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It appears that Coppell ISD will offer string orchestra instruction this year. I operated as the lead advocate for this important curriculum offering. This was my second attempt to encourage the School Board to offer orchestra. The first attempt occurred in 1997 and was eventually undermined by certain unknown actors who held more influence.

The second attempt came ten years later. I entered into a letter writing campaign to the School Trustees, and persisted for three years, even though I found that body politic to be stubborn in practice and delusional about their responsibilities to the voters.

So I find myself divided on how to celebrate this event. On the one hand, the proceedings convinced me that school management, under its present form, is unbelievably incompetent. On the other hand, by some master stroke of persistence and good fortune, a small number of children will now be able to learn how to play one of the stringed instruments.

I did not have a hand in the design of the projected offering, nor did the School Board ask for any assistance during their deliberations. No trustee informed me of their intention to introduce orchestra or contact me after the fact to let me know they had acted to do so. It is not the program I would have designed, and if it fails, it will be due entirely to the lack of competence, misaligned values and mule-bullheadedness of those several actors in the ISD body politic that delayed its creation for a period of fifteen years.

My plan (just so you will know) was to canvas the entire community and to redesign the ENTIRE music curriculum, which would leave orchestra as an equal partner in the arts community.  I believe that little effort would be required to write a persuasive argument in support of the idea that children who join band are being exploited to support the football program. There are simply too many trumpets, clarinets and trombones laid to rest underneath the beds of former band students to believe otherwise. Curricula of the academic studies are designed to create lifelong learners. The band program is said to cause much “burn-out” among students, many of whom never again play their instrument.

And although I could say much more about the limitations of the School Borg, a moniker I devised after learning that they have each abandoned individual accountability to the voters who elected them, in favor of working as a “collective” who is inclined to only speak with one voice, please know that I also have an endless list of complaints I could levy against the voters themselves, who by comparison make the School Borg look like Saints.

If not for the will and persistence of a very small number of truly inspired individuals, (of which I am one), no political system or social group would ever be able to produce a single program of merit, to the benefit of the great masses of free loaders who are intent and expectant that others will perform the lion’s share of a community’s work, and to the chagrin of those stalwart institution-lovers who are so fearful of changes of any sort, that they stand in the roadway of progress like dumbfounded jackasses.

So the good children of Coppell will now have orchestra. It is done. And if ever again I enter the arena of school government, I am now mindful that it would be an action which would stand as due cause to have my head examined. I retire with what sanity I have preserved, which is decidedly more than is required to work within the insanity found in the hallowed halls of our governments.


Vacation time at Edisto Beach, South Carolina with family.

Yes, 2014 has been a great year – one of the best for me. I haven’t worked this hard for many years, and I can only blame myself since I adopted a positive “can do” attitude through 2013.

Here is the recap.

May 2013 – Our daughter graduated from college. If you are under 50 years old, the significance of this achievement may not move you too much. The impact on the monthly household budget was enough to jump for joy!

July 2013 – The daughter gets a job in her field of choice, and remains employed a year later. This too is a major parental accomplishment, although my daughter deserves all of the credit for getting and keeping a good job.

October 2013 – Buddy died. She was sixteen years old and a faithful and loving pet.


Where once was an empty wall, emerges a new shop.

November 2013 – We moved into a new home. This took several months to accomplish, and 13 weeks of unloading boxes to complete. I worked 12 hour days, just like I was a young pup. It was crazy a time.

December 2013 – Coppell Piano Shop had its biggest month ever! I serviced 2-3 pianos every day of the week. I have no idea how I got through that month. We had a lovely Christmas. On December 31, my father passed away at 82.

January 2014 – I started with an empty garage and built a new piano shop. In my older shop, a room 20 X 8 at the head of a carport, every item had its place. I could work on 3 piano actions at a time, and the tools were neatly assigned on boards, in drawers or on shelves.

I did not fully appreciate how nice that shop was until I started building a new shop. Yes. I am now able to build the shop I really want, but it will take years before I maximize the efficiency of the extra space I now have. Most of the room however is dedicated to pianos: I acquired several pianos last year, and they are each awaiting repairs.


Enjoying a rainstorm on my new back porch.

February – May 2014 – When Spring hit, it was time to do the annual gardening – new chores associated with buying a new home. When I wasn’t working on pianos, I was building beds, digging, planting and watering.

June 2014 – I took a family vacation – the first in twenty years. We spent a small fortune traveling to the east coast and back again. We visited relatives in eleven states after spending a week in a beach house in South Carolina.

July 2014 – After the vacation ended, I recall having a “moment” on the porch where I felt that we were finally moved into the new home. It is now the 22nd of July and I have returned to the daily routines of being a piano shop owner. We are weeks away from the “Back to School” season, and that means I have a ton of work to do in preparation.


Lunch and a good book.

I am up at 6:00 each day and work for a few hours in the shop. When the mid-morning arrives, with its heat, I move indoors to attend to administrative chores.  Appointments start at 10:00 and go through the day. After dinner I return to the shop if the heat is not unbearable. Lately it has been rather cool, so I am pleased to have the extra time.

I have a hundred things yet to do. That is my fault. If I wasn’t so positive and driven, my life would be much easier. I need a serious attitude adjustment!!!

A Conclusion Which Favors Yamaha

Posted: April 16, 2014 in Piano

A Conclusion Which Favors Yamaha

In an effort to reconcile the opposing understandings between Yamaha and importers of used Yamahas, I sought out a source that would better explain Yamaha’s side of the story. As it turned out, I was able to contact someone who has some pretty compelling information to add.

Seasoned for Destination

Where importers hold the view that humidity is similar in all parts of the world, and that it would be impossible to know whether a piano would be purchased by someone in a humid area vs a dry locale, my source reconciled this by revealing that Yamaha conducted studies that tracked the temperatures in homes – not localities. Pianos are, after all, placed in homes – not outside where they are exposed to the extreme weather of any particular area.

Yamaha’s research led them to discover that American homes, most often heated using central heating, are generally hotter than homes in Japan and Europe. This discovery was made in the 60s after Yamaha”s first pianos experienced problems in the U.S. The corrections were made by 1964, and have remained incorporated in the manufacturing process since then – no doubt they have refined and improved their approach many times too. This explanation places the emphasis on the variations in humidity levels in the homes.

