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Yamaha U3X #1428976 05/03/10 11:16 AM
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EMP Offline OP
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I am looking for a used vertical. I took piano lessons (classical music) for years growing up & enjoy playing. Now my kids are going to start taking lessons.

I played a Yamaha piano recently that the dealer called a U3X. It was tall (50 or 52 inches), and I liked how it sounded. I know from checking the serial number at the webpage that it is a grey market piano made in 1978. The dealer is asking about $3400.

The serial number starts with an X. There is nothing on the Yamaha webpage about "U3X" (I assume b/c it was not made for sale in the US). Somewhere on the internet I read that there is also a W3X out there.

I'm going to have a tech look at it, but I wanted to put it out there here: How do I know for sure from looking at the piano what I'm buying: U3X, W3X, or something else? Any thoughts in general about the quality and longevity of this kind of piano?


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Re: Yamaha U3X [Re: EMP] #1429016 05/03/10 12:50 PM
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turandot Offline
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The X designation is for the radial backpost design. This distinguishes the X piano from a conventional U3 of its day.

The UX pianos are quite nice. An equivalent piano today from Yamaha would probably cost you between 12 and 15k. The problem is the age. Even if a tech finds no specific problems, this type of purchase is a bet that an old piano can go a few years longer without expensive service issues or a significant erosion of its performance qualities. How's your appetite for risk?


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Re: Yamaha U3X [Re: EMP] #1429064 05/03/10 02:37 PM
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Mike Carr Offline
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EMP,

A good website to answer some of your questions is yasumaru.com. which has a whole list of gray market pianos. (wx typically=wood veneer) In addition to Turandot's
advice, I'd like to add that some players actually prefer the sound of the old xers over modern stock . . . and also a few tips on buying a used piano . . .

I think a lot of people get into specifications before they get into the sound and touch. That's really what you are paying for. So, if you already haven't, give the piano a good workout, every key, big chords, soft and loud, all the pedals. Take the thing out into deep water, so to speak, and check for leaks. I mean blow the room away,pound on the keys and run your knuckles up and down the keyboard sharply, don't be shy--a few glissandros with the heel of your foot if you're athletic, then look under the lid for hammer, back-check alignment, rust, anything jumping out at you and running away, check the sound board for any cracks you can't shim up with a matchbook or small paperback, etc. These simple procedures will reveal most problems to the average player.

It's more or less like when you're buying some old heap. Best advice is too run the old thing up the road a hundred miles an hour or one twenty if she'll go there and if nothing flies off, smells funny, no smoke, or banging sounds that can be heard over the radio, the clutch holds up and the tranny don't shoot out the rear end, and if you don't wind up crossways in the bar-ditch, or fly off the road yourself and get it good and hot and check for leaks and water gushing out when you park it, and if the pipes aren't dragging and the wheels are still intact, you probably found yourself a pretty fair automobile . . . no matter how old it is or where it came from . . . the threshold for those old jalopies amongst the the fools I hung around with was would it carry you down to ol' mexico and back in one piece . . . and following those simple rules I never was left afoot . . .

So then, EMP, if after you've practically destroyed the piano, and it's still in one piece, no ringing or pieces of wood flying off, no dents, broken keys at funny angles, and the owner hasn't called the law on you, and you still like the sound, especially if it still "speaks" to you and sings with the clarity of the angels, and if you like living dangerously, buy it.

Otherwise, find a good tech.


Mike


Re: Yamaha U3X [Re: Mike Carr] #1429252 05/03/10 08:28 PM
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Thanks for both replies so far. Very good food for thought.

