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Can we sell old American pianos in China?
#2776899 10/30/18 07:22 PM
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China is making and buying 80% to 90% of the pianos today. Their export prices are around $6,000 for a baby grand and $21,000 for a concert grand. (If anybody has actually played a nine-foot Carod, let me know how it sounded!) It seems we could clean out the back rooms of piano stores across America, get those Howard and Kimball and, yes, Starr baby grands in good working condition, and ship them across the Pacific for a reasonable profit -- say $1,000 each. Questions are: do the Chinese consider American pianos prestigious? are they going to slap on a tariff? and is there a service organization in place? I assume the native products have the same structure as our pianos, although "fiberboard case" sounds pretty bad. If anybody else has considered, or actually done, this, let me know your figures.

Re: Can we sell old American pianos in China?
edferris #2776930 10/30/18 10:26 PM
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You could attend next years Music Industry show in Shanghai and canvass the piano dealers you find there. I suspect the only pianos one could make any money on would be high quality grands. Because China has very few "old" used pianos and almost no "old" grands. Serious students from wealthy families would be the most likely customers.


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Re: Can we sell old American pianos in China?
edferris #2776976 10/31/18 05:53 AM
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Just make sure any required ivory transport paperwork is in place before moving them.

Re: Can we sell old American pianos in China?
edferris #2777015 10/31/18 09:48 AM
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Right, the Shanghai show.
My take is that China is in the same phase as 1940's and 1950's America, and that getting a piano is a sign of culture, whether it is played or not, and whether it is worth playing or not. The cheap Chinese pianos I have played have been very bad, but they sell lots of them. I don't think they deserve the spinets we made back then, but there are lots of fairly good, old baby grands that don't sell here.
But I don't live there, so what do I know.
Thanks for mentioning the ivory problem. May have to be replaced with plastic keytops.

Re: Can we sell old American pianos in China?
edferris #2777036 10/31/18 10:45 AM
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I have only a few insights into this potential market, but what is a niche market there would still be considered big just because of the size of the market. I've spoken with businesses that buy up old Steinways to restore in China. They do well with the finishes, but have major failings in the restoration process to get anything that competes with a new high-end brand. We were even approached to offer training or even relocate some of our staff.

The transfer of knowledge can happen quickly, but their mature buying culture will be greatly influenced by their own local market and cultural factors as well as tariffs. If dealers there can become successful offering restored American brands, they will.


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Re: Can we sell old American pianos in China?
edferris #2777120 10/31/18 05:40 PM
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By way of a response to edferris:

Before you conclude that money may be made in the manner you describe, I think you need the answers to a few questions.

First, is there a tariff on imported pianos being brought into China? I do not know the answer for a fact, but I would be astonished if there were not a substantial tariff. One of the reasons for the success of Chinese industries is the protection they receive from their government. Many American industries have tried to get into the Chinese market without success.

Second, Chinese currency (presumably what you would be getting when you sell the pianos) is very low right now against the dollar. Don't you need to give some thought to the exchange rate (and inevitable fluctuations therein) before reaching any conclusions on how much you would receive per piano?

Third, can you even exchange Chinese currency for dollars at a decent exchange rate?

Fourth, how much will it cost to ship the pianos and to prep them once they arrive?

Fifth, who would do the selling, and how much would they need to be paid?

Sixth, if this were a great idea, don't you think someone would have thought of and implemented it already?

Re: Can we sell old American pianos in China?
edferris #2777123 10/31/18 06:04 PM
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There are businesses in China who specialize in imported used pianos. One guy I saw a few weeks ago in Shanghai had a NY Steinway D, Bösendorfer 290, NY Steinway M, and a bunch of Yamahas and Kawais.

Also, I know of individuals who buy used instruments in the US, and ship them to China one container at a time.

Then, there are those who first ship a container of pianos to Poland where they would be refinished, then shipped to China.

Re: Can we sell old American pianos in China?
edferris #2777167 11/01/18 12:10 AM
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We sell many NY Steinways (both old and newer) to china. Containers full. They definitely consider the piano prestigious, and appreciate the craftsmanship. The tariffs have impacted the mentality of the buyers, and the entire process (customs, etc) is much more strict.

Last edited by steinwayman18; 11/01/18 12:12 AM.