Is this explanation plausible? Yamaha would of course have the opportunity to gather data on the performance of pianos placed in institutions. It would be more difficult to monitor the health of a used piano that may have been sold to several owners.  Keeping data on the average temperatures in homes in every major country in the world, and then altering the drying time for select woods used in piano production – seems to be absolutely ridiculous. Let me present a different explanation.

Post-War Developments

For Japan, 1960 was a time of political uncertainty and rapid industrial growth. Fifteen years earlier, in 1945, life in Japan was quite different. Japan had been at war with China since 1937. By 1939 that fighting escalated. The events of the war transpired until March of 1945 when the U.S. struck Tokyo with incendiary bombs which killed 100,000. During the next five months, American bombers firebombed sixty-six Japanese cities killing an additional 350,000 to 500,000 citizens. 

Even after that devastating blow, the leaders of the Empire ignored the demands made by the Allies in July at Potsdam to surrender unconditionally. In August U.S. Forces dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. “The acute effects killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000–80,000 in Nagasaki; roughly half of the deaths in each city occurred on the first day. During the following months, large numbers died from the effect of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries, compounded by illness. In both cities, most of the dead were civilians, although Hiroshima had a sizable garrison.”

In order to revisit the devastation left from the atomic attack, review these before and after photos.

“After Japan’s unconditional surrender to the Allied Powers in August 1945, the United States military occupied the defeated nation and began a series of far-reaching reforms designed to build a peaceful and democratic Japan by reducing the power of the military and breaking up the largest Japanese business conglomerates.”

Over the next six years, Japan transitioned quickly into an important ally in order to create a buffer between the rise of Communism in China and North Korea. “U.S. efforts to save South Korea from Communist invasion accelerated Department of State attempts to restore Japan to a respected international position, and make that country a prosperous ally of the United States. “

It was this attitude of the U.S. towards Japan which eventually opened doors for export trade. Japan endured several years of difficult trade relations, but “beginning in the 1960s, the government adopted a policy of gradual trade liberalization, easing import quotas, reducing tariff rates, freeing transactions in foreign exchange, and admitting foreign capital into Japanese industries, which continued through the 1980s.

“After World War II, company president Genichi Kawakami repurposed the remains of the company’s war-time production machinery and the company’s expertise in metallurgical technologies to the manufacture of motorcycles.” The Yamaha Motor Corporation was formed on July 1, 1955.  Nippon Gakki Co., Ltd. (Yamaha Music) had formed in 1887 and was a different company, one that had grown to become the world’s largest manufacturer of musical instruments. 

The sixties were therefore a time of rapid growth for the new democratic Japan. The U.S. economy was booming too. In 1962, Yamaha exported 12,000 motorcycles. By 1980 that number grew to 1,383,000.

Piano exports followed a similar trend. As you might expect, the first pianos, motorcycles and other products, were not Yamaha’s greatest. The first pianos did not perform well in the U.S. because of tuning stability issues. Korean-based Samick pianos, introduced to the U.S. in the 1960s, also had similar problems with their pianos. The changes in Yamaha production which followed would have been done by the leaders of an democratic Japan in post-war recovery. When Yamaha of Japan improved their quality and embraced the euphemistic “Seasoned for Destination” campaign, those improvements might simply be interpreted as changes that were needed in order for Yamaha to start making pianos the right way. This explanation helps understand why other manufacturers do not employ similar manufacturing strategies. Japan had more reason to “save face” for the failure of their first post-war exported pianos.

We are left to guess as to which explanation is more plausible. Do small variations in drying time offset variances found in home heating preferences among the citizenry of different countries, or is it more plausible to suggest that the quality control of post-war Japan in the 1960s was not yet competitive?

Gray Market

The term Gray Market was popularized after U. S. consumers acted to purchase Mercedes automobiles in Germany and have them shipped back to the U. S. at a substantial savings over domestic retail prices. Those autos did not meet Federal requirements. They also did not qualify for warranty claims because they were not intended to be sold in the U.S. In this example, we are talking about a NEW car that was not intended for export into another country. Yamaha Corporation of America misused that term when they applied it to a USED product.

Yamaha Corporation of America however bears no obligation to provide parts for pianos they did not import. If anything, the importers of used pianos bear that obligation. Importers of course would not have access to parts from Yamaha since by nature of their business, they are not the U.S. distributor of new pianos. Since there is no official and authorized distributor of used Yamaha pianos (sanctioned by Yamaha), Yamaha of Japan would have no business interest in providing parts to any importers of used pianos. Parts are available through piano supply houses, so I have to favor the importer’s arguments on this point. It was correct for Yamaha Corporation of America to take the position that they would not supply parts for imported used pianos, but it was quite wrong to imply that no parts were available at all.

It is of course legal to import used pianos, but what happens to these pianos when they are brought here? I put that question to my source tonight. He explained that the variations in the “seasoning” process are small, but pianos that are placed in locales other than the intended destination do in fact go through changes. For instance, if someone owned a piano in Asia and relocated the instrument anywhere in the U.S., the piano would react to the change in humidity. (The same thing would occur for a piano in the U.S. located to an area that had an extreme difference in local humidity outside, which has an effect on the humidity inside the home!) There are many situations where that reaction to humidity, or the variance of the local humidity, may be greater or smaller. For instance, if an Asian family kept their home heated more along the lines of how they lived in Asia, then it seems reasonable to suggest that the reaction would be smaller.

The important point here is that once the change in the piano was realized, the piano would be quite fine in its new locale. Give two years for changes to be fully realized, and after that the cause for concern is greatly diminished. That raises the question: how severe might those changes be and what damage might be realized as a result of that change? On this, my source would only confirm that Yamaha Corporation of America receives many service inquiries from owners of imported Yamahas informing them of extreme changes in their pianos. Based on that information, it seems reasonable that Yamaha Corporation was factually correct to report the occurrence of extreme changes and damage. However, any damage that occurred may in fact not be related to humidity factors, and it seems likely that Yamaha would more likely field calls from piano owners that were desperate in their quest to find help. Conversely, piano owners who were satisfied with their used pianos would have no reason to contact Yamaha Corporation of America.

Even with this forgiving analysis, it still seems that reports of severe damage is alarmist. It seems far more likely that any severe damage that occurred to used Yamahas was caused by conditions of abuse, and not related to any differences in the manufacturing process.

