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Topic Options
#1125774 - 06/05/04 08:45 PM Why are longer pianos so much more expensive than short ones?
apple* Offline


Registered: 01/01/03
Posts: 19862
Loc: Kansas
That's the question
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accompanist/organist.. a non-MTNA teacher to a few

love and peace, Õun (apple in Estonian)

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#1125775 - 06/05/04 08:58 PM Re: Why are longer pianos so much more expensive than short ones?
Axtremus Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/29/03
Posts: 6186
It's like... why are bigger diamonds so much more expensive than smaller ones... I guess. ;\)

Also, beyond certain size, the bigger the thing, the harder to sell and get your money back. (My guess.)
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www.PianoRecital.org -- my piano recordings

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#1125776 - 06/05/04 09:13 PM Re: Why are longer pianos so much more expensive than short ones?
Matt G. Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/22/01
Posts: 3789
Loc: Plainfield, IL
Apple, are you trying to do a cost per inch comparison of various sizes? I did the same thing when I was shopping and was confused, too. (Blast that cursed class we had in high school where we were instructed to compare unit prices!) Ax is on to the right track, though. I think it has more to do with supply and demand than it does with Euros per centimeter.

Manufacturers produce fewer of the larger grands. It usually takes dealers longer to sell the larger grands. Both of them want a little something to compensate them for the inconvenience, I guess.

But, the relationship between, say, a 5'1" grand and a 7'0" grand is probably not best expressed by a linear ratio based on length.
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#1125777 - 06/05/04 10:39 PM Re: Why are longer pianos so much more expensive than short ones?
dbm Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/24/04
Posts: 166
I think it has more to do with demand than actual cost --- one has to make all the 88 keys, the frame and all the mechanics in shorter ones. Less demand results in the suppliers' needing compensation as Matt said.

Look at the prices in Larry Fine's supplementary and divide them by two to get somewhat closer to the wholesale, it appears to me that the Chinese pianos don't charge that much extra for extra inches. They are probably charging closer to the cost for the few extra inches. Once the brands are well established, they are in a better position to demand for the compensation for the incovenience.

So it looks to me that longer Chinese grands are "better deals" than shorter ones.

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#1125778 - 06/05/04 11:29 PM Re: Why are longer pianos so much more expensive than short ones?
Frank R Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/16/03
Posts: 569
Loc: Anaheim Hills, CA
I like the diamond comparison. The difference between a 1.5 c. and a 2.0 c. is more than double. Go figure, the jeweler I buy from said the larger ones are much rarer, I'm not buying it (the story or the diamond). I also did the inch ratio thing . Made me nuts. I just bought the best piano that I could afford and forgot about all of the other stuff. Not trying to analize things that I don't really understand makes my life much easier. I much more enjoy letting you guys do it and read about it on the PW forum.
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#1125779 - 06/06/04 12:25 AM Re: Why are longer pianos so much more expensive than short ones?
Axtremus Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 08/29/03
Posts: 6186
(off topic)
 Quote:
The difference between a 1.5 c. and a 2.0 c. is more than double. Go figure, the jeweler I buy from said the larger ones are much rarer, I'm not buying it (the story or the diamond).
Actually, I did not think your jeweler was misleading. Natural diamonds come with blemishes (inclusions), and it's exponentially harder to find larger diamonds without the inclusions getting in your way.

I can also offer as examples the plasma TV screens or those flat computer LCD screens. The LCD screen is basically a collection of a large number of transistors. In manufacturing these things, each transistor has a certain non-zero probability of being defective, hence each pixel has a non-zero probability of being defective. When you try to manufacture a smaller LCD sheet (say, those 300 x 300 pixels screen on a hand held computer), it's easier to find patches of (300 x 300) pixels where every pixel is good. It's exponentially harder to find larger patches (say 1024 x 768) where every pixel is good, even though each pixel on there own has the same probability to be defective.

For piano and furniture, the same applies to veneer selection. It's exponentially harder to find and match quality veneer for a larger surface (e.g., grand piano lid) than it is for a smaller surface.

