Buying a Piano or Keyboard
No one can start music lessons without an instrument and that first musical instrument purchase can be as scary as your first car purchase. But with a little bit of foreknowledge you can set, somewhat, confidently into the world of buying a piano or keyboard for yourself or your child prior to embarking on music lessons.
Piano or Keyboard
First off we need to differentiate between Pianos, Electric Pianos and Keyboards. When we say Piano we mean and acoustic piano in either the upright or grand style.
When we say Electric Piano we mean all in one keyboard (with only piano/organ sounds) with speakers. They have weighted keys and imitate the feel and sound of an acoustic piano.
The Keyboard is a light weight, very portable, multi sound device that tends to have full sized but spring loaded keys.
So which one is right for you? Well, as always, it depends. If you don't want to spend too much money not knowing whether you or your kids are going to enjoy or stick at music lessons you could consider a keyboard. They can be had for as little as $200. The main problem with a keyboard is not the spring loaded keys unreal feel, but all the sounds, songs, recording funtions, flashing lights and cool drum beats. All these things help sell the keyboard in the store but will distract the person practicing (particularly young ones).
If you don't want to break the bank but don't want to pay too little I think the electric piano is a great middle of the road music investment. They feel more realistic, they have only a few sounds and no recording devices or drum beats to distract. They look nice in any room in either classic black or faux wood grain. They are usually around $1000.
Of course many people aspire to have a real acoustic piano. Many want or dream of having a Grand Piano in the living room. Of course if no one can play it then you have a very expensive bit of interior decorating.
There are only 2 kinds of pianos, a grand and an upright. Pianos call 'baby grand' and 'upright grand' are just marketing terms. Grand pianos have the the downward hammer action and uprights do not.
Pianos come in 3 categories:
The new piano has many advantages but one is not price. You are looking at $3,000 - $5,000 for a basic upright. Because of this most piano sellers have in house financing. You can be confident that your new piano has been well taken care of through its short life. Any decent piano store will have the store environment optimized for keeping pianos in perfect condition. After that it is up to you.
The used piano is a more complex issue. Like a used car it could have been used gently and maintained regularly or it could have been positioned on a outside wall, in front of a drafty window or heating vent and never tuned. Buying a used piano is like buying a used car in one other aspect, buying one privately you have no guarantee or recourse if the piano is a lemon. Stay away from pianos listed as 'antique'. A piano has a life span of about 75 years. Be careful of pianos listed as 'refinished' the wood is important but it is the harp and the sound board (that doesn't get a finish) that are the heart of the piano. In all a beautiful, old piano that hasn't been tuned in many years may never play music again. Buying a RECONDITIONED piano from a reputable dealer increases cost (which may again be offset by in house financing) but usually comes with a guarantee and possibly a free tuning and free moving.
The free (or nearly free) piano is not quite so complex, mainly because it is free. But is it really? The free piano needs to be moved and, unless you have the truck and strong backs, it is going to cost you around $200 (more if stairs or too small elevators are involved. The free piano has the same issues of previous care to consider. Was it tuned regularly, kept away from radiators, heat vents and/or drafty windows? Was a humidifier employed to keep the wood from drying out? Was it tuned yearly at the very least? Once moved it will need a tuning and if not well cared for may need more tunings after it settles.
Recently we moved our new Yamaha upright into our Music School but we still needed a piano at home. We found a free piano that hadn't been tuned in 5 years but other wise had been well cared for. We paid $200 to have it moved and it works like a charm. On the other hand I have a friend who bought a piano used privately and the thing won't stay in tuned and plays horribly.
As usual there are no set guidelines but hopefully this gets you closer to chosing a musical instrument best suited for your situation.