The reconciliation here is a bit easier to visualize. Two self-interested parties are basing their opinions on two completely different sets of experiences. Yamaha Corporation of America is going to hear more horror stories about the used Yamahas that suffered damage since being imported, and importers are going to base their opinions on the success stories that they uncover. As one dealer reported, “I do not receive any complaints about used Yamahas.” Maybe they called Yamaha Corporation of America instead.

In the first blog, I said that some used Yamaha pianos are very good pianos, and others are terrible pianos. Importers assign grades of quality to each one, and those that are A grade will fare better than those of lesser grades. It should be obvious to everyone that each competing interest is going to put his best foot forward, and that his competitor is going to point to the failings of his adversary.

This suggests that each party to the dispute has a bit of truth to his argument. I suppose if I asked a Democrat to explain the political climate of the nation, it would not be in agreement with a Republican’s explanation. If perchance a Democrat intended to go to a Republican Convention, it would be wise to “season” one’s point of view based on the “destination”. It might also be argued that a Democrat was a “gray market” participant whose destination was never intended to be a Republican Convention.

Pardon the analogy, but I think it clarifies that people who have different experiences, values and attitudes, can in fact develop points of view that are so conflicted that each party would think the other is lying.

The lesson for consumers remains as it was. Consult a professional tuner/technician before you buy any used piano. The lesson for industry professionals will be left for them to discover. I am not in charge of teaching piano industry professionals, or creating marketing campaigns for Yamaha Corporation of America. My job is to serve my clients. Now that I have found a reconciliation between the several points of view, I feel better prepared to help my customers sort through the conflicting statements they might hear as they shop for a Yamaha piano.



The Debate about Yamaha Pianos

In Nine Parts

Executive Summary

The debate about Yamaha pianos – the one which supports or denies Yamaha Corporation of America’s (YCA) claims about the quality of used Yamaha pianos that are imported into the U.S. for resale – has been waged within the piano industry at least since 1999 when Yamaha Corporation of America (YCA) ran an advertisement in the Piano Technicians Journal which sought to cast doubt on the quality of legally imported used Yamaha pianos. [link]   Importers of pre-owned Yamaha pianos and those dealers who sold those pianos, answered swiftly but the accusations and claims made by YCA continue to be used by many authorized Yamaha piano dealers.

There are many claims that frame the debate, but the primary points of contention can be summarized as follows:

  1. Gray Market – In 1999 Yamaha Corporation of America associated legally-imported pre-owned Yamaha pianos with the name “gray market” pianos, not intended to be sold in the U.S. market. Wilton Sykes, and others, claimed that YCA was misusing the phrase “gray market” for no other reason than to cast doubt and suspicion on a competitive product, one which Yamaha of Japan manufacturers.
  2. Seasoned for Destination – YCA and Yamaha of Japan claim that the wood used in Yamaha pianos is “seasoned” (dried) to accommodate the differences in humidity that are suspected to exist in export “destinations”. The counter-arguments are numerous and persuasive.
  3. Quality, Warranty and Parts – YCA listed several problems that might occur in “gray market” Yamahas, announced they would not supply parts for these pianos, and reminded technicians that said pianos carry no warranty. Sykes answered that YCA’s warnings were nothing more than a scare tactic, that parts were readily available from piano supply houses, and that no manufacturer offers a warranty on any used piano, the exception being those few manufacturers who offered a transferrable warranty.

A Note for Non-musicians

If you are not a musician, or if you are a piano consumer – someone who is hoping to receive guidance on whether or not to purchase a new or used Yamaha, I will advise you as follows. The best course, one that eliminates risk for you, is to hire a piano technician to inspect any used piano you want to buy. This is the only way to guarantee that you are buying an instrument that does not have serious failings.

Executive Summary

While the material included in the untenable Yamaha debate is quite lengthy, the bottom line for customers is the same. Be careful. There are good used Yamahas out there, and there are also some terrible pianos out there. There are no published technical articles which confirm Yamaha of Japan’s manufacturing claims regarding the seasoning of woods for different export regions. The controversy therefore cannot be resolved. The purchase of any used piano however should raise a yellow flag of caution since that decision introduces an element of risk for the consumer. Common sense suggests that a consumer should not avoid used imported Yamaha pianos just because of the unfavorable opinion of a dealer of new Yamaha pianos. Conversely, you should not avoid buying a new piano simply because the price of a used imported Yamaha seems attractive.

If you have any doubts about your ability to make an informed choice in your selection of any used piano, consult with an independent professional tuner-technician.

This is the first in a series of blogs which presents documentation relevant to the discussion about the validity of the several claims offered by Yamaha Corporation of America in 1999. The links to all of the blog articles will appear at the bottom of each blog.

The Debate about Yamaha Pianos – Executive Summary

Part 1: Problem Statement

Part 2: Yamaha Corp. of America’s Advertisement

Part 3: Wilton H. Syckes’ Editorial Response

Part 4: A History Lesson, by Wilton Syckes

Part 5: Give Me a Break, by Wilton Syckes

Part 6: FAQS about Previously Owned Yamaha and Kawai Pianos, by Wilton Syckes

Part 7: Seasoned for Destination, by Tom Donahue

Part 8: Gray Market Yamaha Pianos – What is the Truth? By Craig Whitaker

Part 9: A Conclusion



Part 1 – The Debate about Yamaha Pianos: Problem Statement

The Players – Yamaha

Yamaha of Japan and Yamaha Corporation of America (YCA) are two different companies. The latter imports new pianos from Yamaha of Japan and manages the sales and distribution dealer network in the United States. Resellers of pianos (piano dealers) enter into agreements with YCA which entitles them to offer select Yamaha products to the U.S. public. Yamaha dealers make a significant financial investment in their piano inventory. They also support their selling effort through advertising and community support which directly increases Yamaha’s goodwill and brand awareness in the marketplace. YCA offers resellers a degree of territorial exclusivity. A dealer is permitted to sell only within a designated market. In general, you will find only one Yamaha piano dealer in each statistically significant market area (SSMA).

The Importers – Syckes Piano Imports, Inc.

The most famous importer was Wilton H. Syckes of Syckes Piano Imports. Mr. Syckes recently passed away at age 91. His reputation in the industry is impeccable. I include several documents which he authored that isolate and clarify the primary criticisms of the YCA campaign against legally imported pre-owned pianos.