But, for black pianos, I don't know. Piano pricing is a big mystery to most of us, isn't it? ;\)
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#1125780 - 06/06/04 12:48 AM Re: Why are longer pianos so much more expensive than short ones?
JPM Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/24/03
Posts: 1010
Loc: NM, GE & Wash. DC
Don't know how much this factors into the final price but a bigger piano takes more raw material and man-hours to produce (buffing out the finish for example). As far as raw materials are concerned (eg, wood stock), I would think they'd save the very best stuff they've got for the concert grands. (At least that's how I'd do it if I were in charge of production). I would also think while top manufacturers put a lot of effort into all their pianos, the concert grands get special attention. It's their flagship model and will be, more likely than not, used for public performances by very demanding pianists. They are particularly motivated to send them out as good as they can be.

I will not even speculate (because I don't know) whether these factors come in to play as you move down in model size. It does seem pretty clear though as you move to the smaller models that most manufacturers pay more attention to other non-musical factors such as furniture style, special veneers and finishes, etc. That doesn't mean that these furniture/styling factors cannot apply to larger pianos too. It seems that in larger models it's much more the exception than the rule.

JP
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-- Claude Debussy

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#1125781 - 06/06/04 04:58 AM Re: Why are longer pianos so much more expensive than short ones?
cello lover Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/09/04
Posts: 111
Loc: belgium
...because they have to grow longer... \:D
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#1125782 - 06/06/04 05:02 AM Re: Why are longer pianos so much more expensive than short ones?
cello lover Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/09/04
Posts: 111
Loc: belgium
...because it's more difficult to place a bösendorfer imperial in your bathroom than a two-octave-keyboard (again \:D , sorry, couldn't resist it)
_________________________
If you play mistakes, OK
If your technique is not perfect, we can live with that
But if you play boring,
I'll chop off your fingers and feed them to the dogs

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#1125783 - 06/06/04 06:23 AM Re: Why are longer pianos so much more expensive than short ones?
RKVS1 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/07/01
Posts: 3192
Loc: Topeka, Kansas
"Scaling up" a manufactured item is often more difficult than it may seem. Rolls-Royce, had some tremendous difficulties (and I think had to be bailed out by the government) when their estimates for increasing a jet engine by 20% or so fell far short of the true cost needed to solve all the problems. (in the 1980's, I believe)

Pianos obviously don't fall into the same class of complexity or stress as turbines, (piano stools rarely need to be rated higher than 200 rpm) but as Ax mentioned, certain parts are harder to successfully achieve in larger sizes than smaller. (though, I think the mathematical relationship would be on the square, not the exponential)

Large sound boards and plates have more chance of being rejected than smaller ones, I would think. Likewise, the boards making up the rims would have to be considerably longer, (say maybe 24 feet for a 9 footer instead of the 16 to 17 feet needed for the MH-AA) with more butt-joints and more chances of failures. More chance of warpage on the lids too, perhaps.

Additional and larger jigs (rim benders, soundboard presses) and more physical space needed in the factory would also factor into the equation.

That said, the supply/demand argument is also valid as is JPM's about using the "higest quality stuff".

There ARE some parts on the long piano that may be LESS complex than those on shorter ones. Cantilevered bass bridges, for example, are used on short pianos but not needed on longer ones.

Perhaps Del could weigh in on this subject.

I'm surprised that Cello Lover didn't mention the extra cost of finding those larger umlauts for the Imperial. Its hard enough just finding the regular sized ones. \:\)

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#1125784 - 06/06/04 08:02 AM Re: Why are longer pianos so much more expensive than short ones?
cps Offline
Full Member

Registered: 05/11/04
Posts: 171
Loc: Sydney, Australia
I'd agree with what's been said so far.

I'd also suggest that as you move up in size and quality you're paying more for R&D. Let's say to get a piano from say 40%- 60% costs $X. To go from 60%- 70% may cost twice as much. To go from 95%- 99% would probably cost 10 times as much again. To get that last improvement is always the most expensive.

Hope you can follow what I mean.

