Robert Estrin - piano expert

The Future of the Piano Industry

A unique interview about how the way pianos are sold is changing

In this video, Robert interviews Michael Stilwell of Stilwell pianos, giving interesting insight about the evolution of the piano market and, looking forward, where it is going.

Released on February 26, 2020

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Robert Estrin:
Hi, this is Robert Estrin at, your online piano store with groundbreaking news about the future of the piano industry in the United States. We have with us today. And I'm so pleased to have Michael Stilwell of Stilwell pianos in Arizona and the head of the Piano Technicians Academy. Welcome Michael.

M Stilwell:
Thank you so much.

Robert Estrin:
Well today, you know you're here not just for this video and not just to talk about the future of the piano industry, but how we are impacting the future of the piano industry together. The big news is that we are partnering to bring more pianos to people all throughout the United States and it's so important because of how the piano industry has declined in this country. And before we even go any further, just to introduce people to you, I want everybody to know how you ever got into the piano business to begin with.

M Stilwell:
Yeah, so I'm a third generation technician. My grandfather Ralph Stilwell started a Stilwell Pianos in 1956 in Decatur, Illinois as a service business and home. So we would tune pianos in home. We did rebuilds, regulation, new hammer strings and stuff like that. And then eventually I got into it. So I got into the business when I was 18 or 19. I went to piano tuning school and my grandfather was in Decatur, Illinois and I was in Arizona. So I needed help.

M Stilwell:
So luckily my grandfather was very well known in our industry. He was the head technician for Yamaha North America, for all of the United States. So he developed kind of these awesome relationships with some big wig technicians. And when I wanted to get into the industry, he asked some of them to take me under their wing and I trained with some of those guys and eventually took over the family business. And I did the first seven years of my career in home tuning, regulating, voicing and stuff like that.

M Stilwell:
And then I got hit by a car. I was on my way to dinner with a friend and I got hit by a car and it broke my right wrist, my tuning wrist. And I was married and I needed to make money. So I started buying pianos and selling them out of my house. And I also started developing a course on piano technology. And that is kind of the starting point of the Piano Technician Academy, which is the largest online piano tune school in the world. We were the first ones to go online and kind of pioneered doing that using videography, web development, e-learning. So that's been a really fun part of what I do and kind of absorbing the tech side. But then also, being able to sell pianos and use my technician background in the whole sales process and the buying process of making sure that we're buying good pianos that we're selling good pianos, that these things are dialed in perfectly every single day.

Robert Estrin:
Well that's what's great about having a whole store full of piano technicians. What I find most interesting is the parallel development. You grew up with the piano technicians in your family going back generations. And for me it's musicians. My father being a concert pianist, my sister being a pianist, my whole extended family. And interestingly, the way I got into the piano business was from my teaching which started in high school assisting my father, as my sister had done before me. And then when I was teaching, people would call me for lessons. And the first question I always ask is, do you have a piano? If they didn't have a piano, it's like you're dead in the water. So I ended up having pianos for people and realized my gosh, what a calling there was for that. So I'm very excited about us helping to mitigate the decline of the piano industry in the United States. And I would venture to say that both of our missions is to revitalize the piano industry in this country by offering pianos online that have never been available before and in much greater numbers with the power that we bring to bear combining our companies.

M Stilwell:
Yeah, I mean that's the crazy thing is that this is the only industry that sells these kind of higher ticket items that doesn't do it online. Right. You know. And there is this whole thing of, "Oh, I want to play the piano first. I want to touch it and see it and everything." But both of us have kind of ventured into this online sales thing, especially Living Pianos, and the amount of pianos that are sold on the internet, I mean, it's the sign of the times. I mean, everything we do. I have four kids. So I'm married, I got four kids under seven. My wife buys her groceries online. Like I'll talk to her at 10 in the morning. It's like, "Oh, what's for dinner tonight?" She's like, "I don't know. I'll call whole foods and it'll just get delivered." That's insane. And for some reason the piano industry hasn't gotten to that. So what you guys have done with this video, studio and filming all this stuff, and really showing the real tone, the real feel, and describing how these pianos sound, play, field touch, sound, everything, that is opening up this whole can of worms that this industry just hasn't seen before. So I'm super excited about it.

Robert Estrin:
It's a great opportunity and I'm looking forward to working with you and thanks so much for joining us today. Again, Michael Stilwell, Stilwell Pianos in Arizona and the Piano Technicians Academy. Again, I'm Robert Estrin here at Thanks for joining us.

M Stilwell:
Thank you.
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