Importers of pre-owned Yamaha and Kawai pianos operate legally in the United States. They purchase pre-owned pianos from brokers in Japan and other countries. Yamahas are most frequently offered for sale, but many other name brands can also be acquired through brokers. Brokers locate and buy used pianos throughout the world and sell them to importers of various countries. Importers operate as distributors in their respective country and sell individual pianos to piano dealers.

The Dealers – Authorized and Non-authorized

Dealers who are not authorized Yamaha resellers are approached by distributors of used Yamaha pianos. Some resellers of new Yamaha pianos also offer used Yamahas for sale.

Within the market of pianos, where there are buyers of new pianos, you will also find consumers who consider buying a used piano of the same brand name. In any given market area it is unlikely that you would find a seller of every brand of used pianos. For instance, your market may have a Baldwin dealer, but it is highly unlikely that you will find a dealer that offers a broad selection of used Baldwin pianos. The same could be said for every other brand of piano except for Yamaha. Yamaha is unique for one reason: they have made and sold so many pianos worldwide that a significant inventory of used Yamahas exists. Kawai pianos run a close second. Yamaha enjoys market dominance, but part of that distinction means that there are a lot of used Yamaha pianos in the world market. Yamaha is so large they end up competing against their own product. Few manufacturers can make that claim. Only Yamaha disparages its own product as part of a marketing strategy intended to increase the competitive position of new Yamaha products.

What Do Brokers Do?

A broker of Yamaha pianos acquires used pianos from many sources throughout the world. Most often these pianos are acquired from private owners. Pianos are also acquired from academic institutions that periodically replace their stock of pianos with new pianos. Even with my exposure to industry veterans, it is difficult for me to grasp the sheer number of used Yamahas that are in the world market. It must suffice for the reader to accept that there is a ready and constant supply of used Yamahas available for purchase by interested piano dealers. By comparison, the availability of other well-known brand name pianos is scarce. The only exception being pianos made by Kawai of Japan. There is a steady availability of imported Kawai pianos too. As it will be shown later, Kawai does not make an effort to discount the quality of its used pianos the way that Yamaha has done. Only Yamaha disparages its own product.

The Balance between Manufacturing and Distribution

It seems important to encourage the reader to consider what the national dealer network looks like. You can easily imagine one Yamaha dealer in every major market area. Also consider that Yamaha of Japan seeks to achieve a manufacturing schedule which produces new pianos at a constant rate, such that employees can be retained. It is not advisable to lay off skilled labor during slow periods of production. Consider also that the life of a piano nears 75 years. The introduction of new pianos into the world market must not too greatly exceed demand. If it did, production would slow and factory workers would work in an unstable and insecure environment.

Likewise, every effort is made by Yamaha distributors in every country that offers new Yamaha pianos, to ensure that every exclusive dealer has a recommended floor inventory of Yamaha products. With this information, you can consider the pace at which new Yamaha pianos are produced. Production stability would occur when the supply of one new piano would be offset by demand for one piano by a dealer. There are hundreds, perhaps several thousand, Yamaha dealers in the world, each dealer selling one piano at a time and eventually reordering a piano to replace the one that was sold. It is this selling activity which keeps the production facility stable.

Yamaha is unique however. They produce so many pianos that an added factor is present in the marketplace. Yamaha has an obvious need to sell new pianos, but because of the long life of the piano, a significant inventory of used Yamahas is present in the open market. Pricing of pianos varies greatly from country to country such that a used Yamaha purchased in one country could be exported to the U.S. for a good profit. In fact, that is the case.

Yamaha enjoys high brand recognition with U.S. consumers. Yamaha is a desirable piano to purchase. Piano consumers who shop for new Yamahas will invariably consider the purchase of a cheaper used Yamaha. Fortunately, there is a ready supply. There are also smaller piano dealers, (all of whom are not authorized to sell new Yamaha pianos), who recognize that they can make a good profit selling used Yamaha pianos. Those dealers have ready access to used Yamaha pianos through distributors who import Yamaha, Kawai and other brands of used pianos from brokers overseas, who in turn have acquired inventories of used pianos from all over the world.

Reactions by Interested Parties

It is important to note that all of the aforementioned parties in this debate are for-profit entities. Each acts on a profit motive. Each seeks to protect and further its interests. The statements and rebuttals, respectively, seek to appeal to the judgment of the buying public and professionals within the industry. With no trier of fact to establish the validity of any party’s claims, the jury in this matter is the consumer.

Of secondary import is to recognize that professionals in the industry, who are not engaged in a direct for-profit activity, may still find it necessary to be informed about the facts in this debate. To a very uncertain degree, the reputations, credibility and integrity of tuner-technicians, music teachers, administrators, and other industry professionals, depend on achieving and maintaining a necessary degree of intimacy with controversies in their relevant field of expertise.

Last, it is no secret that the business community can be divided between men and women who, on the one hand, view service to the public as a means to a profitable end, and on the other hand, view for-profit enterprises as a means to serve the needs of the public. The emphasis, if it is not clearly stated, focuses on either making money for its own sake, or first most being a responsible steward of the public’s interests and well-being. Like the late Wilton H. Syckes, I belong to the latter group. My only wish and hope is that my reputation bears out my claim, as Wilton Syckes’ does for his own lifelong activities.

During my forty years in the industry, I have no evidence or reason to suspect that this debate has done any damage to any party involved, or that either party has gained as much as a Roosevelt dime for its participation. The jury, being the public, only pays attention to the debate prior to shopping, and that period of time on average is two weeks. Each consumer acts to further his or her self-interest and never acquires the political power to compel either party to surrender its case against the other.

Divided Interests

As you might have already imagined, Yamaha dealers would prefer not to compete with dealers of used Yamahas within the same market area. Since a Yamaha dealer invests much capital in order to support and promote the Yamaha brand name, it can be very irritating to see a competitor capitalize on that investment simply because that dealer is offering used Yamahas.

As Yamaha achieved greater market share in the U.S., and with the advent of the import of pre-owned Yamahas beginning in 1984, authorized resellers of new Yamaha pianos would have increasingly made their objections known to Yamaha Corporation of America. They would have complained that sales of new Yamaha pianos were being too greatly affected by the increasing availability of imported used Yamahas. They also would have insisted that they could not reach their sales quotas imposed by Yamaha as long as there was a persistent competitor in the market capitalizing on the efforts of the authorized dealer.