Greg
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#1125785 - 06/06/04 10:24 AM Re: Why are longer pianos so much more expensive than short ones?
Rick Clark Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/04/03
Posts: 1810
Loc: North County San Diego CA
There is not a completely proportional relationship with how much it costs to build a piano and what it sells for.

As DPM stated, it has to do with demand. Also what the market will bear, etc. Some models of piano may be clearly more profitable to the manufacturer than others. And generally the most common sizes (least expensive) sell the greatest, but may be at the lowest per-unit profit.

Many kinds of businesses deal with such mixes of high and low profit items (or services), mine included. A little music store for instance might make 20% off a guitar or keyboard they sell, but 150% off a set of strings, 300% off picks, or 100% off a woodwind reed.

Whatever the business, manufacturing or retail, you just hope to come up with the right mix so that at the end of the day you can pay your bills and hopefully make profit besides.

Regards,

Rick Clark
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Rick Clark

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#1125786 - 06/06/04 11:39 AM Re: Why are longer pianos so much more expensive than short ones?
Sir Lurksalot Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/19/04
Posts: 1248
Paraphrasing The Piano Book: There are exceptions of course, but in general, people who want a grand piano for furniture and don't even play are looking for something in the 5'0" to 5'6" range. Manufacturers therefore offer lots of lower-quality options in that size. Larger pianos tend to be built for more serious musicians, with better materials and manufacturing techniques.

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#1125787 - 06/06/04 02:00 PM Re: Why are longer pianos so much more expensive than short ones?
dbm Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/24/04
Posts: 166
Divide by two from Nordiska Polished Ebony prices ( to get closer to whole sale ) from Fine's 2003 Supplement:

5'5" : $9180/2 = $4590
6'1" : $10980/2 = $5490

A mere $900 increase for extra 8 inches. ONLY ABOUT $100 PER INCH for Nordiska!! Now look at piano's from Europe, U.S. and Japan! I don't believe that Dongbei of Nordiska is selling their 6'1" at a loss nor do I think that their manufacturing process fundamentally different from the rest. The exponential price change with respect to length has much to do with charging what the market can bear and the supply/demand as Rick and I mentioned earlier. There is nothing wrong with this --- we all need to make a living including suppliers of pianos. Electronics makers are known to go through the extra trouble of disabling certain chip functions to introduce lower priced lines.

Diamond sizes are limited by Nature. LCD display sizes are limited by the current state of manufacturing process. Pianos are man made out of mature carpentry craftsmanship. The scale is relatively small in comparison with most other wood projects.

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#1125788 - 06/06/04 05:37 PM Re: Why are longer pianos so much more expensive than short ones?
Del Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5317
Loc: Olympia, Washington
 Quote:
Originally posted by RKVS1:


[1] Large sound boards and plates have more chance of being rejected than smaller ones, I would think. Likewise, the boards making up the rims would have to be considerably longer, (say maybe 24 feet for a 9 footer instead of the 16 to 17 feet needed for the MH-AA) with more butt-joints and more chances of failures. More chance of warpage on the lids too, perhaps.

[2] Additional and larger jigs (rim benders, soundboard presses) and more physical space needed in the factory would also factor into the equation.

[3] That said, the supply/demand argument is also valid as is JPM's about using the "higest quality stuff".

[4] There ARE some parts on the long piano that may be LESS complex than those on shorter ones. Cantilevered bass bridges, for example, are used on short pianos but not needed on longer ones.

[/b]
[1] Soundboards are made up of individual boards pre-selected for a give panel. There is a lot of ‘waste’ to be sure, but boards rejected for a long soundboard panel might well be used for a shorter panel. I can’t speak for manufacturers, but for us making a soundboard panel for a 9’ piano is about twice as expensive as for a 6’ piano.

Your point about large plates is well taken, but even here it is rare for a plate of any size to be actually rejected. More often, slightly defective plate castings are repaired and placed in production.

