Why Are Pianos So Expensive? The Truth Revealed
Many musicians begin learning how to play music on a piano or keyboard.
When you start out on the instrument, you’re likely going to be playing a family member’s old upright piano or a cheap digital piano.
So, when you’re ready to make the jump to a pro instrument, you may be taken aback at how much new acoustic pianos and professional stage pianos cost.
A new upright will run you at least $2,000, whereas the cheapest and smallest grand piano will start at $5,000. Full nine-foot grand pianos will cost $140,000 or more!
Professional stage piano like Nord, Korg and Roland, will start you off at $1,500 and get more expensive from there, with the newest Nord Stage coming in at $4,500.
Why are these instruments so expensive? It’s generally for a good reason!
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Why Are Acoustic Pianos Expensive?
The primary focus of this guide is acoustic pianos, although we will be exploring several reasons why digital pianos and other keyboard instruments can be expensive too.
But first, an acoustic piano is expensive for several reasons. Here they are:
Acoustic Pianos Use High-Quality Wood
Pianos are more expensive than other instruments mostly because the quality of the wood and the amount that's used to build the instrument.
Pianos are mostly made of wood, and it’s not just your average lumber. Nice pianos are made with mahogany, ebony and ivory (usually fake ivory these days) and others are made with maple, fir and oak. Sometimes, exotic woods are used.
The wood used to build a piano must be straight-grained, closed and without any knots. Selecting wood for a piano requires a trained, skilled eye.
There Are Over 12,000 Individual Parts In A Piano
Beyond the quality of the wood in a piano, there is the quantity.
Pianos are made up over 12,000 individual parts. Most of these parts are small and have to do with the action of the piano.
This includes the keyboard itself, the hammers, rail pins, pistons, dampers, etc.
All of these parts are made out of high-quality wood, felt, brass and copper.
And don’t forget the strings – a set of piano strings costs anywhere from $300 to $500 depending on the metal used.
Every part of the piano must be expertly installed by piano technicians. This takes a great deal of time, experience and accuracy, which brings me to my next point.
Pianos Are Created By Artisans Over Long Periods Of Time
The parts of the piano are expensive, but more expensive is the labor that goes into fitting all of these parts together.
Even mass-produced pianos require a surprising amount of human labor. Pianos are just too finicky for machines.
Tasks like shaving down the wood, bending the wood into a piano frame and gluing the strips together take a long time. Technicians must take very accurate measurements and spend a great deal of time quality testing the instrument.
If the piano has engraving and artfully designed cases, then it can take even longer.
Of course, the larger the piano, the longer it takes to construct – grand pianos usually take around a year to build.
Now, not every piano is built the same. But it's fair to say that any piano that requires more man hours to build is also going to cost more.
Some Pianos Brands Cost More Than Others
Like virtually any product, brand name can have a huge effect on the value of the piano.
The two most recognizable brands are Steinway and Yamaha, followed by Bösendorfer, Fazioli, Kawai and Baldwin.
Expect to pay on the higher end of the scale for these instruments because of their long history and great reputation.
Brands like Steinway only produce around 3,000 pianos a year (for smaller brands like Fazioli, even less) which creates a demand that allows for the higher price point.
These piano brands are also endorsed and played by famous performing artists, which further drives their price up.
These prices are not arbitrary. They are earned through years of producing a top-quality product.
That said, you can find Brodmann or Young Chang pianos that play extremely well for half the price of the brand-name pianos.
Why Are Stage Pianos Expensive?
So let's look at why stage pianos cost so much.
The world of digital pianos is diverse and has many budget-friendly options. You can get a cheap digital piano for under $500.
But you’ll quickly find out that cheap digital pianos are cheap for a reason.
Cheap digital pianos will have poor action (usually too fast), fewer keys than normal, poor tonal quality when recorded/amplified and they’ll be subject to wear and tear if they are traveled.
Good digital stage pianos (like Nords, high end Roland and Yamahas, Korg SV-1s, etc.) run upwards of $2,500. Ouch!
Of course, they are expensive for a reason. Here’s why:
Digitizing Acoustic Piano Is An Imperfect Science/Art Form
First off, it's challenging to sample an acoustic piano and put those samples into a digital piano.
The piano has full polyphony, meaning you can play every note at the same time – just like a real piano.
Great care has been put into sampling different kinds of famous pianos. This technology has come a long way – new digital pianos are miles ahead of what was available only 20 years ago.
Great care is put into making plastic keys feel like real keys. There is obviously no hammer or anything on digital piano, so creating the feel of weighted keys takes a lot of care and research.
Professional Digital Pianos Are Durable
I own a Nord and have flown it to dozens of gigs, played cumulatively hundreds of gigs, outside, cold, dusty, whatever – it doesn’t seem to matter. I’ve left it outside in -40 Celcius and have left it right in the sun too. It still doesn’t matter.
I must clean the contact pads once every two years and that's it. It doesn’t owe me a thing.
Professional digital pianos are built to tour and they are built to last. I know many players who are still playing Nord Stage 2s that came out over 10 years ago!
Brand Name Recognition
For better or for worse, brand names play into the price of professional gigging keyboards.
The truth is, there aren’t many brands that make pro stage pianos – Nord, Korg, Yamaha, Roland are the main contenders, and there are a few smaller brands in the market as well, like Dexibell and Studiologic.
Basically, the market is small. If you want the same keyboard that all the pros are playing, you’re going to get stuck paying the pro price.
Why Do Pianos Cost So Much? Final Thoughts
So those are the main reasons pianos are so expensive.
For many they're worth it, for others they'll find it better value for money to buy a digital piano instead.
Which side of the fence do you stand on, are the cost of pianos worth it to you?
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