The Marketing Strategy

The only marketing strategy that fits this situation – the one most likely to have been employed by Yamaha Corporation of America in a joint effort with Yamaha of Japan, was to create a perception of difference between new Yamaha pianos and imported used Yamahas. This strategy is called “product differentiation” in marketing circles. Simply put, it seeks to establish an easily perceived difference between two products in the eyes of potential consumers.

Also, the increase in supply of used Yamahas created an increase in need for serviceable parts for those pianos. Some of the models of pianos that were imported were never offered for sale in the U.S. The appearance of these pianos, and the increasing volume of used pianos, made it necessary for Yamaha Corporation of America to consider stocking parts for pianos they never sold! (Wilton Syckes argues convincingly to label this point as a ridiculous assertion.)

The influx of used imported Yamaha pianos disturbed the equilibrium from the factory to the sales floor. Dealers were upset. Used Yamahas threatened to alter supply and demand for new products in unpredictable ways. Something had to be done.

The First Shot Fired

As it appeared in Tech Gazette, a publication of Yamaha Corporation of America, copyrighted in 1989, and which was run as a paid advertisement in the Piano Technicians Journal in December of that year, Yamaha fired the first shot in an attempt to discount the value and legitimacy of legally imported used Yamaha pianos. In the next blog (Part 2), I will provide a photocopy and transcript of that advertisement for the reader’s critical review, followed by a transcription of the editorial reply published the following month in the same journal submitted by Wilton H. Syckes.


The Debate about Yamaha Pianos – Executive Summary

Part 1: Problem Statement

Part 2: Yamaha Corp. of America’s Advertisement

Part 3: Wilton H. Syckes’ Editorial Response

Part 4: A History Lesson, by Wilton Syckes

Part 5: Give Me a Break, by Wilton Syckes

Part 6: FAQS about Previously Owned Yamaha and Kawai Pianos, by Wilton Syckes

Part 7: Seasoned for Destination, by Tom Donahue

Part 8: Gray Market Yamaha Pianos – What is the Truth? By Craig Whitaker

Part 9: A Conclusion




[The following is the photo and text of the advertisement that appeared in the Piano Technicians Journal which publicly recorded Yamaha Corporation of America’s several claims against legally imported used Yamaha pianos.]


Tech Gazette Yamaha

Gray Market Yamaha Pianos

By Bill Brandon, Yamaha Piano Service Manager

At Yamaha, we have always tried to provide quality service and part support for new and used Yamaha pianos which were originally manufactured for sale in this country. As you are probably aware, “gray market” (or pianos originally manufactured for sale in Japan) used Yamaha pianos are being brought into the United States by independent importers and sold to piano dealers across the country. These pianos have caused service support problems that Yamaha Corporation of America is not responsible for. As a result, Yamaha Piano Service will not provide service assistance or part support for these “gray market” pianos.

Service Assistance – To begin with, there is no “Yamaha “warranty of any kind on these “gray market” pianos. This is an important consideration because these well-used imported pianos were made for use in Japan – a much more humid environment than the average American home. As a result, these pianos may develop serious problems such as loose tuning pins, cracked soundboards and bridges. In addition, action problems such as warping, misalignment of parts, glue joint failures, sluggish response, and “sticking” key problems are also common.

In Piano Service, we know this to be the case because we receive numerous calls from customers and piano technicians reporting the above problems with “gray market” pianos.

Part Support – Yamaha makes different models of pianos for the many markets around the world. There are many models of Yamaha pianos that were sold in Japan that were never sold in North America. In the U.S., Piano Service does not have part information on these pianos and cannot order parts for these pianos from Japan.

When you call us for a service part, you will asked for the serial number of the piano. If this piano was headed for the North American market, we must decline taking the order.

Based on experience with pianos not seasoned for the North American market, we strongly discourage the purchase of these “gray market” pianos.

Our commitment at Yamaha Corporation of America is to provide the nest service and part support we can for our customers who have purchased pianos made for and sold in the United States, through our authorized Yamaha Piano Retailers.


The Debate about Yamaha Pianos – Executive Summary

Part 1: Problem Statement

Part 2: Yamaha Corp. of America’s Advertisement

Part 3: Wilton H. Syckes’ Editorial Response

Part 4: A History Lesson, by Wilton Syckes

Part 5: Give Me a Break, by Wilton Syckes

Part 6: FAQS about Previously Owned Yamaha and Kawai Pianos, by Wilton Syckes

Part 7: Seasoned for Destination, by Tom Donahue

Part 8: Gray Market Yamaha Pianos – What is the Truth? By Craig Whitaker

Part 9: A Conclusion





The following is Wilton H. Syckes’ editorial response to the claims of Yamaha Corporation of America  as they appeared in the September 1999 issue of the Piano Technicians Journal.


Piano Technicians Journal – February 2000

Another View on Gray-Market Yamahas

I feel compelled to take exception to the remarks given by Bill Brandon of Yamaha Corporation of America, on the back cover of the September 1999 issue of the Piano Technicians Journal. I realize this is a “paid advertisement,” which naturally is not subject to the editor’s rejection. However, I feel you should know that much of what Mr. Brandon said is indeed false and extremely misleading. Please allow me to explain.

The opening word, “Gray Market Yamaha Pianos” is in itself completely untrue. Please open your dictionary and read the definition of “Gray Market” for yourself. You will, I’m sure, agree that pre-owned Yamaha (and other Japanese brands, as well) cannot, in any sense of the word, be categorized as “gray market.” My company, and I personally, enjoy a high degree of integrity and have an impeccable reputation throughout the piano industry. We buy on the open market in Japan and other countries.

Brandon equates “Gray Market” as being “pianos originally manufactured for sale in Japan” and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the folly of these words! We do not sell gray market goods, nor are we selling “bootleg pianos”. This accusation was made in a recent e-mail letter to one of my customers; then forwarded to me. The writer of those words is an executive of YCA! (Check out the definition of “bootleg” if you will.)

In the second paragraph the reader is led to believe that “serious problems may develop” with these pianos. This litany of “problems” is scary, to say the least, but the bad part of it is the admission that this great company is in the business of producing pianos that may possibly “fall apart!” I’m quite sure the President of Yamaha Japan (the parent company) is pulling his hair out, having read those comments. I think of the executives of Japanese companies (Sony, Toyota, etc.) who are serving a tour of duty in our country, and who, perhaps, bring along their Yamaha C-7 model Conservatory grand piano, only to be informed that all kinds of horrible things will happen to their treasured piano!

