Tag Archives: Yamaha

Ask James – Which Pianos are the Best?

One of the great joys of working in The Piano Business is meeting people around the World who share your love of music.  Invariably, when I travel, I encounter at least a few people who ask me what I do.  When I tell them I work in The Piano Business, they light up – full of personal stories that either make them glad they play or wish they did.  The second inevitable question they ask me is really The Great Question of our Business:  Which Pianos are the Best?  I usually try to deflect the question – citing personal presence, differing student needs and budgetary limitations… but every once in awhile, I encounter someone who really wants to know how I determine which pianos to represent and what criteria drive my interest in new brands.  Obviously, that question requires a more detailed answer… so I thought I would make it the topic of my next blog.

Growing Up Steinway

Every piano store has a “headline” brand (a company they promote heavily due to a number of factors, including quality, value, reputation and performance).   My company is no different.  In fact, Gist Piano Center began their relationship with Steinway & Sons in 1975 – a year before I was even born.  You can read more about how that relationship formed here.  For almost 39 years, Gist Piano Center promoted Steinway as “The World’s Finest Piano” due to its handcrafted quality, vast history and brand name recognition.  The truth is, however, there are many other pianos who could claim to be “The World’s Finest Piano,” including such illustrious brands as Bosendorfer, Fazioli, Grotrian and more.  Gist selected Steinway & Sons because they were made in America and because they were far less expensive than their European competition.  This is what made Steinway & Sons a fantastic “headline brand” during those years.

steinway pianoI worked part-time in the piano business during the mid-90s, but I joined The Piano Business as a career officially in 2001.  I started at a small piano store in Illinois that also used Steinway & Sons as their headline piano brand.  They also carried the Steinway-designed Boston piano, Essex, Kohler & Campbell pianos, Knabe and Roland Digital Pianos.  It was a great mix.  I grew up in The Piano Business fully immersed in Steinway product (as well as a few others).  I even went through five years of Steinway training and to graduate from “William Steinway University” (a marketing initiative designed to help piano retailers learn the Steinway system of brand promotion).    Thus, when I decided to move out of my small town and into a larger community, Gist was a natural fit – considering that they carried all the same brands I did in my small town piano store.

The Changing Face of Retail

When I first came to Gist, I was surprised at how comparable most things were to my experiences in Illinois.  Granted, folks in Kentucky preferred mahogany woods over walnut, but things were otherwise very similar.  The winds of change were blowing, however, and I eventually began to see problems with our piano selection.

First of all, The Great Recession of 2008 made it very difficult to sell high-priced, handmade pianos in Kentucky.  There just wasn’t much market for a piano that retails for over $50,000.  We had no problem selling used ones (a practice we have continued to this day), but selling NEW American pianos became increasingly difficult.piano prices

Secondly, despite a total lack of inflation, these high-priced pianos continued to increase in cost annually.  Having just seen this phenomenon in the housing industry, we realized that carrying new, high-cost pianos with inflated price tags would only push clients to shop for used or rebuilt pianos.  It was a bad decision for our clients and for us.

Around this same time, we began to see how mobile devices were changing the face of piano education.  More and more students were purchasing digital copies of print music and using play-a-long material in their daily practice.  In order to stay relevant in to today’s piano students, we needed to partner with a company who understood the future of the piano industry.

It was time for us to make a change.

Finding New Brands

Immediately after cancelling our relationship with the American piano brand, we decided to take on a famous Japanese brand.  …and, at first, we were pleased with the decision.  They we were well-respected, they had a ton of great resources and they had a strong focus on technology.  Unfortunately, we discovered that they had their own set of problems.

First, their technology was pretty expensive.  Most of the technology they offered put their pianos out of reach for beginners with a limited budget.  Instead of buying a piano with factory-installed headphones system, our clients would purchase a “silent” system and have it installed yamaha clavinovaon one of our other piano brands – for a lot less money.

Secondly, the acoustic piano market was flooded with used pianos shipped in from Japan and China (with just a little cabinet polish and hammer filing).  In many cases, these used pianos were better deals than the new ones – and the “Grey Market” argument we were given to disavow them was so shaky even my factory rep had a hard time believing it.  Again, selling used pianos was easy.  Selling new ones… not so much.

