Much in a piano is hidden, and visible only to experienced eyes. For example, black (ebony) finish pianos and also wood grain (clear finish) instruments both present an external appearance or facade. The materials underneath that coat of black paint, or 1/24th-inch-thick mahogany, cherry, or other veneer are not apparent to the observer, and could be anything from particle board to the most expensive quarter-sawn rock maple or beech. These core materials are critical to both the ultimate durability and sound quality of the piano, but frequently only technicians and piano rebuilders who actually take the pianos apart are privy to what is really there. The vast majority of people buying pianos make their decisions, unfortunately, primarily on the basis of external appearance, or style.
A further complication: Different piano makers approach piano design from completely different standpoints. Some manufacturers have opted to go the “high-tech” route, utilizing modern construction materials such as MDF (an industrial quality type of particle board designed for making furniture) and multilaminate plywood (very dense, heavy plywood made of very thin layers of wood sandwiched together with waterproof glue under high pressure); ABS styran plastic action parts (which Kawai, for example, is now using to replace many of the wood action parts in their pianos– ABS is not affected by humidity like wood is); and thick acrylic (polyester) finishes (used by the majority of Japanese and European piano makers, resulting in those hi-gloss finishes you see so often today). Other manufacturers proclaim that they only use the most traditional piano building materials, (i.e. quarter sawn, traditional “solid” lumber such as maple, poplar, oak, ash, or spruce), traditional satin lacquer finishes, etc., to the point of refusing to use anything other than what has been used for over 100 years, (even when modern materials might be better in many ways) and eschewing any kind of plastic whatsoever. (Except they usually never mention the white keytops, which are universally plastic nowadays; ivory is hardly ever used anymore, except in rare instances.) Although both high-tech and traditional materials have their pros and cons, each manufacturer trumpets the benefits of using his particular type of construction. This can make things very confusing for shoppers, who are often looking for some sort of common standard of comparison among the different brands.
It is important to try and find out all you can about a piano before buying, including how it compares to similar models of other brands. It’s also important to have some sense of how high quality pianos are constructed, if you have the time to research that. (Later in this article, and throughout, we will try to give you some idea about that. See also the section on Features of High Quality Pianos.) There are so many different models and methods of building pianos, though, that often even experienced salespeople get confused. There is a lot to keep up with, and few salespeople have the time to stay on top of all the developments, even within the brands they sell. Literature and specifications provided by piano manufacturers are usually less than helpful, and are most often extremely vague with respect to true design, features, construction and materials. Even more vague is what true significance (real/actual benefits and consequences) those features or materials will ultimately have for the buyer. On top of that, manufacturers will often change their materials and specifications at the drop of a hat, so what was printed yesterday may no longer be the case today. (Often it’s a matter of “Well, folks, they caught us cutting corners again, so I guess we’ll have to start using some better materials for now.”) (Other times, though, it’s “Gosh, I thought we were using the best materials, but apparently that’s not what the public wants.” -Generally because another, competing, piano maker who uses inferior materials but who has a bigger advertising budget, has convinced the public otherwise.)
A common device today, for instance, is to state that a piano is made of “select hardwoods”. Too often however, the really pertinent information is missing: what species of hardwood (hard rock maple, soft maple, poplar, ash, oak, lauan or Philippine mahogany), how it has been cut (plainsawn, quartersawn, grain orientation, etc.) and how long it has been seasoned. Not all hardwoods are equal, and not all manufacturers treat them the same way. The same is true of construction skill. A grand made in a country just learning piano building may have the bright gold frame, pretty red felt, smooth white keytops, and shiny black finish that better quality pianos do. Careful scrutiny by an experienced person will usually reveal, however, careless workmanship and lack of attentiveness that ultimately compromise the life expectancy and tone quality of the instrument. Piano manufacturers pay a great deal of attention to an instrument’s appearance; it would be nice if they paid as much attention to what’s inside. Many pianos made today are like dime-store novels: Far more effort is spent on the cover artwork than the content.
Most piano dealers and others experienced in the piano business usually have a fairly good idea of which pianos are quality and which aren’t, and will generally price them accordingly, both new and used. Private parties, on the other hand, are often less knowledgeable about the worth of what they are selling (unless they have had it professionally appraised) and will frequently ask either too much or too little for the instrument. Whether you are considering buying from either a dealer, or a private party, it’s always wise to get a second opinion from a qualified piano technician, or an appraisal. It is true that many pianists and piano teachers can tell you whether a piano sounds good or feels good, or what it’s reputation is as far as holding up over time. But very few can tell you the things about a piano that an experienced piano technician can: how well it was built, how long it will last, whether it was a good design, and whether quality workmanship and materials were used.
Article Source: http://www.pianofinders.com/educational/shortguide.htm