question, then, is how to choose a good piano.
Quality of manufacture better in the early 1900s
In the early 1900s, when most households had a piano, the industry was much larger, competition was fierce, and the quality of good pianos for sale was extremely high.
It follows that a good reconditioned piano from a top maker in the early 1900s is likely to be much better than a cheap new one. Also, the ‘modern’ piano dating from about 1960 to 1980 was generally better made than an equivalent new piano made today, as more skilled technicians were in the piano manufacturing trade in those days.
The Make is the Key
By far the most important factor when buying a piano is the make. Yamaha pianos are the most prolific make and the majority of these are well made – particularly those from the 60s to 80s. However, most new Yamaha pianos for sale are no longer made in Japan and can be far inferior and in some cases unacceptable in the opinion of many tuners. We now stock a range of new Feurich grands and uprights, which we consider to be an excellent alternative to the used Yamaha G and C series grands and upright U1 and U3 pianos made in the 60s to 80s. We are extremely selective with regard to the makes and origin of pianos we take into stock. For examples and photographs of these and other good makes please see our stocklist. Our common piano makes in the UK page has a list of all the common makes available and a rating range of each make.
Assuming the make of piano is good, the bigger pianos have a deeper and better tone and more responsive touch. Grand pianos are generally better than uprights as the grand action lifts the hammer to the very last minute giving maximum control whereas the upright action lifts and throws it towards the string. However top quality uprights can also be very sensitive, and very small grand actions can be quite basic (see grand and upright pages for more information).
OTHER IMPORTANT FACTORS:
Touch weight is to some extent a matter of personal preference, but a piano with too heavy a touch can be difficult to play expressively. On the other hand, too light a touch is not good for serious beginners as they will not develop sufficient finger strength, though a light touch is often preferable for occasional or older players. New pianos tend to be on the heavy side while some older ones (e.g. Bluthner patent action grands) have deliberately light touch.
Good older pianos generally sound more mellow and modern ones more crisp, though there are many exceptions to this. Classical musicians often prefer a mellow tone while jazz musicians a ‘cleaner’ modern sound. It’s down to personal taste; our advice is to try as many pianos as possible before purchasing. If you’re not confident to do this, take a good teacher or tuner with you when you shop. If this isn’t possible then we also have several staff who can demonstrate the pianos for you.
Humidity – Very Important
If you live in a dry modern house, then you may need a humidifier. This will depend largely on the make and type of piano. Good makes are more resistant to changes in humidity. As a guide, try to keep the humidity between 45°C and 70°C and the temperature at no more than 21°C. Under floor heating can also ruin a piano if serious steps are not taken to compensate for it.
Leg room on pianos varies from 60 to 70cm . Grands and small modern uprights are usually about 62cm from the floor to the under side of the keyboard. With grands, this can be increased by about 3cm by using glass caster cups; the angle of the pedals may then need adapting as these are raised up too. A Yamaha U3 upright has leg room of 62cm whereas a German Steingraeber 118 has 70cm and an older Bluthner 65cm. A small modern Zender has only 58.5cm!
Do you need book-holders?
If you use thick music books, then a couple of book-holders can be fitted. Older uprights usually have them, and modern ones and grands usually don’t. Many serious musicians request them.
Pianos available in the UK and their prices:
Generally, you can get a very good used upright, either old or modern, for between £2500 and £4000. An equivalent new piano including discounts would cost from £6000 upwards. The most common good makes of second hand piano for sale in the UK are, in rough order of availability, Yamaha, Bechstein, Knight, Welmar, Kaps, Bluthner, Steinway, Chappell, Hopkinson, Lipp and Rogers. There are thousands of makes of upright piano. Again, our “common makes in the UK” page has a list of all the common makes available, information and a rating of each make. On older upright pianos we have usually done one week to one month’s reconditioning work. On grand pianos we sometimes spend over a month restoring them.
