Robert Estrin - piano expert

The Top 5 Piano Scams - Piano Buyers Beware!

Learn how to avoid scams in the piano market

In this video, Robert reveals and warns you about some of the top scams in the piano market.

Released on October 12, 2016

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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

Hi, this is Robert Estrin at and with the top five piano scams of all time. Actually, there are probably more than this. Sadly, I don't know why I'm laughing about this, this is actually a very serious subject. And after I get done telling you these scams, it will alert you about these, but I really welcome others to add to the conversation to warn other people about what's going on out there, and we'll all learn something from this video.

All right, sadly, not everybody in this world is honest and upright, and it can be really distressing sometimes for people. One of the first scams I ever heard about, years ago, and, fortunately, I never experienced it, but I heard about this very unscrupulous couple. And here's the way their scam worked. They go out to some unsuspecting home of somebody who had a piano listed for sale, and they'd say, "Yeah, I like the piano. I want to buy it. And could I give you, you know, $100, or $200, or whatever it is? I'll give you that, and then I'll bring the truck to the movers over later, and know, here's $500." They'll give them a certain amount of money for a piano, and they'll say, "Oh! I noticed there's a little blemish on the fallboard. So do you mind if I just take the fallboard?" Oh, they go, "Oh, sure!" He goes, "We could start working on it." Well, time passes. They never hear from this person again, and then this is where the scam comes in. The partner, who makes no reference to the first person at all, says, "Oh, I noticed your ad awhile back, and I never got a chance to call you. Do you still have the piano?" Well, you could see where this is going. They say, "Yeah, but..." and they explain the situation, "Well, I might be interested." The second person comes in and swoops it up for, you know, pennies on the dollar. Isn't that disgusting? I know, that's one scam, but there are others that are equally disturbing.

There's a trend I've heard of lately, and this is an alert for people in the Southern California area. I'm not sure which auction house this is happening at, but I've heard this from a number of people, so it's verified, because I've heard it from more than one source. Which is, a lot of auctions, you don't get the chance to inspect the piano closely. Things are fast and furious, and people come in and prepare to take a chance on a deal, and what more exciting way to entice people than a Steinway. You see a Steinway there. It looks pretty good. You can't get real close, but it looks all right. Well, you win the auction. You're elated. You pay for the piano. You arrange for delivery. You get the piano, and when you look inside, you find, "No, that's not a Steinway. They just put Steinway on the fallboard." Can you really do that? Well, yeah, it's actually the easiest thing in the world. In fact, any piano that's refinished has a new decal on front. They're available through a variety of sources online, and it's an important thing to have. After all, you have an old Steinway. You rebuild it. You refinish it. Of course, you're not gonna want to leave the fallboard blank. You need the decal. But putting a decal that doesn't match the piano, in my book, is dead wrong.

Now, there are some people who, kind of, you know, ride the line on that, which I still think is absolutely wrong, and I would never do it. But I've seen more than one source, even coming from notable dealers, where they'll have an old Baldwin Monarch or Baldwin Howard, one of Baldwin's lower lines, which would have said "Howard" on the front, or "Hamilton," or "Monarch," and somewhere inside the piano, or maybe little letters on the side of the fallboard, it'll say, "Product of Baldwin." Well, they take the piano. They refinish it. Do they put "Monarch" on the front, "Product of Baldwin?" No, they put "Baldwin" right on the front of that fallboard, and it's really sad that people think they're getting a top-tier piano, and they're actually getting one of the lower-line pianos.

Some people go to extraordinary lengths. I think one of the most unusual situations I've ever heard in piano scams was a Steinert. Steinert was a great American piano company, and they're very, very similar to Steinway in the design. Even inside the piano, the logo that they have has that half-moon shape. Well, there was a Concert Grand Steinway being advertised for sale, and I had somebody ask me, this was a few years ago, they said, "Something doesn't seem right," but I looked at the pictures, looked like a Steinway D, because the Steinert scale design is so close. These people went to such extraordinary lengths, because, usually, the way you know for sure what a piano is, is whatever is cast into the plate, because you can't fake that, or can you? Well, these industrious people, I guess because it was a nine-foot concert grand, they figured they could get a pretty penny for it, did indeed alter the plate and made it say "Steinway" inside.

