Do you buy used pianos?
Occasionally, but I need to inspect them first, even if they are free! If you have a piano you do not want, please email me the name brand, the height (if it's an upright) or total length (if it's a grand), the asking price, and a picture if possible. Also, please indicate what city you are in.
What should I look for in a piano?
First and foremost, how does it sound to you? Everyone has a different idea of what a piano should sound like and feel like. There's something to be said for tuning out the sales pitch about why this feature or that makes the piano better. I rebuild pianos, but it is still a mystery to me why some pianos sound so much better than others. It has to do with, among other things, the selection of wood and the care and skill of the craftsmen. The piano's sound and touch is also determined by how it is tuned, voiced, regulated, and the acoustics of the room it is in.
What should I avoid when looking for a piano?
I steer people away from the big hype sales events and fake university sales. These are a front the big stores use to get you in the door. The same applies to "going out of business" sales. I've seen so many of these over the years. Almost invariably, some of the same pianos will be offered for sale after the "final sale" is over. Sometimes it's at a different location, sometimes it's in the same store (with a new name). Take your time, do your research and avoid high pressure tactics.
I also recommend thinking twice about buying a used piano that has not been serviced in a long time. If it has gone many years without being tuned up to pitch, it's hard to evaluate if it has musical potential. Also, you never know how many strings will break when you try to tune it.
Are old pianos better or new ones?
Some people will tell you that vintage pianos are always better than anything made today. Others claim that an older piano is always too worn out to sound good, or can only sound good with a new soundboard. Neither is necessarily true. Every era has great pianos and cheap pianos. Some older pianos still sound great without a complete rebuild. Some of the cheapest new pianos from 30 years ago were pretty bad, probably worse than anything made today. The earliest Chinese pianos were horrible, now they are all acceptable and some are very good. It all depends on personal preference.
What size piano should I get?
For an upright piano, if you want a nice rich bass, avoid the very short piano, called a spinet, around 36" tall. These have strings that are too short to sound great in the lower register. (Spinets are also harder to repair because the action is harder to remove from the piano.) A 45 inch high console will sound much better. All things being equal, a full size (around 52" high) upright should sound the best, though many of these are quite old and may require more work.
In a grand, five and a half feet in length should serve a fairly serious student; a six or seven foot piano will be better, if you have the room and the budget.
For a beginner, most any piano will probably be far better than a keyboard. Just make sure it receives adequate service.
Should I ask my teacher for a recommendation?
Yes, but I would ask if they are getting a commission! Piano stores routinely offer a "cut" to teachers and tuners who refer buyers to them. I consider this a conflict of interest and do not pay commissions, as a piano should stand on its own merit.
Also, if someone recommends a particular brand name, be aware that many big name brands offer a wide range of quality. For example, new Yamaha grand list prices range from $11 thousand to $120 thousand!
Why buy from Fortuna Piano?
As a small shop, I am able to offer more personal service than the big stores. I will personally prep and tune your piano to a very high standard. I have worked for some of the big stores, and while they usually prepare their pianos well, sometimes one will "slip through the cracks" without a good prep or tuning. As a musician, I make sure pianos I sell meet certain musical standards. (If a piano doesn't sound the way you think it should, I may also be able to voice it differently.) I often turn down free pianos that are offered to me if I don't think highly of their musical potential. Sometimes I take less than stellar pianos on trade in, but I usually sell these quickly at a very low price. The big stores throw less desirable pianos in the dumpster, but I have never been able to bring myself to discard a piano.
What about electronic keyboards?
I do not deal in electronic keyboards at all. I do not like to sell something that I can't fix. Some of these keyboards are so inexpensive that they are not worth fixing, as it is cheaper to buy a new one. Keyboards are useful for those needing MIDI connectivity or a computer interface, but a real piano has resonance that electronic keyboards lack, and it will last a lifetime.
Isn't a $300 upright from a garage sale good enough for a beginner?
It's usually better than a keyboard. But a piano with a poor tone and an unresponsive action may frustrate even a beginner. Many students appreciate the difference and will practice more on a better instrument. Whatever piano you can afford, it's important to have it serviced regularly.
Why doesn't Fortuna Piano sell well known brands of new pianos?
We have a very small shop and showroom. The big piano companies aren't interested in wholesaling to a little company like us. I have met with reps from some well known piano brands and offered to sell their pianos. They are not interested unless I buy a huge inventory (and a bigger building). While some brands have exclusive dealership arrangements, even companies with no representation in Detroit won't let me represent them unless I choose to go into debt!
What brands of new pianos does Fortuna Piano sell?
