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Try Before You Buy? Always?

Posted By: lori822

Try Before You Buy? Always? - 08/31/09 12:17 AM

I've been in the market for a new piano since early July. First, I was looking for an upright due to space limitations in my apartment condo. My husband talked me into considering a grand (says we'll make room, sell everything else if we have to)! I'm beginning anew to search, this time for a grand.

I've always had the firm impression I shouldn't buy any piano unless I try it and make sure I like that particular one, never buy sight unseen. I'm now being told by salespeople who say they've been in the business for decades that if I buy new, especially a good, hand-made product, i.e. Estonia, Bohemia or Petrof, it is OK to try one owned by one of their recent customers and, if I like it, to order one. I'm being assured if it's a good brand, I will be happy with the piano ordered. I inquired into the voicing and the touch and have been assured it could be voiced and adjusted to exactly the sound and touch I want. Can anyone comment on this for me please? I hesitate to spend that much money in advance of seeing and trying the actual product if this is not necessarily a fact.

Your input would be much appreciated.
Posted By: Piano*Dad

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 08/31/09 12:58 AM

What's your attitude toward risk? If you're an aggressive risk-taker, go for it!

I wouldn't (and didn't).

The purchase is a big ticket item, and there is enough variability among individual instruments, that for me I needed to be assured that I wouldn't be stuck messing with and modulating a piano that wasn't quite right to me. I'm the sort that really doesn't want to go back and forth with a dealer tweaking this and adjusting that because it just doesn't sound like the one I tried two months earlier in the shop.

I was risk averse enough to need the guarantee of having personally selected the right instrument.

I did indeed try many examples of each instrument that got my attention, and did so in multiple dealerships. I wanted to know the characteristic sounds (if any) of the brand and I wanted to see the variability as well. But ultimately I bought a particular piano.

Posted By: Jeff Clef

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 08/31/09 01:00 AM

Lori, you're right, the seller is wrong, and your husband is a great guy.
Posted By: boxijie

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 08/31/09 02:18 AM

I think the dealer does have a bit of a point. Do dealers now have to stock 5 of each model and size for the shopper to pick the best of the 5? While piano shopping is a little different from car or electronics shopping I don't think the average piano buyer can distinguish subtle differences between the same model, unless there is an obvious mechanical defect.

When you are buying a new piano, you are also getting some after purchase care in terms of the voicing, regulation, and tuning. You also will have a warranty.

I also don't think Petrof or Bohemia (I don't know about Estonia) are all completely handmade. There is probably only a handful of extremely rare and expensive pianos that are. The use of computers and machines to make pianos probably increases the chance of unifomity and less differences between the same model.

There is another positive to getting your piano ordered, in that you might get a really good deal. If the dealer does not have to pay overhead and has not had the piano sitting around for a long time, you may be able to negotiate an even better price for it.

When I read your post I immediately suspected that you got this information from a retailer in Vancouver that has recently moved out of their retail space. When I spoke to the owner about a particular brand he used to have in stock, he suggested the same thing. I was worried, because I had no chance to play one. It is sad to see this dealer be so affected by the economic times, especially since he is the dealer for some very good lines. It is bad for the consumer too because you cannot try them, which in turn makes you less likely to order one, which will again negatively affect the dealer.

If you can find the model that you are interested in and you like it, there is probably not too much that can go wrong. If he will take it back if it buzzes or cannot be voiced to your satisfaction, you have not lost anything. It is dependant on your risk aversion level, however.
Posted By: beethoven986

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 08/31/09 02:24 AM

It depends on a lot of things, like the person buying, and the piano. I would not buy a new American piano sight unseen. However, I would be more willing to take that risk with a European or Asian piano.
Posted By: choleric

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 08/31/09 02:28 AM

My understanding is that the touch of the piano is much more malleable than the sound. Voicing (changing the tone to brighter or darker) a piano can only be done so much before you have exhausted the piano's potential. If you are not an intermediate/advanced player with very specific sound/touch requirements, and are buying a reputable brand from a reputable dealer you should be fine just ordering. To protect yourself from a lemon, you could always put a caveat in the sales contract that purchase is dependent upon approval of the piano once it arrives. I don't think you own the piano until the piano has been paid in full and the piano is in your home. Good luck!
Posted By: Steve Chandler

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 08/31/09 02:47 AM

I own an Estonia, but I still wouldn't recommend you buy without trying. There is variation between different individual pianos of the same make and model, including Estonia. You may be able to work out a conditional deal. I refundable down payment such that if you don't like the piano that arrives you can get your money back. In general if you like one Estonia you'll probably like another, especially if you give the dealer some time (at least a week) to really prep it. Let the dealer know that you'll expect a full prep job.