I wonder what kind of a take Yamaha competitors (Kawai, Steinway, Baldwin, Seiler, Schimmel, etc.) have on the admission of a highly respected technician, representing a most prestigious company, that a large number of pianos built by them will not hold up anywhere except in their own backyard. Mighty poor business if you ask me!

Bill goes on to say that “numerous calls” are received regarding problems being experienced with “gray market” pianos. Give me a break! Since 1984 I have been involved with the importation of literally thousands of used pianos from Japan, Germany, Holland, Korea, the Czech Republic, etc. The number of calls to my office with “serious” problems is minimal. Believe me, if someone, dealer or consumer, is experiencing even one of the terrible things alluded to, I would get a call. People don’t normally call the manufacturer with complaints – they contact the dealer or distributor who sold them the piano. That makes sense, doesn’t it?

I must continue with my rebuttal to the issue of “Part Support”. A wippen is a wippen; a string is a string; a hammer is a hammer; and on and on. I know of no single part in any Yamaha piano that cannot be replaced without a hassle, do you? The way I look at it, if Yamaha Corp. of America ignores legitimate requests for replacement parts, technicians should patronize Schaff Piano Supply Company for all their needs.

Finally, Mr. Brandon speaks of YCA’s “commitment to provide the best service and part support…pianos made for and sold in the United States…,” that’s all well and good, but how about all those fine Yamaha pianos residing in this country that were originally sold in other countries all around the world? Is it true that YCA will actually turn their backs on each and every piano not sold by a US dealer just for the sake of standing on some sort of ceremony? Alas!

Wilton H. Syckes

Syckes Piano Imports, Inc.

Phoenix, Arizona


The Debate about Yamaha Pianos – Executive Summary

Part 1: Problem Statement

Part 2: Yamaha Corp. of America’s Advertisement

Part 3: Wilton H. Syckes’ Editorial Response

Part 4: A History Lesson, by Wilton Syckes

Part 5: Give Me a Break, by Wilton Syckes

Part 6: FAQS about Previously Owned Yamaha and Kawai Pianos, by Wilton Syckes

Part 7: Seasoned for Destination, by Tom Donahue

Part 8: Gray Market Yamaha Pianos – What is the Truth? By Craig Whitaker

Part 9: A Conclusion




Part 4: A History Lesson

Posted: April 15, 2014 in Piano

The following “History Lesson” is from a handout intended to be presented to piano dealers who were prospects for used pianos. It is written by Wilton H. Syckes and gives an autobiographical summary of his career in the piano industry. You can view  Wilton Syckes where he gives an oral history of his career here:



Wilton H. Sykes


To all,

I am sad to inform you that Wilton Syckes passed away last Friday. [March 28, 2014]

Some of us old ‘vets’ knew Wilton and he was one of a kind and his only wish that all people, salespeople could have had the opportunity to talk with him.

Wilton once said he thought he may have sold more pianos than any other salesman in his lifetime.  As many of you know he was the person who saved and revived the NPTA.   I think he was so passionate because he cared about the little guy, out there on the road day in and day out, and that’s how he thought about himself, even though many in the industry looked up to him.  Without him we wouldn’t have an association.

Wilton was also a former president of the National Piano Traveler’s Association. The association provided its lifetime achievement award to Wilton in 2000.  His love and knowledge of the piano business was remarkable – a fact clear to all those lucky enough to have met him. He began his career with the Winter Piano Company and attended his first NAMM Show in 1950. Wilton didn’t miss a show until his retirement from the NPTA in 2008.

He will be missed.



Dawn DeMars

Keyboard Concepts Store Manager, Agoura Hills

National Piano Traveler’s Association, Secretary-Treasurer

National Piano Traveler’s Association Foundation, CFO


History Lesson

by Wilton Syckes

Once upon a time there was a piano traveler named Syckes. He was a right fair, hard-working salesman working the West Coast of the United States peddling, for the most part, a piano from East Germany called Zimmerman. His good buddy Ward Fulmer, co-owner of Performance Pianos of Houston (importer of the big Z) also brought in a few pre-owned YAMAHA and KAWAI grand pianos from Japan, which Wilt sold out California way. Business was real good with sales in his territory running well over a million dollars, a goodly amount coming from the used pianos.

Then lo and behold, some folks got together and tore down that big wall in Germany, freed the East Germans from Communist control, changing the system of government and the monetary system, which in turn ruined the great deal Syckes was enjoying with the Zimmerman line. With reunification came a total change in pricing of these nifty pianos resulting in an increase somewhere in the neighborhood of 300%. So much for the Syckes gravy train! He was now up that proverbial creek without a paddle!!

Not too long afterward, good friend Fulmer went to that big piano crate in the sky, but before departing he turned over the importation of used Japanese pianos to Wilt. No question about it, this was a turning point for him! The potential was great. Lots of business was out there waiting to be had, but it was, obviously, going to take s0ome strong financial backing.

Wilt turned to Perry and Gary Galati of North American Music and a joint venture was formed that became known as Syckes Piano Imports, Inc. The first twenty-foot container ordered by this new company left Japan bound for Los Angeles on June 14, 1992. It held 11 grand pianos, a mix of both YAMAHA and KAWAI including, believe it or not, a Concert Grand! In November the first uprights began arriving, but in limited quantities. Interestingly the price of a U-3 (Grade A) now is only $95 more than it was then! Being cost conscious, Syckes has always maintained the lowest possible prices.

Since that small, but auspicious beginning, business has been brisk with several thousand pianos having passed through U.S. Customs destined for piano dealers throughout the country. Sales of these pianos have not done an iota of harm to new piano sales; rather they have helped the bottom line of dealers selling them, while offering quality affordable pianos to the buying public. It is a fact, the very existence of many stores is directly related to the sales of used pianos from Syckes Piano Imports, Inc.

Of course, many competitors have appeared on the scene, coming and going with predictable regularity. It is true, the sincerest form of flattery is competition and while most feel their only way to survive is by cutting price, it should come as no surprise that SERVICE is in itself the BEST business practice! No one in this segment of the piano industry pays more attention to customers than Syckes, and the several independent piano travelers who call on and serve  many loyal dealers throughout the United States and Canada!

Selection and inspection of all pianos is supervised by Wilton Syckes, a piano industry veteran since 1950. His final pricing is based on the strict grading system he has developed. Should a problem of any kind arise after a piano is shipped, a prompt resolution is executed to the dealers complete and total satisfaction. No other importer in the business cares so much for its customers. With pride we call it

Guaranteed Landed Quality

That’s Our Motto – That’s Our Promise.


