Diane Lillibridge, a suburban mother, and Barry Larkin, the Cincinnati Reds shortstop, are the kinds of customers piano makers dream about - and are finding more and more.

Lillibridge has a family of musicians and has three pianos in her home. Nobody in Larkin's family plays, but he bought a self-playing baby grand for home entertainment.After two decades of declining sales, piano makers had a fortissimo year in 1997. They sold 165,700 pianos, a 16 percent increase and the biggest one-year jump since piano sales peaked at 275,000 in 1978.

Who are these people who spent $880 million on pianos last year?

They're not just baby boomers buying pianos for their kids, said Dennis Duvall, Cincinnati division manager for Baldwin, the nation's largest maker of keyboard instruments.

Boomers are buying for themselves.

"People tell us, `We wish we had taken those piano lessons when we were children,' " said Jim Barton, manager of the Henderson Piano store in suburban Anderson Township. "It seems as many adults as children are taking lessons."

Indeed, industry research shows many buyers come from families where nobody plays the piano.

"But they still have the resources and desire to own a grand piano for its musical, prestige and decorative values," said Karen Hendricks, chief executive of Baldwin Piano & Organ Co., based in suburban Loveland.

Duvall said the change shows up in figures the company collects.

"Our target market used to be 35- to 50-year-olds with kids 5 to 15," Duvall said. "Now, you still have this group, but you also have the fiftyish group that is thinking investment. One of the biggest trends in the market is the resurgence of the grand piano."

Grands frequently range from $8,000 to $25,000 but can go to $75,000.

"If you had bought a Baldwin Grand in 1974, you could sell it for more than twice what you paid for it," Duvall said.

Henderson's sells mainly Yamaha and Young Chang pianos, and business is so good "our manufacturers are in back-order situations," Barton said. The store keeps an inventory of about 200 pianos, but delivery of new ones can take 60-90 days.

Lillibridge ended up with three pianos in her Miami Township home as her family explored the different types, acoustic, digital and more portable.

"We didn't get rid of any of them along the way," she said.

Jim and Ann Longaberger of West Chester are still in the planning stage. They are renting a console piano until they decide whether their 7- and 4-year-old sons will make a long-term commitment.

"I had two motivations for wanting a piano," Mrs. Longaberger said. "I used to play piano when I was younger, and I always wanted my children to play a musical instrument. Secondly, I had read an article saying that playing piano helped young children in math and science.

"That clinched it for me."

Since her older son started lessons, three or four other children in his class have taken up piano, and the school's music teacher is completely booked for after-school lessons, Longaberger said.

"I have seen the trend. I've definitely seen the trend," she said.