Gray Market

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Gray Market



Have you ever heard the term “gray market piano”? Many people shopping for pianos may come across this phrase when doing research online or speaking with a dealer. Shopping for a new piano can be a daunting task, and if you have little (or no) experience buying one, it can be easy to be misdirected by sellers offering gray market pianos – instruments purchased in large quantities in Japan or other Asian countries, packed into shipping containers, and then brought into the United States for resale. They may be great instruments in excellent shape – and they often come with an attractive price tag – but before you jump at the opportunity to buy one, there are a few things you need to know:

1. You may be looking at major repair problems down the road. Only a handful of piano makers, including Yamaha, build pianos specifically for the three major world markets: Asia, which is a moist climate; Europe, which is fairly dry by comparison; and the U.S., which is considered to be extremely dry. (Keep in mind that we are talking about the INDOOR climate, as opposed to outdoors.) In winter, heating systems remove substantial moisture from the air, and in summer, air conditioning systems also lower the humidity. In addition, American homes tend to be better insulated than homes in many other countries, further isolating the interior from whatever moisture might be in the outside air.

The problem is that, when a piano that’s intended for a moist climate is placed in a dry environment, there is the likelihood that its structural integrity will be threatened as the wooden parts lose moisture. This in turn can cause warping of case parts, cracks in the soundboard and/or loose tuning pins. And while soundboard cracks are often only cosmetic in nature, loose tuning pins will have a direct effect on the ability of the piano to hold its tuning. If that happens, the only practical solution is to re-pin the piano with oversized tuning pins – a procedure that typically comes with a fairly high price tag, since it often encompasses re-stringing the piano too. That’s why, when Yamaha builds pianos destined for the U.S., it seasons the critical wooden components – including the soundboard, bridges, ribs and pin block – by drying them to a much lower moisture content using computer-controlled kilns and other advanced manufacturing technologies.

2. Lack of warranty. There is absolutely no factory warranty coverage on gray market pianos, so if you ever need any of the (likely, and likely expensive) repairs cited above – or any other repairs, for that matter – you’re strictly on your own.

3. “New” may not really be new. Many gray market pianos represented as “new” are actually used pianos that have been reconditioned by independent piano shops. Others have been sold to third party entities, who then ship the products into the U.S. for unauthorized sales.

4. Replacement parts can be difficult to find. It’s always a good idea to verify the true origin and backstory behind any major purchase. You wouldn’t buy an existing house or a used car without trying to learn all you can about its history, would you? The unfortunate reality is that you won’t ever truly know everything about a gray market piano, ranging from its cabinet style and finish to its year of manufacture and/or internal components. There are many models and styles of piano built for other areas of the world that are quite different from those sold in the U.S. As a result, finding parts can become a rather complicated affair for the owner of a gray market piano since even the manufacturer may be unable to assist you.

If you or someone you know is being offered a gray market Yamaha piano, or if you want to verify whether or not your Yamaha piano was built for use in the United States, you can use our free serial number finder tool available here.

ALL U3 Pianos are not the same

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ALL U3 Pianos are not the same

What’s the difference between U3F, U3G, U3H, U3M, U3A, U3N Yamaha U3 pianos?

First of all, Yamaha established the International Corporation (current Yamaha Corporation of America) in 1960 and introduced their pianos to the US in small quantities. The U3 style also was not yet popular in the USA at that time when most purchased decorator style console pianos. The additional lettering system that Yamaha have used for their U3 line of pianos can be a bit confusing and often not even known. Check out the following to help improve your understanding of this model.

Manufacture location

The first thing to say is that the Yamaha U3 is made in Japan at the Hamamatsu factory which is responsible for making all of Yamaha’s highest quality pianos including the Yamaha CFX concert grand piano.

Beyond that, you will want to know what year it was made and whether there were any good or bad periods of Yamaha piano manufacture. You should also fully understand what a GRAY MARKET piano is. Please also read about this.

What do the letters stand for

If you look just to the left of the serial number of most Yamaha U3 pianos you will usually see a letter. The most common tends to be “U3H” but it can be anything from U3F, U3G, U3H, U3M, U3A, U3N, U3E. If you do not see the extra letter, you can determine the year made from the serial number and know which series it is. Here are some bits of information about what those letterings stand for.