I want to hear more about the idea of paying for sound & touch. I have been contemplating buying either a used M&H Model 50 I found or this used Yamaha U3X, both abuot 30 years. (My budget prevents me from buying anything newer.) I like the "touch" of the M&H but the sound is tinny & bright to me. The salesperson and a tech I talked to recently said this is a voicing issue. The tech says it is a matter of how hard the hammers are hitting and that it can be "softened" for a reasonable rate. This surprised me. I figured what I was hearing was how the piano played, that it was fundamental to the particualr piano. Can the "brightness" of the sound really be changed? How do I decide which piano to choose if I can't decide based on how it sounds to me when I sit down to play it? In other words, if I buy a piano that sounds too bright/tinny to me, but is lovely otherwise, based on the idea that a tech can fix how bright it sounds, then I'm not sure how to decide if I like how the piano sounds for the purpose of figuring out which one to buy.

I'm curious about other opinions on this, as well as both about these two piano models generally. Thanks.

Re: Yamaha U3X [Re: EMP] #1429596 05/04/10 02:04 PM
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Mike Carr Offline
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EMP,

It's difficult to judge how a piano will sound after voicing; much depends on the quality of the voicer, the expectations of the player. Note: I said quality, not experience.

Acoustic pianos, like their players, are a work in progress. The man voicing my piano works on getting the hammers and tone back to where they were, a known factor, much easier than voicing a used piano to the expectations of a new owner . . . as one abstraction searches for another, often, you have to change your expectations. And I'm not talking about merely needling hammers to "mellow" the sound. That's not the problem. The problem is shaping the sound to your needs, a custom fit vs. off the peg.

The safest bet is to find a piano that suits you today. Letting you return the piano if not satisfied with the voicing, while not as easy as it sounds, would certainly be a step in the right direction.

Another aspect to consider, due to the variety of hardness and softness and volume between a showroom and your home, the piano might not sound the same when you get it there. As likely as not, it might sound better. Often small adjustments to furniture, rugs, etc, is needed. Once, as I recall, I even had to adjust my collection of velvet paintings.


You’re right about the fundamentals of sound. They’re hard to escape. No matter what is claimed, you can’t get a Yamaha to sound like a Steinway. Often, what happens is the Yamaha owner is convinced by “someone” that his piano has been voiced to sound “exactly” like a Steinway. Speaking of which, Steinway is one company that counts on prep (voicing, tuning, regulation) to bring out its signature tone from what one hears in the showroom, tailored to the specific buyer and the buyer’s home, and, up to a point, one generally gets what one hopes and pays for. Up to a point. As I said earlier, acoustic pianos are a work in progress.

Many buy a piano for the decal. Piano makers have realized this for years and figured “If that’s all the fools want we’ll give it the them.” Hence the many “grand and august”, usually Germanic, sounding names on mediocre pianos from strange lands and faraway places.

Paying for sound and touch is paying for what enhances your musical ability and enjoyment, hopefully taking it to the next level, and not for what the other guy thinks or what it says on the fallboard. Realizing this, some makers offer a “conservatory” line, the same sound and touch as their prestige line, devoid of the fancy finishes and delicate flourishes.

Most things in life are based on their cash value. Most folks don’t want to simply pay for what they get. Buyers want to get what they don’t pay for. Sellers want to get paid for what they don’t have. First, of course, you have to know what you want. If you are smart, you don’t pay for what you don’t get, or for a promise you don’t have sitting in front of you.

Between the Yamaha and Mason you’ll hear many opinions, mentioning handmade, American made, gray market, Asian, smells like an old accordion case, sodden as a greek sponge, music school or asylum piano, citing and preferring the “golden age”, and the like. The catch with these opinions is they’re from folks not sitting in front of the piano or paying for it. Everyone has an axe to grind.

All the information you need about a piano is sitting there in front of you, at your fingertips, the sound and the touch and the condition. The problem is trying to figure out what it all means. Some people go with their heart, others rely on a consensus of numbers, strangers' opinions, and ultimately, their egos. With pianos “the heart knows what the heart knows" is, for me, the best path followed.

If I’m looking for a used piano and like the sound and touch, and the condition does not detract appreciably from those values . . . it doesn’t matter where or when the piano was made, or if it spent its past life in an asylum being played by the slobbering inmates, I’ll buy it.



Mike


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