Rim veneers are rarely continuous lengths. Most always, except for the very shortest pianos, they are spliced at least once or twice. This is a very low–cost and efficient process. So, while the materials costs will be higher, they are not exorbitantly so. Rims for longer pianos are more difficult to handle, of course. Also, since many fewer are built even by high–volume manufacturers, there will be somewhat more hand labor in them.

With most lids being made of MDF these days, warpage is not really a problem. At least it shouldn’t be. Even with built–up, lumber–core lids such as those used by Steinway I shouldn’t think warpage would be a factor.

[2] These are all good points. Very few concert grand pianos are built even by the most high–volume manufacturers. Building them takes up a lot of floor space and a lot of equipment. I think we can safely discount expenses such as R&D. When compared even to other very stable products relatively little R&D has been done over the years. And much of what is done applies directly to manufacturing machinery and processes — little of which is applied to the low–production concert grand.

[3] I’ve seen little evidence that the highest quality materials are reserved for concert grands. Either a company uses high–quality materials and processes or it doesn’t.

The supply & demand argument is probably the strongest of all. These are highly specialized products and their makers each determine what they believe is an appropriate charge for both the hassle of building them and for their exclusivity. As to whether this cost is justified is for the buyer to decide.

[4] Cantilevered bass bridges are inappropriate on pianos of any size and type, grand or vertical. They can always be designed out of any piano worth building regardless of size. They are a symptom of ancient and misguided design philosophy, not a benefit to performance.

Del
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Piano Research, Design & Manufacturing Consultant
ddfandrich@gmail.com
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Stupidity is a rare condition, ignorance is a common choice. --Anon

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#1125789 - 06/06/04 07:41 PM Re: Why are longer pianos so much more expensive than short ones?
dbm Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/24/04
Posts: 166
Thanks Del for sharing your insights as an industry expert.

Supply/Demand playing a dominant role is something I always suspected in the case of piano length pricing but could never quantitatively verify without first hand experience.

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#1125790 - 06/06/04 11:13 PM Re: Why are longer pianos so much more expensive than short ones?
RKVS1 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/07/01
Posts: 3192
Loc: Topeka, Kansas
Del, first of all, thanks for your earlier response.

I'm curious about the reservations you have about cantilevered bridges.

I was surprised when I first learned of their existence, not very long ago.

The first things I worried about were:

1. the bridge itself breaking under the string downbearing load (the magnitude of which I really don't have a clue about .....tangent (or some trig function to be named later) of some small unknown angle times large unknown string tension = clueless)

2. the bridge breaking loose from its soundboard anchors due to the moment arm

3. the moment of the bridge distorting or twisting the soundboard somewhat

4. any of these things happening at a date farther in the future

5. repair or replacement difficulties due to presence of existing anchor screw holes (wild guess here)

6. different energy transfer due to the different configuration (another wild guess)

I understood the reason for using them, i.e. getting a longer speaking length on the string while keeping the bridge/soundboard 'coupling point' away from the edges of the soundboard. (my recollection of the reasoning given)

Once I started looking for them I found them on a wide variety of makes below 7' or so.

So, my questions would be
1. what's the longest cantilever that you've heard of?

2. what are the performance or maintenance problems you would be most concerned about?

3. What are some ballpark figures for the total downward force exerted by the strings to the bridge and soundboard? I mean 200 strings x 3 pounds/string adds up to a pretty good load. Or are we talking more like 200 to 500 grams or so per string here?

4. Which piano makers DON'T use them on their shorter models and what kind of adjustments must they make to avoid them.

No huge rush on this, you can go ahead and eat supper. \:\) And you can ignore the last question (#4) if its too long an answer.

Del's earlier quote:
4] Cantilevered bass bridges are inappropriate on pianos of any size and type, grand or vertical. They can always be designed out of any piano worth building regardless of size. They are a symptom of ancient and misguided design philosophy, not a benefit to performance.

bob

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#1125791 - 06/07/04 10:46 AM Re: Why are longer pianos so much more expensive than short ones?
Rick Clark Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/04/03
Posts: 1810
Loc: North County San Diego CA
Before anyone gets carried away worrying about cantilevered bass bridges, lets keep in mind that this has been done for a very long time and many great-sounding pianos have them.