Here are my comments about the various models

Yamaha U3F

If your budget is tight or you enjoy a particularly soft sound then this age range could be OK for you. The serial numbers of these pianos will range from around 100,000 up to 1,000,000. If the piano is in original condition or has only had minimal reconditioning work then you should try to avoid that piano. If the piano has been properly and professionally reconditioned then it should be fine but I would still recommend that (a) you get the piano inspected by an independent technician and (b) perhaps save up $1,000 more to buy a U3G (below) instead

Yamaha U3G

These models date from the early 1970s, have serial numbers between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000 and are a better option compared with the U3F (above). The U3G is likely to have a similar, soft sound to the U3F (particularly in the bottom few octaves) although the rest of the keyboard can sound very nice if properly reconditioned. Overall, my opinion on the U3G is that you should try hard to stretch your budget and go for a U3H if possible. If you must buy a U3G please do hire your own independent technician to inspect the piano for you, it will be the best $100 you can spend. You must make sure a piano of this period has been properly reconditioned.

Yamaha U3H (1970-1980)

Yamaha U3 pianos in this category are mostly excellent and have serial numbers ranging from 2,000,000 up to 3,000,000. The U3H comes from a time when Yamaha had perfected what a modern piano should be. Strong, reliable, consistent, warm tone, beautiful action and, most importantly, top quality materials and top quality workmanship which (in my opinion) you don’t find in any of the modern pianos being produced by countless piano factories that are springing up all over the world producing cheaper and cheaper pianos. The U3H ranges from about 1970-1980 and I find that from the 1975 point onwards the qualify is very high. Some of the early 70s U3H pianos can be very nice but I recommend sticking to the later ones.

Yamaha U3M (1980-1982)

You can trust a Yamaha U3M to be of a very high standard of build quality. You do still need to make sure that a full reconditioning process has been carried out before buying a piano from this period but providing that work has been carried out to the right standard then you will get yourself a very nice piano at a sensible price.

The Yamaha U3M typically has a nice, positive tone about it but without being harsh or overly bright like some of the younger U3s can sometimes be.

Yamaha U3A (1983-1988)

The U3A can sometimes have a slightly stronger bottom 2 octaves than the U3M but this is only an occasional blip and by no means a set rule. I fully recommend this model alongside the U3M.

What kind of piano should a beginner buy?

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What kind of piano should a beginner buy?

This is a question that has been asked by every parent looking to give their children an instrument to practice on while taking piano lessons. Most professionals believe pianos that have real weighted keys, touch sensitive actions, and 88 keys are minimal requirements. The Yamaha Clavinova Digital Pianos are accepted by many Universities and Piano Labs for Piano majors to practice on and so would be an excellent choice for parents in many cases.

What kind of piano should a beginner buy

Can I buy an inexpensive piano for their lessons at first?

If you buy a bad piano, and your child gets good, can you really tell? This is a funny line, but the truth is it is probably worse. The student with an inferior instrument is going to be discouraged if what he or she hears is not that good. Also, If you have a quality piano teacher and your child takes lessons for 4 or more years, the cost is something like this: $150 times 12 equals $1,800 per year and this times 4 years equals $7,200. Why would you not get the best piano you can to take advantage of these years making both student and teacher happy.

Should we purchase an Acoustic Piano or Digital?

Until recently the best answer was acoustic because of multiple factors; However, the better Digital Pianos like the Yamaha Clavinova have gotten so good, and don’t ever need tuning, and students can practice with headphones. But I strongly recommend listening to your teacher for advise about this. Yamaha has wonderful acoustic and digital pianos for this very situation and is one of the most respected pianos in the world.

Should I buy new or used?

When you purchase a new instrument, you will get a warranty. Good quality pianos will look, feel, and play well. When you purchase used you may not have the experience to even know it is playing like it should or not. Each used instrument is a unique set of circumstances and actually may help teach bad habits, and incorrect hearing. I went to college with a man who had perfect pitch, but had learned incorrectly on an out of tune old upright.


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What are the Benefits of achieving Piano level 2?

    1. Substantial increase in neural connectivity
    2. Significantly higher SAT scores
    3. Greatly reduced risk of drug/alcohol abuse
    4. Notable reduction of anti-social behaviors
    5. Increased self esteem
    6. Enhanced ability to concentrate/focus
    7. Development of personal discipline
    8. Superior working memory, auditory skills, and cognitive flexibility

What are the Benefits of achieving Piano level 2?

