Production vs Handcrafted
This first item relates to how pianos are made: production vs handcrafted. Most world class pianos are handcrafted and will hold their value longer than most production made pianos. However, with Japanese technology and workmanship, you find production made pianos that are superior to most in quality.
Whether looking for a used or new piano, the cabinet, or case, is the first objective for many customers. Many manufacturers put more emphasis on the furniture factor of the piano than its value as a musical instrument. The converse may apply when the manufacturer puts more importance on the interior, or instrument quality, resulting in a cabinet with a simple appearance. You should look for a solid core cabinet that has been veneered. Many inexpensive pianos have particle board or pressboard cabinets. A veneered wood cabinet is important because it will expand in the summer months and contract in the winter. The better cabinet material and construction will result in increased tuning stability.
All soundboards are not of the same quality. Better pianos have solid spruce soundboards. Solid spruce is the better soundboard because it will produce many different colors or tone characteristics. Other pianos have a full spruce or laminated spruce soundboard. Full spruce means the soundboard is laminated with sheets of spruce. The laminated spruce soundboard is constructed with spruce on the outside and basswood or poplar on the inside. Other types of soundboards have no spruce or are made of mahogany. The laminated soundboard will always have a guarantee not to crack. The ribs on the soundboard are very important for tone production and tuning stability. The ribs should be notched into the liner of the piano. This will prevent soundboard flexing during wide humidity swings. Pianos of lower quality have ribs that do not extend into the liner. This is a production shortcut that saves time for the manufacturer, but will require more frequent tunings.
The action includes the hammers, wippens, various springs, and dampers. The keys activate these parts when depressed causing the piano to produce musical tones. There are two main types of grand piano actions. The general grand action will be found on most grands and the compressed action which is found on smaller grands. The compressed action is more difficult to regulate and will not endure heavy use. The vertical piano should have a direct blow action found in most consoles and studio pianos. The spinet has an action called a drop action and requires a shorter key. This drop action is more difficult for a piano technician to work on because all the keys must be removed to repair even a minor problem found in the action. What may be a relatively inexpensive repair on the direct blow action is usually more time consuming and costly on a drop action piano.
Better pianos have keys that are weighted and balanced. Because larger hammers are necessary for the bass and smaller hammers in the treble, lead weights are used to compensate for the unequal weight of the hammers. It is important that all the keys feel the same, for a student practicing as well as a professional performing. Unweighted keys could cause fatigue after playing for a short period of time.
A bigger piano is not always the better piano. The piano has to fit the room acoustically. The room in which you place your piano has a lot to do with the tone potential. A large piano in a small room would overwhelm the room. It is better to have a small piano for a small room to enhance the acoustics. If your room accommodates a larger piano, the longer the bass strings and the more square inches of soundboard the better. The larger piano will have deeper bass tones and clean bell type sounding high treble tones.
The expected life of a piano will vary depending on make, model, and method of construction. The average life of a spinet is 35 years, a console is 45 years, and a grand piano will range from 50 to 60 years. What this means is that a piano past its prime may require costly repairs or even a total rebuilding. Remember, there is no such thing as an antique piano unless it has been totally rebuilt. A rebuilt piano should have the same specifications as when it was manufactured, with a renewed value and life expectancy up to 80% of a new piano.