Step by Step Guide to Buying a Piano
Step Five: Choose Your Basis for Comparison



When you go out to buy a piano, it will not take long for you to discover that there are many different opinions about pianos and which piano is the best.  As a consultant, I have found that buyers become confused by all the apparently conflicting statements they hear about the various brand names.  You may have already experienced this if you have been to more than one showroom. A salesperson at one dealership that sells Yamahas, for example, may tell you all the reasons that Yamahas are best.  A salesperson at competing dealership who sells Kawais, may tell you all the reason's that Kawais are best.  You may discover that your piano teacher likes Steinways and your technician likes Mason & Hamlins.  Often times buyers ask questions like, "which piano is the best" and they can never get five people to give them the same answer.   Buyers sometimes wonder if the reason they are getting so many different answers is because no one knows what they are talking about or because the people they are talking to all have different agendas.   

Every opinion that someone gives you is based upon a set of assumptions.  Often times, in the course of a conversation, people don't tell you what those assumptions are.  You may not want to ask them either.  In order to make a comparison between two things, it is very helpful for you to have a third thing (like a ruler) to measure them against so that you can see what the differences between them are.  If you are trying to use several people's opinion as your ruler, then you may find you just can't get accurate results, because every opinion that doesn't have a clear set of assumptions established for you to understand, becomes just like a stick with a random set of lines that might even change with the circumstances.   I have always found that what I need from a ruler (or "basis for comparison") is consistency and a way to measure the pianos I am comparing against that ruler.  At Piano Finders, we use something called the Piano Finders Standard (PFS), which allows us to compare all different types, brands, models of used and new pianos against the same consistent standard. 

Most buyers, don't really understand or want to learn all of the technical language and details that help explain this standard.  All they really need to know is that there is a consistent standard, that follows rules of logic and can be explained to them by a Piano Finders consultant if they have specific questions.   The rest of this page gives you several options to skip on to the next step if you don't want to go into more details right now about the PFS.   It can sometimes be very effective to stay focused on your own time and goals so that you don't get distracted with details before you need to know them.  It is sometimes just enough to know where you can find them when you need them, and come back to them later if it seems important to something you want to accomplish.

Whose standard will you use?

It is possible, if you have enough expertise and experience, to create your own standard for comparing pianos to satisfy your needs.   People who buy and sell pianos professionally and piano technicians who repair and rebuild them can usually buy a piano for themselves without the assistance of a standard outside their own experience. 

Do you already know how to compare pianos by yourself, based upon your own experience?  If so, then your experience is your basis for comparison, and you do not need to read the rest of this article unless it interests you.   

If yes, then click here: 


If no, continue reading this article..

Have you already chosen someone to pick out a piano for you, or to advise you in the buying process?  There is certainly nothing wrong with trusting an expert to help you, if you have picked the right person for your needs.  If you have already chosen your expert then they will provide you the basis for your comparison and you do not need to read the rest of this article unless it interests you.  

If yes, then click here:  


If no, continue reading this article..

Do you want to know learn more about an ideal basis for comparing pianos?   

If yes, continue reading this article

If no, then click here:  


If you are not an expert yourself and do not already have an expert chosen to help you, a piano standard is the ideal basis for comparing pianos.   Not having a good piano standard to compare things to when you go out and buy is like not knowing the time zone differences when you are trying to schedule connecting flights for a world tour.  You may get the job done, but, the mistakes that you can make might be costly in time and money for all involved.

If you want to know what you are getting for what you pay, you will need some basis for comparison between the prices, quality, durability, tone, touch, appearance and serviceability of various pianos.  Otherwise, you may not have enough information to make an informed decision.  

In the competitive marketplace, manufacturers are always trying to make their pianos appear better than their competitors.  In order to do this, they create their own unique standards and use these standards to come up with a set of specifications that describe the different models they carry.  If you are comparing models of one brand name with those of another and also are considering used pianos, then you will find that no two standards given to you by a dealer or technician are alike.  Also some brand names have established their reputation on a flagship piano model, but they have several different grades of pianos that are inferior to the flagship, all bearing the same brand name.  It can get very confusing, much like dealing with different country's currencies without knowing the exchange rate to the currency of your own country.  With various currencies as well as with pianos, there needs to be a basis for comparison.

The best basis for comparison for pianos is a piano standard that includes  categories for price, quality, durability, tone, touch, and appearance.    Ideally a piano standard should meet the following criteria:


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  1. Expertise:  It should be based upon reliable and comprehensive research and expertise. 
  2. Consistency:  It should be fixed and consistently applied to all pianos being compared.  The piano standard should not vary from one situation or piano to another.  For example, some dealers do not publish a fixed list of retail prices for buyers to see.  They might vary the "retail" and "sales" price for every customer who walks in, depending upon how they judge the situation.  Although dealers have every right to sell a piano for what they want to sell it for, the prices they are giving to the customer cannot qualify as a piano price standard because the prices are not consistent and fixed.  It is okay for a standard to be updated from time to time, as long as it is labeled and printed out with an effective date, so the buyer will know which standard (by label & date) was being used to compare a given set of pianos.
  3. Integrity:  It should have internal integrity, where every piece fits neatly and precisely into an organic whole.  It's internal formulas and calculation should be accurate and appropriate.
  4. Measurable Details:  It should be based as much as possible upon objective and measurable details.  It should be possible for a trained and qualified technician or inspector to measure a piano against the piano standard to see where the piano stands.   Often, technicians and salespeople give generalized opinions about how one piano rates against another, without giving any measurable details which explain how they came to those conclusions.  This makes the standard they are using incomprehensible, because it cannot be understood in context and not enough information has been disclosed to the buyer.
  5. Basis for Disagreement:  It should provide a rational basis for teachers, technician's, salespeople, pianists to disagree with each other, without making the reason for disagreement incomprehensible to the buyer.


