Pearl River Pianos?
August 25, 2006 3:55 AM   Subscribe

In our search for a reasonably priced baby grand piano, we keep coming across the Chinese-made Pearl River brand. Are these pianos worth a serious look?

We're far from concert pianists, with my wife playing some and two children who will soon be of prime age for piano lessons. The Pearl River pianos are at least half the cost of similar Yamahas and other more well known brands. Google searches have been mostly fruitless, with comments ranging from "great value - they make components for Steinway" to "you get what you pay for." There are apparently no objective reviews or comparisons out there. The piano dealer, of course, is steering us toward the Yamahas, at about $15K. Any real world experience with this brand? Would purchasing a Pearl River be a smart, frugal choice or a waste of money?
posted by flyingrock to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know the brand, but I assume you've consulted The Piano Book by Larry Fine? He reviews pianos by brand and year. I wouldn't buy any piano without looking it up in this book first.

Note - there's the book and then he puts out updates every year or two.
posted by kdern at 6:32 AM on August 25, 2006

cool I didn't know Larry played the piano too. I thought he was a fiddle man..nyuk nyuk.

Seriously regardless of brand you should contact your local music college. They usually sell off their pianos after a few years of use.
posted by Gungho at 6:44 AM on August 25, 2006

I have no direct experience with the Pearl River brand, so I'm unqualified to discuss that point.

In general, however, regarding choice of piano:

While an upright piano (or even a ~$1200 "digital grand" if distracting auxiliary functions are kept to a minimum) is a suitable practice instrument for a beginner, it is crucial that even beginning students have regular opportunities to familiarize themselves with the expanded range of expression available on a baby or full grand.

In other words, try to ensure that you at least choose a piano teacher that uses a baby-grand.

This will allow you to save up for a high-quality instrument, and use it as a motivator.

We'll buy you a baby-grand when you become better!

then, depending on rate of progress:

We'll buy you a baby-grand when you can play Fuer Elise
We'll buy you a baby-grand when you can play Mozart's Sonata Facile in C.
We'll buy you a baby-grand when you can play Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu.
posted by The Confessor at 6:47 AM on August 25, 2006

Not directly answering your question, but have you looked at second-hand pianos much? I got my piano (a 10 year old Yamaha U1) from a dealer here in NY for (I think) $3000, and it is a far better piano than all the much more expensive, but still "bargain basement", Steinways I tried up on 59th. I can post his contact details if you like. If you have $7-10k to spend you can get a hell of a good second hand baby grand.

I differ with The Confessor about the importance of a grand; the action on my piano is just as nice as my teacher's Steinway baby grand, and the main difference is in the sound it produces. Obviously a grand has the capacity to produce much more range and sound since it's physically bigger, but in no way does it mean you can't practise and get good on a nice upright. A grand is different, but not necessarily better, and I've played grand pianos that are not nearly as nice as my upright.
posted by ny_scotsman at 7:51 AM on August 25, 2006

can't help with the pianos, but i went through the same issues with the mideast harp company when i was buying a harp. i opted to spend the extra money to get the product that was the best quality and had a strong repuation ... and i suspect it would be the same for pianos.
posted by lester at 9:16 AM on August 25, 2006

Definitely check out the Larry Fine book. Piano dealers are a lot like car dealers in that there is a huge markup. Since buying a piano isn't something people do every day, most people don't realize they can bargain a little. If you're smart you can talk your way down to something more reasonable than what the tag might say. About 12 years ago, we were able to buy a Yamaha baby grand that was listed for $22K for a flat $10K, including the bench and delivery, thanks to reading through the Larry Fine book and haggling with the store. My dream piano is a Steinway B, but not having the $60K to spend, this was a nice compromise. (And I will say that this Yamaha has matured nicely -- I wasn't all that interested in a Yamaha at first because they seem to get so bright and brittle after a while, but this one had a nicer, mellower sound than the baby grand Steinways I tried when I was piano shopping, and it's held up over the years.)

I don't know that I'd buy a Pearl River (which looks to be made by or partnered with Yamaha) just because it's cheap. I'd investigate other options first -- like checking out the local conservatories/music schools annual get-rid-of-the-old-pianos sale or giveaway, and also seeing what kind of deal you can work out with local piano stores. You might be able to find something better (or at least with more of a solid Google trail) for just as much as you're planning to pay for this.
posted by mothershock at 9:52 AM on August 25, 2006

Third the recommendation of The Piano Book. Per the 4th edition, all categories (performance, confidence, and quality control) for Pearl River pianos rated a "Poor" (if "Fussy" about pianos, which I take to mean experienced) or "Fair" (if "Normal").

While he says that Pearl River pianos are one step ahead of the other Chinese brands ("Chinese pianos in general have been quite mediocre and often unacceptable"), he also raises concerns that "there's no long-term information on how these pianos will behave in the various climates of the U.S.". (The 2006-2007 Supplement to The Piano Book may qualify that info.)

As for buying used: I think this is a good idea, esp. as you're buying it for two children who may take piano. (Or rather, who may be interested in it longer than a year.) My sister bought a brand-new piano because she played some, her kids were at the age when they could start lessons... and now it is a hugely expensive family picture stand. No one's played it for years.

Make sure that you have a piano tuner evaluate any used piano: they may have some problems you can't discern plus a lot of people don't get them tuned and, as a result, the piano can only get tuned back to relative pitch.
posted by sfkiddo at 12:26 PM on August 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

I suggest checking the archives of the usenet group There are a lot of opinionated but helpful people in that group. If you post your query there you're likely to get a response.

Have you considered a Petrof piano?

I also would suggest looking for a second hand instrument. Even the tiny city where I live has a couple of good piano rebuilders. One of them refurbishes four year old Yamahas from Japan which are shipped to the US by the container load. A friend bought one of these for about a quarter the price of new.
posted by Wet Spot at 3:44 PM on August 25, 2006

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