updated May 2011
On Buying a New or Used Disklavier
by Carol R. Beigel, Regostered Piano Technician
In today's Global Economy, purchasers can go online and get seemingly better deals from far away places than from their local Yamaha Dealer. But are they? Consider the following to avoid unmet expectations.
Try Before You Buy. If possible, go in person to play and hear the piano before you buy it. Not all pianos play and sound alike. Basically, what you hear and see is what you get. If you don’t like the tuning or voicing, and these things cannot be adjusted to your liking on the spot as you watch, chances are the situation won’t be much better in your living room. If you are buying the piano from a distant vendor and cannot evaluate the instrument yourself, hire a Registered Piano Technician to check it out first. Not all piano technicians are familiar with Disklaviers, so talk about this first. You can get a list of Registered Piano Technicians from www.ptg.org or call Yamaha at 1-800-854-1569 to recommend someone in your area. The model and serial numbers should be written on the purchase agreement.
Make sure you know exactly what features you are getting and not getting. Basically it comes down to how much hassle you want to deal with trying to do what you want to do. The oldest and most basic Disklaviers will play the piano from floppy disks you buy from Yamaha, and will play standard MIDI files from an attached computer. Everything else is optional or is included in a succession of upgraded models. Extra features include whether or not the Disklavier will play standard MIDI files from the floppy disk drive, what kinds of floppy disks are useable, incremental pedaling, upgradeable flash ROM, a tone generator for Ensemble sounds, speakers, headphones, Silent System, Smart Key and Piano Smart, a stereo audio system, and a CD player.
Know What is Upgradeable. One feature must be purchased built-in; the Silent System. The earliest Disklavier models, the MX100A/B, MX80series, and Wagon Grand cannot be upgraded. The MarkII series, MarkIIXG and Mark III can be upgraded to an E3 by purchasing the DKC-850 Control module from a Yamaha piano dealer. Starting with the MarkIIXG series, Disklaviers included flash memory to accommodate free operating system updates, a memory disk, ability to use both 720k DD and 1.44 HD floppy disks, ability to play Standard MIDI files in either SMF0 or SMF1 formats, and the Ensemble sounds. The Mark III series was the first to include a built-in CD player on some model. See the section Which Model Disklavier and Midi Player for a list of capabilities for each model.
DO NOT Buy a Gray Market Disklavier! You will NOT be able to get parts in the United States for any Disklavier that was not originally purchased from an authorized Yamaha dealer and does not have an American serial number. A Gray Market piano is defined not only by its model and serial number, but for people living in North America, as one constructed for a European or Asian climate. It costs more money to manufacture a piano for use in North America than for use in either Europe or Asia. All the wood must be kiln dried to a very low moisture content to avoid warping in the vast seasonal climate changes of the typical North American home. Gray Market pianos often have the finish cracking and falling off the cabinet, the soundboard flattening during the dry season, the pinblock not holding the tuning pins tight enough to hold a tuning, and the piano action being plagued by intermittent sticking keys. The electronics may also not be UL approved, so no vendor in their right mind will risk a product liability lawsuit to sell you replacement parts. Gray Market Disklaviers often have the LED displays in Japanese only, and usually no Owner's Manuals are available.Remember that the lowest price is not always the best value. Buying an instrument from a local vendor not only puts your sales taxes to work in your own community, but gives someone else in your locality a vested interest in your satisfaction. It is certainly easier for a vendor to sell a piano (sometimes still in its original packing crate) far, far away if it fell off the fork lift than to be responsible for its performance locally! Moving companies, or their agents, often promote “good deals” when inexperienced crews have accidents. Pianos are dropped on steps all the time and a good polyester touch-up craftsman can hide such damage well. Insurance companies sell pianos that have been "written off" and often smoke and water damage is not apparent for several years.
Figure in the cost of repairs and upgrades when purchasing a used model. The Disklavier came on the market in 1987, and although this does not seem like a very long time ago, in the world of electronics it is ancient history. Disk drives wear out and cost about $300 to replace. Sometimes the engine units need to be cleaned and the solenoid felts replaced. Power surges can damage circuit boards and disable features. Hardware upgrades, the DKC-850 cost $1495 each from a Yamaha dealer. Buying a used Disklavier can be like buying a Mercedes Benz with 150,000 miles on it. Buyer Beware!