If you have looked for used Yamaha pianos – you may have have run into this term before. If you have ever searched for the term “gray market Yamaha pianos” online you will find a ton of different opinions about what it means. It’s my goal to simply provide some information from my experience to anyone who is curious about buying or learning about what this means.
The simple answer is that Yamaha pianos imported directly from Japan are sometimes referred to as gray market pianos. Yamaha pianos sold through retailers in the United States are actually imported into this country by a company called Yamaha North America. Yamaha North America is actually a separate company from Yamaha. They are the sole importer of Yamaha pianos into the United States, and because of this, their interest is to protect their market as much as possible. In fact they, they are undoubtedly the ones who initially coined the term “gray market pianos”. You can read their take on what grey market pianos are on their website:
In other words: If you buy a piano from a private seller and the piano was not sold through Yamaha North America, it could be termed a gray market piano. Indeed there is a cottage industry of people importing old Yamaha pianos from Japan, refurbishing them and selling them in the United States.
Yamaha North America warns customers about these pianos.
The biggest concern is the age of the piano. Yamaha has continually improved design, manufacturing, and materials of their pianos over the decades. Some of the old pianos they produced were not of the high standard people expect of the largest piano manufacturer in the world. Since Yamaha North America has no control over these instruments, they caution people about them to avoid being associated with sub-standard pianos being sold by some independent importers.
Another issue that is raised is the climitization of the pianos for the North American market. What is the climate of North America? I know that where I live in Southern California has a dramatically different climate than 10 miles away at the beach, or 10 miles inland in the high desert. Indeed, early on before Yamaha became a global music company their pianos were not produced with the seasoned woods to withstand a wide range of climates. However, Yamaha pianos have been produced on a high level for export certainly since the late 1970’s at least. So, this is only a concern with older Yamaha pianos.
Yamaha North America also warns about availability of parts for “gray market pianos”. They say they will not provide parts for these pianos and require the serial number to acquire parts. The truth is, piano parts are standard and there are countless companies making high quality parts for almost any modern piano.
So what is the deal with gray market piano? If you are looking at a relatively recently built Yamaha piano, you should be just fine. Most of the Yamaha pianos sold in Japan are pretty much the same as the ones sold in America. Any skilled technician who can handle a Yamaha American piano will have no problems servicing a later model Japanese market Yamaha piano; the parts and labor are the same.
So while you should be aware of what are termed, “Yamaha gray market pianos”, if you are looking at a later model Yamaha within the time frame of Yamaha North America, there is probably nothing to worry about.