  6. Unbiased Towards any Specific Brand name:  It should not be biased towards pianos of a specific brand.  The piano has been around for more than 100 years.  Every manufacturer has the capacity to make pianos of all levels of quality from poor to superior.   In their marketing literature, manufacturers will often seem to be providing a basis of comparison between their piano and their competitor's; when in reality they have slanted the bias towards their own brand name by the way they designed the comparison.  This would not qualify for an ideal piano standard because the manufacturer is biased towards selling their own pianos and against that of their competitors.  


  7. Realistic:  The superior end of the scale for the piano standard should be achievable by a manufacturer and rebuilder/refinisher of vintage pianos.  It should not be so high that it is impossible for the buyer to find in the marketplace.   It can be a high enough that a technician would need to perform services to a new piano to achieve the superior standard.  It should have different grades below superior that take into account what is practical, within the expected cost for pianos of various qualities.  It should take into account the cost of doing business for all the people necessary to bring the piano from its creation to its delivery to the buyer at each quality level..  There have been many piano technicians who have written books or offered their opinions to buyers without taking these things into account.  As a result, a buyer might find themselves expecting to find a piano for $15,000 that only exists at a price of $55,000.  


  8. Full Disclosure of Important Details:  Details of the piano standards should be fully disclosed to the buyer.   It is not sufficient to give a buyer results without giving them access to the objective facts and measurements that were used to achieve the results.


  9. Meaningful to Buyer:  It should produce a meaningful basis for comparison for the buyer to use in comparing pianos.


  10. Understandable to Buyer:   The piano standard should be able to be used to produce results that are understandable to a buyer.  For example, if the standard can give a buyer a rating of 0-100% or poor to superior, then the buyer will quickly be able to understand how pianos compare.  This does not mean that the buyer needs to understand all the technical details required in the technician's testing procedure. 


  11. Accessible to Buyer:  The piano standard must be something the buyer has ready access to when they need it. 


  Unless you are an expert yourself, knowing what your values are and what you want is usually not enough to keep you from making a serious mistake when buying a piano.   There are between 7,000 to 10,000 working parts in a piano.  Even new pianos require work after they have left the factory and unless you know what to ask for and how to assure that it has been done to a high quality standard, you may end up spending more money than you planned to after you thought you have finished your purchase.  Minor piano upgrades range from $100 - $2,000.  Some major piano upgrades can exceed $20,000. 



Using the PFS as Your Basis for Comparison

It helps to have a consistent and reliable standard that you can measure a piano against when comparing its quality, appearance, durability, touch and tone with that of another piano.  The PFS (Piano Finders Standard) was established by Karen E. Lile and Kendall Ross Bean and includes input from manufacturers, dealers, and technicians from around the world.  It meets all the eleven criteria mentioned above for the ideal piano standard. 



How does the PFS help us to serve you better?  


  1. It gives us a consistent ruler to measure any pianos against, new or used, so we can show you how it compares.  
  2. It allows us to reveal to you how we came to these conclusions so that if you have a technician, teacher or dealer you are already working with, they can test their own pianos against the standard and see how it measures. 
  3. If you have been given conflicting advice or recommendations from technician's, teachers or salespeople you have talked to, the PFS allows us to explain why these people may have disagreed with each other so that you can understand the issues and come to your own conclusions.  
  4. It also allows all our Piano Finders consultants and technicians to use a common standard for reference so that you will get the same predictable quality results, no matter who you are speaking with from our business. 


  What does the PFS do for you?  
  1. It gives you the ability to do your own comparisons and find out how pianos that you are looking at compare to each other and the standard. 
  2. It allows you to get a more in depth education about the basic differences between pianos if you are interested in learning that level of detail. 
  3. It gives you the ability to establish your own opinion.  You don't have to agree with the PFS in order to make it work for you.  Just as you may not agree with they way the currency of your country is set up, if you understand where you are in relationship to your country's currency, then you can take that into consideration when making comparisons, even when dealing with different country's currencies.  Of course, you also need to know the exchange rate between your country and the other country on the day you are making the comparison.  As long as you know where you stand in relationship to the Piano Finders Standard, you can easily convert the specifications of a particular piano to the results you need to see.  If you consistently find that you like the touch of the piano we rate as Excellent and don't like the touch of the one we rate as Superior, then you need only look for pianos with the Excellent rating to find what you need.  
  To this date, Piano Finders is unique in establishing a standard of measurements and specifications to allow you to compare any new or used piano, no matter what the condition or brand.



What Piano Finders Services are based on the PFS?

With the Piano Finders Rating Service, you can have us rate any piano against the PFS scale.

All of our Piano Finders Full Service Buying Options use the PFS.  As part of our contract with you we guarantee the piano to be in the condition described in a written PFS Rating Report describing the piano you have decided to buy.

The PFS includes a rating for Superior, Excellent, Good, Fair and Poor in each of the following categories: 


Do you want to read more in depth information about the PFS?

If yes, continue reading this article and follow the links below.

If no, then click here:  


You can read the following documents for more information about the PFS, its basis and use::

PFS: An Overview

PFS: An Example





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