If you’re like most people these days, you like to do a little online research before physically going out to shop for a piano. It just makes sense with all the information at your fingertips.  Why not do what you always do when you want to buy something nice and fire up Google to find out what is available and what people are saying about the products you’re interested in? There has to be a bunch of experts out there willing to post their informed opinions on the pros and cons of the world’s best instruments, right?

cheap keyboard with 5-star Amazon review

It doesn’t have all the keys, they keys aren’t the right size, the app and free trial didn’t work, and the entire thing is only $67, but it has more than 26,000 5-Star ratings. Horrifying.  (Click or press to see full-size image)

There might be, but there are even more people who think of themselves as “experts”  when they have little or no real knowledge about the piano business. Some operate from outdated stereotypes, personal bias, and even bad assumptions based on their very limited experience with pianos (Driving a car doesn’t make you an expert on cars anymore than playing a piano makes you a piano expert).  In fact, we see hordes of people who don’t know the first thing about pianos, piano lessons or music technology, but – since they want to feel good about the purchase they made or because the company incentivized them to do so – they choose to leave a review. We see it all the time on Amazon.  People who don’t even play bought a $85 keyboard for their 4-year-old and – since their kid loves it – they leave a 5-star review! Some of them even say “This is the perfect piano! It feels great and sounds even better!” but – since they have never actually played a piano and they have no idea what a good instrument sounds and feels like, they aren’t qualified to make that kind of judgement.  …and, thus, folks who read these reviews are often left thinking that the very same $85 keyboard would be a “perfect piano” for their beginning student when, in truth, the feel and sound are absolutely terrible and will damage a student’s playing technique over time.  So how do you sift through all the unqualified opinions, bad information and outright bias to find useful information?

Business offering to pay for a 5-star review

Here’s an example of a piano store in Phoenix offering $10 Starbucks gift cards for Google reviews. This practice is dishonest and illegal. How can anyone trust a business that does this?  (Click or press to see full-sized image)

Honestly, it’s not as easy as it should be. In the last 25 years, companies like Google, Yahoo, Amazon, and Yelp have built a huge online review ecosystem. There is no moderation, no oversight and anyone, – yes anyone – can leave a review.  Some sights don’t even require proof of purchase! Originally, the intent was for shoppers to look at the reviews with a healthy skepticism and look for trends or patterns in who is saying what about a given product.  …but, unfortunately, most Americans just read the headlines.  They don’t take the time to analyze online reviews and determine whether or not the review has a similar set of needs.  They just look at the number of stars.    Even worse, people have flooded these platforms with fake reviews.  Google alone reported having removed over 55 million fake reviews in 2020 alone… but which ones did they miss?  How many were made up by the manufacturers or retailers themselves?  How many of the reviews were posted by people who actually bought the product?  Did the same person leave several reviews for different pianos on the same day?  How does that make sense?  We’ve even seen piano stores offer money, gift cards or other incentives so people will leave them 5-star reviews and artificially inflate their online reputation!  There’s quite a bit of nonsense going on in the “online review” space and the truth is – you have to take EVERY review with a grain of salt.

Arizona piano store pays for Google reviews

This Facebook post is a real mess. When one store finds out another one is purchasing Google reviews, they decide to pay for some of their own with a $100 gift card raffle. Now you can’t trust either of them!  (Click or press to see full-size image)

Another unfortunate reality in the piano business is the “affiliate” program.  Many of the websites that offer digital piano reviews actually make money when you click on their links!  Thankfully, this one is easy to spot.  When you see a “review website” recommending a product, then you know it’s making money from that recommendation.  The “review website” might even claim to have special discounts or bundle deals with local stores or manufacturers.  That’s how you know the review website has a “horse in the race” (so-to-speak). These are SALESPEOPLE disguising themselves as independent piano reviewers!  …and – if they don’t honestly represent themselves or their intentions – can you really trust their advice?  Even if you don’t buy something from them, once you follow their links, they get paid simply for referring you to another website!

So, at this point, it may seem like I’m telling you not to trust online piano reviews because they don’t offer you much value, and let me assure you THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT I MEAN!  …and I am not alone.  Even the Federal Trade Commission warns against trusting online reviews! (October, 2022 report)

piano review website offering low prices

Here’s an example of a “review website” offering rock-bottom pricing on the products they are supposedly reviewing. How can you trust a company that isn’t honest about their business model?  (Click or press to see full-size image)

You simply can’t shop for a piano or digital piano based on reviews alone.  There is no way for you to know what a piano feels or like by reading a spec sheet and you can’t tell what it really sounds like by listening to it on your computer speakers or your phone. You can certainly use a combination of dealer websites, manufacturer pages and advice from your local piano tech, but you absolutely should not base your buying decisions solely on the opinions of strangers.  You should shop for a piano the old-fashioned way – by SHOPPING FOR A PIANO YOURSELF! Get out there and find a piano store! Touch the pianos – even if you don’t play.  You’ll still be able to feel a difference from one piano to another! Play a number of pianos and see which type of sound most appeals to you!  You’ll know what you like!  …and – if you do business with a company that is invested in your success (ie – depends on your “word of mouth” support like a local piano store does) – then you’re most likely to get the best piano at the best price possible.

The Truth About Piano Reviews is this:  They’re worthless.  You’ll get far more value considering reviews of local piano STORES because – at least then – you’re hearing from folks like you who found a piano or digital piano and felt strongly enough about it to share their experience online. That’s far better than sifting through countless unqualified reviews from parents who just wanted a toy for their 4-year-old.