Monday, August 11, 2008

Buying a piano

In July 1995, my friends bought me a piano. It was an incredible gift, a lovely huge old Hallet & Davis with a light touch and a resonant soundboard. Made right here in Boston about 80 years earlier. It needed various repairs over the years, and those repairs gradually got more serious. Eventually the bass bridge gave up the ghost, and an extensive rebuild didn’t seem like the right choice. The Hallet & Davis took a crane ride two years ago to a friend’s home where numerous children now enjoy it.

I looked at pianos at 9 or 10 different piano stores from Maine to Rhode Island a few years ago, and just never found the right piano. I did learn a fair bit about what I do and don’t like in an upright piano. Yamahas are very popular, but I don’t personally like the way their very stiff action has a noticeable shift partway through a key press. Steinways can be wonderful, but they’re a significant investment. I definitely like a mellow tone, which is more common in European soundboards, and the Schimmel pianos that Boston Organ and Piano had a few years back had a fabulous touch and resonance. Boston Organ and Piano had a few Kemble pianos as well which I liked a lot as well, though the brand is less well known. Several stores had pleasant Petrof pianos, which seem to be the best of the pianos coming out of Eastern Europe. I even found one Kawai that I liked down in Providence, but overall I strongly preferred the European pianos. The headache of dealing with a high-pressure sales pitch was frustrating, though, and I finally decided to just check craigslist periodically, hoping that a used Schimmel would come up. (I nearly bought a Sohmer that way a couple of years ago, until the piano technician who had supposedly tuned it every six months told me that the owners actually hadn’t had it tuned for 10 years.)

Time passed, and last week a used Schimmel appeared on craigslist. I made an appointment to go try it out, and figured in the meantime I should check in with Boston Organ and Piano to see what they were selling for these days, and see if the used one was holding up to how new ones sounded. I didn’t realize that Boston Organ and Piano had collapsed from 5 or 6 stores down to 1 and was no longer a Schimmel dealer (after 4 years of being the biggest Schimmel dealer in the world). I went to a couple of other piano stores, both overpriced and under-prepped. The saleswoman at one seemed to understand instantly what I liked and didn’t like in a piano, but the store’s selection was extremely weak. The other store had a huge selection, but the sales pitch was painful. I found one piano there that I probably would have bought for $8000, but it took an hour to get the price down from an inflated $16,000 to an inflated $15,000. On the other hand, the craigslist Schimmel turned out to be shockingly bright-sounding to my ear. After 7 hours over 2 days looking at pianos, I gave up. No more piano stores. I hate the unpredictably awful salespeople, the guessing game on the prices, the bad lighting and bad acoustics and frequently untuned pianos. And I wasn’t learning anything any longer by going to the stores. One more look through craigslist out of habit, and, wait, there was a lightly-used Kemble purchased new in 2005, built around 2001, in perfect condition and at a reasonable price. A couple of phone calls and a trip to try it out the next afternoon, and I bought a piano!

Kemble has made Yamaha pianos for the European market for quite a while, and they shifted over to using Yamaha parts for their own pianos. Recently Yamaha finished buying Kemble, and people say there is no real difference now in the Yamaha and Kemble piano lines except for the cases and perhaps the voicing. Since I’ve never personally liked Yamahas, I’m surprised that I like Kembles. But I consistently have liked the Kembles I’ve tried, and this one was no exception. (Actually, I may well have tried it out back when it was still in the showroom at Boston Organ and Piano.) And I’m very excited that I’ll have a piano in the house again. We’re moving furniture around to make space for it before it arrives on Saturday morning.

In an amusing coda, I received an e-mail today offering to sell me the $16,000 piano for $8000. Apparently the key to receiving a good price is to say that you’ve bought a different piano, and it’s good to know that my sense that the store’s prices were absurdly high was correct. I’m very happy with the Kemble, though, and I really don’t need two pianos.

1 comment:

irilyth said...

Hey, wow, I've been behind on journal-reading and had not read this until just now! Go piano!