Spec Blindness and How to Avoid it

What in the world am I talking about? Spec Blindness? Let me explain. Spec Blindness is a particular phenomenon that is often exhibited by the prospective piano buyer who feels overwhelmed by the task of selecting the right instrument. Contributing factors are internet research, advice from friends, persuasive salespeople, and fear of making the wrong decision. We've all been to the piano store where there is row upon row of very similar looking pianos with vastly different price tags. How can you as a potential piano buyer find the right one and not be blinded by meaningless information.

Fear not. It's not a terminal condition. Some years ago, when I was a piano store owner and authorized dealer for a well know piano maker from New York, I had a competitor that often took advantage of people's lack of knowledge. He would fill their heads with all kinds of very important sounding piano terms that, according to him, were critical to the selection process. They would come into my store, spouting off these terms, clearly with no understanding of what they meant. When they had finished talking I would simply ask them what it meant to have a sand cast plate. What made it so good and what did that even mean? Why is having the longest #1 bass string important? Are more back posts better than fewer or is it the other way around? They never had an answer because the "features" had never been explained to them. The terms sounded good but what did it all mean? 

After years in the sales end of the piano industry, I have become pretty good at reading when a pianist has found the right instrument. You can read it in their face. There is no one piano that is right for everyone, just like there is no one correct flavor of ice cream. Each person has their own taste when it comes to what kind of sound they like. I have had pianos in my store over the years that I wouldn't have put in my own home on a dare. I hated the way they sounded. Yuck! But that doesn't make them bad pianos. It just means that none of them will be my piano. Trust yourself in this part of the process. It's easy to be overwhelmed by industry lingo when you are on unfamiliar ground. Many of the specifications are based on what seems like sound principles or science, but a piano is a musical instrument, not a piece of lab equipment. Its purpose is not to be the best collection of specifications, it's purpose is to make music. Here's the biggest question you should be asking: How does it sound? I really don't care about all the specifications listed in the brochure. How does it sound? Specifications listed in a brochure don't make music, a musician with an instrument does. Find something you like the sound of. 

Certainly take advice from someone knowledgeable in the piano industry when it comes to the condition or soundness of the instrument. A piano technician is a great place to start. Find a piano that you like, and then pay a technician to give it a look to make sure everything is in working order. Try to stay out of the trap of specifications and even brand names. There are many companies out there making very nice pianos today, but just because it has a name on it that you recognize and is reputable doesn't mean that the one you're looking at is a good instrument for you. If you don't like the sound and feel of it, don't buy it thinking the problem must be with you. 

As part of my role as dealer for the NY piano maker, I provided concert pianos for touring artists and organizations that required the use of a top quality instrument. I had three of the same model of concert piano available to these artists and it was often interesting to see their assessment of them. They would come to the store to pick which one they wanted for their performance. After playing all three they would offer their opinions about each one. "This one is fantastic, it's the one I will use. That other one is unfit for any kind of performance. It's terrible!", or some version of that. They were identical in every measurable way; same make, model, color, size, materials, age. Everything! Yet it seemed that no two artists could agree. I have often joked that if you had ten top level pianists compare ten "identical" pianos, there would be eleven opinions as to which was best because nine would each have a favorite and the other one couldn't make up their mind.

Don't worry about liking a piano that the salesman doesn't pick out as his or her favorite. Don't worry about picking a piano that your neighbor or piano playing friend doesn't prefer. It's your money, pick the one that speaks to you. It will give you the most enjoyment. I made it a point in my sales pitch to ask each person "Do you like it?". I never wanted to sell anyone a piano that they didn't like. Trust yourself. 

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The opinions and information contained in this blog are for informational purposes only. For information on your specific situation, please contact your personal piano technician.