Backseat Shopping

Lori called me a few days ago and asked my advice about buying a piano. I really enjoyed shopping for my own piano 4 years ago and was only too happy to throw my two cents into the mix when invited. I advised Lori to get The Piano Book. Its advice on pianos, their cost and quality, is invaluable when trying to make an informed purchase.

It was interesting to watch Lori’s research lead her down the same paths that I took. She decided to skip the various European brands (there are tons of them) just like I did. I think the main reason is that it’s hard to find local dealers for the European brands. The most popular brands in Utah seem to be Steinway (with their 2nd and 3rd lines, Boston and Essex), the Japanese lines (Kawai and Yamaha) and the cheap Chinese and Korean brands. Baldwin, a viable brand when I was shopping, was subsequently bought by Gibson (the guitar people) and there aren’t any dealers along the Wasatch Front for Baldwin pianos so Baldwin and it’s 2nd and 3rd lines were out of the picture.

The Piano Book reccommends avoiding the cheap Chinese and Korean brands unless your budget forces you down that route. Thus, the contenders were Boston, Yamaha, and Kawai. Lori and I went to each of the dealers and looked at the various pianos. My job was to play something on the piano. When I was shopping for my own piano I was embarrassed to sit down and play it. I felt cheesy for some reason. When shopping with Lori, I didn’t seem to have any shame and gladly played the same song over and over again so she could compare pianos. The only trouble was that Natasha didn’t particularly enjoy hearing the same song over and over again and was ready to end the piano shopping trip after only about three pianos. Thus, Lori and I made arrangements to go out again the next day when Natasha was in preschool.

It’s funny how much buying a piano is like buying a car – the test drives, the creepy salesmen, the slick marketing brochures, etc. The hardest thing was to compare pianos across brands. It’s difficult to play the Kawai at the Kawai dealer while trying to remember how the same song sounded on the Yamaha at the Yamaha dealer.

Another thing that was different between my own shopping trip and this backseat shopping trip is that my ear seems to have improved a bit. Like Lori, I could tell the difference between a $2500 piano and a $5000 piano; however, when I was shopping for mine I couldn’t really tell the difference between the $5000 and the $7000 piano. This time around I was able to hear the difference between the $5000 and the $7000 piano and I seemed to be able to tell a bit more which piano sounded “brighter” and which had a richer sound. I could also discern more differences in the “touch” or “action” of the various pianos than I seem to remember from my own shopping experience. I don’t know if my increased discernment this time was due to the fact that I was just an unemotional bystander or if I really have developed a better ear over the past few years.

After playing all the various pianos my own personal favorite was the Kawai K5. It seemed to have a richer tone and a nicer action than the comparable Yamaha (the Yamaha was very bright sounding). I thought it was the best piano of the bunch but I was hesitant to tell Lori which one was my favorite because I didn’t want to unduly influence her decision. Fortunately, Lori was blessed with good taste and it turns out that her personal favorite was the same as mine. Now Lori is the proud owner of a brand new Kawai K5 piano:

Thanks Lori for letting me go backseat shopping with you. I hope I didn’t unduly influence your decision but I really like the piano you ended up with. Let us know when it gets delivered and we’ll come over and listen to you play a concert.

3 Comments

  1. Lori says:

    Thanks for writing about our shopping and research! And you even included a picture–cool. It’s a beauty, isn’t it? And thank you, again and again, for being so kind and enthusiastic to go along with me. I really appreciated your thoughts and your playing abilities. When I took Bun to see my final two choices, he made the salesdudes sit down and play something because my scales and chopsticks were just too much (too little?) for him to tolerate.

    Piano gets delivered tomorrow, around lunch time. Our whole family is excited. I’ll have to practice a hymn or something Thursday afternoon so that I can wow Bun when he gets home from work. Elijah has his first lesson a week from Thurs.

    Love, Lori

  2. Kelly says:

    Wow, that’s hard core. I didn’t realize piano shopping was so involved. I didn’t know there were so many dealers either. All I know is one store around here. What do I know.

    Wonder how more than chopsticks would sound on our little rent to own, moved four times and never been tuned piano would sound?

    Congrats Lori! It is a beauty.

  3. Lori says:

    Dude, you need to come hear me play! I’ve been practicing “Novelette” by Kabalevsky. It’s easy enough that I’m making good progress. I really wanted to learn a piece from the Piano movie sound track, but it’s so hard that I can’t get past the first couple measures. You need to come play it for me. Elijah’s first lesson is Thursday afternoon this week!

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