The only one I personally saw that failed was in a piano that had storm damage and had water on the soundboard for a long time. Nevertheless it was a clean disconnect and was successfully reglued.

I think Del is developing his own philosophy as a piano designer, and that is great. Hopefully it will lead to noticeable improvements in design. He has criticized other common piano designs here before, some of them in great pianos. This is all well and good and it's what new ideas are all about.

But my point is at the end of the day we are listening to *music* and if a piano proves itself to be a worthy musical instrument, don't be concerned if it has a feature or design concept deemed by someone else to be unworthy.

Regards,

Rick Clark
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#1125792 - 06/07/04 12:41 PM Re: Why are longer pianos so much more expensive than short ones?
Del Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/04/03
Posts: 5317
Loc: Olympia, Washington
 Quote:
Originally posted by Rick Clark:
Before anyone gets carried away worrying about cantilevered bass bridges, lets keep in mind that this has been done for a very long time and many great-sounding pianos have them.

The only one I personally saw that failed was in a piano that had storm damage and had water on the soundboard for a long time. Nevertheless it was a clean disconnect and was successfully reglued.

I think Del is developing his own philosophy as a piano designer, and that is great. Hopefully it will lead to noticeable improvements in design. He has criticized other common piano designs here before, some of them in great pianos. This is all well and good and it's what new ideas are all about.

But my point is at the end of the day we are listening to *music* and if a piano proves itself to be a worthy musical instrument, don't be concerned if it has a feature or design concept deemed by someone else to be unworthy.

Regards,

Rick Clark [/b]
While I have encountered several failures of cantilever bridge systems over the years, my objection to them is not structural. They can be structurally weak but most often they are built reasonably well and generally function for decades without catastrophic failures. They can, however, create significant distortion in the soundboard assembly around their mounting point and, while this does not constitute catastrophic structural failure, it is indicative of the problems inherent to the design.

As you say, “many great sounding pianos have them.” For the most part, however, we base our perceptions of piano performance on the middle two–thirds to three–fourths of the piano compass and make any number of creative excuses for the sound of the low bass. So, while I agree that one should not worry overly much about specific design and/or structural ‘features’ if the piano sounds musically satisfying to the ear, I would argue that even your “great–sounding pianos” would have a better sounding low bass with the bass bridge cantilever was designed out of the system.

My objections to the bass bridge cantilever are two–fold:
First, they are inherently a weak and flexible structure and are exceptionally inefficient at performing their primary task — transferring very low–frequency energy from the strings to the soundboard assembly and creating within that soundboard assembly the type of physical motion necessary to create very low–frequency sound energy. Instead, they tend to absorb the low frequency energy from the strings and dissipate it as heat within the inherently flexible cantilever. Their attachment to the soundboard provides inherently loose coupling between the bridge and the soundboard assembly creating a bending, or rotating motion in the soundboard rather than a purely vertical motion, thus wasting more low–frequency energy. The next time you have a set of bass strings off of a piano possessing a cantilever wiggle it up and down a bit and than ponder just how that mechanism is supposed to transfer efficiently any significant amount of low–frequency energy from the strings to the soundboard assembly.

Second, they are based on the false string scale design premise that longer bass strings are always advantageous and disregarding or over–riding all other fundamental design principles. This is simply incorrect. Within a given piano length the speaking length of the lowest bass strings must be balanced against the mobility requirements of the bridge and soundboard assembly in terms of the overall system’s ability to generate low–frequency sound energy. Increasing the speaking length of the lowest bass strings beyond some reasonable maximum always comes at the expense of the backscale length. As the backscale length becomes shorter the mobility of the bass bridge assembly becomes evermore restricted and system rapidly becomes physically incapable of producing any significant motion at low frequencies. Hence the choked, nasal tone quality of the small piano in the low bass and, sometimes, the mid-bass.

Del
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ddfandrich@gmail.com
(To contact me privately please use this e-mail address.)

