Author Archive

According to Whom…

Posted: August 22, 2015 in Piano

Between 1850 and 1937 the Paris Expo bestowed praise and awards on many musical instrument manufactures, including various pianos and piano designs, at their annual show. This span of time was also an interesting period in the history and development of the United States of America. We were trying to establish our country’s legitimacy before a world audience. We were indeed a great experiment, but were we yet a great nation – and according to whom?

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Paris Expo in 1900. “Vue panoramique de l’exposition universelle de 1900” by Lucien Baylac – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ppmsca.15645< Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

In 1850, the U.S. was regarded by influential Europeans and their representative institutions  as a rather barbaric country. As our country became a world leader over the next 100 years, there was early on a pressing need for validation of our progress and achievements from established authorities in each of many fields. Those authorities were all in Europe. The experts in every field, fine arts, architecture, music, manufacturing, technology, city design, all lived in Europe.   Piano companies, seeking an objective and qualified credential of excellent product quality, headed to the Paris Expo (and other expos) to compete for recognition and standing.

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A Bluthner piano sporting an abundance of decal replicas of hard earned awards of excellence at competitions.

American manufacturers made blustery claims of excellence in their sales literature, but the only way to settle the matter as to who had the best piano was to appeal to non-partisan experts in order to settle disputed claims of dominance. Winning an award was high praise for a piano manufacturer. Soon, those awards were displayed on decals on the pianos that were offered for sale. You can still see many pianos today that have decals sporting old awards of superior quality, but it is not always the case that customers gain a true appreciation for what those awards meant to our earliest manufacturers, designers, inventors and all other innovative thinkers in a multitude of fields, most notably among them was the field architecture.

Kimball pianos, as part of their incredible marketing campaign, displayed a large collection of early medals and awards on later day pianos.

Kimball pianos, as part of their incredible marketing campaign, displayed a large collection of early medals and awards on later day pianos. The names of the awards were of less conspicuous contests, such and Mississippi and Pacific Expo, hardly on par with the Paris Expo.

The U.S. in 1850 had not yet made its mark in architecture. We had not established ourselves as a unique and independent civilized culture. In fact, the question of our status as a civilized country was scrutinized even more after the several states seceded from the Union to establish the Confederate States of America. While Americans fought brother against brother in a very brutal and uncivilized war, high-minded Europeans must have scoffed frequently at our prospects as an emerging country. That doubt withered away eventually because of our achievements during the early years of the Industrial Era, but the most significant proof of our national claim of legitimacy would come in 1933 and 1936 with the respective crowning achievements realized when we built the Chrysler Building and the New York Empire State Building. New York, New York itself had emerged as a somewhat modern city. In those moments, it became clear to everyone that the United States of America was here to stay, and had established itself as a new authority in a broad array of matters. We no longer needed to appeal to the authorities in Europe for validation.We had earned our place at the table and proved to the world that we were capable of raising the standard of excellence in every field of expertise.

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Mason & Hamlin Organ advertisement emphasized they had won the “Highest Awards at all Great World’s Exhibitions”.

Today we are so certain of our standing as a world leader that we have no recollection of ever having to appeal to someone else in order to validate the legitimacy of our claims. It is perhaps wise that we remember that at one time we were in fact dependent on the whim and temper of European experts. The validations of our accomplishments were dependent on the authority of others.

The size of the Empire State Building compared to the Eiffel Tower and other buildings.

The size of the Empire State Building compared to the Eiffel Tower and other buildings.

It is August 2015. My last blog appeared on the 30th of December last year. I’ve been busy.

I have written over 100 articles about pianos since I started this blog. The blog has received over 40,000 visits. You would think that the experiences I shared in 100 blogs would have altered consumer behavior. Maybe a few parents would have reconsidered before buying a junk piano off Craigslist. Maybe local piano dealers would stop making outrageous claims about their products.

Nothing has changed. I have helped many people make decisions about pianos – in person, but to my knowledge, the blog has not helped me save the world, one piano at a time. By the way, that’s my company slogan. I changed world to planet. I still can’t decide which I like better. Planet is rather impersonal, but it has more geek appeal.

