On the topic of gray market Kawai and Yamaha pianos.
Hi guys! With Yamaha and Kawai being among our most popular used piano brands, the subject of gray market comes up a lot, especially when it comes to Yamaha pianos. I wanted to talk a little bit about what we've found in our experience working with these instruments that were originally built and sold, generally for the Japanese market.
Gray market technically refers to pianos that compete with authorized new piano dealers, regardless of where they came from. For this discussion, we are talking specifically about pianos that were sold new in another country and then imported into the United States.
First, let's talk about seasoning wood. Seasoning is the process of drying wood to a particular moisture content, which greatly helps in stabilizing it against shrinking and cracking. To my knowledge, Yamaha is the only piano builder that claims to season their wood differently depending on the intended market. Kawai states that they do not incorporate this practice. While Yamaha makes it as easy as plugging the serial number into their website to see if it was made for the US market, the only way we can really tell with Kawai, is if it happens to be a model that isn't sold in the US.
Though Gray Market pianos have the same great feel and sound as their US Market counterparts, they demand lower prices. This doesn't directly correlate to lower quality, though we do see cracks in the soundboards fairly often. It must also be said that the majority of the Gray Market pianos we've worked on are generally from the mid 70s-80s and we often find the same issues with US market pianos of that age. When you get right down to it, the climate in Arizona is vastly different than Florida or New York and older pianos tend to have experienced more climates and larger variations in humidity, which ultimately is the most likely culprit to a cracked soundboard.
Now we've gotten to the subject of cracked soundboards, I would like to quote from the Spring 2016 Piano Buyer's Guide:
"Contrary to popular belief, cracks in the soundboard, though often unattractive, are not necessarily important, as long as the tone is acceptable. Very extensive cracking, however, can indicate the piano has suffered great climate extremes, and that its life expectancy may be short. In such a case, other symptoms of this will usually be evident elsewhere in the piano."
While there is a plethora of information on this subject both positive and negative readily available with a simple internet search, some may have an agenda while some may not and some may be biased or not, as well. As always, we want to help you find the right piano for you, regardless of where it comes from. So close your eyes (if you can play with your eyes closed) and find the piano that draws you in, the one that gets you to sit down and play, regardless of who made it and for whom it was made!