Very special uprights
If you want something very special, then try (listed in order of availability) a Bechstein from 1902 to 1930, Bluthner from about 1915 to 1930, Grotrian Steinweg from 1910 to 1930, Kaps upright from about 1900 to 1915, Richard Lipp from about 1900 to 1930 or Bosendorfer from 1895 to 1930. Modern West German pianos (see our German pianos page) from about 1960 by Steinway, Steingraeber, Sauter, Seiler, Bechstein, etc. are also among the best you can get. Please see our stock list for examples.
Grand and baby grand pianos
Good makes of baby grand start from about £3000 and a top quality grand is from £7,500 to £80,000 fully reconditioned. If we have had to change both strings and hammers, felts and also re-polish it is likely to cost over £10,000. Very special grands (listed in order of availability) are Bluthners from 1895 to 1939, Bechsteins from 1895 to 1939, Steinway grands from 1880 to the present day, Bosendorfer grands from 1900 to the present day and Lipp grands 1900 to 1939. Please see our stock list for examples.
It’s important to have the right height of stool to suit the piano and player. Please see our piano stools page
Best common older reconditioned grand pianos available in the UK:
Here, listed in order of the most common good makes of used grand and baby grand pianos found in the UK, are the good makes frequently found, along with some comments:
Bluthner patent:1885 to 1920: Mellow and very rich tone. Most of the older ones have the Bluthner patent action, which tends to be lighter and plays very smoothly. However, it is unsuitable for very fast repetition. Mostly rosewood or black.
Bluthner baby grands: 1915 to 1938: Unsurpassed extremely popular baby grands from 5ft to 6ft long. “Silky” tone and good light to medium touch. Mostly mahogany and walnut with some black and rosewood. These pianos have a standard modern roller action.
Bechstein 1890 to 1930: Rich, mellow, powerful with a delightful touch.The best have beautiful cabinets. Black are the most common, followed by rosewood and mahogany. There are also some with fancy “Sheraton” inlay.
Steinway 1880 to 1930: Strong tone and responsive action. A huge variety of styles, the most common being the model O (5ft 10in), the older ones mostly in rosewood, younger ones in mahogany and black.
Chappell baby grands 1900 to 1930: Generally good quality, rivaling the top German grands.
Richard Lipp: 1900 to 1925: Mostly 5ft baby grands with attractive rosewood cases. Lipps 5ft 6in and above can be superb.
Broadwood: Some models of Broadwood are superb, especially the “barless” grands, made from about 1900 to 1915.
Best common older reconditioned upright pianos available in the UK
Bechstein from 1902. 1902 is the year that Bechstein redesigned their uprights. Before that date they were models I to V and afterwards models 6 to 10. We favour model 10 which is straight strung but very well designed with a rich tone. Model 9 is the other model we usually have and is smaller and overstrung.
Grotrian Steinweg from 1910. We greatly favour these fine pianos. The main models are 120 and 130 cm high. The have a rich mellow tone and smooth touch.
Bluthner from 1915. We only stock underdamper Bluthner pianos. They are extremely well built and have a mellow tone with smooth responsive action.
Richard Lipp from 1900. This less common make is highly regarded in the piano trade. Very rich tone and smooth action.
Steinway from about 1890. Steinway uprights are less common than grands and are time-consuming to recondition. Hence most reconditioners of Steinway grands avoid the uprights. Beware of buying a reconditioned Steinway – get it checked out by a tuner. It may be worth thinking about a whole replacement action for older Steinway uprights as the older ones are notoriously difficult to work on. This however does not apply to later Steinways from about 1920 which are very fine pianos.
Broadwood, Chappell, Cramer, Hopkinson. Top models of these English makes are very fine pianos.
Check out the Piano First
We advise you never to buy a piano without getting a technician/tuner to assess it. Choose a PTA (Piano Tuners Association) member. The charge should be modest, and could well save you hundreds of pounds!
Thank you for reading this. If you’ve followed these principles, then your well chosen piano will bring life into your home for generations to come!