The Debate about Yamaha Pianos – Executive Summary

Part 1: Problem Statement

Part 2: Yamaha Corp. of America’s Advertisement

Part 3: Wilton H. Syckes’ Editorial Response

Part 4: A History Lesson, by Wilton Syckes

Part 5: Give Me a Break, by Wilton Syckes

Part 6: FAQS about Previously Owned Yamaha and Kawai Pianos, by Wilton Syckes

Part 7: Seasoned for Destination, by Tom Donahue

Part 8: Gray Market Yamaha Pianos – What is the Truth? By Craig Whitaker

Part 9: A Conclusion




Part 5: Give Me a Break

Posted: April 15, 2014 in Piano

Give Me a Break

By Wilton Syckes


Wilton H. Syckes

You know it’s really getting silly; this constant barrage of misinformation being disseminated from various sources regarding the problems purchasers of used Yamaha pianos are destined to expect. And it never ceases to amaze me how gullible some people are; especially intelligent and respected piano dealers. There are even some tuner-technicians who, misguided or not, seem to delight in telling prospective customers all about the potential disaster they can expect if they buy a pre-owned Yamaha, i.e. one not originally shipped to the United States. And, worse, some of them spout off to owners of these fine instruments with the same drivel. You know the story: Gray market Pianos, Bootleg Pianos, Cabinet Parts Warping, Loose Tuning Pins, Cracked Soundboards, Glue Joint Failures, Sluggish Response, Sticking Keys, and best of all NO PARTS ARE AVAILABLE IN THIS COUNTRY!

One of the most ludicrous statements ever to come out of the Yamaha headquarters in Buena Park, California arrived via e-mail from a Piano Support Specialist (name withheld because I do not want to embarrass him!). I quote, “You are buying the same quality instrument as if you would have purchased a legitimate, U.S.-destined Kawai or Yamaha”. Wow, that’s really criticizing the parent company, isn’t it!

If you haven’t seen the September 1999 issue of the Piano Technicians Journal, read on – a copy of the Yamaha advertisement on the back cover and my “Letter to the Editor”. How stupid to come right out in print, in a public forum and knock your own company’s product. Boy, I wonder how an executive of Toyota, Sony, or Honda – assigned to a tour of duty in the States; who brings along his precious C-3 Conservatory Model feels when he hears that his beloved piano is apt to fall apart in his living room! I’d be a mite “you-know-what” off if it were I!

Which brings me to the NO PARTS AVAILABLE statement. To me a string is a string, a wippen is a wippen, a center pin is a center pin, a damper lever is a damper lever, a pedal is a pedal – on infinitum! Having the gall to tell a dealer or technician who asks for a specific part, “We must decline to take the order” borders on complete insanity!

To combat this asinine comment, I suggest you refrain from calling YCA for a part, only to be embarrassed by their refusal to assist you. Instead, contact Schaff Piano supply Co. They stock all genuine Yamaha parts and accessories. Perhaps you should spend five bucks and get a Schaff catalog where you will find eight pages of parts shipped direct from Hamamatsu, Japan.

Wilton H. Syckes

[Ed. Note: Yamaha Corp. of America (YCA) will not fulfill orders of parts for Yamaha pianos they did not distribute in the U.S. Tuner/technicians typically secure the serial number of a YCA piano and use it to order parts for legally imported Yamaha pianos. Parts for imported used pianos are interchangeable and can be acquired by tuner/technicians. YCA’s policy creates this inconvenience for tuner/technicians in order to maintain their competitive stance towards imported used Yamahas.]


The Debate about Yamaha Pianos – Executive Summary

Part 1: Problem Statement

Part 2: Yamaha Corp. of America’s Advertisement

Part 3: Wilton H. Syckes’ Editorial Response

Part 4: A History Lesson, by Wilton Syckes

Part 5: Give Me a Break, by Wilton Syckes

Part 6: FAQS about Previously Owned Yamaha and Kawai Pianos, by Wilton Syckes

Part 7: Seasoned for Destination, by Tom Donahue

Part 8: Gray Market Yamaha Pianos – What is the Truth? By Craig Whitaker

Part 9: A Conclusion





[The following is the text of a handout written by Wilton Syckes intended to answer concerns raised by prospective used piano customers.]

Questions and Answers


Previously Owned

Yamaha and Kawai Pianos

Seasoned for World-Wide Destination

Question: Where are these pre-owned pianos built?

Answer: Each and every piano we import was built ONLY IN JAPAN! Contrary to some crazy rumors, they were NOT made in Taiwan, China, Korea, or elsewhere in Asia.

Question: Where in Japan do we obtain these used pianos?

Answer: Hither and Yon! Everywhere! Our Japanese associates constantly search the country for pianos that meet OUR specifications for the various grades we have established.

Question: These pianos, having been manufactured IN JAPAN, won’t they develop physical problems when brought to the United States?

Answer: Emphatically NO! Neither Yamaha nor Kawai ever ran two production lines. The pianos they have built are ALL THE SAME, and have been shipped to every corner of the world. Serial numbers are in consecutive order, no matter to what country the piano was sent. Parts for the piano WE import are interchangeable with those sold by YAMAHA CORPORATION OF AMERICA, based in Buena Park, California.

Question: Didn’t YCM have some dryness problems with cases and pin-blocks when they first imported pianos from their Japanese factory?

Answer: Yes, but only in the very first shipments. Within the first few months production changes were made to avoid future problems. You should know that we DO NOT import YAMAHA pianos made in the early 1960s, except as Grade J. [Ed Note: Grade J is “Junk” pianos, the worst grade possible.]

Question: Aren’t the climatic conditions in the United States different from those in Japan? If so, isn’t it possible for these pianos to “fall apart” in this country?

Answer: The United States runs the gamut of weather conditions throughout the world! Nowhere is there such diverse climatic variations as in this country.

Question: YAMAHA CORP. OF AMERICA refers to these pianos as GRAY MARKET, being distributed by “non-authorized wholesalers representing the pianos to be of a similar quality as regular YAMAHA instruments”. How do you respond?

