What Is A Gray Market Piano?
I have been in the music retail business for almost 24 years now. In that period of time, I have sold every kind of piano you can imagine: baby grands, uprights, and many fine brands including Steinway, Yamaha, Kawai, Mason & Hamlin (my personal favorite), Baldwin, C. Bechstein, Brodmann, Bösendorfer, Estonia, Young Chang, etc… The list is much too long to name. These have been new and used instruments from many eras.
In my time in the piano business, the biggest myth perpetuated to customers who would not know any better is, “You don’t want to buy a gray market piano.” That is what you will typically hear from just about every dealer that carries new Yamaha or Kawai pianos. The salesman will almost leave you with the impression that the Federal Instrument Bureau (hereafter known as F.I.B.) will come to your house and lock you up for purchasing one or that it will fall apart as you play it. I have one response to that (well, maybe more than one). This is absolutely complete and downright nonsense!
Before we attack the jargon used to perpetuate this myth, let’s discuss the matter in depth. What exactly is a gray market piano? The answer is simple. It is a used piano that was built in Japan by one of the two piano giants, Yamaha or Kawai, and originally sold new in the Japanese market. That’s all a gray market piano is. There is almost zero demand for used pianos in Japan, and there are a lot of them available.
The truth is Japanese citizens do not like buying used pianos. It is a cultural phenomenon. Part of the reason of why a glut of used pianos in Japan exists is because they have a lot of pianists who eventually upgrade to a finer piano brands (like a Mason & Hamlin, Steinway, Brodmann, or Bechstein for instance). Thus, their used Yamaha or Kawai vertical or baby grand is no longer needed.
The largest market for used, Japanese-made Yamaha and Kawai baby grand and upright pianos is the United States. There is a company in Japan that specializes in buying and refurbishing these used pianos, and they do a spectacular job of bringing them back to impeccable condition. As a matter of fact, many of these 20- to 40-year-old Yamaha and Kawai baby grand and upright pianos will outplay a new one and sell for about half the price! Some of the materials used in the early 70s to 80s were actually better. For one, the traditional sandcast iron plate is far better than the vacuum processed plate used today. Yamaha and Kawai only use the better sandcast plate on their most expensive grand pianos now. These wonderful used Yamaha and Kawai pianos need a new home, and most find their way to the USA.
Image courtesy of kenmacfarlane.com
3 Fibs to Discourage Buying
Yamaha and Kawai now have a problem on their hands. Their goal is to sell you a new piano. How do they stop this flow of used instruments? Scare tactics! Here are some of the fibs (Remember the F.I.B. bureau?) a salesperson at a new dealership will tell you in attempt to discourage you from saving big on a used Yamaha or Kawai piano:
FIB 1: Yamaha and Kawai pianos sold in Japan were built specifically for the Japanese climate and, thus, will have problems in the United States. Yamaha and Kawais sold in the USA are “seasoned for destination.”
Absolute poppycock! Yamaha and Kawai pianos are all built to the same quality standards. Do you really think Japanese citizens would accept a product that is somehow inferior to the ones sold in the United States? And about this “seasoning for destination” fib…for which part of the United States are you referring? In Houston, we are humid much like the island climate in Hamamatsu, Japan where the factories are located. In Colorado, it is dry. There are so many varied climates in the United States, it would be impossible to achieve such a feat.
FIB 2: Because it is a gray market piano, Yamaha and Kawai will not honor the factory warranty.
Well, actually that is true... No used Yamaha or Kawai has a factory warranty because it is... used. You will be pleased to know, however, our certified pre-owned Yamaha and Kawai grand, baby grand, and upright pianos available at Houston Piano Company all include 10-year parts warranties. They also include the ultimate warranty of lifetime full trade-up option should you choose to upgrade to a Mason & Hamlin, Brodmann, Bechstein, Perzina, or any other superior piano we sell.
FIB 3: You won’t be able to repair the piano because you can’t get replacement parts.
Balderdash! In an effort to quell the sales of used Yamaha and Kawai pianos in the US market, neither company will sell replacement parts for their pianos. However, replacement parts for Yamaha and Kawai pianos can be purchased from many piano parts suppliers, and they are quite easy to get! In my entire history in the piano business, getting parts for gray market pianos has never been an issue. Never.
As you can see, the gray market myth is just a way Yamaha and Kawai can attempt to wave you off a perfectly good, or even better, used piano. Don’t fall into that trap. Even a Hamburg Steinway, the undisputed finest and most desired Steinways in the world, are considered to be gray market pianos if sold in the United States! Concert performers would much rather play on a German Hamburg Steinway than one built in New York.
Here at Houston Piano Company, we have the finest selection of used Yamaha and Kawai grands, baby grands, and uprights available. That includes instruments sold originally new in the US and gray market pianos. Why pay two or three times the price for a new Yamaha or Kawai when you can get a very pristine used one that will last you a lifetime (or until you choose to upgrade to a new Mason & Hamlin, Brodmann, or Perzina)? Don’t be frightened by the F.I.B.! Call or email me to schedule an appointment. I have almost 24 years of experience in the piano business and have spent a great deal of time knowing the ins and outs of various builders. That includes Yamaha and Kawai grand and upright pianos.