So go ahead and try some of these recently sold instruments. If you like one well enough that you're sold on it see if the dealer will do a refundable deposit. When it arrives play it as soon as possible so that you can hear and feel the raw unprepped instrument. Then go back after the dealer says they're done with it and see if there's improvement. Good luck.
Posted By: Marty in Minnesota

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 08/31/09 03:06 AM

lori,

Play the instrument you are considering. Not one like it - play that particular piano. Don't buy a piano out of a box.

No matter the price range, from bottom to top, each instrument feels and sounds differently. A piano isn't an electronic gizmo.

You need to take the time to shop and find the proper instrument for you. Play them all. Hear what you like. Feel what you like. Then make your decision and it shouldn't be sealed in a packing box.
Posted By: lori822

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 08/31/09 04:44 AM

Thank you, all, for your comments and opinions. I guess I'm not much of a risk-taker, because I really felt uncomfortable with the idea of trying out a recently-purchased piano at a dealer's customer's home, then ordering the same model, if I liked it. I've always been of the opinion I should find the one I LOVE and buy that particular one! I am an advanced student, recently returned after a long hiatus, and I believe I do recognize (perhaps I should say 'feel') subtle differences. After speaking with one particular dealer, I was beginning to doubt myself. Several of you have reinforced my own thoughts.

Besides, I live quite a distance from the dealers in question, so it could be quite a hassle if there were issues with my purchase of an unseen/untried piano. The advice "Hear what you like. Feel what you like." is what I'd always believed in.

Again, thanks to all of you who replied.



Posted By: boxijie

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 08/31/09 06:32 AM

Of the pianos you mentioned, Petrof, Bohemia, and Estonia, it is only the Bohemia you will have trouble finding to play. Norbert probably has quite a few Estonias for you to try and there are quite a few Petrofs at Tom Lee's Vancouver store.

Good luck
Posted By: lori822

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 08/31/09 03:59 PM

Originally Posted by boxijie
Of the pianos you mentioned, Petrof, Bohemia, and Estonia, it is only the Bohemia you will have trouble finding to play. Norbert probably has quite a few Estonias for you to try and there are quite a few Petrofs at Tom Lee's Vancouver store.

Good luck


Thanks. I don't think Norbert has any Estonias in stock at the moment. He did earlier, when I was looking for an upright. It was trying one of those Estonia's (just for fun!) that I began to change my mind about getting an upright (shall I blame Norbert?). Now he's out of stock. Hopefully, he will soon have one in. I know I can't find a Bohemia anywhere. So my choices are limited. I have been to Tom Lee's, where I've seen and tried the Petrof, which I also love. The search goes on.....
Posted By: Larry Larson

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 08/31/09 04:21 PM

I think there are 2 factors involved with this; how particular is the buyer about tone, and how much variation there is within a particular piano model.

There is variation in tone between pianos pianos of the same model. I think it would be easier for a tech to adjust action than tone. So if your are the kind of person that falls in love with a piano because of the way it sounds, its risky to buy a piano you have not played. But if it's a matter of liking the general tone of a particular model, say the warmth of an Eastern European piano, the clarity of a Yamaha, or the complexity of a Baldwin, they you are less likely to be disappointed with a piano you buy without playing it first.

Some pianos like Yamaha are so consistent from model to model, that the risk is lower with a piano like that. Steinways are known to vary from model to model, reflecting each individual piano's character. I think this might also be true of the higher end European pianos. Larry
Posted By: boxijie

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 08/31/09 04:25 PM

Showcase Pianos in Vancouver has a 2005 Mason and Hamlin BB. Or at least they did when I was in there about a month ago. It seemed to be deeply discounted. If ever a piano spoke to me during my search, it was that one. I am still looking for an upright though.

Good luck.
Posted By: apple*

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 08/31/09 05:59 PM

i don't know that i would recommend buying a piano without testing it, however, i think with your better quality pianos, you can expect them to be what they are meant to be if purchased new. The entry level pianos are not consistent. I DID order my piano without playing it first and couldn't be happier. I DID have the chance to play just one a year or so before my purchase and I was enamored.