Finally, after only two years, we made arrangements to go our separate ways.

A Way Forward

During this low point, I began to look back over our brand history and I noted that Gist has carried over 35 different piano brands throughout its 45-year history.  Famous brands like Petrof (1996-2003), Estonia (2009-2011), Kawai (1998-2005), Kimball (1988-1996), Story & Clark (1979-1981), Wurlitzer (1975-1981) and Pearl River (2004-2005) had all been a part of our past.  We sold a TON of them even though they weren’t our “headline brand.”  …and that made me question whether or not we needed a “headline brand.”

With all this in mind, I went to the big music trade show in Anaheim – a showcase for piano brands from all over the World.  I spent four days playing everything – from starter-level pianos to high-end designer grands.  I even played a $450,000 piano that looked like a peacock!  Phew.
My goal was to find The Best Piano for my store.  It had to have a familiar name, a solid reputation, top-notch construction, great warranty support, a magnificent sound and touch and the ability to interface with modern technology.  It also had to be affordable for more of the people in my community… and I’ll admit that I was not optimistic that I would find a brand that fits this tall order.piano trade show

Luckily, The Piano Business is going through a strange metamorphosis right now.  Over the past several years, economic factors have caused brands like Baldwin, Wurlitzer, Chickering, Ellington, and Story & Clark to go out of business – selling their brand names to larger companies who have consolidated their own offerings down to just a handful of pianos.  The Business has shrunk so much that we’re actually starting to see NEW brand names (like Kingsburg, Brodmann, Geyer and more) emerging from the ashes.  Thankfully, I was able to find the perfect solution for our company.

Introducing Brodmann

Finally, after months of research, teacher trials, performance testing and brand vetting, I am proud to say that we have found THE Best Piano… for now:  Brodmann.  …and that is really how it works.  Because brands in The Piano Business come and go so rapidly, it’s really impossible to shop by brand anymore.  THE Best Pianos are the ones who give the best performance and longevity for the best possible price… and that is an equation that can change overnight. 

Brodmann PianosThankfully, our staff of highly-trained technicians, piano historians and business leaders are constantly evaluating our inventory – making sure that our clients get THE Best Piano for THE Best Price.  …and while I’m sure everyone says that about their pianos, I can offer you something they can’t:  proof.  That’s right.  After 45+ years and over 35 different brands, we at Gist can tell you not only which brands are wonderful today… but we can tell you which ones will hold up well over their 40-year lifespan.  …and we can take pianos apart and show you what makes ours better than anyone else’s in town.

Like Gist Piano Center, I am far less impressed by a fancy logo or a high price tag.  I have seen how brand names can lead folks astray time and time again.  Instead, I am much more interested in the quality of a piano’s construction – much more concerned about the instrument’s design than its marketing… and I’m much more attracted to its performance than to its luxury price tag.  THAT is what makes Gist different.  We are working hard with our community partners to build a new generation of piano players and we are dedicated to making sure we outfit those players with THE best instruments their money can buy.  Which piano is best?  Once you take the time to get to know us, I can say this with confidence.  The best piano is the one we recommend just for you.  Come in today and see what’s new!  Better yet – ask us why we picked it!  You’ll quickly see why an investment at Gist is truly a “sound” one.

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Barry Manilow Donates NEW Yamaha Piano to PRP High School

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Gist Piano Center delivers the new Yamaha P22 Piano to PRP High School.

Students at Pleasure Ridge Park High School will have the opportunity to learn, practice and perform on a new Yamaha piano this school year, thanks to the Manilow Music Project and the help of local piano dealer Gist Piano Center. Youngsters at the high school and throughout the Jefferson County Public School District will also benefit from newly donated used music instruments, thanks to the unique initiative launched throughout the nation by pop superstar Barry Manilow.

The new upright piano, a Yamaha P22 model, was recently delivered to PRP High School by Gist Piano Center after being donated by Manilow. Manilow donated the piano to launch a music instrument drive to coincide with his ONE LAST TIME! tour stop earlier this year at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville. After delivery, the staff of Gist Piano Center donated their time and expertise to install and tune the piano.

Barry Manilow is one of 3600 Yamaha Artists.

Barry Manilow is one of 3600 Yamaha Artists.

