A most unique Steinway Model C piano

We are so excited to be offering this amazing 7’5″ Steinway Model C that we had to give it more attention than simply the listing in our used inventory. It has a quite the story to tell!

Steinway C no player

We originally acquired this piano in 1999 and began a restoration project that would go down in the record books. At that time, we had two model C’s in stock — the only time in 50 years that has ever happened. But that’s not all. The two pianos were very close in serial numbers and in condition. We wanted to see what it would be like if we rebuilt one using the original soundboard and one with a brand new Steinway soundboard — keeping everything else the same. Basically, we wanted to see what a new New York Steinway C would sound like vs. an old one, which is a comparison that cannot be made today since Steinway C’s haven’t been made in over 100 years.

In order for this comparison to be authentic, we had some expenses with this piano that we would normally not incur:
1) We wanted to give this piano a new, Hamburg Steinway soundboard (Steinway still makes this model in Hamburg, Germany)
2) For additional authenticity, we chose a unique way to procure the rebuilding and soundboard installation. We shipped the piano to Peter Mohr, a former Steinway employee and his father Franz Mohr, former Chief technician at Steinway and the personal technician to countless piano greats such as Vladimir Horowitz.

With this pedigree, it would be easy to argue that it is at LEAST as good as a new Steinway C — possibly better given the highly skilled attention it received. Both pianos then received new keys and a complete action from Steinway. They were then refinished to perfection and even received new, custom-made benches to match the Victorian legs on the pianos.

Steinway C Legs

To unveil the results, we brought the pianos to our Deerfield store and hosted a Piano Technicians Guild (PTG) meeting for the Chicago chapter. We let the technicians analyze them and share their findings. The results were interesting indeed. Both pianos were deemed beautiful instruments, but in the case of this piano, the consensus was that they felt like they were experiencing what a NEW New York Steinway Model C was like — clear and powerful, but with that vintage Steinway warmth. The other piano was very similar, but without the additional clarity and power that the new soundboard delivered.

One more interesting note — in the summer of 2000, after the restoration, we invited the legendary entertainer Steve Allen to perform a concert at our Deerfield location to celebrate our 50th anniversary. After the concert on this piano, he signed the piano’s iron frame. He died only a few months later.

Steinway C Steve Allen

If you think you might be interested in the most beautiful Victorian Steinway model C available anywhere, please contact http://www.chicagopianos.com at 630.584.5000.

Chicago Pianos . com’s unique MIDI song files for pianos!

For most people interested in purchasing a Player Piano, the most important question is: “How do I get music for it?”  If you’re planning on buying a Yamaha Disklavier, PianoDisc system or QRS Pianomation, please read on!

Most new player systems today include a limited amount of music pre-installed and ready to play. When you’ve exhausted that music, there’s truckloads of more music available from the manufacturers, for purchase. And at an average of $2-3 a song, it can be an unwanted pinch, especially if you’re still licking the wounds from the purchase of the player piano!  🙂

midi-vault1This is why chicagopianos.com offers a most unique service — THE ONLY ONE OF ITS KIND and it attracts piano buyers from all over the country.  Back in 1997, we recognized the future demand for player piano “software” (or songs) and began compiling our own library of music — separate from what the manufacturers offer for sale in their own libraries.  This library is called our “MIDI File Vault” and it is available for FREE to our player piano customers through a password protected service.  Over the years our library has grown to include over 5000 selections, which means our library — if it were even purchasable — could arguably be worth upwards of $10,000 to each of our customers.

