Robert Estrin - piano expert

Should You Buy a Steinway?

Is buying a high-quality piano worth it?

In this video, Robert gives you valuable tips in deciding what's the right piano for you.

Released on March 2, 2022

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

This is I'm Robert Estrin. The question is, should you buy a Steinway or other fine piano? It's a tough thing, when you're going to buy a piano. You can see digital pianos for a few hundred dollars, and then there are pianos for hundreds of thousands of dollars. And you wonder, what should you get? Well, obviously not everybody has the resources to buy pianos that cost a hundred thousand dollars or more, but there is definitely a choice of how far to go, when you wonder, is it worth it?

Let's say you have the option or the possibility of buying a Steinway or a Bechstein or a Mason and Hamlin or some other top-tier, hand-built piano, whether it be new or used, to get a really fine instrument. But then, you could buy a perfectly good Chinese or Indonesian piano, brand new, for less money than a used Steinway or Bechstein or something of that nature. And you wonder, which one would be better for you? Is one going to hold up better? Is one going to be more satisfying to play? And are you really worthy of spending even tens of thousands of dollars, much less over a hundred thousand dollars?

There's a lot to be considered here. Well, from an investment standpoint, it actually makes more sense to buy a fine piano than to buy a cheap piano because price does not always correlate with value. For example, let's say you got a no-name, stencil piano, a piano that comes from some unknown factory in Asia, with a familiar name, on the front, of some piano company that went out of business years ago. And it's from a reputable company from a good store. And everybody's fine. Nobody's trying to pull wool over your eyes. They're telling you like it is. "Yeah, this is a made in China and imported."

And it looks just as nice as the $80,000 piano sitting next to it. And you wonder, what the heck? Why should I even consider getting something? Or even a used fine grand for 30,000? You're thinking, is there any reason for this? Well, think about this: that $30,000 piano or $80,000 piano, the $30,000 piano that would be 80,000 new, but it's been restored and plays well, or the brand new piano. These are instruments that, because of their intrinsic value, they're worth rebuilding. That's why you see a lot of rebuilt Steinways out there and Mason and Hamlins and Blüthners and other really fine pianos; because the cost of a new one is so great, it's worth rebuilding.

If you buy a brand new baby grand, let's say for $10,000, and there are some, I believe, in close to that price range. Anyway, I know things have gotten a little bit more expensive lately. But let's say you get a piano in, roughly, in that price range. Well guess what? When that piano wears out, it's not worth rebuilding because the cost of restoration exceeds what the piano could eventually be worth, with the restoration. So I hate to say it, but they're essentially disposable.

Sometimes it's hard to know when to pull the plug. Do you put the new hammers on a piano that's $10,000 and spend two, $3,000 on action work, or more? Or do you just get another piano at that point? Do you restring a piano, if the strings are rusty after a number of years, because of where you live, on a piano that you only spent 10 or 12 a thousand for? Do you spend, who knows how many thousands, to restring it?

Well, you don't have to ask that question, if you've got a Blüthner or a Steinway, do you? Of course it's worth it, because a new one costs, 80, a hundred thousand dollars. So, it's absolutely worth it. Now, of course, you're not buying a piano as an investment; you're buying a piano as an instrument to play. So, what the heck is the difference then? Well, I can tell you this: it depends upon how important piano is to you. If you're an advanced player, obviously a piano that's on a higher level, with proper preparation, because any piano requires maintenance; a higher quality piano will be more stable over time, so it can maintain a higher level of regulation and voicing and even tuning, so you can enjoy a higher level of playing, and it won't nickel and dime you, trying to keep it that way. Because a lesser piano could involve more work, keeping it playing okay.

This isn't always the case, by the way. There are some relatively inexpensive pianos that offer moderately good performance, that are going to be stable for you. So, I'm not saying every cheap piano is going to cost more to maintain. But many of them will. That's one thing to consider. The other thing is what it will do for your playing experience. If you, every time you sit down at a piano, you get a beautiful, absolutely gorgeous tone...