Children who are allowed to quit music lessons usually quit early. When parents insist on helping their children to get to a level where they can play well, they’re not as likely to quit! Your goal should be to help your child get to Level 2. Once they’re at Level 2, they will almost always never stop playing the piano!

Here’s how we define Level 2:

The ability to read an intermediate piece of music; play using both hands; use the expression pedals; and sound musical.
In other words, kids who get to Level 2 become smarter, happier and more well-rounded!

Girl Playing Father Watches

Helping your child reach Level 2 on piano is the single most effective way you can give them a leg up in life!


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What Piano Level Am I

Primer (Level pre-1):

  • Knows finger numbers
  • Knows musical alphabet
  • Basic staff awareness
  • Basic keyboard awareness
  • Can play one hand at at time
  • Has proper hand placement and form
  • Developing rhythm and steady beat
  • Generally music from method books
  • Generally practices 10-15 mins/day

Beginner (Levels 1-2):

  • Bass and Treble Clef
  • Plays both hands together
  • Play rhythms more comfortably
  • Keeps steady beat
  • Left hand plays mainly basic chords
  • Dynamics and articulations
  • Can play C, G, and F key signatures
  • Generally practices 15-20 mins/day

Late Beginner (Level 3):

  • Major and minor chords, scales, and arpeggios
  • Left hand becomes more complex
  • More complex rhythms introduced
  • Can play songs with 2 flats/sharps
  • Technique developing
  • Sight reading developing
  • Musicality developing
  • Generally practices 20-30 mins/day

Often people ask “What piano level am I, and why does it matter?”Many educators rank piano levels as the above:

Clavinova vs Arius

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Clavinova vs Arius

Step Ups From YDP 184 To CLP-735:

  • New Yamaha CFX Sampling
  • CFX Binaural Sampling
  • Split Mode
  • Grand Touch-S vs GH3
  • Escapement action system, which is more like an acoustic grand.
  • WiFi connectivity (with optional UD-WL01)
  • Improved Virtual Resonance Modeling (VRM)
  • WAV audio playback & recording (via USB to DEVICE)
  • 1/8″ Aux Input
  • 1/4″ L&R Aux Output
  • 16-track, 250 song recorder (vs. 2-track, 1 song)
  • Bosendorfer Sample in the CLP-735
  • 5 Year Parts and Labor in your home warranty vs 3 years drop off warranty on YDP184
  • Another difference between the Arius and Clavinova is how their headphone sound. One of the biggest advantages of a digital piano over an acoustic one is the ability to practice silently and the CLP700 series has stepped it up a notch with binaural sampling. To put it simply, when you wear headphones whilst playing any CLP700 piano, it’s as if your sat in the playing position of $200k Yamaha CFX concert grand piano. The sound hits the front of you in wonderful stereo, as it would be if playing an acoustic grand, instead of just directly into your ear from the sample. It’s a strange sensation at first! It makes playing with headphones feel more natural and enables you to do it for longer without ear fatigue.


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Selecting a Piano Teacher

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Selecting a Piano Teacher

The piano is a complicated instrument with many aspects to think about from the beginning. A good teacher can help guide the student during these formative years, but unfortunately many parents don’t often take the time to select the right piano teacher; many seem to sign up for lessons with the first person they find. This doesn’t always make for success.

Many basic technical aspects of piano playing are the same for all students during the first few lessons; these include basic posture at the piano, hand and finger positions, and general movement around the keyboard. If these aspects are not addressed from the outset then piano playing can eventually become uncomfortable and difficult.

Basic rhythem needs to be understood from the beginning. A student can be guided to count while learning to keep time or even better, use a metronome (or both!), this is fundamental to good playing and is much easier when taught from the beginning.

Note reading needs to be guided correctly from the beginning too, especially with regard to the left hand. Many students aren’t taught to read the Bass and Treble Clefs (left and right hand lines of music) at the same time. If both lines of music are not taught from the beginning many never learn to read the left hand/bass clef correctly.

The quicker a pupil learns how to play both hands at the same time the better. It needs to be done carefully and slowly from the beginning.

Good Teachers will encourage correct hand movements and proper use of the arm to enable excellent tone production and finger movement. If this element isn’t addressed the pupil could potentially experience pain or repetitive strain injury too.

