Our kids started on piano lessons through learnpiano online some years ago. At the time, we owned a Casio keyboard (CTK-515) and soon upgraded to a Yamaha portable digital piano (P65) from Costco. A few years ago, our eight year old started taking lessons from a live teacher. Even to the untrained ear, there was a distinct difference in the sound emanating from his Grand Piano and our digital piano. Per his recommendation, we decided to upgrade to an Acoustic Console Upright Piano: his opinion was that we should consider either a new piano for several thousand dollars or an older one for several hundred with the intention of upgrading in a year or so. Console Uprights are pianos over 40” in height while those shorter than that are termed spinets. Spinets did enjoy popularity for a while but the plug was pulled on its production some years ago with the advent of digital pianos. Our piano teacher specifically told us not to get a spinet.
Craigslist vs Piano Dealers:
Our initial source for a used acoustic piano was Craigslist though we did visit a few piano dealers. In the price range we had in mind (several hundreds to a few thousands), it was very clear that the Yamaha was regarded as the gold standard. The lowest price for a Yamaha we saw listed on Craigslist was a 30-year old P2 for $1000, and by the time we contacted, the piano was already sold! The closest we came to buying a used piano was a 35-year old Baldwin 52” upright that was listed in Craigslist by a used piano dealer in San Leandro for $700. The piano sounded excellent but we ultimately decided against it for two reasons:
- The piano did not show very well and the cabinetry would not go at all with the rest of the decor in our home, and
- The 52” seemed a little too tall a piano for our room.
- Purchases from a private-party generally do not come with any warranties whatsoever;
- Transportation could be a hassle and employing a professional piano moving outfit can get expensive, and
- Tuning will add to the overall cost.
We decided against buying a used piano primarily because of our instructor’s suggestion that we should be prepared to upgrade even if we spend several hundreds for a used piano immediately. Rather than having to purchase another one, it made more sense for us to go with a piano we can use for a longer time period.
New Piano Shopping Experience:
In general, piano shops in the bay area do not discuss pricing over the phone. For this reason, it is necessary to visit the stores to be able to compare pricing. We visited Piedmont Piano in Oakland, CA and DC Pianos in Berkeley, CA and had phone conversations with Music Exchange in Dublin, Pianos Plus in Castro Valley, Gordon’s Music in Fairfield, and Carnes Piano in San Mateo. Of these, “Piedmont Piano”, “Music Exchange”, and “Pianos Plus” are Yamaha dealers while “Carnes Piano”, “DC Pianos”, and “Gordon’s Music” are Kawai dealers. It was explained to us that the same dealership does not function as both Yamaha and Kawai dealers because of the fierce competition between these two companies.
The phone conversations were useful to an extent in gathering information, but could not convince us to consider visiting. “Carnes Piano” claimed they had a big sale running on the Kawai and said they had a sizable inventory marked for this special sale. They couldn’t give the pricing over the phone but said the sale was 30% off the list price of the pianos and that the Kawai K-15 list price was around $4500. The pricing did not include transporting and tuning. “Pianos Plus” asked us about our experience at “Piedmont Piano” and said they would beat Piedmont Piano’s pricing although they could not give quotes over the phone.
“Piedmont Piano” is a very professional outfit. They were very helpful and gave us the strengths of all the Yamaha piano models they carried. When we mentioned that our preferred range is around $1000 he gently guided us on the fact that their lowest priced acoustic is the Cable Nelson-Yamaha co-branded CN-216 which was on sale for $2695 ($2595 for the CN-116). They also pointed out that their store in San Francisco carries used pianos and we may find something there although at a somewhat higher than the $1000 price point. There was no explicit pressure to buy or to commit to anything. But, they made it a point to stress the fact that the sale ran through March and that they have heard that Yamaha is set to increase pricing after April 1. The next higher model they had was the M-460 BC priced at $3195. Also, on the Cable Nelson branding, they said the spruce was made of laminate and the warranty was 5-years compared to wood sprucing and 10-year warranty for the other Yamaha products. The 5-year warranty contradicts the 10-year warranty that Yamaha publishes on its website. The pricing includes transportation and two tunings for the Yamaha’s and transportation and one tuning for the Cable-Nelson’s.
“DC Pianos” has an understated store, although they are dealers for Kawai, Pearl River, and Baldwin pianos. Dennis Croda, the owner of the store was also extremely patient with us. He directed us to an older Wurltizer spinet for $995 when we mentioned our price range. When we mentioned our preference for consoles, he showed us a used Yamaha P-22 he had listed at Craigslist for $1995. He also had other used Yamaha’s at higher price points. He then proceeded to show us the low-end consoles of Pearl River, Baldwin, and Kawai. Pearl River is a Chinese manufacturer which also manufacturers pianos for other brands. They had the lowest pricing among the 44”-45” consoles at $1695. The lowest Baldwin console (44”-45”) was priced at $2000. The one we liked best was the Kawai K-15 with contemporary black styling and no front legs. It was priced at $2795. Dennis offered a 10% discount off these prices for the new pianos. The price included transportation, first tuning, and a 100% credit for upgrades.
We also looked briefly at Costco’s Suzuki offerings. The console uprights are priced starting in the mid-2000’s and has a 10-year warranty.
We decided against Pearl River given the possibility that the value of the piano will depreciate much faster than the other piano brands. Baldwin was in bankruptcy recently and Gibson bought them a few years ago. Even with the revival, the new Baldwin’s are considered a notch below in quality compared to the other brands. That left us with a choice between the Kawai’s and the Yamaha’s at higher price points. Both the Kawai K-15 and the Cable Nelson Yamaha CN-216’s sounded good. Looks wise, we preferred the Kawai. We compared the Kawai K-15 side-by-side with the Yamaha P-22 used model they had for $1995. The Yamaha had a slightly brighter sound even to our untrained ears. Dennis explained that the Yamaha’s sound like that as they were geared towards the institutional market. Kawai K-15 sounded just right – neither imposing nor weak. We really liked the mute facility of Kawai. In the end, our decision was between one of the used Yamaha P-2’s or P-22’s and the new Kawai K-15. The mute facility along with the sleek looks made us go for the Kawai K-15.
Earlier this year (2010), we used DC Pianos twice to transport the Kawai K-15 over a period of a few months. The first was a short local move. The mover pricing came in about 75% more than what DC Piano offered - part of the reason for the higher pricing with the movers was the fact that they required crating even for a short move. The second was for a move half way around the globe. DC Piano confirmed the Kawai's should perform well in Asia and offered to put silica gel inside just as a precaution. Crating & loading came to just under $200 - they try to reuse crates from the new pianos that come to their store and that accounts for the lower pricing - the piano came intact and we are happy campers!
Acoustic Piano Buyers Resources:
1. Best Values in Digital Pianos (Portable) - A Comparative Review.
2. Best Values in Digital Pianos (Home - Non Portable) - A Comparative Review.
3. Digital Pianos (Yamaha, Casio, Roland, Kawai, Korg) - An introduction for Digital Piano Shoppers.
4. Best Values in Yamaha Digital Pianos (Portable) - A Comparative Review.
5. Best Values in Yamaha Digital Pianos (Home - Non Portable) - A Comparative Review.
6. Yamaha Digital Pianos - An Introduction to Different Models.
7. Acoustic Piano (Yamaha M-460, Cable Nelson Yamaha CN-116, Kawai K-15, etc.) - Review, Best Values, Pricing, & Shopping Experience.
8. Yamaha P65 & P70 Digital Piano Review.
9. Teach your kids Piano with learn piano online for free – well, almost!!
Last Updated: 03/2012.