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#1125793 - 06/07/04 04:29 PM Re: Why are longer pianos so much more expensive than short ones?
jazpianizt Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/22/04
Posts: 411
Please help me understand something - I'm having a hard time correlating the supply/demand effect of concert grands as discussed in this thread and in previous threads about the price of used concert grands.
In this thread, Del said:
 Quote:
The supply & demand argument is probably the strongest of all
in response to why the larger pianos are so expensive. In simple economic terms, this means relatively limited supply, higher demand, leading to higher market prices, correct? (With the assumption that the market is somewhat inelastic - i.e. those that want the pianos are willing to pay the higher price, and the piano manufacturers are unlikely to increase production significantly to take advantage of the high market price, which would force prices down).
On the other hand, in previous threads, I've understood folks to say that used concert grands are very difficult to sell and therefore are discounted deeply or in some cases even given away for write-offs.
In economic terms, this would indicate that the supply/demand ratio has, in a sense, reversed itself - too much supply, not enough demand, forcing prices down.
There's only two ways I can rationalize this:
1. Concert grands depreciate faster than normal pianos, perhaps because of heavier use or poorer care (not sure I buy either of those ideas, on average).
2. They are separate markets which respond more or less independently, so the number or price of used concert grands does not affect the market for new concert grands.
Maybe I'm missing something, but I'm guessing the second is the case. Makes me think that for the person who has the room/desire to own a concert grand, there must be some dynamite deals in the 10-20 year old bracket.

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#1125794 - 06/07/04 06:13 PM Re: Why are longer pianos so much more expensive than short ones?
RKVS1 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/07/01
Posts: 3192
Loc: Topeka, Kansas
I saw a "young" (less than 10) S&S D in Wisconsin priced at $55. Some finish scuffs were the only obvious problems.

(Before I ask if thats pretty good price, I should probably go back and add that 'k' behind the $55.) \:\)

bob

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#1125795 - 08/01/05 12:10 AM Re: Why are longer pianos so much more expensive than short ones?
obsessed Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 07/13/05
Posts: 4
Loc: Northern Virginia
i just dont buy the suppy argument. If steinway made a 7 ft for 5k more than an s, do you think people coulnet find two feet in any house that can afford a steinway in the first place.

As stated earlier, I believe it has everything to do with the extreme difficulty in finding wood that meets the specs of these top manufacturers at larger levels. The cheap pianos, chinese and the like have no such difficult specs, such as certain numbers of wood grain and maintaining a cerain directional orientation over a long space, so they can sale a piano 8 inchers larger for only 800 dollars more? thoughts.

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#1125796 - 08/01/05 02:30 PM Re: Why are longer pianos so much more expensive than short ones?
Ancient Upright Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 384
 Quote:
Originally posted by Axtremus:
It's like... why are bigger diamonds so much more expensive than smaller ones... I guess. ;\) [/b]
Yeah, it just makes sense. Why buy a small one if you can get the bigger one for the same price? :p
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#1179192 - 04/12/09 06:01 PM Re: Why are longer pianos so much more expensive than short ones? [Re: apple*]
pianoloverus Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19598
Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: apple*
That's the question


Actually, if you take the Fine MSRP and divide by the length the difference in price/inch isn't that big. Comparing the Mason A, AA and BB the largest price/inch difference is around $53 which is between the A and AA. The AA and BB have virtually the same price/inch cost with the BB being slightly less.

I've always thought the bigger models for a given manufacturer were better "values", but maybe because I don't particularly like the sound of smaller ones.


Edited by pianoloverus (04/12/09 06:08 PM)

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Are there any upright owners who leave the front open?
by harpon
11/29/14 01:00 AM
They don't call him the 'Poet of the Piano' for nothing!
by JoelW
11/28/14 11:53 PM
Steinway rebuild question
by schlaigs
11/28/14 10:00 PM
Baldwin Hamilton Hammer Butt and Back Stop Leather
by Ryan Hassell
11/28/14 09:55 PM
Please help me to find out the pattern of this Cdim7
by SZ54
11/28/14 08:12 PM
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