Most importantly, a good teacher will not only spark a real interest and love of music, but they will also be able to show how to interpretate a piece of music (the way a work is played.) This is a vital aspect of piano playing and all pupils need to master how to play musically or expressively.

The above are reasons why you need a good piano teacher. Patience and kindness are not enough (although they are important too!). Your teacher needs to know how to get you or your child to make good progress. Take time and select a well qualified, experienced piano teacher. Some of the best teachers can be found by word of mouth, or call the closest Piano Distributors for a list of local teachers known to have a record of success with students.

Old vs New U1 and U3

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Old vs New U1 and U3

Old vs New U1 and U3

Yamaha U1 and U3 designs pre-2002 are inferior to current models despite the misleading and inaccurate web-articles, forum posts and piano shop spiel.

It may still be called the Yamaha U1 or the U3, but apart from the model name, the design of the piano back, frame, scaling and action components used in the current models are quite different to those found in older models.

In fact… Yamaha’s recent additions to their upright piano range at competitive prices actually have far more in common to the current U1 design than earlier U1’s… so the ranted down Yamaha B3E is actually heavily based on the new Yamaha U1 benefitting hugely from Yamaha’s upgrades, while the P22 brings the professional standard performance of the Yamaha U1 to the domestic market at a favorable price and in a more elegant cabinet.

Yamaha U3


Firstly, on the new U1 and U3 the fall, (the keyboard lid) now has a ‘soft close’ feature to help prevent accidental injury or damage. The music desk is now extra wide (35 inches rather than 25 inches) to provide extra room for your sheet music.

The construction

Take a look at the backposts. Most older models had 4, the new model, 5. Backposts improve rigidity, resonance and structural stability. Additionally, the new model has tone collector bolts, connecting the backpost to the iron frame to further increase stability and tonal quality.

Yamaha U1 Upright Piano

Rib configuration

The newly designed rib configurations also add strength to the soundboard yet still improve the tone.

The iron frame and scale design

The new model has a ‘perimeter’ type iron frame and redesigned bass bridge, to allow longer bass strings than in the older model and improve the depth and purity of the bass.

Yamaha B3E Upright Piano

Hammer heads and hammer felt

The new U1 has underfelted hammers and of a different shape to provide optimum tone production, response and long term durability.

Tuning pins

Lathe cut and, on the new model, nickel plated rather than the cheaper blued steel variety found on earlier versions.

Yamaha P22 upright piano


Floating Soundboard (U3)

New U3 (post yr 2002) has a ‘floating attachment’ method of soundboard fitting, allowing the soundboard to vibrate more freely, improving the depth and character of the bass and mid-range tones.

Additional Models at various price points

There are two less expensive Yamaha models which are based on the new U1 specification, using the same five backposts, tone collector bolts, rib configuration, perimeter iron frame, bass and treble strings, underfelted hammer heads and lathe cut, nickel plated tuning pins and spruce keyboard – the Yamaha P22 which has a Strunz German soundboard, and the new B3E (November 2013 onwards) has a solid spruce soundboard (pre Nov 2013 B3 had a 3 ply laminated soundboard). Both great value for money, the B3 is similarly priced to a 35 year old U1, but looks better, sounds better, plays better and will last you around 35 years longer than the old piano!

Refurbished / restored / reconditioned???

There is a misconception that most of the second hand U1 and U3s have been ‘restored.’ Restored can be interpreted in many ways, in this instance, most restoration is cosmetic, such as casework, keytops and buffing the brasswork. The following components have not usually been replaced:

  • Strings – life expectancy 40-50 years max. (The bass on early Yamaha pianos was not their strong point.) Most makes of concert grands have their top treble strings replaced approximately after 10 years!
  • Hammer felt – the existing felt is ‘refaced’ – ie sandpapered smooth to remove the grooves, so it looks new, but is in fact as old as the piano.
  • Damper felt – again, usually this felt is not replaced.
  • Soundboard, ribs and bridges – not replaced.
  • Tuning pins – not replaced.
  • Springs – spiral, damper and hammer butt not replaced.

The only components likely to have been replaced are the loop cords on the hammer butt (original material used would perish after approx. 20yrs – but Yamaha changed the material and maybe the key bushing cloth.

The fact that these old pianos still command such high prices with hardly any component being replaced is indeed testimony to Yamaha’s legendary design, build and component quality.