I just had another stark “experience replaces belief” thing happen. Last week I sat down and played a 1993 Steinway “L,” really listened to it, felt it, “grokked” it, as I’ve learned to do so quickly after 40 years. Normal living room, carpet underneath, nice spacious house, nice mix of hard and soft surfaces. The piano sounded rich and golden. The action felt light and fast. Definitely a sweet, crisp playing/listening experience. Very noticeable singing quality from the soundboard; warm, rich, thick yet clear tones all across the piano, with the “heavenly bells effect” in the high treble. Incredible near-field enjoyment.

A few days later, after I broker the sale of this piano from one fine human being to another…that’s an epic story for the next blog, perhaps….it’s installed in the new owner’s home: modern, angular, stone floor, SUPER-spacious, bit of an echo. I sat down and played it.

The radical difference hit me like a whack in the sternum. This piano was a bit stiff, with a harsh, metallic tone. Still a lot of sustain, but the piano sounded and felt completely different. Still excellent, still well within the domain of “wonderful piano”…but so, so changed perceptually.

Which is my whole point. After a day of work—it was originally set up by a really good tech, but has lain untouched for a good fifteen years—that radical difference, that psychoacoustic illusion, will change. This beautiful “L” will sound sweeter and fuller in the harsher sonic environment of the new house; we will maximize the piano’s ability to sing. The action will, again, feel light and fast.
The player’s inititial “take” on the piano will be way, way different.

The takeaway? Your perception of a piano’s tone and touch is not final, and may not even be relevant. When choosing a piano, take your time. Move it around. Have a wonderful tech do her magic. Get the full story.
Don’t make final decisions based on initial impressions; remember the weird magic….