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Re: Can we sell old American pianos in China?
edferris #2777458 11/02/18 10:13 AM
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I think the interesting and hopefully wonderful thing about the Chinese piano market is that there’s a growing number of talented young students studying and playing piano. I’ve seriously wondered about the long term future of the acoustic piano. With the growing interest and demand of acoustic pianos in China, there should also be keen interest in making quality uprights and grands for the large number of new students. Several Chinese companies like Hailun and Pearl River are now winning MMR awards each year.
Growth and innovation for acoustic pianos in a huge highly populated country like China is fabulous for the entire music industry, and acoustic piano fans like me.


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Re: Can we sell old American pianos in China?
edferris #2784774 11/26/18 02:32 AM
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Nice topic and what a great question!

I'm not any way connected with the business but as a Asian-American working and living in China, along with my passion and hobby for the piano, I do have some info but perhaps only very general compared to others who have already replied with more professional expertise.

Several factors make it difficult to import any new or used pianos to China. High import tax and a lot of red tape through customs. And considering now with the trade war between the US and China, importing American pianos to China will be even tougher.

I've heard stories of expats moving to China for work and wanted to bring their pianos but the whole process is both expensive and quite messy. I had a friend who was teaching English in Beijing and she was able to bring her family upright with her. Luckily, she had her company to fork out the money and handle the customs process.

I had an English friend who was thinking about importing used pianos from the U.S. but he discovered the import tax is the same regardless of new or used condition, though this might've changed now. Also, the import tax varies from country of origin. While talking to one of the local Chinese piano dealers, anything exported from Indonesia to China is import duty free. Now who makes "Made in Indonesia" pianos? Yamaha and Kawai. smile

Currently in China, there is a big market for used Japanese pianos, mainly Yamaha or Kawai uprights. A lot of these are from the 60s-90s and range from 10,000 - 50,000 RMB ($1,400-$7,200).

I even played a late 90s Kawai RX-2 being sold for 100,000 RMB ($14,400) here. Great sound but the action was quite heavy for my taste.

So I'm thinking it's probably a lot easier to import used Japanese pianos to China.

As for if Chinese customers see American pianos as prestigious, I would guess very unlikely. American products weren't really associated with "luxury" compared to the Germans or the Italians. The local Steinway dealer here where I'm located in China has a new Model D going for about 1.5 million RMB ($216k). Of course, it's the Hamburg model.

Anyway, good luck!

Last edited by gskmeva123; 11/26/18 02:36 AM. Reason: Price update and revised info
Re: Can we sell old American pianos in China?
edferris #2784796 11/26/18 05:03 AM
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Originally Posted by edferris
Howard and Kimball and, yes, Starr baby grands in good working condition, and ship them across the Pacific for a reasonable profit -- say $1,000 each.


"Good working condition"...I think you are overestimating the condition of old pianos. They might make a sound when you press the key, but that's not saying much. Old strings break easily, and even lightly used instruments can have a lot of wear in the felt and leather parts accumulated over decades. Replacing all the above would cost a substantial amount of money even if it were done by a piano technician in China at a lower labor cost. Not to mention old soundboards usually have lost crown and stiffness, and probably have unsightly cracks.

Don't get me wrong, I think restoring old instruments is a good value proposition. I have a Steinway A2 that I want to say is about 6k away from sounding really great, and I have sunk about 9k into it so far. It's just not an easy sell for people who don't know how pianos work or haven't seen restored pianos before. Heck, it wouldn't be an easy sell for me if there were more used Hailuns out there, because I think they are really great instruments for the money, and I could skip most of the hassle.

Last edited by trigalg693; 11/26/18 05:08 AM.
Re: Can we sell old American pianos in China?
edferris #2784803 11/26/18 05:37 AM
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When I really was philip in China I had a used Kawai that was a good few years old. The price was good and so was the piano.

At the Shanghai music expo a few years ago a major Polish rebuilder was going to be there. I would very much have liked to have spoken with him, but he didn't arrive until the day after I had left. I presume that the reason he would have been there was to sell pianos, so imagine that it must go on. Of course being in Poland most of his rebuilding would have been the 3 Bs and Hamburg Steinway.


