Jarrett (jarrett) wrote,

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Piano Shopping

Now that we're moving into a house, it's about time I bought my first acoustic piano.

For the last month I've been almost completely immersed in shopping for a piano. Danielle thinks I'm being obsessive, but I've learned so much since I started. I've played dozens and dozens of new and used pianos, I've scoured the Internet, and I've read The Piano Book by Larry Fine, which is often referred to by "The Bible" by piano enthusiasts.

Each step of the way, my piano budget has crept higher and higher. At first, we were thinking of spending a few hundred bucks on a used piano from craigslist. Then we figured we'd be better off spending a little more and finding a good used piano from a dealer. But if we're going to spend $2,000 on a used piano, why not spend another thousand on a new Chinese piano? And if we're going to go that far, what's stopping us from spending a little more on a good Korean-made instrument? Heck, might as well go Japanese for a few bucks more. East European? Okay, American. Hell, let's get a Steinway & Sons!

Most piano dealers are smarmier than used car salesmen. I decided I didn't want to talk financing with these goons, so I asked Golden 1 Credit Union if they would give me some money. They approved me for $16,400 (!!!) at 10% APR, which sounds pretty good for an unsecured loan. I don't want the minimum payment to be more than around $150, so that fixes my piano budget in the $6,000 neighborhood. Cheaper would be nice.

At this point, I have the field pretty well narrowed down to three choices.

Charles R. Walter Studio 1500 (45", black satin finish)

This is an awesome American piano. The cabinet is beautiful with a gorgeous finish, and it's the most attractive of the three by far. The feel of the action is the best I've felt on an upright. However, I can't tell you very much about how it sounds. The one I played was slightly out of tune and situated in a cavernous empty room with the worst acoustics possible. However, the tone seemed very warm, but the sustain on the low treble seemed a little dead. Also, the piano had some weird quirks that need to be worked out. When the sliding fallboard was opened all the way, it interfered with the action on a few keys, making them click. It could be fixed by pulling the fallboard out a little bit covering part of the key surface. It's troubling, but probably fixable.

Also, I don't trust the "dealer". He doesn't have a showroom. The previous Walter dealer in Sacramento went out of business, so the factory in Indiana just sends pianos to this guy and he sells them out of his home. Since there isn't another Walter dealer within more than 100 miles, I've only gotten to play the one piano, and I can't very well shop around. The "dealer" says I can't have the piano for less than $6,300, but transaction would not require sales tax (for some reason I can't fully understand), and delivery, tuning and some voicing is included. It's not a terrible deal, but I've heard of Walter Studios going for $5,500 and less, and the nearest dealer out in San Jose quoted me $5,800 on the phone with no haggling. However, adding tax and a lengthy delivery to that bargain would probably make it a poor alternative.

If I choose the Walter, I'll probably offer him six even and tell him Danielle won't let me spend a penny more. I think I'd be very happy with this piano if the quirks are worked out and it sounds as good as I imagine it will in our living room. It's also the smaller than most other pianos in this price range, but the 45" Walter is said to sound bigger than most 52" uprights from Japan.

PETROF P 115 II (45.27", black polished finish)

This is the only European-made piano I can afford. It's imported from the Czech Republic. First off, the cabinet is very, very minimal. Danielle is clearly turned off by the look of this instrument, but she has yet to see it in person. The cabinet has no front legs, so the keyboard kind of just floats in the air. Plus the music desk is just hinged onto the front of the fallboard, making the cabinet that much more plain. Hopefully, once you open the fallboard, put some knick-knacks and family photos on top of it, open some sheet music on the desk, and throw a nice bench in front, it won't look too bad. I'm not too concerned with how it looks, anyway. More importantly, this piano has the most beautiful tone of the three. The mid-treble notes just sing, especially compared to the Walter in the cave. The bass notes were warm, but the treble was clear and crisp without sounding too bright or brassy. I just loved listening to this piano.

Everyone loves Petrof because the action is made by a German company called Renner, hailed universally as crafting the best piano actions in the world. However, the action in this particular model is not Renner, it's Detoa, a Czech manufacturing concern, and no one says much of anything about that outfit. Personally, I thought the action felt great, but I'm so used to playing my synth, even the crappy Chinese pianos felt responsive in comparison. I liked the feel of the Walter better. The only quirk on the piano I played was one key that did not repeat very well, which is likely tweakable.

The Petrof dealer in Sacramento is a really nice guy, and he said he'd get me this piano for about $5,200, plus delivery and tax, but free tuning. So, out the door we're in the $5,800 neighborhood. I think I could get a better deal if I decided to buy it, but I'd still be looking at $5,500 or so. The beautiful tone and cheaper price tag make this one a strong contender against the Walter, ugliness be damned.

Kawai K-25 (48", black polished finish)

Kawais come from Japan, uh, for the most part. They may be manufactured other places depending on the model and year, and I think the actions are built in China. This piano is Kawai's answer to the Yamaha T121, which is a stripped down version of the U1. This piano is inferior to the Petrof and Walter in most any measure, except that the cabinet is much, much more attractive than the Petrof. However this instrument does have a few things going for it. First off, Kawai makes use of every technological advance, while other manufactures are more concerned with preserving tradition (mostly for marketing purposes, not because it's "better"). This means there are plastic parts in the action, but they are extremely uniform in construction and will not warp or deteriorate over time. In our climate, quality wood parts hold up just as well, but I like the idea of a more technologically advanced instrument.

The K-25 also has one feature that the other two don't: a soft-close fallboard. This means if I'm playing and someone tries to slam the fallboard on my fingers, a hydraulic lever regulates the speed and the cover closes gradually and slowly. Of course, the Walter has a sliding fallboard, so that's not so much of an issue, but the Petrof has an hinged fallboard, ready to freely fall on my hands disfiguring me forever.

Also, Kawai is also a very popular brand of piano. So, in 10 years if I decide I want to buy a grand, I'll have a much easier time selling the Kawai than I will the Walter or Petrof. But that is of minor concern, because I have to live with the instrument for a very long time, and I may just keep it forever.

The biggest appeal of the Kawai K-25 is that it's in a lower price range. I haven't haggled around much with the dealer, but I'm sure I could get this one home for under $5,000. They sell them all over the place, too, so I'd be free to shop around. Walters and Petrofs are a little harder to come by and are produced in much, much lower numbers. I guess the biggest factor for the Kawai is consideration for how far in debt I want to go.

Walter Studio 1500
Cabinet: * * * * *
Action: * * * * *
Tone: * * * *
Price: * *
  Petrof P 115 II
Cabinet: * *
Action: * * * *
Tone: * * * * *
Price: * * *
  Kawai K-25
Cabinet: * * * *
Action: * * *
Tone: * * *
Price: * * * * *

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