It's time. I've been putting this article off for a while because I know it won't make me any friends, but facts are facts and someone has to say it.
A spinet is not a piano. Keyboards are also not pianos. They resemble pianos, they try to look like pianos, they have certain traits that are similar to pianos, but they are not pianos.
While an exact date cannot be tied to the invention of the spinet, they were generally popularized in the '50s when people started leading more mobilized lifestyles. A spinet is about waist high, perhaps 40-42 inches. To make a piano this short (compare that size with the monstrous uprights our grandparents had), piano manufacturers had to shove all of the inner workings of the piano (what we call the "action") down below the keys in an inaccessible area of the piano.
In this photo, you can see the keys extending into the piano, and the very top of the hammer is just slightly lower than the keys:
Here is a photo of what all other upright pianos look like:
Because of the tight spacing of spinets, a simple repair that would normally take five minutes on an upright piano can easily turn into a two-hour ordeal. Also because of how short they are, spinets are incapable of being tuned to sound reasonably "good." I realize that this is a bit subjective and you'll likely say, "Well, I can't hear that well anyway," but I would challenge you on this point. I have worked with hundreds of people who have all said, "I won't be able to hear a difference between a good piano and a bad one," and every single one can once they hear what a piano is actually supposed to sound like. You probably just think that because you don't typically wander in and out of piano stores testing their thirty different pianos that range in size and quality. It's the same thing as saying, "I can't tell a difference between ground beef and a top sirloin so I'll just eat ground beef all the time." You can tell a difference. You just may not be able to afford to eat the top sirloin all the time.
The design of spinets and the quality with which they were built put it in the category of a "starter piano;" something that would work for a few years but was meant to be traded back in for a bigger, "real" piano. Spinet manufacturing ended in the early '80s when the keyboard started to become a viable option for those who wanted to start with piano but didn't want to invest in a large, heavy instrument yet. That's right, a keyboard is a far better option than a spinet.
For some reason, most people did not get the memo that the spinet was not supposed to last more than twenty years or so, and the American used market is absolutely flooded with spinets posted for free or "cheap," ready to go to new owners as if it is something worth having. Some spinets are even posted for exorbitant amounts of money because the owners think it has value as an "antique!"
Let's do the math here: If spinet manufacturing ended in the '80s, and they were only designed to last twenty years, then the last spinet should have gone "away" (Do I still need to parse words here? I think not. They should have gone to the dump.) in the early 2000s. And here we are, twenty years later, still trading them back and forth on Craigslist and Facebook, calling technicians to come to tune them, and struggling to keep them limping along.
Let's do some more math. If spinets should all be in the dump, and you call someone to tune it, you have just invested over $100 on something that has absolutely no value. At this point, all spinets are falling apart and there's going to be some repair needed on them which means you'll have to pay for more than just a tuning, and the repair costs are large because they take SO LONG to disassemble.
It's for this reason I no longer service spinets. I cannot sleep at night if I take money for a service that is not of value. And trust me, there is no shortage of better, reasonably priced pianos in the world that can easily replace your spinet.
If you're looking for a cheap piano but aren't sure how to identify a spinet, look to see if the music desk is taller than the piano:
That's a spinet, and there are hundreds of them online for free from people who may not know that they are setting someone up for a very bad day.
Look for pianos that are at least this tall:
Once you have determined that the piano you are interested in is NOT a spinet, then be sure to call a technician to evaluate it before proceeding with a purchase.
And if you happen to have a spinet that you're thinking of passing along to the next "worthy family," give me a call - I have a wonderful moving company I can recommend...