What is a "Grey Market Piano"?
A "Grey Market" or "Wet Piano" is a piano purchased in a container load, usually from Asia. They are very often used in an institution, such as a music school or university, for many years. They are then reconditioned and cleaned up to look better. These pianos are brought to North America, and sold at a discount, with no Factory Warranty available and no authentic dealer support. Any warranty given can only be an in-house one by the seller.
How are "Grey Market" Pianos Sold?
In Saskatchewan, "Grey" or "Wet " pianos are marketed often through truckload sales, by out-of-province "Grey Market" dealers, holding sales once or twice a year. Or they are sold from non-Yamaha Authorized dealers locally. Customers are enticed by generally lower pricing than Factory Authorized instruments, due to the fact that the "Grey Market" product was purchased at liquidation prices.
Do the Major Piano Manufacturers Support the Sale of "Grey Market" Pianos?
The answer is NO. A Yamaha or Samick or Knabe or any other brand name piano bought at a "Grey Market" sale does not carry a Factory Warranty and does not qualify for Factory Servicing if problems occur.
Piano manufacturers know that pianos brought overseas are likely to under-perform expectations for the brand and may develop serious problems as a result of the wood in the pianos not being properly seasoned for the climate to which they are exported. Yamaha Corporation maintains that their piano assembly plant in Hamamatsu, Japan contains large rooms where pianos are seasoned for different climates worldwide under strict guidelines. Like other manufacturers, they will not honour their product warranties for grey products. Yamaha provides a free serial number search on their website to determine whether a used Yamaha piano was imported as a "Grey Market" piano.
"Grey Market" salesmen often attempt to paint the major piano manufacturers as "evil entities", committed to keeping prices as high as possible in an effort to convince prospective customers to purchase their often inferior product. They often also attempt to discredit legitimate Factory Authorized dealers, as agents of the "evil" manufacturers. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, Factory Authorized retailers are dedicated individuals, committed to the arts, their communities, and to customer service, with full support from the manufacturer. "Grey Piano" marketers do not have a relationship with the manufacturers at all, and do not have the benefit of any factory support, if complicated service issues arise.
Why is it Important to Purchase a Piano Seasoned for the Canadian Climate?
History shows that piano manufacturers in other Asian and European countries which did not take into account Canadian heating habits that produce extremely dry conditions in the home found that they needed to make significant changes to their wood drying procedures if they wanted to export a reliable product to this country. Most of the grey market pianos available today predate these hard-learned lessons. It is true that some pianos change in only subtle ways, yet piano technicians have found repeatedly that the percentage of pianos that have become unserviceable is far higher than other pianos of the same age that were manufactured with Canadian heating habits in mind. Some of these issues will not occur until the piano has been in this climate for a few years, usually after the "in house" warranty has expired.
Are "Grey Market" Pianos Warranteed?
"Grey Market" dealers generally include their own "limited" warranties. These warranties often contain caveates, additional charges, and complex stipulations. "Grey Market" dealers are only in a city for the length of the sale. Generally, they will enlist a local non-factory-trained technician to service warranty claims. This person may or may not be qualified at a level to perform complicated warranty repairs that could require factory support. Often, additional charges are levied to the customer for work that would normally be completely covered by a Factory Warranty.
Are There Benefits to Purchasing a "Grey Market" Piano?
The only benefit may be cost. There is minimal customer service, support, and no Factory Warranty. A "Grey Piano" marketer will only go to cities where there is potential for profit. They will not return to a city where sales have been poor, or where the market has been depleted, leaving existing customers in those locations to fend for themselves.
Do "Grey Market" Pianos Retain Their Value?
Re-sale of a "Grey Market" piano could be a problem. Intelligent consumers in the used piano market often hire a reputable piano technician to inspect a potential purchase. This should include a search of the serial number. If a piano is identified as "Grey Market" in origin, without an existing Factory Warranty, the value could drop considerably.