Over the past year, concertgoers who donated a new or gently used instrument to the local school district received two free tickets to Manilow’s ONE LAST TIME! concert. The instrument drive was sponsored by Manilow’s foundation, The Manilow Music Project. Manilow started The Manilow Music Project to provide musical instruments to high school and middle school students throughout the U.S. and Canada.

“I know firsthand how invaluable music education is,” said Manilow, whose unparalleled career encompasses virtually every area of music, including performing, composing, arranging and producing, with worldwide record sales exceeding 80 million.  “It is a privilege for me to help bring the gift of music to these kids.”

James Harding, President of Gist Music Center, which has locations in Louisville and Lexington, said he jumped at the chance to play a part in the donation from the Manilow Music Project.
“For the past 44 years, Gist Piano Center has worked closely with Jefferson County public schools and our industry partners to give music a future in Louisville,” Harding said. “This new partnership with the Manilow Music Project and Yamaha will help bring music to the lives of countless JCPS students and their families. We couldn’t be more proud to join with these industry icons and help to promote the magic of making music in Louisville.”

Phillip Jennings, Music Teacher at PRP, leads his group piano class.

Phillip Jennings, Music Teacher at PRP, leads his group piano class on the new Yamaha P22 donated by Manilow.

Gist Piano Center’s focus on music education has played an integral role in helping it grow from a small piano repair shop that opened in 1971 into the Midwest’s leading family-owned, full-service piano house. Today, Gist’s “Partners in Education” program, the largest piano network of its kind in the United States, features 115 teachers and more than 5,000 students.
The involvement in the Manilow Music Project is Gist Piano Center’s most recent effort to support music education in Jefferson County Public Schools, but part of a larger, ongoing commitment to the district. The Jefferson County school district has repeatedly chosen Gist Piano Center as their trusted piano source. In addition to selling Pleasure Ridge Park High School a number of pianos and digital pianos over the years, Harding has conducted a series of training sessions and master classes for JCPS educators, and has also sat on the JCPS Community Advisory Board for the JCPS Music Magnate Program, which frequently met at the high school.

“Music education is at the very core of our mission at Gist Piano Center, as it has been over the past four decades,” Harding said. “We strongly believe in the power of music in education, which is why we look for wonderful opportunities like this that allow even more students to learn, explore and benefit from music in their schools, and hopefully throughout their lives.”
More information on the Manilow Music Project can be found at www.manilowmusicproject.org.

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Gist Installs Yamaha Piano Lab for JCPS

Students at Western Middle School in Louisville, Kentucky will begin the 2011-2012 school year with a Yamaha digital piano lab – thanks to another partnership between Jefferson County Public Schools and local piano experts at Gist Piano Center.  On Wednesday, August 17, representatives from Gist Piano Center and Jefferson County Public Schools assembled the 15-piano Yamaha digital piano lab for what turned out to be the first day of classes in the school year.  The pianos, which came from another JCPS school, were brought in, unboxed and inspected for missing components before assembly.

“We were lucky that they were so well packaged,” said Tim King of JCPS.  “We were only missing a few screws, some AC adaptors and a couple of stands.  Thankfully, we were able to set the pianos up just in time for classes.”

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How to Buy a Digital Piano, A Parents’ Dilemma

Your VCR is a mystery, you can’t text message, you’re unfamiliar with Facebook, and you’re still wondering why your portable telephone has a camera in it.  Worse yet, your child’s piano teacher wants you to buy something called a “Clavinova.”  You’re buried in electronics you can’t even pronounce – let alone operate!  What do you do? 

Marc Yu plays a Roland

Child prodigy, Marc Yu, plays a concerto on a Roland digital grand piano.

First of all, sit back and take a deep breath.  While it’s true that – from now on – your life will be a gauntlet of digital gadgetry, it’s also true that you will eventually adjust to this new, electronic pace.  The trick to making your transition easier is to do a little research before you face a salesman half your age with twice your digital knowledge and dollar signs in his eyes. 

In the case of digital pianos, there are a few guidelines that you should write down and take with you to the piano showroom.  You want to make sure you’re getting the instrument that best fits your needs, but you also want to make sure that your investment in sound will be (if you’ll forgive me) a sound investment.  Here are a few tips for you first-time digital piano shoppers: Continue reading

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