Used Pianos – Toronto & Area

Toronto is one of North America’s largest used piano markets, and there is no shortage of units available.  However, the used pianos Toronto has to offer may be high in quantity, but not nearly so in variety.  Here is a brief description of the most prominent brands you’ll see when shopping the various piano stores Toronto plays host to.  They are listed alphabetically.

Used Brands in Toronto

Baldwin Used Pianos: Toronto & Area

Pros: Good performance for the money if properly rebuilt

Cons: The years of manufacture are critical to know, because of the near constant turbulence and restructuring that occurred from the late 1980’s onwards.

Description: Satin black and wood finishes, varying in styles. Sizes range from 5’3″ – 9′, with prices between $10,000 – 25,000

Preferred Years: 1950’s – early 1980’s, 2003 – 2007

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Baldwin 6000 52″ Upright

Baldwin has, over the last several decades, been amongst the more mysterious used pianos Toronto offers up.  It’s floated between one of the most dominant brands in the industry, to teetering on complete oblivion. Several management changes, a bankruptcy, and a major restructuring, has left the marketplace generally unsure of the direction of the company, or the exact origin of the pianos. That said, Baldwin pianos built in the US during the 1970’s and early 1980’s are considered quite good, with a brief resurgence in quality in the early to mid 2000’s from their Truman, Arkansas facility. The most popular Baldwin grand models are the R and L (5’8″ and 6’2″), with occasional SF10 and SD10 (7′ and 9′) pianos surfacing. The majority are not old enough to require full rebuilding, and a well-cared for Baldwin could very well provide a great instrument. The price range for these tend to be in the $10,000 – 20,000 range, depending on size and quality.

Heintzman Used Pianos: Toronto & Area

Pros: Beautiful cabinetry, large tone when rebuilt properly

Cons: Very high cost-to-performance ratio 

Description: Satin black and wood finishes, varying in styles. Uprights and grands, range $4000 – 8000 (uprights), $10,000 – 25,000 (grands)

Ages: 1890’s – 1920’s most common; some from 1970’s

Heintzman Upright Grand

May be one of the best-known used pianos Toronto can call its own, Heintzman was the most famous piano ever produced in Canada. And for a period of 60-70 years, were considered absolutely on par with the likes of Steinway, Mason & Hamlin, or Bechstein. Though they didn’t survive the industry reordering of the 1970’s that left many manufacturers out of business, their earlier pianos still endure today. Heintzman’s used several innovative designs that set them apart, such as the solid agraffe capos.

Because of the link to Toronto, the rebuilding of Heintzman pianos, both uprights and grands, continues in popularity to this day. However, like rebuilt Steinways, much of the cost of the piano is the rebuilding efforts themselves. It is not unusual to see a fully-rebuilt Heintzman upright piano selling for $6000 – 8000. Done properly, these rebuilds can be very respectable instruments; one shouldn’t ignore however that piano design is far from static, and in 100 years there have been dozens and dozens of improvements by many companies…you may be buying a very well preserved or restored piano of high quality, but it’s designs and innovations are a century old. For a similar budget, there are at least a half dozen uprights from companies like Kawai, Perzina, Hoffmann, and Yamaha that would likely out-play the Heintzman.

Kawai Used Pianos: Toronto & Area

Pros: Plenty of selection, ample consumer information, low cost

Cons: Kawai’s frequent model name changes make it difficult to compare units

Description: Uprights and grands typically in polished black; price range $2900 – 6000 (uprights), $9000 – 20,000 (grands)

Preferred Ages: 1970’s – present 

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Kawai K3 Upright

Although Kawai used pianos can be found in ample supply, it simply doesn’t compare to the shear quantity of Yamaha U1’s. There are several reasons for that, but the main factor is one of optics. Yamaha hasn’t changed their model labels for 40 years – therefore there are 40 years worth of U1’s.  Kawai on the other hand changes the model names ever time there is a significant improvement in design, or aesthetic change (as often as ever 5 years in some cases). Kawai simply doesn’t have a model of any description that it’s produced under the same badge for 40 years, so the appearance is that Yamaha U1’s are dominant.

Having said that, there are several lines from Kawai which have terrific reputations for quality and sound.  The US, BL, and K series are and were considered amongst the best Japanese pianos available, right along side Yamaha YUS, YUX, and YUA models. In some cases, dealers are able to access some of Kawai’s own inventory, adding a nice layer of comfort to the purchase.

