Today people are often concerned about the investment value of items they purchase. Whether the piano you buy will be for keeps, or whether at some point in the future you may be turning it around, it is wise to make sure you have made a good investment, from both a musical and monetary standpoint. Good pianos are not inexpensive, even the used ones, so it is wise to take your total financial picture into consideration when buying an instrument.
In some ways, new pianos are like new cars in that even if you can get a really good deal on a new instrument, there is still instant depreciation the moment it leaves the showroom floor, for it then becomes a “used” piano. Once the initial depreciation has taken place, however, the piano will generally tend to “appreciate” (or perhaps “keep up with inflation” is a better term) with the rest of the used pianos in the marketplace. Unlike used cars, whose dollar values tend to decrease significantly with the passing years, good quality used pianos seem to maintain, or even appreciate in, value (that is, of course, as long as they have been properly cared for). For example, a better quality, big name grand piano (Steinway, Baldwin, Mason & Hamlin, & the like) which was purchased, used, in 1974 for $3500. might easily be worth (depending on condition) 5 to 7 times as much today (2004). Thus, from an investment perspective, for many folks it makes more sense to buy used, since the depreciation has already taken place. It may be different, of course, if you are a piano teacher, professional musician, interior decorator or restaurant owner, and can use the depreciation of a new instrument as a tax write-off.
In addition to these factors there is the perception that the older pianos were frequently built better than the newer ones, a viewpoint that often has quite a bit of truth to it. In many cases today labor problems, materials costs, the pressures of the market, and government regulations, to name a few factors, have made it much more difficult for piano manufacturers to continue to make the quality of product they once did. Advocates of new pianos may cite technological advances, better glues and space age materials as the reason to buy newer pianos rather than older ones. There is still much debate, among pianists and technicians, over whether these innovations truly represent significant improvements, or are simply marketing gimmicks.
Many of the musicians that come to us for help in finding a piano ask specifically for a vintage instrument made at a time when the quality of construction was known to have been good. This is not to say that there aren’t excellent new pianos out there. But quality is becoming more and more difficult to find.
One additional thought: Whether you ultimately choose to buy new or used, you should try and buy the best piano you can afford. When you think about the investment in time, expense and personal effort that you will make taking lessons, or taking children to lessons, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense to try and cut corners by buying a cheap or inferior instrument.
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