While every musical instrument has its own strengths and weaknesses, in the eyes of many, the piano reigns supreme. While it is a relatively easy instrument to play, mastering the piano is a different task altogether. It takes years, an almost-obsessive amount of practice and a high level of dexterity and coordination to become a skilled pianist.
More than that, the piano simply has no equal in its ability to convey the range of human emotions, as evidenced by some of the greatest musical compositions in history. Works such as Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G Minor Op. 23 No. 5, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata No. 28 in A major, Op. 101, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Concerto No. 1 in B-flat minor, Op. 23, are monumental pieces of music that can be neither fully appreciated nor experienced using any other musical instruments.
Some believe that the combination of the depth and breadth of the natural metal string acoustics and the systematic keyboard arrangement gives pianos an advantage over other instruments. For the uninitiated, pianos are the pinnacle of the chordophone family, a natural end evolution of the hammered dulcimer, clavichord and harpsichord.
Pianos, essentially, generate sound when we hit the keys on the keyboard. That action will launch tiny padded hammers that strike an array of metal or steel strings, which proceed to generate acoustic vibrations, similar to other string instruments. However, pianos deliver far richer sounds owing to the protective outer case and the internal bridge and soundboard.
Experts have long recognized that the sound quality of a piano is dependent on the materials used to build them. Due to their long lifespan and low depreciation, the prices of good and well maintained pianos will easily last throughout the lifetime of a typical owner. In fact, some last several lifetimes. This is why pianos are among the most expensive musical instruments today.
In addition, ownership by celebrated and distinguished personalities, workmanship and historicity could also drive the prices of pianos into stratospheric heights. How high? Check out our compilation of the ten most expensive pianos that money can buy.
10 Fazioli Brunei, $400,000
Established by pianist and mechanical engineer Paolo Fazioli 32 years ago, Italian-based Fazioli Pianoforti is one of the most respected handmade piano manufacturers in the world. Paolo assembled a team of experts, which included experts in the fields of wood technology and musical acoustics, to construct pianos that have since been used in many of the most acclaimed concert halls on the planet. Focusing on quality instead of quantity, Fazioli’s greatest achievement thus far comes in the form of the Fazioli Concert Grand Brunei, an exquisite 10 ft. 2 in masterpiece that can be yours for as little as $400,000.
9 La Mort du Cygne, Erard: $409,000
This carved mahogany Erard piano, named The Dying Swan, was specially customized by French artists Louis Majorelle and Victor Prouve, well-known figures in the Art Nouveau movements of the early 20th century. Built in 1906, the baby grand, featuring a fruitwood veneer inlay, was one of the 130 items belonging to the Garden Museum in Nagoya, Japan which was auctioned off in 2013.
8 The Casablanca Piano, Richardson’s Inc.: $602,500
With its faded yellow-green finish, the piano isn’t really much to look at. However, it holds an enormous sentimental value for the legion of Casablanca fans. Built by Richardson’s Inc., the upright studio piano was featured alongside Hollywood icons Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in one of the most memorable movie scenes of all time - the "As Time Goes By" act in the legendary Casablanca. Play it again, Sam…
7 Marilyn Monroe’s Baby Grand Piano: $662,500
In her 1974 posthumous autobiography, 60's sex icon Marilyn Monroe explained how she tracked down the piano which had been sold years earlier after her mother Gladys, the owner of the piano, was admitted to the Norwalk State Hospital following a nervous breakdown.
The baby grand of an unknown manufacturer was listed for sale in a Christie’s auction in 1999 along with other Monroe memorabilia. In a high profile auction, pop star Mariah Carey emerged the victor with a winning bid of $662,500.
6 Kuhn Bösendorfer Grand Piano, $1.2 Million
What do you get when you combine the exquisite acoustics of a Bösendorfer grand piano with the brilliance of the world’s greatest glass sculptor, Jon Kuhn? You will naturally end up with a gorgeous jet-black limited edition Kuhn-Bösendorfer.
Listed for sale at $1.2 million, the 7 ft. 4 in. piano features an astonishing 100,000 polished jewels of various shaped and sizes in 200 geometric patterns on its body. True to tradition, Austria-based L. Bösendorfer Klavierfabrik has inscribed Kuhn’s name in gold leaf on the piano. Plans are already afoot to build a $3.5 million 9 ft. 6 in. imperial concert grand version of the piano.
5 Galaxy Piano: $1.36 Million
Galaxy Piano, built by a United Arab Emirates-based firm of the same name, is designed for the most discerning of clients. Using internal parts ordered directly from manufacturers in Germany, the Galaxy Piano features 24-carat gold plated fiberglass body, automatic lid (cover), curved keys (the only one in the world) and gold-plated embedded figurines. Special flight cases are also constructed for the pianos, owing to the fact that most of its customers are based out of the country. Interestingly, the company is positioning itself as a luxury item provider, instead of a musical instrument seller.
4 Sound of Harmony Concert Grand, Steinway & Sons: $1.63 Million
The Sound of Harmony was specially built and customized by Steinway for Chinese art collector Guo Qingxiang in 2007. The construction of the art case concert grand took three painstaking years to complete. The final product features an astounding level of craftsmanship and a rich acoustic quality courtesy of the specially designed soundboard, which was built using 40 layers of different woods from around the world. Celebrated Chinese artist Shi Qi also contributed to the design with an inlaid ink-wash image of a peacock. To top it all off, the Steinway logo and the piano name was imprinted on the piano using real gold.
3 “Red Pops for (RED)” Parlor Grand Piano, Steinway & Sons: $1.925 Million
U2’s frontman Bono engaged the assistance of designers Sir Jonathan Ive and Marc Newson earlier in 2013 to raise money for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Africa. The resulting star-studded (RED) Auction held in New York on November 25 managed to raise an incredible $26 million for the cause.
The star of the evening though was undoubtedly the heavily-customized and strikingly beautiful Steinway’s Red Pops for (RED) parlor grand piano. With its eye-catching red and white finish, the piano was also the evening’s most expensive item, securing a $1.925 million winning bid from billionaire philanthropist Stewart Rahr.
2 John Lennon’s Steinway & Sons Model Z: $2.37 Million
The piano that John Lennon used to compose his signature track, "Imagine", went under the block in 2009 and immediately drew the attention of the glitterati. The piano, which Lennon purchased for just £1,500 ($2,456) in 1970 as a gift to his wife, was eventually won by another British pop star, George Michael, for £1.45 million ($2.37 million).
Michael, who jokingly referred to the upright grand as “funny-looking” and “the cheapest-looking piano you’ve ever seen”, promptly sent the Model Z to the Beatles Story museum in Liverpool for public display.
1 Crystal Piano, Heintzman: $3.22 Million
Designed by Canadian piano manufacturer Heintzman Pianos, this exquisitely-crafted instrument with a transparent crystal body was exclusively built for performances in large concert halls. It was introduced to the world when Chinese pianist Lang Lang played a rendition of the Yellow River Cantata to a global audience of almost a billion during the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.
The Crystal Piano was subsequently sold at an auction to an unnamed bidder for a record-breaking sum of $3.22 million.