Plastic Parts” Kawai is often associated with the use of composite and plastic components in the action. Although the use of composite materials is entirely mainstream in the new piano market, with very few dealers even discussing the issue these days, the used market is still prone to this type of ‘wood-vs.-plastic’ debate.  Most often, this is often what is used to compare and contrast Yamaha and Kawai. Although it’s a common argument, it’s also rather absurd since both pianos make use of both wood and composite materials in their actions. Kawai has been using composites in their actions for about 35 years, so most Kawai’s made after the late 1970’s will have this composite-wood hybrid action. Any shoppers should be aware that history has shown these actions to be incredibly durable, stable, and in many cases a desirable feel. The bottom line is that any Japanese piano will offer a very trouble-free ownership, and the category should almost always be considered if shopping for used pianos.

Mason & Hamlin Unsold and Used Pianos: Toronto & Area

Pros: Excellent performance if rebuilt well, lower price point than Steinway

Cons: Like any rebuild, the onus is on the buyer to ensure proper work and care has been taken

Description: Satin black and wood finishes, varying in styles. Sizes range from 5’3″ – 9′, with prices between $15,000 – 40,000

Ages: Late 1800’s to 1928, 1996 – present

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Mason & Hamlin BB

Mason & Hamlin is a company that’s quite literally come full circle in the last 100 years. Earning a spot amongst the most elite of the golden age of pianos (~1900 – 1928), Mason & Hamlin’s were touted as the pinnacle of piano design and manufacturing by many of the world’s leading artists and performers. The pianos from this era can be fantastic if rebuilt properly, and unlike rebuilt Steinways, there is no culture of insistence on original parts (many would say this is a good thing; rebuilders and technicians are free to make a range of artistic decisions that can further enhance the original piano).

Following 1928, Mason & Hamlin became a victim of its own success, in a way. The prominence it had achieved over the previous two decades had made it a target of acquisition for many of the larger piano companies. When the stock-market crashed in 1929, the controlling interests that owned Mason’s brands, designs, patents, and factories went bankrupt. For nearly 70 years, the brand was traded about the industry, with various incarnations appearing; none were ever considered equal or even similar to those of the golden age instruments.

After the acquisition of Mason & Hamlin by the Burgett brothers, the company immediately returned to it’s pre 1920’s designs, manufacturing styles, and equipment. The pianos since the late 1990’s have enjoyed considerable acclaim, and following the redesigns and introduction of the WNG Carbon Fibre actions, the instruments have once again achieved global leadership in the areas of construction, design innovation, and musical performance.

Rebuilt Mason & Hamlins

There are far fewer rebuilt Mason & Hamlin’s available than Steinways, and those that have been rechristened at the hand of a true master are amongst the finest rebuilt pianos that one can find. On the other hand, there are, proportionally, just as many poorly rebuilt Masons as there are Steinways.  Like shopping for used Steinways, ensure that the instrument is inspected by a qualified technician, and/or being offered by a respected retailer with supporting documentation. Of all the used pianos Toronto calls home, amongst the most treasured are these.

Unsold Pianos in the Toronto Market

Mason & Hamlin has had a volatile presence in the Toronto market over the last 10-15 years, having been hosted by three separate dealerships. Although Mason’s Toronto representatives, Merriam Music, have become one of the most successful Mason & Hamlin dealers in North America in 3 years, the previous two dealers were unable to make the investments in focus and marketing required for success. As a result, Toronto uniquely has a small ‘glut’ of unsold, yet technically new Mason and Hamlin pianos of 5-10 years. Although they are not considered ‘used’ from a legal sense, they constitute a de facto used market, since they are being offered at highly discounted rates. The instruments are not of the newest design, nor do they make use of the WNG Carbon Fibre actions. Additionally, the pianos have been warehoused for at least 5 years; typical warehousing often means a lack of humidity control, and pianos warehoused for this length of time often suffer structural weakening because of it.

Steinway Used Pianos: Toronto & Area

Pros: Good performance for the money if properly rebuilt

Cons: Very wide range of quality of rebuilding, with little correspondence to the price; several new competing pianos which may outperform the pianos

Description: Satin black and wood finishes, varying in styles. Sizes range from 5’3″ – 9′, with prices between $25,000 – 50,000

Ages: Late 1800’s to late 1920’s, 1950’s – 1968, 1982 – present

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Steinway “O” Model

Steinway as a brand has been in Toronto for over 100 years, and they’re readily found from many dealers and technicians. The brand Steinway is probably the best known higher-end piano in the market, both because of it’s control of the concert stage circuit as well as 100 years of deft marketing. Used Steinways are readily available on the used piano market, and most reputable dealers do their best to have the offering available. The majority of Steinway pianos are grands, although the occasional 1098 or K52 will find its way onto Ebay. Like Yamaha used, the global trade of used Steinway pianos is a well-oiled machine, with an entire sub-industry existing to support it. The following models are common: Model S (5’3″), Model M (5’7″), Model L (5’11”), Model O (5’11”), Model A (6’2″), Model B (6’11”), Model D (9′).