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Re: Can we sell old American pianos in China?
edferris #2784898 11/26/18 11:18 AM
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Thank you for the information from China. If they don't want Howards and Kimballs, we certainly won't send any there. We all agree that used Japanese pianos are (generally) better, but are there enough to go around? I suppose I should go to a trade show and talk to dealers.
What mislead me, I suppose, is the fact that Oriental manufacturers are buying and using old American trade names: Wurlitzer, D. H. Baldwin, Weber. There must be some reason for this.

Re: Can we sell old American pianos in China?
edferris #2784942 11/26/18 01:22 PM
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Ed, with respect, 80% of new businesses fail.... by natives in their own country! It does not seem like you are even in the piano business. And how did you come up with $1000 a piano to make it profitable? Believe me, as someone who tried 3D CDrom's of world famous cities, developing a game app and writing musicals, run in the opposite direction! However, a fun thread, so thanks!


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Re: Can we sell old American pianos in China?
edferris #2785147 11/27/18 01:57 AM
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Why are Chinese manufacturers buying old American trade names? That's an easy answer!

China is currently the biggest market for pianos and what way to market your new piano brand other than by using the name of a defunct piano company and inherit its history?

In simple words, it's "false" marketing. smile

Re: Can we sell old American pianos in China?
edferris #2785232 11/27/18 10:07 AM
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As I was re-reading this thread, I’m thinking the old Kimbals and Howard pianos aren’t sitting in piano dealers backrooms but in Mom’s or Grandma’s damp basement untouched and not maintained for years. Vast generalization here, but who wants to be stuck getting Nana’s old upright? The sad thing is it would take more money to fix it and get it back to playable than to just go out and get a used piano that has many years to go in its lifetime. And that’s if the heirs even want a piano in the first place.
If the piano lovers here on PW don’t want to rescue these old American pianos, why would Chinese piano students and players want to rescue them, pay shipping and tariffs for these old pianos. Sadly, they just end up in the junkyard much to Nana’s (in heaven hopefully) horror. My dear departed Mother imagined her children would cherish her console piano, her Lenox China, her dress jewelry yada yada yada. Now that she’s gone, we’re trying to find good homes for her “treasures”....because nobody really wants these things. It’s great to keep some small things in remembrance, but pianos and big old cars need to go.


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Re: Can we sell old American pianos in China?
edferris #2785262 11/27/18 11:35 AM
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Well, we have piano dealers reading this forum. Do you have a big stock of second-rate pianos you would like to get rid of?
I trust you don't store them in a damp basement.
I have a 1936 Starr action sitting on my workbench at this moment. It needs four hammer shanks repaired and several knuckle leathers replaced -- although they are still within adjustment limits. Say twenty dollars in parts and one hour of work. I was quoted six thousand dollars for "rebuilding the action". Sure, if you pay that price you're not going to make any money.
If calling a piano a "Weber" will help it sell, why won't a real Weber sell? It's made of better materials, even if it says "AEolian" on the plate.

Re: Can we sell old American pianos in China?
edferris #2785334 11/27/18 02:23 PM
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It's cheaper to build old American pianos in China. wink



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Re: Can we sell old American pianos in China?
j&j #2785342 11/27/18 02:49 PM
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Originally Posted by j&j
My dear departed Mother imagined her children would cherish her console piano, her Lenox China, her dress jewelry yada yada yada. Now that she’s gone, we’re trying to find good homes for her “treasures”....because nobody really wants these things. It’s great to keep some small things in remembrance, but pianos and big old cars need to go.

This is a sad story that plays out over and over again, family after family, as older generations pass on, and the things they loved and cherished are [understandably] of little or no value to those that follow.

When my dad passed, his will included a list of 70 lots of personal items that my brothers and I were supposed to receive. He thought it was significant enough to even specify that "to be fair" we should make choices in a round-robin style. I selected only a single thing (my great-great-grandmother's school bell).

I learned the hard way: I already had a mini storage full of crap from my great-aunt. I can't get any of my siblings, nieces or nephews to take any of it.



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Re: Can we sell old American pianos in China?
edferris #2786254 11/29/18 10:42 PM
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Well, China has sent enough junker pianos to the USA. Sending a few Starr Grands to China would be tit for tat...…...ha ha.



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