I was in the situation that any money used to travel to view a piano would be deducted from my purchase price money. I was confident that that was the type of piano I wanted and in my area there was no piano that could come close to the quality at that price level.

To me consistency and quality was more important than the nuances of particular pianos. I also was very comfortable with the dealership I ordered from.
Posted By: Nan W

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 08/31/09 07:59 PM

I just finished (or almost, piano isn't here yet!) a 3-year search, and I don't think I could ever have ordered a piano untouched and unheard. I found that touch and tone varied, even on pianos like Petrof, Estonia, and Bluthner.

And if you guarantee to buy the one they order for you, they have no incentive to prep it well for you -- and you have very little recourse. I think this is just a way for them not to have to put up the money to have the piano on the floor, if times are hard for them at present.

Maybe in a situation like Apple's, where she was very comfortable with the dealer. But I wouldn't trust a dealer who was telling me what they have been telling you!
Posted By: jnod

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 08/31/09 08:04 PM

You should not buy a piano that you have not played at least twice on separate occasions. I bought an uprigh last spring and visited the place where I purchased it at least 4 times before taking the plunge - I also spent a lot of time with their competitors looking at other pianos. In the end, my choice came down to two pianos and the store tuned and voiced both of them to my specs so that I could make as informed a decision as possible.

You should do this too. It's a big step!
Posted By: Kieran Wells

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 08/31/09 08:52 PM

Every purchase of a new piano that a dealer makes is done on a sight unseen basis. High end piano purchases are often done one at a time. Dealers are staking their livelihoods on the quality of the product. Smaller dealers paying cash may have (relatively speaking) enormous amounts of money at steak. Chances are, they got to where they are by hard work and conservative decision making based on their many years experience in the industry. True, there are little tonal differences in identical models however, the instruments in the high end strata are generally much more consistent than others and, despite the differences in tonal nuance, are going to be extremely rewarding to play no matter what.

Most dealers are going to want to make sure you are happy so that you can rave about the screaming deal you got and send their friends:)
Posted By: piqué

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 09/01/09 02:08 AM

this is not so much a matter of avoiding a "lemon" or getting a poor quality or defective instrument.

say you order a top tier grand sight unseen. it may be just perfect in terms of its performance and condition, but it may STILL not speak to your soul.

the higher the caliber of piano, the more unique each of their voices is. even when built to extremely tight tolerances, each piece of wood is different, the wool on the hammers came from a different sheep.

these are organic materials, and there are some things that simply can't be accounted for.

also, each pianist's taste, ear, touch is unique and the way these interact with each piano is unique.

since you say you are an advanced player with a particular ear who wants to fall in love, i'd say there is no question you must play the actual piano first.

if you were a beginner without strong preferences who merely needs a good, premium instrument, then i'd say you could play one make/model piano and order the same and possibly be happy.

the dealer is wrong when he says he can make it sound however you like. especially if you don't live near the dealer, that is asking for big trouble.

ask me how i know!
Posted By: Marty in Minnesota

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 09/01/09 02:12 AM

Originally Posted by Kieran Wells
Smaller dealers paying cash may have (relatively speaking) enormous amounts of money at steak.


For a laugh, are you talking about a BBQ serving a well grilled Mason & Heimlich or the brand new Sirloin & Sons 178?
Posted By: Oz Marcus

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 09/01/09 02:44 AM

I am also in the position of searching for a new piano. However, geographical isolation (living in Australia) limits my opportunities to find the piano that I want. Having been searching for a piano for almost 12 months, I found that Pique's book - Grand Obsession - really resonated with me. I *think* that the piano that I want is a Bosendorfer EDGE design piano. However, there are no EDGE piano's in Australia - and the one dealer in Australia - who happens to be in another part of the country - is not financially in a position to be able to order one in and sell it to me if I like it. However, I have played a lot of Bosendorfer piano's over the last 15 years, and I must say that I have never really found one that I did not like. So I am considering making that leap of faith and purchasing a piano unseen and unplayed...... but then, I think of Grand Obsession..... and my confidence falters...

Good luck with your search

Marcus
Posted By: Jeff Clef

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 09/01/09 03:52 AM

You could take a little vacation to Europe and pick one out at the factory. Seems to me they could ship it to you as easily as they could to the dealer, who would add a margin and then trans-ship it to you, then a third local shipper would deliver it to you. Or, stay home, cross your fingers, and take up the slack with air-freighting the piano. In for a dime, in for a dollar.