Grand piano hammers ready for installation

A new set of grand piano hammers are being prepared for installation. New hammers makes a dramatic improvement to the volume and tone of an old piano.

We each need to realize that our work, opinions, ideas and actions do in fact contribute to the sum of all work, opinions, ideas and actions. It just isn’t very obvious or even noticeable at times, but we are each shaping this world we live in – each saving the planet as we are able. I have my hands full saving pianos, otherwise I would offer to help you. If you do your part and I do mine, the planet will be saved eventually. When saving planets (and pianos) it is best to embrace a long term attitude. (Pack a lunch.)

What I Have Been Doing

Like I said, I’ve been busy. I moved. That took a long time. We moved into the new house in November of 2014 (which may explain why I have not been writing blogs!). Six months passed before the last box was emptied or stored in the attic. I had to build a new shop (after I moved all of my pianos from the old place.) My shop is now functional, but it is not yet cozy. It is also no longer located in Coppell, although it is closer to Coppell’s Towncenter than it was before.

I lived in Coppell for 25 years. I knew a lot of people, worked as a volunteer for many  groups, and watched as young leaders destroyed the town one building, one road at a time. It was painful at times. Coppell was such a nice little town when we first moved there, but today it has too much traffic, is over-crowded, and the population turns over so often that the community experience is very limited. You move in, raise your kids, and then leave. After age 50, the demographics drop off. The median age stays around 34. (Time Magazine recently ranked Coppell #8 in Best Places to Live.)

Pianos in my shop are undergoing repair.

The new and improved Coppell Piano Shop.

And that means that the amenities, services and features of the community are guided by the short-term interests of thirty-four year old parents. I do not know if you have been a parent, but 34 y.o. parents do not know a lot about parenting, and even less about running a community.  Coppell is a nice place to raise your kids, but I would not want to live there. That should be the town slogan.  For me, it was time to move – so I headed north to Lewisville.

For the next year I will attending the Lewisville’s Citizen University. I hope to learn about my new community and join other volunteers in community service in some capacity. I try to participate in one major community event each year. It may be a committee, a task force or a

This is Lewisville City Hall, located in the older part of town.

This is Lewisville City Hall, located in the older part of town.

project volunteer. I never know what it will be. Lewisville is a much larger community than Coppell. It is far more diverse in its offerings. There is an established old part of town, a natural lake area, a lake, and a mall area to the south. It is a little overwhelming to understand how people in this community, who are spread out over a very large distance, can share a common view of the city. A large community has many personalities – I seek to learn what those identities are – but it must also have a general and broadly stated common personality. I do not yet know what that is.

Business is Good

The business has not suffered for the move. I am centrally located within the territory of customers I wish to serve. Flower Mound, Lantana and Coppell are just minutes away.  I continue to maintain the pianos at Coppell High School and the Community Chorale, but unlike most technicians, I do not pursue business from institutions often. I much prefer working with individual pianists, and parents of piano students. I have a ton of work to do in the shop, which – in terms of pianos that weigh 500 lbs each, could mean as few as 4 projects – I will busy for some time.

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Eating lunch at the kitchen table, taking a break from saving the planet, one piano at a time.

I need people to buy junk pianos off Craiglist so there will be a need for someone like me to make them playable. I truly wish they would not buy those pianos, but since there is little hope of that happening, it looks like I am going to be busy for a while longer.

As I continue to add articles in this Part 2 episode of my piano blog, I invite you to follow along.

2014 in review

Posted: December 30, 2014 in Coppell Piano Shop, Piano

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

[Ed. After writing this article, it became known that the CISD School Trustees failed to launch a program due to the prior administration’s decision not to comply with the wishes of the School Board. This failure came at a time when the School Superintendent Dr. Turner resigned. In November of 2014, I moved from Coppell, Texas. I have not continued to advocate for school orchestra in Coppell ISD schools. I have no knowledge about any progress that may have occurred since the 2014-2015 school year.  The football program is fine though. The School Board managed to build another large facility for the sports programs.]

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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

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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. et.al.

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.]

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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.

graymarket3.wilton.small

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