Answer: Webster defines Gray market as “A place of system for selling scarce goods secretly above prevailing prices, a practice co0nsidered unethical although legal”. It must be quite obvious, SYCKES PIANO IMPORTS is NOT selling GRAY MARKET goods, nor do we operate in an unethical manner!

Question: Please explain “Seasoned for Destination”. How does it relate to the pre-owned pianos imported by SYCKES PIANO IMPORTS?

Answer: In the United States every conceivable climatic condition can be found, from the high humidity of Miami and Houston to the dry cities of Phoenix and Denver. San Diego is totally different from Akron; Boston vs. Minneapolis, etc. etc. You will find our pianos in virtually EVERY city in the country, serving the purpose they were purchased for! It is ludicrous to even suggest that ANY piano manufacturer can “season or destination” and by so doing “determine the moisture content of the wood for the market for which it is destined”, as recently stated by a YAMAHA (of America) executive!

Question: Are used KAWAI or YAMAHA pianos imported here by their American affiliates?

Answer: Definitely yes for Kawai; POSSIBLY (but we have no proof) for Yamaha. One would suspect a double set of standards, wouldn’t one!

Question: What warranty backing can be expected?

Answer: Used piano warranties are the responsibility of the selling dealer. As a general rule, manufacturers do not provide warranties except for the ORIGINAL customer.

Question: What’s the scoop on the fact that many Yamaha and Kawai grand pianos have only two pedals? Does this indicate the piano is, indeed, a Gray market piano?

Answer: No, No, No! Two pedal grands were, since Cristofori days, the choice of piano builders throughout the entire world, except in this country where people insisted on having a middle pedal. Probably only ONE out of ONE HUNDRED have any idea what this pedal does, let alone even know how to spell the word SOSTENUTO.

Question: When did the Japanese Yamaha and Kawai factories decide to discontinue product pianos with only two pedals?

Answer: Kawai, in about 1973 saw the light; YAMAHA, not until about ten years later. Both companies informed their world-wide customers that, in the interest of more efficient production ALL grand pianos would have THREE pedals; thus a large cost savings!

Comment: Victor Borges, world-famous pianist and entertainer, has said over and over again, “THE MIDDLE PEDAL SIMPLY SEPARATES THE LEFT FROM THE RIGHT”!

Question: What about a crack in a soundboard? Does it affect tonal quality?

Answer: Most likely many, if not most used grand pianos have at least one or more cracks in the soundboard. This is especially true in more expensive instruments, those that use the better grades of Sitka, Adirondack or European solid spruce. Provided the crown of the soundboard remain intact, the odds of tonal change is highly unlikely.

Question: How do you define, and/or establish that a true crack exists in a piano?

Answer: Such a crack will be one that is open to the eye. From the top clean through the board. If this is the case, either a business card can be slid through or light from a flashlight can be seen from bottom to top. Most “cracks” are totally harmless!

Comment: Do not confuse a so called crack with a minor seal separation; or a pressure ridge known in the trade as a menori (a Japanese term). The latter two conditions are quite common, having absolutely no adverse effect, other than COSMETIC! Please note that SEAMS ACT AS EXPANSION JOINTS, thus allowing for very slight openings to appear under extreme dry periods, no matter where the piano may be in use. When the humidity level increases, these insignificant openings will disappear!

Question: Explain your grading system. Is it the same used by other piano importers?

Answer: We are protective of our grading system! Pianos sold by us adhere to very strict standards in Grades established by Wilton Sykes, of Sykes Piano Imports.

As “A” grade piano, be it upright or grand, is, for all intents and purpose ready for the dealer’s floor, with only slight preparation necessary.

A minus (A-) and B plus (B+) will show some wear; perhaps have a pressure ridge and maybe a slight finish blemish, but for the most part a great piano, easy to sell!

B grade pianos are simply excellent used pianos, the kind you once in a while run into in your home town. Imperfections such as case blemishes, minor finish fissures, soundboard “memories”; hardware needing polished – all possibilities, but not all in each piano! Should minor corrosion appear on treble wire strings, it can be easily removed with a SCOTCHBRITE brand pad. No residue will be left on strings or soundboard.

Comment: Our grading system is unlike any other in the industry. We purchase our pianos on the open market in Japan and pay according to our supplier’s grading system. Each piano is personally inspected at our warehouses; then assigned a NEW grade by Mr. Syckes. The piano MUST meet his exacting grade requirements before it is shipped to a dealer.

Question: Please provide more information about late model three-pedal grand pianos.

Answer: They are in very short supply, especially YAMAHA, but those we offer are just like new, and for the most part come from prestigious music conservatories and universities. Unlike in America, pianos are extremely well cared for in any and all public places. We could easily grade them as A plus (A+) because that’s the quality you will receive!

Question: Why should YOU sell a used YAMAHA OR KAWAI?

Answer: Profit is the best reason, or course! And, notwithstanding, the satisfaction of giving your customer a piano of high quality at an attractive price. Interestingly enough are the large number of well-known YAMAHA (new) dealers who buy ONLY from us!

Question: Why should YOUR customers buy a used piano? In particular, what makes one imported by SYCKES PIANO IMPORTS the best selection?

Answer: The prices of all new Japanese (and Korean) pianos have skyrocketed. It seems the manufacturers can think only one way regarding pricing – and that is always UP! So saving money for your customers is the right way to go, and when you sell only pianos imported by SYCKES PIANO IMPORTS, you are selling the very best. There are other “Johnny-Come-Lately” outfits asking for your business, but SYCKES has the reputation for honesty, credibility, and integrity others envy. Wilton Syckes has been in the piano business since 1950, and has been selling pre-owned YAMAHA and KAWAI grand and upright pianos to discriminating merchants since 1984. You will be buying with complete confidence when you place your order with one of his several representatives, or directly from him. Don’t wait; start making PROFITS today!

Guaranteed Landed Quality

That’s Our Motto – That’s Our Promise


The Debate about Yamaha Pianos – Executive Summary

Part 1: Problem Statement

Part 2: Yamaha Corp. of America’s Advertisement

Part 3: Wilton H. Syckes’ Editorial Response

Part 4: A History Lesson, by Wilton Syckes

Part 5: Give Me a Break, by Wilton Syckes

Part 6: FAQS about Previously Owned Yamaha and Kawai Pianos, by Wilton Syckes

Part 7: Seasoned for Destination, by Tom Donahue

Part 8: Gray Market Yamaha Pianos – What is the Truth? By Craig Whitaker

Part 9: A Conclusion