It’s a scary proposition to think that something you’ve spent thousands of dollars on could not be what it appears to be. Believe it or not, this actually happens in today’s piano market all the time and it’s something everyone should be aware of. Thankfully, figuring out if a piano is genuine is actually quite easy if you know what to look for.
Here in the local Los Angeles market there are a lot of auctions that contain pianos. I’ve heard from some people that there have been pianos there that have the Steinway name on them that aren’t actually Steinway pianos at all. Unsuspecting buyers might be bidding up a particular piano with no idea what they are actually getting. This is clearly a fraudulent practice preyed upon unsophisticated buyers.
Many times in auction houses you will not be allowed to fully inspect a piano; you will only be able to look at it from a distance. Luckily, even from a distance you can spot a few things that signal a genuine piano.
The easiest thing to replace on a piano is the decal on the fallboard. You can order pretty much any piano company decal imaginable online. This is done so that refinishers can order decals when they must remove the original. Just because it has a particular name on the fallboard doesn’t mean that it’s the actual brand of piano. You can put any piano decal on any piano if you want to.
Luckily, there is an incredibly easy way to tell if a piano is genuine. A piano will almost always have the name of the company cast into the plate of the piano. If it is a genuine Steinway, Mason & Hamlin, Baldwin, Yamaha, or other major company they will nearly always cast the name of the piano into the plate.
There are a few exceptions I’ve seen in some European pianos that have small plates screwed into the cast iron plate after it’s cast. Grotrian in particular had to remove their name from the plates of their pianos when they were successfully sued by Steinway. They had been Grotrian-Steinweg since the 19th century. But after losing to Steinway, they had to remove the “Steinweg” part of their name off all of their pianos in stock at the time.
There are many times you will see plastic name plates attached to a plate. These are typically stencil brand pianos. Stencil brands are pianos that are created by a different company (mostly in Asia) and bought by a retailer who then places a different name on the instrument. Most of the time, the original manufacturer will simply create a blank plate that the retailer can then add their specialized name to. These pianos are not fake; they are pianos that are manufactured and repurposed for another company.
The name in the plate is pretty much the only easily identifiable way to tell if a piano is genuine. Almost all the major high-end piano companies will cast the name directly into the plate – with a few exceptions.
If you have any more piano questions please contact me directly: Robert@LivingPianos.com