The large piezoelectric effect of ferroelectric ceramics is utilized in many devices for sensing and actuating purposes. In this paper, the longitudinal direct piezoelectric effect in ceramics based on lead zirconate titanate, lead titanate, barium titanate and bismuth titanate is investigated as a function of the amplitude and frequency of the external pressure, the crystal structure and microstructure of the ceramics. The domain-wall contribution to the piezoelectric response appears to be a dominant extrinsic origin of instabilities in the observed piezoelectric effect but, for a given composition, it can be affected by dopants and microstructure. Other sources of instabilities in the piezoelectric response, such as chemical inhomogeneities and defects, are also discussed. It is shown that, with proper modifications, it is possible to freeze out completely the extrinsic part of the piezoelectric response in some of the examined compositions and to obtain a stable behaviour, independent of the frequency and magnitude of the external driving held.