That is a beautiful piano. Is it restored or new?
Can you articulate more the distinctions between the pianos? I too would love to know what to look out for.
The Cunningham was new. The pianos in the workshop were restorations of pianos that were not for sale. I also played a restored Baldwin and a Kawai in the group of potential reasonable choices, but there are no pictures of them. I didn't like either one that much, but both were eons better than what I have so it was initially hard to figure out that I did not like them enough to want to buy them.
But as for the actual distinctions, I think what surprised me most was how easy it was to feel the difference in responsiveness. I wasn't fighting it in the way I would fight with my old upright to move through faster notes without bringing up the assertiveness of the sound, whether or not such a change is warranted at that moment, if that makes any sense. Grace notes don't jump out because you don't have to dig in to get them in the first place. The keys don't bottom out on trills. Similar pressure makes similar sound no matter where you are on the keyboard. Things that I presume people who own nice pianos reasonably expect out of pretty much any piano worth bothering to play.
The better the piano got, the easier it was to shape the sound the way you wanted to, rather than having the sound being driven primarily by the note itself, if that makes any sense.
Of course, I'm coming back to this after over 20 years of not playing, so while all the expression is there, the technicality is most certainly not. I abandoned a favorite sonata I used to love and stuck with a much simpler piece that I could reliably play on various pianos without too much attention to it so I could concentrate on the sound and whether or not I could modulate the shape of it more easily/enjoyably or not. Not a whole lot there, but enough to get a reasonable sense of it.
The 5'4" lacked a sensitivity and range that was easily coming out of the 5'10", which meant that more effort was required with lower payoff in expression, but neither held a candle to several other pianos that were there. Not that they were intending to compete with it (one of them was more than 15 times
the price), but I felt like I wanted to know where the outer limit was, at least with respect to something my own very low skill level could elicit. And even I could tell. The smoothness of it, and the evenness across the keys was remarkable on the really terrific pianos. And there was some inevitable variation in the pianos that were on the lower end that I could hear, and when I played, could really feel. Now, my guess is, the better you get, the more those differences become relevant. That while I could note and appreciate
differences, after a certain point, those differences were not going to be terribly problematic for me, but would be for someone of a higher skill level.
So my aim was to sort of identify a floor of sensitivity and responsiveness and evenness, below which I would prefer not to drop, so that the piano I get is something I will enjoy for a long time to come without wishing I'd just sprung for something better rather than letting the fact that pretty much anything is better than my crappy upright push everything into the category of "omg, a dramatic improvement!" Which is difficult to do. I could easily make a mistake here simply by virtue of lack of skill and lack of experience with anything reasonably tolerable, and regret it later when I'm again frustrated with an instrument that isn't doing what I want it to. But assuming I do manage to figure that out, to identify, among those that really have a sufficient amount of sensitivity and range, ones that have a tone and sound that I like and can see enjoying the sound I can make from it.
I'm going to go try out a few more pianos and see whether or not going up in price not $100,000 but perhaps only $5,000 or 10,000 really changes things. Cunningham was hobbled a bit by a lack of stock in pianos that could be reasonably grouped with the 178, so all I could really do was make sure I liked it, and then just test the outer limits once you jump up to crazyland in a Bosendorfer. If I can add some pianos just above the head of the Cunningham, I can probably start figuring out where my sweet spot is for a piano. At some point the improvements relative to the price increase is going to level out and I'll simply be...overpaying. The trick is making sure you are not underestimating where that line is because of course you might simply mistake it for being out of your skill level or too difficult/frustrating to play or learn when you just don't have an instrument
that's good enough. I know that was ultimately what drove me to give up piano all those years ago. I really thought that certain types of expression or phrasing were unmasterable by me. Turns out my piano sucks. Now it would be a logical fallacy to take that to mean that if it sucked, I did not, because I may still ALSO suck, but since it sucked worse than me I was not able to determine what I could have reasonably hoped to improve on, I guess is the take-home lesson here, heh.
So, long story only slight less long, I was pleasantly surprised to find I had opinions, and I could tell. That certain pianos made me want to work hard and lose myself in the exercise of it and would be a real tangibly positive addition to my life. Heck, as bad as my current piano is, I still can sit down and play for an hour or two and while it's frustrating in most regards and in 20 years I have never seriously tried to get better because there's little satisfaction in the endeavor as a whole, there are moments
when I love it, and I just wish I had a better piano so that those moments weren't so fleeting. And then make even more of them by wanting to work hard at finally improving my skills.
Perfect 40th birthday gift to myself.