Traditional pianos are playing the blues

Unless you have a Steinway, your grandmother's much-loved black-and-white ivory keys are destined to join many others in the landfill.

By Bruce Kennedy Jul 8, 2013 6:58AM

Close-up of a Steinway piano (© Dario Cantatore/Getty Images)Here's some news you don't hear often in our disposable society. It involves a U.S. company started 160 years ago that's still crafting world-class products today that are much in demand. However, another part of this story is all too familiar.


Steinway Musical Instruments (LVB), maker of perhaps the most renowned pianos in the world, is soon to go private after being purchased by private equity firm Kohlberg & Co. for $438 million.


Like other companies, Steinway struggled through the recession, reporting a 20% annual decline in its high-end grand piano sales between 2005 and 2008.


And while those numbers have come back with the economic recovery, they're still being tempered by exports from China, Asia's largest piano maker.


As Al Lewis recently blogged over at MarketWatch, one way of looking at Steinway is as its own biggest rival. How's that?


"Because Steinway pianos are built to last for generations, a relatively large market exists for used Steinways," said the company's annual report. "It is difficult to estimate the significance of used piano sales because most are conducted in the private aftermarket. However, we believe that used Steinway pianos provide the most significant competition in the high-end piano market."


According to Lewis, a good Steinway appreciates at a steady annually rate of about 4%, "better than some stocks, bonds and mutual funds -- because the company raises its prices every year to maintain its renowned level of quality."


Sadly, however, the steadily rising value of a used Steinway can't be said about everyday, household pianos. Indeed, Steinway is one of the few companies anywhere bucking the trend of our current throwaway society. Once a staple piece of furniture in middle-class American homes, more pianos are ending up in trash dumps to be broken up and recycled for their wood and metal.


A number of factors are behind the decline of the traditional piano. Along with the required maintenance to keep them in tune, many are being replaced by lightweight and portable electronic keyboards or by less expensive wooden pianos from overseas.


So what do you do with a heavy, unloved and not particularly valuable piano -- especially since the instrument's lifespan is about 80 years and so many of them still out there are reaching the end of their time?


You dump them, of course -- which has been a boon for piano movers and disposal businesses in recent years.


There's at least one alternative. The owner of a New Hampshire piano-moving company has created PianoAdoption.com, a site whose mission is to find "a new home for all serviceable pianos before they end up in the local landfill." Unless, of course, your piano happens to be a Steinway.


More on moneyNOW

6Comments
Jul 8, 2013 5:45PM
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Overreaction.  The piano, Steinway or otherwise, remains a staple to the music student and the professional.  In apartments, it is the small upright.  Larger homes have everything from baby grands on up to concert size.  Yes, there are electronic pianos.  In a bachelor apartment it might be just the thing, since the player can plug in his earphones so he won't disturb his neighbors.  The standard piano is still here to stay.
Jul 8, 2013 2:41PM
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I bought my wife a used piano for $500.  It cost me $400 to move it 5 miles to our house.  We may have been better off buying a new piano .

 

Look in Craigslist, people are giving them away.

Jul 8, 2013 9:01PM
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Steinway is not the only quality piano.  Mason Hamlin and Baldwin are just two brands, that come to mind. 
Jul 9, 2013 6:57AM
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Better to train more tuners and technicians and enjoy REAL music than to continue eliminating all that is good in the world. A disposable society disposes itself, eventually.
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