Currently, we are not offering new pianos for sale. For many years, we were the Detroit area exclusive dealer for Bohemia, a high quality, all European piano company owned by Bechstein of Germany. Unfortunately, Bechstein has discontined US distribution of this fine piano. I have sold many of these and I hate to see them go. I have no plans at present to stock any other brands of new pianos. There is a glut of used pianos on the market now, and there are also so many new brands of Chinese pianos available, so it is difficult to sell new pianos from anywhere else. I have decided not to sell new pianos made in China, even though the quality is improving greatly, due to the stigma of "Made in China", as well as the unknowns about working conditions in China.
Is a piano a good investment?
That depends on what you mean by investment. Even a cheap new piano with mediocre sound may give you 50 to 100 years of use with proper care. I take this to be an argument for buying the best sounding piano you can afford. Some high end piano dealers will claim that pianos can increase in value. I think this is a poor and misleading argument for buying a piano. (Steinway has particularly misleading ads showing the value increasing 22 fold over 77 years; with such a long time line a 5% CD would yield more, and you wouldn't have to pay for tuning and restoration.) A piano should be bought because of it will give you a lifetime of enjoyment, and will not be worn out or obsolete in a few years like a new car or computer.
How much should a new piano cost?
An amazing array of prices are out there for the piano shopper. A new Chinese upright might go for around than $2000-$3000 on occasion, but the dealer makes next to nothing on these, so it is usually a "bait and switch". At the other extreme, a good quality full size grand may go for six figures. To a great extent, you get what you pay for. However, it's good to know what a piano is really worth. I have had clients tell me they got a really good deal, when in reality they paid near full retail price, or more! See an independent retail price for all new brands at pianobuyer.com to compare actual prices. This is a valuable tool for finding out whether a price is a steal or a rip-off.
What should I pay for a used piano?
Anywhere from zero to more than a new piano. An older, average brand piano with a worn looking cabinet has little monetary value, especially in the internet age where so many pianos are advertised for sale. A completely rebuilt refinished piano may cost as much as a new one. The rebuilt piano will offer more longevity, and usually (not always) much better sound.
Should I plan to upgrade to better piano later?
Some people seem to want the cheapest piano possible, with the idea that they will get a better piano later if they stick with it. My experience is that this upgrade rarely happens; either the piano doesn't inspire them and they give up playing, or they keep it and get used to its limitations. Other people seem to want to buy a piano that they can keep forever or pass on to their grandchildren. This rarely happens either. My advise is to look for a piano that you can be happy with for many years, but it doesn't have to be a lifetime commitment.
Is it safe to buy an older used piano?
It's always best to get a technician's opinion before buying, especially on an older or more expensive instrument. Even a cheap or free instrument may not be worth moving. For example, if a piano has not been tuned for years (or decades!) it should be tuned before you buy it. (No, moving it does not put it out of tune!) This way you will find out whether the strings are all going to break or the tuning pins slip. I've serviced too many $300 pianos that "just need tuning" supposedly, when in reality they need a $5000 rebuilding job.
Should I buy a grand or upright?
One is better off with a high quality upright than a really cheap grand. I think too many pianists and teachers assume they need a grand to be a serious musician, and they fail to consider that the high end upright may be more suitable at their price point. A large grand can have longer strings and a larger soundboard, resulting in a fuller sound, particularly in the bass. On the concert stage one normally sees grands that are 7 or 9 feet long. Some inexpensive baby grands are only half that size, about 4 1/2 feet long, and have shorter strings than a full size upright. However, grands usually have the capacity for a somewhat more responsive action with better repetition, due to their horizontal orientation and double escapement mechanism.
What brand names should I look for?
It's hard to generalize about most pianos based on the brand name. Some brands that were once family owned were later sold to large American manufacturers, then sold again to an Asian manufacturer. Even new pianos of the same name brand may be made in 2 or 3 different countries, with varying levels of quality. I would be leary about internet research about various older piano brands; one website makes every brand sound like a high quality instrument, even the poorest brands. I would be happy to advise local shoppers of my opinions if you email me, but it's best not to call just to "pick my brain" as I will usually be tuning a client's piano (you can call anytime if you want piano service or would like to check out my shop).
Should I avoid a brand of piano that I have never heard of?
No! Most people would assume that "Steinway" must be a better piano than "Steingraeber". In reality, the Steingraeber is the more expensive instrument and has been around as long as Steinway. There have always been small companies that make outstanding pianos that are rarely seen. Many names that are familiar are actually out of business, but the name lives on. People like to buy a familiar name, so many old American piano names are now put on Asian pianos. Even if it has the name of an American city on the decal, it may be made in Asia.
Why are almost all pianos in big concerts venues Steinways or Yamahas?
Both are large companies with big networking resources. There are all Steinway schools, Yamaha artists, etc. Both brands make a good piano, but I think one would see a greater variety of piano makers on stage were it not for all the contractual arrangements. Steinway does claim to not pay artists for endorsements, but they have an exclusive arrangement with many American schools; I have to wonder how many great artists have never played on a well prepped new Mason Hamlin or Bechstein or Sauter.