I'm guessing a Stuart wouldn't do it for you...?
Posted By: CJM

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 09/01/09 04:54 AM

Originally Posted by Jeff Clef
I'm guessing a Stuart wouldn't do it for you...?

Given the fact that Stuart pianos are sold only through the factory in Australia it may not come as such a surprise to know that a number of them have been sold 'sight unseen', as it were. A major factor is the known quality of the instrument (there are no exceptions to this) so it is a 'no-risk' purchase in that sense.

It should also be noted that a piano will sound totally different in a home environment to the showroom sound, and also that a piano will take a while to settle down and adjust to its physical environment. Mine took about a year so to do, and the sound changed for the better over that time. Voicing the instrument also can have a marked (in some cases deleterious!) effect on the sound quality.

Regards
Chris
Posted By: lori822

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 09/01/09 05:46 AM

As much as the Mason & Hamlin may be wonderful, a model BB is just way too large for our condo. I'm looking in the 5'7" to 5'9" range. My wonderful husband has already convinced me we can sell just about everything else to make room for a grand, but 7' is just not possible! Thanks for the tip, just the same, boxijie.
Posted By: lori822

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 09/01/09 05:57 AM

I'm totally in agreement with you, piqué..... thank you..... you said it so well.... care to share your experience?
Posted By: piqué

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 09/01/09 06:35 AM

Originally Posted by lori822
I'm totally in agreement with you, piqué..... thank you..... you said it so well.... care to share your experience?


i already did. see below. wink
Posted By: Oz Marcus

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 09/01/09 08:27 AM

I can highly recommend Grand Obsession to those who have not read it.
As for going to Vienna to buy a Bosie...... they don't have the Edge piano on the showroom floor ready to purchase. All of the art case series are built to order.

As for a Stuart Piano... I am not sure. I have not played one before and my only experience is the Beethoven Sonata's that were recorded on one.... I am not sure that is the tone that I am looking for..... but I guess I could be persuaded.

Marcus
Posted By: CJM

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 09/01/09 08:38 AM

Originally Posted by Oz Marcus
As for a Stuart Piano... I am not sure. I have not played one before and my only experience is the Beethoven Sonata's that were recorded on one.... I am not sure that is the tone that I am looking for..... but I guess I could be persuaded.

The recorded tone on the Willems recordings is absolutely nothing like the live sound. I have been at several recording sessions of the Stuart, and the engineers have told me they have never heard such an amazing sound from a piano. The problem is then how to maintain that sound in the final mix, and that is something that the commercial recordings up to this point in time have seriously failed to do.

I haven't met anyone coming out of a live performance of a Stuart piano who hasn't been amazed at the depth, clarity, power and sensitivity of the sound.

My experience with my Stuart has really taught me how to listen properly to a piano - and, although I can obviously be accused of bias, there is no doubt in my mind that no other piano can match it.

Regards
Chris
Posted By: piqué

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 09/01/09 03:52 PM

it's a mistake to judge piano tone from a recording. what you are hearing is the work of the sound engineer, not the natural tone of the instrument.

pianos are extremely difficult to record well.

oz, thanks for the endorsement. smile
Posted By: lori822

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 09/01/09 04:11 PM

Ah! You're the one who wrote this book! I've heard a lot about it in the past couple of months since I joined the Forum, but haven't had occasion to read it yet..... I'll definitely have to look it up. And thanks!
Posted By: SeilerFan

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 09/01/09 04:55 PM

Originally Posted by piqué
it's a mistake to judge piano tone from a recording. what you are hearing is the work of the sound engineer, not the natural tone of the instrument.


Agreed! I'd compare it to photography. The medium of the film and especially the lens will impose their own touch on the "real" image through their pre-defined color spectrum and perspective. Pictures never reflect reality, neither does a recording. But then, "reality" remains always subjective to our own ears and eyes. Thus, in order to discover our individually "real" impression, we need to play the instrument to evaluate it. And perhaps, also have the instrument played while we step away and listen to it from a few feet away. It's amazing how one and the same instrument can potentially give us so many different impressions.
Posted By: SeilerFan

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 09/01/09 04:59 PM

Originally Posted by lori822
Ah! You're the one who wrote this book! I've heard a lot about it in the past couple of months since I joined the Forum, but haven't had occasion to read it yet..... I'll definitely have to look it up. And thanks!