For Steinway used pianos, Toronto sees the greatest concentration from the early 1900’s era.  As such, the refurbishment of the piano is the biggest issue likely to require research and unfortunately cause confusion. All pianos, including Steinways and other even higher-end pianos, wear down over time, and need quite a bit of reconstruction to return them to a high level of performance.

The parts which normally need to be addressed in a used Steinway (or any piano of this age) are:

  • Soundboard
  • Bridge(s) and bridge pins
  • Strings
  • Tuning Pins / Tuning Block
  • Hammers
  • Repetitions
  • Exterior Case
  • Key tops
  • Key bushings

Genuine Vs. Aftermarket Parts

The first issue to tackle is the matter of “genuine” parts vs. aftermarket parts. At the time of writing, Steinway restricts the sale of original factory parts to technicians it has relationships with, and are ‘factory certified’. This includes everything down to a simple screw for a cabinet part. One can only assume this has been done in part to protect their own in-house rebuilding services (Steinway will completely rebuild a grand piano, in factory, usually for prices in the $20,000 – 30,000 range), but also to ensure that properly qualified people are able to promote their work along side the Steinway brand. Though Steinway components are of high quality, there is no evidence that they are superior to other high-quality parts available on the market, so there is ongoing debate amongst dealers and technicians on the virtues of using Steinway original parts.

Its fair to say that the only demonstrable benefit to original Steinway parts is in the resale value of the instrument; the market still favours branded parts in almost any industry, from the auto industry to the electronics industry. Proponents of the use of original parts throw out labels like “Frankensteinway” to degrade the validity of those instruments rebuilt using aftermarket parts. Proponents of the use of parts such as Renner or Abel will immediately point to Steinway’s average parts quality at high prices and cry foul over value. Customers may have a preference, and there isn’t any risk in going in either direction – in the final equation, the biggest determining factor in the quality of the rebuilt instrument is the technician performing the work, and a budget that doesn’t require major component repair to be skipped – an all-to-frequent occurrence.

Pricing

To most customers, the rebuilding efforts may seem secondary to the intrinsic value of buying a “Steinway”. However, the vast majority of the cost of the piano is, in fact, the rebuilding. Typically, a piano dealer or technician may be able to purchase a non-rebuilt Steinway for as little as $5000.  By the time the instrument is sold on the used market, that piano may sell for as much as $40,000. As high as this seems, the cost of a new Steinway of the same model might be $80,000, so to a customer, this seems like a great opportunity. But this brings to question two very important issues:

  1. Since most of the cost of the purchase is going towards the rebuilding efforts, the decision on who to buy from should be absolutely paramount. The instrument, without the rebuilding, isn’t worth much more than a Chinese upright piano, so the importance of this should be obvious.
  2. Have you compared what $40,000 would buy you in a new piano? Since builders like Mason & Hamlin, Shigeru Kawai, and Bechstein all make pianos that are considered industry equals to NY Steinways, and offer new models in the $40,000 range, it makes a great deal of sense to consider them.

The price range for a rebuilt Steinway could be anywhere from $25,000 – 45,000. Great scrutiny should be paid to any Steinway at $35,000 or higher, simply because it is too easy to pass off a partial rebuilding job as a complete one. If premium prices are being asked, ensure that every major component is examined by a piano technician, or if dealing with a reputable dealer, demand documentation of the work.

In conclusion, Steinway remains one of the most powerful brands in the industry, and customers seeking it will certainly find the used option appealing. However, what customers receive for their money is far from consistent, and if the performance and longevity of the instrument is as important to the buyer as the name, then a great deal of care and investigation should be undertaken.

Yamaha Used Pianos: Toronto & Area

Pros: Plenty of selection, ample consumer information, low cost

Cons: High risk of damage from directly imported units, High turn-over of smaller ‘pop-up’ dealers

Description: Uprights and grands typically in polished black; price range $2900 – 6000 (uprights), $9000 – 20,000 (grands)

Preferred Ages: 1970’s – present

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The used piano industry in Toronto is dominated by used Yamaha pianos, mainly their upright/vertical models. A quick search online, using “used pianos toronto” or “used pianos” will invariably result in dozens of Yamaha U1’s for sale, both from stores and privately. Even Kijiji offers U1’s as low as $2900 for “entirely refurbished Yamaha pianos” with full warranties and the promise of top-notch pianos for low-low prices. If only this were true, and as simple. The truth of the matter is that the used Yamaha piano trade is complex, and its not the easiest thing to wade through as a customer. Here’s the story of why…

