Question: Hi Albert,
Thanks for this great site! My question is, I have a Yamaha upright that's about 20 years old and I'm thinking about buying a new piano. I fell in love with a Steinway M, but it's so expensive and I'm only an intermediate player. Should I buy a Boston which is much more affordable or try to save up and get the one I love?Barb (Wisconsin, USA)
Albert's reply: My recommendation in this case is to look for a used Steinway M in excellent condition, or one that's been newly refurbished by an expert piano builder.
You need to be especially careful when buying a used Steinway—more so than with other brands. Unfortunately I've seen old Steinways in very poor condition, yet so many people fail to see beyond the name. They end up overpaying by a wide margin, not realizing that the instrument is desperately in need of rebuilding, which will add a good $15,000 or so to the price.
Boston pianos are designed but not built by Steinway. Interestingly, they're built at Kawai's factory in Japan, yet ironically I've always preferred Kawai to Boston pianos. (I haven't yet played Boston's newer Performance Edition models, with their improved materials.)
Steinway offers a ten-year window in which to trade in your Boston, in which case they'll give you the full purchase price of the Boston towards a new Steinway. This is certainly tempting, though Steinway increases its prices so much each year that I definitely think a used one would be the better option.
If you go the used route, you should try to avoid the Teflon bushings that Steinway used briefly around 1980. Teflon can be replaced if need be, so it shouldn't make or break your purchase decision.
I can't recommend piano technician Larry Fine's The Piano Book highly enough if you're in the market for a piano, new or used.
This discussion reminds me of the Steinway I almost got to call my own. Very close friends of mine once got their children's deceased piano teacher's Steinway grand for only $1200 at the estate sale. It had been newly restored and was in pristine condition.
Their children never took to the piano, and the Steinway was taking up space in the living room, so they decided to sell it. Not knowing what it was worth, they assumed that they paid $1200, so it must be worth $1200!
They put an ad in the classified section and a professional pianist came in with his technician. After the piano passed inspection with flying colors, the two of them did everything they could to contain their excitement upon striking gold. The pianist happily handed my friends the $1200 in cash.
And that's the story of my Steinway that wasn't meant to be!