Now, how did I know it wasn't a Steinway? Just from pictures? Well, on the capo d'astro bar, and other parts of the plate, there are different designations of accelerated action or different words that occur on Steinways that are different from other manufacturers. And indeed, while they did put that Steinway name, they didn't take the care or the time to scrape off everything off that plate and replace it with what would have been on a Steinway D. Thank goodness I spotted that, because whoever contacted me was not sure about whether to get this piano. And there's nothing wrong with a Steinert, but Steinway, because of the name, sells for much more money than any other brand, pretty much in the used market, so it would have been overpaying for that Steinert. It gets worse, huh?

Okay, what else could there possibly be? What other scams are there in the industry? Well, the last one I'm gonna tell you is one of the most popular, and it's prevalent, sad to say, and once again, it's all in presentation, how far somebody goes to represent something honestly and what somebody does to try to really let you know what you're looking at. It could be very confusing in this world of stencil pianos, which I've talked about extensively before, that is, people selling imported pianos mostly from China and Indonesia, they'd have to put a name on the front that people have heard of. So, with the hundreds of piano brands of companies no longer in existence, they pick one, and they stencil it on the front of the piano. Of course, they buy the rights to doing this. It's perfectly legal, so long as you know that you're buying a stencil brand. You know, you shouldn't be buying a piano, like a Kohler and Campbell, for example, they went out of business in the 1980s. Well, the Korean company, Samick, produces pianos in Indonesia and Korea, and they put the Kohler and Campbell name, because people have heard of it more than Samick, even though they're a huge company.

Well, the only time this really becomes deceptive is if somebody tries to present that as an American piano, or the myriad companies trying to tell people that something is a German piano by not quite getting to the fact that it's a Chinese piano by saying, "The German soundboard, and the German design, and the German hammers, and the German strings." Before you know it, you know, you want to get a big blogger and celebrate your piano as being a German instrument. Well, you know, there are very few German instruments around, and the ones that are around are extremely costly. So if you ever go into a piano store, and somebody tells you, "Oh, this $10,000 piano is made in Germany," no it's not. There aren't any $10,000 pianos, maybe an upright, if you're lucky, but certainly not a baby grand or a grand piano.

So these are some scams that I've come across in my time with pianos. I hope this has been interesting and helpful for you, and I welcome anybody else who has stories to share so to safeguard others from making a big mistake on an important purchase. Thanks so much for joining me. Again, Robert Estrin here at and, your online piano store. See you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

emseeh on October 22, 2016 @12:58 pm PST
Thank You!
Ralph Smith * VSM MEMBER * on October 13, 2016 @2:47 pm PST
Hello Mr. Estrin,
In response to your intriguing scam video my story is more in the category of "buyer beware". After playing a nice Kawai upright for nearly two decades, I decided it was time for a grand. I received an ad for a used piano sale via a local college's music department. I paid over $15K for a grand piano that sounded okay but had been subject to much pounding by students. I tossed and turned all night and the next morning, prior to delivery, canceled the sale with no problem. After subsequently doing intensive research and visiting numerous showrooms, I negotiated an excellent price for a brand new August Foerster grand. Now for more than a decade I have been delighted with this exquisitely crafted German piano that sounds better with each passing year.
Thanks for your informative and helpful videos.
Fulvia * VSM MEMBER * on October 12, 2016 @5:58 pm PST
Are there any scams that you know regarding Yamaha pianos? I have an upright Yamaha and I know it is make in Japan, but I may be upgrading to the U1 or U3 and I want to be sure I will be getting the real product made in Japan. I would buy a new one only. The reason for this possible upgrade is that finally I had a chance to try a 6" and a 5-1/2" keyboard, which are manufactured by David Steinbuhler. Due to my small hands, which are smaller now due to arthrits, it is quite painful to stretch the hands even for 1 octave. The 5-1/2" keyboard would be perfect, however I was making too many mistakes, the brain and the hands still wanted to reach for the usual distance, even it it causes pain. The 6" instead was ideal for me. Mr. Steinbuhler is a bit concerned about making this keyboard for my current Yamaha, because of the depth of the piano, only 22-1/2". I believe the U1 and U3 are 24 or even 26" deep and easier to modify. Thanks!
Robert - host, on October 13, 2016 @4:55 pm PST
The only issue you may encounter is what Yamaha North America refers to as "Gray Market Pianos" which you can read about here:

If you are buying a new Yamaha U1, you should be in good shape.

Here is a link to see if the piano is a piano imported through Yamaha North America:

This chart helps you determine the year of manufacture of the piano: * VSM MEMBER * on October 14, 2016 @6:21 pm PST
Thank you very much. I will do some checking before buying.
Oluwaseun Collins on October 12, 2016 @5:04 am PST
I only think this is possible in my country, never thought this is obtainable in developed countries.
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