What’s in the library?
Some of the selections are public domain (MIDI file) performances that we have edited and converted into the specific type of MIDI format that player pianos read.  Other selections have been recorded for us by professional pianists.  We have regular contributors from all over the world so we are always adding to the library and it will always be FREE to our customers.  We all date the entries so you’ll know what’s new.  It is important to note that many of the selections are completely unique and are only available through our MIDI File Vault.  For instance, we have a 45-minute Christmas song medley performed by a pianist that covers many of the great Christmas tunes in one long medley.  There is no selection like this in any of the manufacturer libraries — for purchase or othewise.  It’s like having a cocktail pianist in your living room over the holidays; there’s a performance of Debussy’s First Arabesque performed by a 10 year old Hungarian boy who happened to be in our store many years ago when his family moved here to study with a famous professor.  It is the best performance of this piece we have ever heard and it’s magical (along with inspiring to children!) to know that it was performed by a 10 year old; there are downloadable ZIP files of the complete set of Chopin Preludes or Beethoven Sonatas for instance.  And that’s just the beginning.
We have the complete archived performances from the Yamaha Disklavier e-Competitions, where amazing young pianists from all over the world compete for scholarships through a competition that only exists in cyberspace:  The contestants record their performances into a Yamaha Disklavier from the short list of e-Competition official sites around the globe and the performances are adjudicated in the U.S. by a jury of piano professors.  Amazing!  Among other things, this shows the incredibly accurate recording and playback capabilities of a Yamaha Disklavier.
We make a point to include selections that are difficult to find or completely unavailable in the manufacturer libraries.  With all the amazing music that has been written for the piano, our MIDI File Vault expands the breadth of music from where the manufacturer libraries leave off.
midi-vault2It’s educational!
Many of the composer name headers are actually hyperlinks that provide you with the history of the composer and links to where you can buy the sheet music.  Some of the links even provide the history of the specific pieces — sort of like taking a Music Appreciation class…for free…and without having to leave your home.  As an axample, above the listing for Bach’s complete set of 2-Part Inventions, you can click on a link that explains the history of the pieces and what to listen for.  None of the player piano system manufacturers offers a service like this, even as a paid subscription!
It keeps you informed and updated!
We notify you about software updates for your player system, peripheral devices to enhance your system’s features and links to software that could help you enjoy your piano more.  Technology continues to open more doors to keep you enjoying your piano so it’s good to know about them!
The legal stuff…
When you receive a password to enter the site, you’ll be asked to accept the terms of the site, which include that the files are for personal use only by the original purchaser only and they are only to be used on the piano you bought from us.  We have agreements with our contributors that the files are to be used exclusively in this manner.  Due to these agreements, we cannot offer access to our library for a fee.  We can only give it to our player piano customers by assigning user names / passwords and by maintaining IP security on the site.
midi-vault3AN IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT MIDI FILES FOR PLAYER PIANOS!
Not all MIDI files are created equal and most don’t play properly (if at all) on player piano systems so be wary of a salesperson who says, “You don’t need to buy music, just go online — there are millions of songs out there for free.”  In theory, this may be true, but in reality it’s very far from it.  The risk of downloading a virus or malware from these unknown sites should be enough to deter you from going down this road.  And many sites claim to be free only lead you many pages deep into their site before letting you know that the particular selection YOU wish to download costs money.  Even if you do find a trusted site, most MIDI files on the web are not for solo piano.  They include the accompaniment from other instruments.  Even if you are a MIDI file expert and were able to strip away the accompaniment from an editing program, you would be left with the shell of a song.  Even “piano only” MIDI files aren’t necessarily coded correctly to be played back on an actual acoustic piano.  Finding good-quality MIDI performances for player pianos is painfully time-consuming.  This is why we have invested considerably over the years to provide a service that doesn’t exist elsewhere.
Thinking of buying a digital piano?
As it turns out, MIDI files are also how Digital Pianos play music. And when you purchase a digital piano from us, you’ll get free access as well.  And it’s easy!  Most new digitals can transfer MIDI files in and out of the piano through a common USB connection. This has also become the standard connection for player pianos to import music. Simply download the file from our website to a memory stick, plug, and play
The Cordogan’s MIDI Vault also offers tips, tricks, and software update information. Visit the MIDI Vault login page to learn more
Stop by or give us a call today at 630-584-5000 for more information.

Chicagoland’s piano prodigy Emily Bear chooses Estonia piano for Quincy Jones collaboration

Here is a new video by the little girl from Rockford who became a YouTube sensation when she performed on the Ellen DeGeneres at the age of 6.  Cordogan’s sold her aunt & uncle a Yamaha Disklavier, mostly so that they could record her and enjoy her music all the time.  She’s 11 now and has moved on to composing in all different styles.  Her new album was just produced in Los Angeles by Quincy Jones and was recorded on a 9′ Estonia.  This is a behind the scenes preview and promo piece for her new album.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=3SUsTXTbE68

Cordogan’s newest service — Customized Art Pianos

Cordogan’s now offers the unique service of customizing pianos with art-case designs and finishes.  Our artists can employ paint, fabric, glass, metals, mosaics, to produce one-of-a-kind Art Pianos that are as inspirational to play as they are to view.  Our work can be on a grand or on an upright — your piano or ours.  We can customize any piano with any theme you choose.  The possibilities are endless! The below Art Piano is available for sale — email info@chicagopianos.com or call 630.584.5000 for more information.

 

Art Piano

Top 10 PianoDisc Highlights from NAMM 2013!