I recently read it. Incidentally, I had also toured the Grotrian factory a month before which came in handy (a Grotrian grand is the true protagonist of the book). It is a wonderful book and resonated deeply with my own perspective on pianos. It also taught me a lot.
Posted By: SeilerFan

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 09/01/09 05:03 PM

I just thought that if I ever HAD to buy a piano sight unseen (I am cringing at the thought), I'd limit my choice to brands that are well-known for impeccable factory preparation. Shigeru Kawai in my view would be such a brand from what I've played. Grotrian probably too. Steinway New York not so much. Their factory prep can be not so satisfying.
Posted By: Roxy

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 09/01/09 07:02 PM

I still can't believe sales people that tell you there is no difference in a piano just buy the same model, they all sound the same. Are they missing something? A piano is NOT, I repeat, is NOT a piece of furniture, it is an instrument. as Pique said, each piece of wood is different, the wool on the hammers coming from different sheep, etc. Are there certain brands that overall might have the sound you would be happier with? Sure, but there are still variations within them. You must play them, feel them,touch them, let their sound surround you to know for sure which is the one you can get the most out of with your playing. Only then can you feel like you have some idea what you are paying all that money for and if it is worth it to have that instrument in your home to enjoy for years to come. So, NO! Never buy sight unseen or ear unheard or touch unfelt. Enjoy the experience of playing and finding what you want by playing.
Posted By: Oz Marcus

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 09/01/09 08:54 PM

Originally Posted by piqué
it's a mistake to judge piano tone from a recording. what you are hearing is the work of the sound engineer, not the natural tone of the instrument.

pianos are extremely difficult to record well.



oz, thanks for the endorsement. smile


Good point. However, the occasion to tinkle the ivories with Stuart Piano's does not come along very often. In fact, I am not sure where there is one to play in Melbourne?

As for the endorsement - my pleasure. It was a wonderful read and my own search has taken me almost 12 months and countless piano's. However, I am sure this is the best approach at the moment. I am coming to understand better what it is that I am looking for in my piano.

Marcus
Posted By: lori822

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 09/02/09 04:12 PM

If and when I do find THE ONE, I'm curious as to how payment arrangements are made nowadays (since it's been forever that I've purchased a piano, and never before a grand). Is there a downpayment at the time of purchase, then another after the piano is in the home and tuned/voices/regulated and is satisfactory to the customer?

How is the piano moved in? Does it come crated? Or wrapped in heavy moving carpets? Is an elevator a problem?

Anything else I should be aware of, living in an apartment condo? We do have cement floors, so weight isn't a problem.

Thanks. Lori
Posted By: lori822

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 09/09/09 02:09 AM

[quote=Steve Chandler] You may be able to work out a conditional deal. I refundable down payment such that if you don't like the piano that arrives you can get your money back. So go ahead and try some of these recently sold instruments. If you like one well enough that you're sold on it see if the dealer will do a refundable deposit. quote]

Based on your input, I made a proposal to the dealer and he came back with a suggestion similar to what you recommended. The dealer would expect 50% deposit and wants to prep it at his place when the piano arrives and deliver it to me for setup and tuning, after which, if I don't like it, I could return it and get my full deposit back.

I'm making arrangements to try out his customer's piano within the next 10 days or so. If I really LOVE this piano and order one, I'm thinking I'll insist on your other suggestion, i.e. that I'll go and try the piano before and after it's prepped, rather than wait until it's delivered and in my condo. This is a European piano with a good name, from what I've read on this Forum.

My search continues, and I've pretty much narrowed choices down now. While I'm on the mainland (I live on Vancouver Island), I will try out those choices. I'll be testing out 4 new grands, 3 of which are European, and one Japanese.

I'm also going to try a "gently used" Baldwin R1, apparently just 4 years old. Can anyone give me feedback on this make and model? I know nothing about it. And what would such a make and model be worth, gently used?

Thanks. Lori
Posted By: lori822

Re: Try Before You Buy? Always? - 09/09/09 04:49 PM

Did I post this at a bad time? Any comments? I would appreciate some feedback on anyone's knowledge of the gently used Baldwin R1. I found out the serial # is 386084. Any idea on its age, as well?
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