... you're going to want to play more. Not only that, but you can do more with the music. One of the benefits of having a really high-quality piano is the expressive potential of the instrument. There are more gradations of loud and soft and colors of tone that are capable from being able to play softer, than a lesser piano, where the notes will start dropping out because the action isn't refined enough to do what you just heard here.

Or, on the other level, you play louder and louder without it ever getting harsh. A piano like this, for example, is Baldwin SF10, which is one of the great American pianos of all time, you can put tremendous energy without ever over driving it in distortion, much like a really high-quality sound system, where you can turn the volume up, and it doesn't hurt; it just fills the room, and you can even feel the sound. On a lesser system, you don't even want to turn it up that loud because it gets harsh and ugly and distorted. Listen if I play the opening cords to the Tchaikovsky B flat minor piano concerto and open up on these. It'll never get harsh, no matter how much energy you put into it.

And I probably put even more energy into that than is necessary, maybe even more than I would in a performance. Although, when you're balancing with an orchestra, sometimes it's necessary. But you notice, it doesn't ever clip. You never have that distortion. It just opens up with beautiful, rich sonorities. So, what level piano should you buy? Well, depending upon your resources, because you certainly don't want to stress yourself, getting a piano and then not being able to buy food. However, if you look at the long term, you buy a piano once, if you buy a piano like this, or a Steinway, or something of that nature, whereas when you're buying something lesser quality instrument, it's very possible, at some point in the future, you're going to get something else later. So, you might buy two or three times, where you buy once, and that piano, if it's well-cared for, can get passed down, generation to generation. So, from a monetary standpoint, it's an investment rather than an expense.

And you get to enjoy the sound and the beauty of a fine instrument. So, is it worth it to get a Steinway or other top-tier piano? It absolutely can be. Now, sometimes I hear parents with their kids, and they want to buy a piano for their children. They say, "Well, I don't want to get anything too expensive. I don't know if they're going to stay with it." And some of them just buy keyboards. And what they're doing is setting up the kids for failure, because the keyboard is not going to be satisfying at all. And if it's not a weighted action, they're setting their kids up for failure at the lessons. So you've got to get, at least, a good enough instrument that it's going to be rewarding and worthwhile to play and prepare to play other pianos, which is the other big point.

If you get serious at all, and you get to play in recitals, or you get to play at your school, or you play at church or any place, you're probably going to be playing fine pianos, at some point along the way. If you've never driven a sports car, and you've always had a little econo box, you might not have any idea how to drive it. But the converse is certainly true. If you know how to drive a fine automobile, you're going to be able to drive anything that runs okay. So, that's the lesson for today. There are many good reasons to get a good piano. Now, most important is, you're going to enjoy it more. And it's good investment, so you can justify it for yourself. So yes, go out and get a Steinway. You'll never regret it.

Once again, I'm Robert Estrin. This is, your online piano resource. And you can subscribe here on Living Pianos and YouTube. Thanks so much for joining me. We'll see you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Golly Peeters * VSM MEMBER * on May 18, 2022 @9:03 am PST
My piano journey started when I was 60 and after 2 years (when I knew I would stick with it) I upgraded my initial digital piano to a ... Steinway. The thinking behind it: "if I wait till I am "accomplished" , I will be "old" ... Why not start enjoying the sound of a (very) nice piano now and so went ahead. Best decision ever !
Robert - host, on May 18, 2022 @4:17 pm PST
You will also continue to grow as a musician having a fine piano to play. It also encourages you to practice more!
sheila * VSM MEMBER * on March 2, 2022 @11:11 pm PST
Still adore my Steinway upright which I fell in love with at the first touch, having tried 30 others in the showroom ! It was way above my budget, but I just had to have it!
Robert - host, on March 3, 2022 @8:12 am PST
When you buy a fine piano, you can enjoy it for years!
sheila * VSM MEMBER * on March 3, 2022 @10:12 am PST
That’s so true!
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