If you have looked for used Yamaha pianos – you may have have run into this term before. If you have ever searched for the term “gray market Yamaha pianos” online you will find a ton of different opinions about what it means. It’s my goal to simply provide some information from my experience to anyone who is curious about buying or learning about what this means.
The simple answer is that Yamaha pianos imported directly from Japan are sometimes referred to as gray market pianos. Yamaha pianos sold through retailers in the United States are actually imported into this country by a company called Yamaha North America. Yamaha North America is actually a separate company from Yamaha. They are the sole importer of Yamaha pianos into the United States, and because of this, their interest is to protect their market as much as possible. In fact they, they are undoubtedly the ones who initially coined the term “gray market pianos”. You can read their take on what grey market pianos are on their website:
In other words: If you buy a piano from a private seller and the piano was not sold through Yamaha North America, it could be termed a gray market piano. Indeed there is a cottage industry of people importing old Yamaha pianos from Japan, refurbishing them and selling them in the United States.
Yamaha North America warns customers about these pianos.
The biggest concern is the age of the piano. Yamaha has continually improved design, manufacturing, and materials of their pianos over the decades. Some of the old pianos they produced were not of the high standard people expect of the largest piano manufacturer in the world. Since Yamaha North America has no control over these instruments, they caution people about them to avoid being associated with sub-standard pianos being sold by some independent importers.
Another issue that is raised is the climitization of the pianos for the North American market. What is the climate of North America? I know that where I live in Southern California has a dramatically different climate than 10 miles away at the beach, or 10 miles inland in the high desert. Indeed, early on before Yamaha became a global music company their pianos were not produced with the seasoned woods to withstand a wide range of climates. However, Yamaha pianos have been produced on a high level for export certainly since the late 1970’s at least. So, this is only a concern with older Yamaha pianos.
Yamaha North America also warns about availability of parts for “gray market pianos”. They say they will not provide parts for these pianos and require the serial number to acquire parts. The truth is, piano parts are standard and there are countless companies making high quality parts for almost any modern piano.
So what is the deal with gray market piano? If you are looking at a relatively recently built Yamaha piano, you should be just fine. Most of the Yamaha pianos sold in Japan are pretty much the same as the ones sold in America. Any skilled technician who can handle a Yamaha American piano will have no problems servicing a later model Japanese market Yamaha piano; the parts and labor are the same.
So while you should be aware of what are termed, “Yamaha gray market pianos”, if you are looking at a later model Yamaha within the time frame of Yamaha North America, there is probably nothing to worry about.
Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin: Robert@LivingPianos.com (949) 244-3729
Grand pianos are generally better than upright pianos. However, there are 2 reasons to consider an upright piano:
- Limited space
- Limited budget
Although an upright piano may be considered because of space restrictions, because of its design, a baby grand may be easier to place. The back of an upright piano is ugly. This is why it is almost always placed on a wall. So you need about 5-feet of wall space to accommodate an upright piano (even a short one).
However, a baby grand piano looks good however you place it. The flexibility allows for placement in a corner or even the middle of a room. So in some instances where space is at a premium, a baby grand may be easier to place than an upright piano.
It is true that you will have to invest more money to get a baby grand piano compared to an upright. However, there are several distinct advantage in regards to sound and touch:
- The sound of an upright comes out the back. As a result the sound goes into the wall. A baby grand or grand piano opens up into the room projecting the sound where you want it.
- The keys of an upright are shorter than a baby grand (and much shorter than a grand piano). Not the part you see, but behind the fall board. As a result, it is harder to press black keys and between black keys on an upright than on a baby grand. Just like being near the center of a see saw, it is difficult to get leverage on an upright piano because the shorter keys don’t allow for the leverage you get on a grand piano.
- The hammers travel sideways on an upright action instead of up and down as in a grand action. So even the best uprights have sluggish actions because they don’t have the benefit of gravity helping the repetition of the hammers.
- Last, the pedals on an upright don’t do what they are supposed to do (except the sustain pedal on the right). The soft pedal (une corde) on a grand piano shifts the action so that the hammers hit only 2 strings instead of 3. This gives a change of tonal color which is one of the most magnificent expressive devices of a piano. In an upright, the soft pedal changes the touch by making the hammers closer to the strings which makes it harder to play loud but doesn’t change the tone at all. Also the middle pedal (sustento) rarely provides the proper function on an upright.
So if you can afford it, get a grand piano or a baby grand. You will appreciate the difference.
So What Are the Best Piano Brands?
The country of origin is often the best indicator of the quality of pianos. Since piano production began in Germany and the United States, these represent the very best piano brands.
The United States only has 3 manufacturers left although there used to be hundreds of piano companies building in America. Today we have only:
Steinway makes about 2500 pianos a year
Mason & Hamlin
Mason & Hamlin builds only 250 pianos per year
Charles Walter is a relative newcomer which builds only about 65 pianos each year.
The best European pianos come primarily from Germany:
Bosendorfer (from Austria)
Fazioli (from Italy)
The Eastern European pianos are not as refined but offer excellent value:
(The same company produces both pianos.)
Japan makes the best Asian production pianos. There are 2 companies which are the largest and second largest manufacturers of pianos in the world:
Both companies have factories throughout Asia (not just in Japan) and the best pianos they build are made in Japan. They offer everything from budget instruments to hand-made pianos rivaling the best German and American pianos.
Korea has been making pianos for quite some time. While not as refined as the Japanese pianos, they continually improve. There are 2 Korean piano manufactures both of which have factories in other countries:
Samick sells pianos under many different brand names including Kohler and Campbell, Knabe, Sohmer, Pramberger, Remington and many more. These are referred to as “stencil pianos” since the original manufacturer is either out of business or it is a made up name. Young Chang sells pianos under the Weber name.
Best Piano Brands
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