Are Grey Market Pianos Bad?
This is a top contender for the most asked question we get from callers, emails, and visitors in our store. Many people desire a high-quality Japanese piano, such as Kawai and Yamaha, at a price they can afford. Over the years, both Japanese companies have invested considerable time and money into their marketing throughout North America in effort to convince buyers that a grey market piano is always inferior and guaranteed to have issues. All of these claims are immense exaggerations of partial truths—very similar to how politicians emphasize and deemphasize certain facts to win an election. Let us deconstruct some of these twisted facts.
Twisted Fact #1, “Grey Market Pianos Are Inferior”
Both Kawai and Yamaha make pianos that literally cannot be found in the North American inventory lists available to dealers. This is a fact. The cheapest pianos produced in Asia for these companies are often made to a price point for domestic buyers. Just like people from other countries have a hard time grasping why Americans often buy multiple homes and vehicles, many piano buyers in North America probably would find it strange that many Asian piano buyers replace their relatively cheaper new Kawai or Yamaha pianos approximately every 5 years. This throw away mentality is no different than how globally, smart phones are replaced every 2 years. Asia has simply taken this approach to most products, including pianos. Reputable piano dealers stay clear of these bottom barrel models, yet they still outperform the entry level pianos from lower tier companies. Why would piano dealers stay away from a potentially cheaper Japanese piano? One word: reputation! Kawai and Yamaha have made their claim to fame by building a mass produced piano consistently without compromising musicality. Piano dealers know that exposing customers to anything less than stellar from either company would damage their reputation. Because many piano stores do not have great technicians or understand how to acclimate pianos from different climates, grey market pianos represent too great of a risk for their integrity. Yet all the issues associated with grey market pianos stem from extreme changes in climate. For this reason, the same dealers who propagate the mythos of junkyard destined grey market pianos will argue the same against pianos from opposing climates within the continental US! This is why knowing pianos on a technical level and having the people, tools, and space to work on pianos is so crucial in the sales industry. At Stilwell Pianos, we have an abundance of the greatest technicians in the Southwest, a tool for every job, and the space necessary to work on multiple pianos at a time.
Twisted Fact #2, “Grey Market Pianos Are Always a Risk”
Yamaha and Kawai representatives in North America consistently argue that importing a piano built for the domestic market into North America will end with hellfire and brimstone raining down from heaven, before you can play Chopin’s Minute Waltz on the grey market piano. There is purportedly a 30 percent difference in humidity found in the wood of a Japanese market piano vs. a North American market piano. This difference over 15 to 20 years become insignificant if you compare a piano from Torrance, California to Hamamatsu, Japan. Both regions have similar humidity, yet the risk of a used American market Kawai or Yamaha is downplayed over a Japanese market piano. Both pianos have an equal risk of forming cracks in drier climates, but most cracks in the soundboard or rim do not aversely change the tone or rigidity of the piano. In fact, the lower price of grey market pianos over North American market pianos that come from coastal climates makes purchasing a grey market piano less of a financial risk.
In conclusion, buying a piano that has been inspected and worked on by a registered piano technician is more important than how the piano was obtained. A quality instrument will not cease to be a quality instrument simply because it was moved somewhere else. Instead of asking "Where is this piano from?" consider asking "What is the condition of this piano?" "Have you worked on this piano?" "Are you willing to guarantee or warranty this piano?"