Believe it or not there have been a number of scams perpetrated in the new and used piano market over the years that have tricked both buyers and sellers into dishonest sales. There are probably way more than five scams out there but I thought I would share some of the most common ones we have come across in today’s market.
The interested buyer who never comes back – but takes something with them
I ran across this scam years ago and it was being perpetrated by a couple who would take advantage of private sellers. The scam goes like this:
One person in the couple would call on an ad someone placed about selling their piano. They would say they were interested and come over to see the piano right away. After a few minutes they would offer to buy the piano and give the seller a few hundred dollars as a “down payment” for the piano. Before they would leave though, they would make sure to take a part of the piano with them – perhaps the fallboard was scratched and they told the seller they wanted to start repairs on it. Days or weeks would pass and the “buyer” would never come back, but the seller was stuck with a piano that was now missing a crucial piece that couldn’t easily be replaced – which would de-value the piano by a significant amount.
Later on, the seller would get a call from the other person in the couple – making sure never to reference the original “buyer” – saying that they saw the ad for the piano a while ago and wanted to know if they were still selling the piano. By now you can see where this is headed. The scam would end with the seller offering the piano to the new buyer for much less because of the missing parts. The seller would never know they had been scammed and the devious couple would get a piano for much less than it’s worth.
The auction piano
Many people seek pianos from auction houses hoping for a bargain. Often at auction houses, you will not be able to inspect the piano closely – you won’t be able to look inside except from a distance. You will have to take their word on the condition of the piano. It’s a gamble with potentially big payoff.
The scam that has come up in today’s market is misrepresenting the piano. It’s not necessarily on the part of the auction house. But someone will use a popular name (Steinway is the most likely) to drive up the price of the piano. Just putting the Steinway decal on the front of a piano can potentially increase its value dramatically because people think they are buying a Steinway.
So you bid on a piano, you win, you’re very excited to own a Steinway for way less than what it’s typically worth, you get it delivered to your home and then first discover that it’s not a Steinway! Someone has put a Steinway decal on a lesser piano and you are stuck with this instrument.
The way to avoid this type of scam is to research the auction house, ask as many questions as you can about the piano being sold, and know the design differences to distinguish between piano brands.
This leads us to the next scam:
Changing the name (decal) on a piano
Replacing the decal on the piano is a necessity if you’re refinishing a fallboard. But did you know that anyone buy any decal for any piano brand online? This is a legitimate need for piano rebuilders and refinishers.
The scam here is buying a decal that’s either completely wrong or “technically” wrong and putting it on the front of a piano.
Completely wrong would be putting a name like Steinway on a piano that is clearly not a Steinway. Once you open it up it’s obvious it’s not the correct piano.
Technically wrong would be taking the name of a company that technically manufactured the piano and putting their higher line name on the front of it. I’ve seen this a number of times with Howard pianos. Howard pianos were bought by Baldwin in the middle of the 20th century. Baldwin offered these pianos as lower line instruments – selling for much less than their higher priced Baldwin artist series counterparts. They would say “Howard” on the fallboard and on the side in small letters would be, “From the House of Baldwin”. Unscrupulous business people will put the Baldwin name right in the front misrepresenting the instrument.
Technically the piano is manufactured by Baldwin but it is not a true Baldwin, it’s a Howard. The seller could easily sell the piano for much more money and trick an unsuspecting buyer into purchasing a lower line piano while they are thinking they are getting something worth much more.
A completely fake piano
This is a scam that is incredibly hard to spot but is rare to find in the piano world. The scam involves going to great lengths to hide the true manufacturer of a piano in order to sell something for much more money than it’s worth.
I ran into this scam only once and it nearly got me!
Someone contacted me about a Steinway concert grand they were looking at purchasing. They sent me pictures and I went over them and initially thought that they had come across a legitimately good deal. The piano looked to be in great shape, the scale design looked right, and the decals and plate had the correct logos on them. So where was the scam?
Steinert is a company that used to produce pianos in the United States and they produced pianos incredibly similar in scale design to Steinway pianos. They look almost identical to Steinway pianos from a distance. Steinert pianos – while good pianos – are not worth anything near the value of a true Steinway piano because of the power of the Steinway name since Steinert went out of business decades ago.
This particular seller had actually gone to extraordinary lengths and replaced the Steinert logo cast into the the plate of the concert grand with the Steinway logo! This is a very time consuming and complex process that would take expertise to accomplish since they had to smelt metal to make the plate appear to be a Steinway. The potential payoff though would be in the tens of thousands of dollars.
So how did I figure this scam out?
Well a lot of text is put onto plates and it would be nearly impossible to replace all of it. After closer inspection I found that the text along the plate didn’t exactly match that of a true Steinway. Steinway pianos have specific patents cast into the plate at various places. Steinert pianos have different text cast into their plates that are unique to them. I realized that the information engraved in the plate was from a Steinert piano, not a Steinway.
A very clever scam and a very good one but still able to be solved with a little detective work.
Misrepresenting the county of origin for a piano
This is one of the most common things I run into in the piano market today and it’s something that all buyers need to be aware of. This is especially common in new pianos.
The “scam” is not so much a scam as a way to coerce a potential buyer to think their piano was manufactured in a different country than it actually is.
For example: You see a piano in a store with a European or American name, the salesperson tells you that the piano was “designed” in Europe or America and has connections to major European or American brands but cleverly avoids the topic of where the piano was actually manufactured – which in most cases is China or Indonesia. Sometimes they will claim that the piano is an American piano assembled in China or that it’s a German piano assembled in Asia. This is more than stretching the truth – it is false information.
This is something that can be avoided by simply asking where the piano was manufactured. Any reputable seller should tell you the truth. There is nothing wrong with a piano manufactured in China or Indonesia but you should be aware of this when buying the piano. You should not be under the assumption that you are buying something you aren’t.
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