At the 2013 Winter NAMM Show this year, PianoDisc, the cutting-edge manufacturer of digital player piano technology, celebrated its 25th Year Anniversary.  Here’s the Top 10 highlights from the world of PianoDisc — useful information for both current PianoDisc owners and prospective owners!

1.  The new website www.pianodisc.com was launched a couple weeks ago and is a major improvement, especially concerning the process of acquiring PianoDisc music.  All PianoDisc music has now been converted to the MP3 format which eliminates the need for their MusiConnect software (a utility program that used to be needed to convert their proprietary format into one that iTunes can read).  You can now simply purchase the album and download the MP3 files to a folder on your computer instantly without waiting.  Now you can open that folder in iTunes and easily sync up your device!

Note: MusiConnect is still available for those who wish to still import MIDI Files (0 & 1) from the web and add these files to iTunes and your library.  Please remember MusiConnect still contains the important patented technology of “Always Play” which will assign the lead instrument (i.e. Guitar, Flute, Organ, etc.) as an Acoustic Piano to play the keys part on your instrument.  Essentially, you have an unlimited amount of music available to you on the web as a result.

2. Due to changing PianoDisc’s music files to the MP3 format they were able to reduce the price of their music significantly; Vintage selections being only $19.95 rather than $33.95 for example.

3.  New “PianoTube LIVE!” is launched!  This groundbreaking exclusive YouTube channel plays the PianoDisc enabled piano live at the viewer’s location when they watch one of the channel’s YouTube videos or live streaming events. Any PianoDisc customer having their acoustic piano equipped with the iQ “Intelligent Player System” is able to literally see and hear the artist perform on their piano, at the their location — all from simply playing a YouTube video.  http://www.youtube.com/user/PianoTubeLive  Another first from PianoDisc!

4.  The iQ iPad Mini Air has been introduced for sale through PianoDisc and PianoDisc dealers, which is a less expensive alternative to the very popular iQ iPad Air system.  It will come with preloaded music, making it a much better deal for PianoDisc customers than simply purchasing it from Apple or an Apple reseller.

5.  Due to the incredible success of the Apple iDevices and how they can be married with their innovative iQ techology (which features the patented “One-Touch Volume Control” where they can use the native controls on any device) they are able to tap into hundreds of different Apps.  One incredible App showcased at NAMM was the new CMP Piano App which has a great Grand Piano sampling, permitting the user to perform QuietTime or Record themselves if the user has the Mobile Performance Package and Piano MuteRail installed on their piano.

6.  Apple introduced the latest OS6 Update which now provides PianoDisc users with built-in Audio Balance Control.  Manual control using a Balance Control Box is longer required if you are using your iTouch, iPhone or iPad to play your piano.  Simple go into “Settings” on your iDevice and adjust the balance between the Piano and Audio under “Accessability” in the “General” settings category.  It is that easy!

7.  PianoDisc’s “Classical & More” Streaming Radio Station will be expanded in the upcoming year.  They received such a positive response when they recently offered the free “Christmas Station” during the holiday season that PianoDisc is going to offer a greater variety for customers that like to use this feature.  The new stations will be divided into “Classical, Ragtime & Stride, Spa, Vintage, Chinese and Christmas (seasonally)” for the free stations and later including a subscription service for more contemporary music stations like “Popular and Jazz.”  The free “TuneIn Radio” App can currently play their streaming radio station if you add PianoDisc’s address to the “Custom URL” setting under “Favorites.”  Simply type in http://pianodisc.streamguys.tv/listen.pls and start enjoying endless playback.

8.  The latest update of the PianoDisc Remote App (pictured below) has been released making it even easier to use.  Offering more than audio balance control and direct streaming of their PianoDisc Radio Station, it also permits the customer “Scheduling” start and stop times, three times a day, seven days a week and also create Playlists on the fly and store them in a “Music Chest.”  It is a great tool for every PianoDisc owner.

9.  New Software Releases for 2013 will include performances by their newest artist, Jarrod Radnich, as well as several new PianoSync Creator albums such as: Amy Grant: Legacy … Hymns & Faith, Celine Dion: All The Way – A Decade of Song, Andrea Bocelli: Amore, Andrea Bocelli: Toscana, Santana: Ultimate Santana, Travis Tritt: T-r-o-u-b-l-e, Sheryl Crow: The Very Best Of, Eva Cassidy: Songbird, Il Divo: Siempre, LeAnn Rimes: This Woman, Norah Jones: Feels Like Home, Frank Sinatra: The Capitol Years, Lady Gaga: Fame, Michael Jackson: Thriller, Whitney Houston: The Ultimate Collection, Justin Bieber: My World, and many more.

