Consumer Tip Sheet in A State of Confusion
Regarding Piano Ratings

During the past few years we have received an avalanche of letters and phone calls regarding the attempt of a certain consumer publication to recommend certain makes of pianos on the basis of their quality.  Several such publications have appeared on and off for many years for the announced purpose of giving consumers inside information on quality of every type of consumer goods from food, soap, medicine, automobiles, television to computers.

There have been several books and publications over the years which have attempted to recommend the right piano for consumers, but even artists, teachers and technicians have their own subjective reasons for their choice. It is difficult to rely on any one source to help you choose the right piano for you.

While it may be  possible from a laboratory analysis to certify the quality or efficiency of soap, food, refrigerators, lubricants, clothing, etc., the publishers of tip sheets for are up against it when attempting to find a means of analyzing piano quality. Many readers assume these ratings are the result of an authentic laboratory analysis, something that is possible in many other lines of consumer goods, but not with pianos. 

The publishers and authors of the tip sheets admit that the ratings are at best, just an opinion with no basis in fact. The disclaimer or warning is usually obscure in the body of the article.  Most people jump to the listings without reading the preamble.

In order to rate a new piano you would first have to determine the "true" tone of a new piano which is only developed some nine months to a year after the date of manufacture. During this period the strings have continued to stretch, the varnish on the soundboard crystallizes, and the pressure on the soundboard through the bridge settles down to its natural and final state. You would also have to determine the manner and in particular the environment in which the specific instrument was to be used.

The pedigree that sets every piano apart, even from other instruments of the same make, model, and style is inevitable. No two trees ever grow exactly alike. Grain and densities differ between different species and between individual trees of the same species. Plastics and other materials used in keys differ in color. Wool from which hammer and damper felts when made vary in texture and length of fiber. Such variations are present in all materials from which pianos are made.

Tone is an intangible something that is difficult to define and is unfortunately subject to nearly everyone's personal choice. A piano has a definite quality of tone which is 'built in'. A soundboard with a high crown and strong downward pressure from the strings produces a 'round tone'' that is associated with some beautiful pianos. A board with a less decided arch would produce a sharp, brittle tone, such as we associate with some other very fine instruments. There is also a subtle quality of freshness about the tone of a good piano which can only be described as "luster." 

Some people who attempt to find a piano for their home soon wind up in a state of complete and total confusion as a result of  reading a tip sheet. They seem to have the erroneous idea that the quality of piano tone is definite and measurable, like the fineness of gold; that a jury of experts, such as "fifty piano technicians who must remain anonymous" or a piano expert or technician who compiles a repair manual on the subject, or one piano has a 14-carat tone so to speak, another an 18-carat tone, while a 24- carat tone is supreme.

These publications in general, take an antagonistic attitude toward a thing called "business".  At any rate, their articles strongly imply that big business is trying to put something over on buyers, and the author of the tip sheet is a Sir Galahad having a love affair with the piano and is compiling this information to protect the innocent public from big, bad piano dealers and unscrupulous salespeople. The publishers of these books, puff sheets  and publications make their money selling books, not pianos, and at prices ranging from $10 to $50 that read more like repair manuals for technicians than buyers guides for consumers.  They won't tell you anything unless you pay them a fee.  Check it out.

One of the by-products of these tip sheets is consumer fear in a climate in which poor service can flourish. I'm sure that the vast majority of piano technicians are honest people doing their best to make an honest living.  Some, and not many, piano technicians are a bit on the commercial side. Very few, if any, are trying to defraud the public, and those few who from time to time do are pretty quickly put out of business. But as in any competitive business where the difference between competing products and services is often based on the amount of commission a technician receives, small acts of dishonesty gradually creep into the business in the form of distorted or outright false technical claims, phony statements, and less-than- satisfactory service. These practices evolve slowly and are so widespread, they are passed off as "business as usual," rather than the disservice that they really are.

The appeal of piano tone is one of personal preference, a piano purchase is not a logical choice, it is an emotional decision. Many of the top concert artists, even those who play the same make of piano, differ in their opinion of the tone best suited to the virtuosity of each. You are buying a piano for your home, for yourself, your children and musical friends to play on. You are going to live with the instrument, and it is you who should be pleased. Don't discount your own ability to judge the tone that pleases.   If you were to take 100 people, all musicians,  piano teachers, technicians, and you put them in a room with 10 pianos, you will wind up with 100 different opinions. Listen to the piano, not the salesman or technician.

You don't need a "bible" or a repair manual when you buy a car, refrigerator, washing machine, or television set, why do you need one when buy a piano? Be wary of the guy who pulls out a book or tip sheet to give you the low down on a piano, especially the other guys piano. I can tell you that there are a lot more cases of people getting ripped off by unethical technicians with un-needed repairs than from honest piano dealers.  


All guidelines follow the mandates of the Uniform Standards of Professional Consumer Rating Practices.

Bluebook  of Pianos






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