As a result of Japan’s economic boom of the 1970′s and 1980′s, there were massive quantities of both Yamaha’s and Kawai’s produced.  Interestingly, Japan’s prevailing religious affiliation, Shintao, casts the practice of purchasing a used piano in particularly poor light, and so a very unintended consequence of this piano purchasing boom emerged.  Beginning in the 1990′s, very large numbers of instruments that were still in relatively good shape started to be sold at very low prices, or even given away, by the Japanese domestic population, since it was very difficult to sell them amongst themselves.  North American piano distributors certainly noticed, and recognizing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, began collecting these pianos by the 10,000′s and importing them to the US and Canadian markets, to be sold against new Yamaha product.  Almost overnight, a whole sub-industry was born – that of the used Japanese piano.

There has been much ink spilt over this sub-industry, for a host of reasons both practical and strategic.  Recognizing an enormous threat to their North American dealers, producers like Yamaha sought to cast as much plausible doubt on these cheap imports as possible as an attempt to reduce the sales impact on their new product. Entire websites were set up to inform, and as some have suggested ‘scare’ the buying public from purchasing these so-called ‘grey market’ pianos.  Piano technicians for their part, suddenly dealing with a huge number of very real technical issues related to bringing pianos from a damp climate to a dynamic and often dry climate like North America, provided a more balanced narrative, giving helpful tips on how to recognize a properly reconditioned piano vs. a raw, high-risk product.  Because of the relative ease with which anyone could obtain these instruments at wholesale prices, short-term retailers began popping up across the continent, specializing in exclusively used Japanese pianos. With absolutely no contact with the rest of the piano industry in any way, shape, or form, these piano dealers were simply ordering ocean containers full of pianos and trucking them to low-cost retail spaces, buffing them up, and in some cases selling them as NEW or with entirely fabricated pasts.  The practice amongst these retailers became so bad that reviewers such as Larry Fine advised a complete avoidance of the category for many years – not because of the instruments, but because of the complete lack of accountable business practices being employed to sell them.

Today the global trade of used Japanese pianos from their 1970′s and 1980′s boom continues, although a combination of dwindling supply as well as improving product from China and Indonesia is reducing the strategic role that these pianos played 10 years ago.  Whereas a customer who then wished to spend $5000 or less on an instrument was confined to literally two categories – used Japanese or new low-quality Chinese/Indonesian – there are now several choices that the modern customer has which provide great playing options, some in a professional range, for the same price point.

Young Chang Used Pianos: Toronto & Area

Pros: Much lower resale prices than Kawai or Yamaha

Cons: Confusing labelling makes it more difficult to identify the Korean-made product, actions are heavier than average

Description: Uprights and grands typically in polished black; price range $2000 – 4000 (uprights), $5000 – 15,000 (grands)

Preferred Ages: 1980’s – late 1990’s

Korea’s piano industry has seen significant change over the last 20 years, with a merger (and subsequent breakup of the merger) between Samick and Young Chang. The Korean piano offering at one point made up between 1/4 – 1/3 of the total pianos sold, and Young Chang was considered the musical and technical leader. With successful collaborations with J.P. Pramburger, and highly popular models like the 185 grand, Young Chang gained a reputation for reliable, high-value instruments. Following the merger and breakup with Samick, the larger but more entry-to-mid level builder in Korea, Young Chang was dramatically reshaped. Much of their most valuable designs and properties were left with Samick, and Young Chang was left floundering for a market niche.

Much of the confusion regarding the more recent Young Chang models is self-inflicted – their naming system has been inconsistent and difficult for consumers to make sense of. For example, prior to the merger, Young Chang manufactured all of their pianos in Korea, and were called “Young Chang” or “Weber”, and used the scale designs brought forth by Pramburger.  However, following the breakup, the line was segmented into high-end, mid-range, and entry-level offerings called “Young Chang Platinum”, “Young Chang Gold”, and “Young Chang”, respectively. Only the Young Chang Platinum remained Korean, while the rest were Chinese. As of 2013, further complicating the matter, all pianos being sold in Toronto changed once again. Any piano labelled Young Chang was now entirely Chinese, as well as Weber; however “Albert Weber” remained Korean.

All in all, the strongest candidates for purchasing a used Young Chang would definitely be pre-merger, and the occasional 185 grand will pop up anywhere in the $5000 – 10,000 range. Although the action has always been the most prevalent complaint of the instruments (they’re notably heavier and slower in response than their Japanese counterparts), the tone is quite large and the construction is comparable in quality to Kawai or Yamaha.