All of us here at chicagopianos.com and Cordogan’s congratulate the PianoDisc family as they celebrate 25 years at the forefront of digital player piano technology!  For more information on PianoDisc or PianoDisc products, please call us at 630-584-5000 or email us @ info@chicagopianos.com!

What a jam session! — Estonia at NAMM 2013

Grammy award winning artist Eric Parker and some of his friends stopped by the Estonia booth for a jam session last weekend at the NAMM show in Anaheim, CA.
Here is the uncut video, using iRig keyboard drums played live on a tiny MIDI keyboard.

Glen D. Stewart – Estonia Piano (Solo)
Donald Parker – Estonia Piano (Piano bass and foundation)
Eric Parker – Keyboard Drums (iRig Key keyboard controller with a custom MIDI drum kit programmed by Eric Parker)
Adrian Crutchfield – Tenor Sax

Estonia Pianos and its unique place in the piano industry during the “Great Recession”

It isn’t often that we as a retailer can sit down with the owner of one of the companies we represent and have him/her speak candidly about why they do what they do — or what their plans are for the future. Recently I had the opportunity to spend some time with Dr. Indrek Laul, and asked him some very pointed questions about his company. His answers were both fascinating and admirable.

A little back story: I was very interested to see what would become of the European segment of the piano industry when the recession hit in 2007. European piano companies were already struggling going into the recession, so how would they cope? Who would emerge from this recession still standing? As a piano retailer carrying five European piano brands at the time, my interest wasn’t just academic. I had a lot of “skin in the game,” as they say. So the below thoughts represent my experiences and perspectives over the past decade “in the game”.

Between 2007 and 2012, several European piano companies closed their doors. Others merged or were sold. There were instances of bankruptcy, complete withdrawal from the U.S. market, U.S. distributor battles, government bailouts — you name it. Other surviving companies were siphoning family money to keep the doors open. That’s not a dig at the Europeans — many piano retailers across the world were doing the same thing during that difficult time.

Why did the recession hit this market segment so hard? Beyond other issues facing the whole industry (dealers closing their doors and dealer financing vanishing), European piano prices were largely deemed too high by North American piano buyers — and they needed to go much higher. Piano prices weren’t keeping up with the US dollar’s decline so manufacturer profit margins were already very slim. Proposing even higher prices stood to dry up whatever consumer interest remained in new pianos. How can you viably increase prices when the US dollar steadily falls for a period of years, as it did in the early 2000’s? You can’t, and that is precisely the dilemma that set the stage for trouble.

Here’s a look at the USD-EURO exchange rate from 2002-2004 (view source):

1. January 02, 2002 – 0.9038
2. January 02, 2003 – 1.0446
3. January 02, 2004 – 1.2592

Due to the exchange rate decrease, piano prices needed to INCREASE 39.32 % within two years in order to stay level (exchange rate from 0.9038 to 1.2592 = change of 39.32%) — and that doesn’t take annual inflation into account. Thus, just to receive the same profit from your average piano, Europe had to increase prices by over 40% in two years. And that wasn’t the worst news. The USD continued to tumble all the way to 1.5928 by April 16th 2008 — a 76% change from 2002! (These dates and exchange rates will become very important in the later discussion of Estonia’s unique strategy and surprising success through this difficult time.) All European manufacturers faced either steadily raising their prices on a product that was already price-sensitive in the U.S. market or holding off, hoping that the dollar would bounce back. Manufacturers who raised prices would see slower orders. Those who didn’t had bigger problems ahead, when they would need to raise prices by a staggering 20-30% in one year, after seeing that there was no end in sight to the dollar’s freefall. When this occurred, many US dealers just stopped ordering. During this time, selling these pianos to consumers became more challenging because most American consumers either don’t know about or don’t closely follow European exchange rates. Presenting the same piano at a much higher price on account of obscure exchange rate issues was not an easy sell.

And if a European piano company survived that Great Fall of USD-EUR 2002-08, it was followed by the Great Recession (gulp). So leading up to and during this bloodbath, surviving manufacturers had to revisit everything from their product offerings, to sourcing supplies, to trimming work forces — and even complete rebranding. Some developed secondary and tertiary brands to sell, using their premium brand name as the hook for consumers. This was a trend Steinway started many years ago (a concept borrowed from Baldwin decades before) and was now seen in the “3 B’s” (Bosendorfer, Bechstein and Bluthner). This strategy includes sourcing components and even entire pianos from China and Indonesia — a far cry from the astringent purism of the European piano building tradition.

