Local man tells all about pianos

Jillian Taratunio

Whether a person is looking to get a new, used or restored piano, “Acoustic and Digital Piano Buyer” provides the prospective buyer with information that acts “more as a guide than a critic,” according to 30-year Jamaica Plain resident Larry Fine, the book’s editor-in-chief and publisher who once worked with Robert Moog, inventor of the Moog Synthesizer.

“Piano Buyer” is an online book that contains articles that describe various topics a person needs to understand when buying a piano. The book also contains pricing information and brand-by-brand profiles of companies. The digital book, which can be downloaded in a print version for a fee, gets updated twice a year.

Though launched in August, 2009, “The Piano Buyer” has a long history. Fine wrote and published “The Piano Book,” which also helped consumers shop for pianos, through his own publishing company in 1987. It went through four editions, and became the standard consumer reference book in the piano business.

In 1996, Fine began publishing an annual supplement, which included updated reviews and prices of each brand. “Piano Buyer,” replaces the supplement.

Fine is a registered piano technician and worked in the field for 12 years. Though he used to play piano, he doesn’t any more, he told the Gazette. But he still loves the instrument. “A piano becomes more than just a tool to make music. It’s something people come to fall in love with,” said Fine.

For US consumption, pianos are made in 12 countries by 30 companies for approximately 70 brand names. The used piano market is several times larger than the new piano market and is comprised of thousands of brands, according to Fine. Each piano has its own characteristics, he said. Pianos can cost from $2,000 to $200,000.

“The piano is a 19th century mechanism that few people know anything about. Normally, if you want to buy something, you can turn to different people or books for advice. However, there are few sources you can go to when buying a piano. There is very little information out there about the current piano market,” said Fine.

Fine conducted his own research for both books. Contributors to “Piano Buyer” include manufacturers, dealers, experienced piano technicians and people with expertise in a particular subject. Alden Skinner, who is an expert on digital pianos, co-edited the book.

Fine turned to an advertising-based business model in creating “Piano Buyer.” “Piano manufacturers often don’t advertise, so it can be difficult for them to reach potential customers,” said Fine. “Piano Buyer” features ads from a range of different companies.

His work has given Fine some interesting experiences. While he was putting together his first book and tuning pianos, he got a call from Robert Moog, who invented the Moog Synthesizer, an advanced method of generating sound electronically.

“He asked if I would work with him on a short project,” Fine remembered. “It ended up lasting for more than two years. He’s a fabulous person. I enjoyed getting to know him. It was one of the best gigs I’ve ever had.”

In an e-mail, Fine said that in the 1980s, Moog was asked by several musicians who specialized in electronic music—most notably John Eaton at the University of Chicago—to design and build a keyboard that would provide additional options for the control of musical parameters, above and beyond those that could already be controlled on a traditional keyboard (which note is played and how fast it is pressed). The result was the Multiple Touch Sensitive Keyboard. “Moog hired me to help him build these instruments, and we worked on them in his basement workshop on weekends for over two years when Moog lived in Natick.”

“Piano Buyer” is available for free digitally at www.pianobuyer.com. The website also includes a list of 3,000 models of pianos in a free, searchable database. Print copies are available for sale on the web site and in bookstores.

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