Should I Rent or Buy a Piano?

A rental piano can be the solution to many problems--a temporary or extra instrument--but the most common reason to rent a piano is in lieu of buying one, particularly for someone embarking on piano lessons.

Advantages of Renting a Piano

The cost of purchasing a piano is the primary incentive to rent. In fact, it is the most common reason to rent, especially for a beginning student.

Note, however, that there will be other expenses beyond the monthly fee. You will have piano moving charges, either lump sum at the beginning of the lease or amortized over the life of the contract. An initial tuning may be included at no charge, but you doubtless will have to pay for your own tunings, even if the first one is paid by the dealer (well, actually, you pay that, too--it's just a hidden cost).

Another advantage is that a rental is temporary. If you end up with a piano you don't like, you aren't stuck with it.

Disadvantages of Renting a Piano

Depending on the way the rental agreement is written, your rental fee (all or part) is money spent with no tangible property to show for it. Some rental contracts allow your fee to apply to any piano in the showroom. Others, only to the instrument placed in your home. Make sure you know which you are agreeing to! Some dealers do straight rentals--your fee applies to nothing but monthly usage.

Generally rent-to-buy arrangements have higher monthly fees than strictly rental agreements. Usually a dealer who does rent-to-buy does not do strictly rental.

I'd like to discuss rent-to-buy-this-instrument-only, as it is something I don't recommend. In this situation, the dealer is essentially choosing your piano for you! Avoid this kind of rent-to-buy unless the rental instrument -is- the very one you'd choose to acquire. (The dealer may have some ulterior motive for pushing one type of piano over another--such as a manufacturer's promotion that will net him an extra- attractive commission--and that might influence which piano he selects for you.) A far better solution, in my opinion, is finding a dealer who will allow the rental fees to apply to any piano in the showroom. That way you know he has no particular ax to grind.

Other disadvantages of renting are the unsightly case (high likely) and unpleasant tone quality (maybe). Strictly rental pianos tend to be beat up and bordering on klunkerism, although they should play. A reputable dealer will not rent an instrument which is not in 100% playable condition, although the action might not be what it should be or the instrument might be in dire need of regulation and voicing. (The dealer isn't going to sink a lot of money into maintaining these instruments, after all.)

A third thing to consider is that should you find an instrument you want to buy, you may lose money when you break the contract.

(Note: Make sure the instrument you looked at in the showroom is the same one which is delivered to your home.)

Advantages of Buying a Piano

Your money goes toward an asset. If necessary, you can sell it to recover some of your investment.

When you buy, you are able to select exactly what you want. (This might not be what you'd select if money were no object, but you have a choice based on what you wish to pay and how much room you have.)

Don't discount pride of ownership. The student may feel more committed to study and practice more diligently if he has his -own- piano, not a "borrowed" one.

A new piano is going to be in better shape than a rented one. The pedals are going to work, etc. A beginner should not have to fight the instrument as well as learn to play it!! (And any more advanced student will be frustrated playing a poor instrument at home.)

Disadvantages of Buying a Piano

Again, it's high cost. Or, the high cost of getting what you really want.

If the student does not continue in study, the family is left with a perhaps-unhappy reminder of an activity that did not bring the satisfaction hoped for. There is the hassle of selling the instrument or, if the family decides to keep it, there will be continued maintenance on the investment. If the family is transferred, special moving fees will apply.

center ~ ~ ~ ~ I need to add something about buying a piano on craigslist. As a generality, I'd say don't do this. Pianos there can be mis-priced, in poor condition, and sold "as is." See this file for further reading.

copyright 1996, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
Contact me for reprint permission.

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