Many marketers would agree that this approach waters down a premium brand name — even if the construction methods of a company’s premium piano brand remains the same. In other words, say Bechstein (the famed piano builder from Berlin) is sold to a Korean piano company, Samick. Bechstein pianos themselves may not have changed, but some potential buyers are turned off because it is no longer European owned. This, and because Bechstein offers a lower-grade Bechstein AND a tertiary line of pianos called W. Hoffman — also made outside Germany — can confuse a consumer’s perception of a brand name. It can also jeopardize the resale value of a brand — in this case, the real “C. Bechstein” premium handmade pianos. This brand name “degradation” (for lack of a better word) is a real concept, as we have seen the resale value of handmade Baldwin Artist Grands plummet in the U.S. in the wake of Chinese Baldwin grand pianos imported for fractions of the price. The public doesn’t necessarily take the time to learn the difference. Even at its most subtle and unsubstantiated level, such brand name confusion is often used a bargaining chip by a consumer — “Well, I can get a NEW Baldwin for $8000, so why would I pay $12,000 for your USED one?” The argument is invalid but it doesn’t stop consumers from using it — or worse yet, believing it.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing, then logging 25 years in the retail piano business, I’ve always enjoyed marketing. While I certainly don’t know everything about marketing in the piano business, having grown up in it, I probably know more than most in our industry. I have seen almost every manufacturer make marketing decisions that had me scratching my head. Most of the time, my suspicions were correct. Through all of this, there is only one company I have yet to see make a strategic marketing mistake, and that’s the Estonia Piano Factory.

When I had the chance to sit down with the president of the Estonia Piano Factory, Dr. Indrek Laul, during his visit to my store for a Piano Technicians Guild meeting, it turned out to be a most enlightening conversation. Via his insights, combined with knowledge I already had about the effects of the recession on the rest of Europe’s piano industry, I felt like I was experiencing a case study in marketing. And it wasn’t coming from a marketing professor. It was coming from a bright, thoughtful musician who happens to own a piano company.

Indrek’s approach on surviving the declining dollar was indeed unique. His strategy, along with a little bit of luck being in the “right place at the right time” paid off. He didn’t see how raising prices for the same exact piano would hold water with dealers and consumers. Instead he chose to introduce many changes and improvements to his pianos — almost 300 in total — leading up to the recession. By increasing quality he thought, he can offer a much better piano for a slightly higher price. Luckily, John Q. Public and websites such as pianoworld.com and pianobuyer.com had emerged into popularity, inadvertently carrying Estonia’s message in a way that no marketing budget could ever promote. Estonia became “The Golden Child” on the internet — the piano brand to buy. Even the toughest piano industry critics on the web were largely agreeing that Estonia’s prices, while continually higher through the 2000’s, were well justified. The hundreds of changes were noticed and publicized — and Estonia’s rating on pianobuyer.com rose to the level of Steinway, creating quite a buzz in and of itself.

As the Great Recession unfolded, Dr. Laul’s company was already in a good place. His prices were already favorable to the competition and he was running a lean ship with no excess inventory, but that didn’t stop him from preparing further. He decided that the best global marketing strategy would be to continue to focus on the North American market rather than to pursue opening new markets. This was interesting to me because the U.S. was falling into a recession, so conventional wisdom might dictate he explore new markets and go where the money is.

There were several problems with pursuing new markets / countries for a small company with limited production, however. There’s governmental red tape, the cost of establishing one’s presence and brand in new countries, producing professional marketing materials in various new languages, establishing dealer networks, service & support networks and transportation relationships, to name a few. That’s a lot of time and money, which would invariably translate to even higher prices for Estonia pianos, especially considering that the costs would need to be amortized across an annual production of a paltry but comfortable 200 units.

Additionally, the business climate in Europe was accustomed to customers flying in to visit piano factories. After all, a flight from Berlin to Tallinn is the same as taking a flight from Chicago to Orlando, so if people are used to taking such flights for big ticket items such as a piano, there’s no reason to maintain a large dealer network across Europe. So Dr. Laul didn’t need to find additional dealers in Europe.

Alternatively, the Estonia piano business infrastructure in the U.S. was already in place. The owner lives in the U.S. He speaks the language and doesn’t need a translator or a distributor to communicate with the people of the country. The dealer network is in place, the service & support is in place, etc — and the demand for Estonia pianos in the U.S. has always outstripped supply since they began distributing here almost a decade ago. Even with a slight decline in production, if necessary, this could be an easy storm to ride.

During the recession Dr. Laul has also used the downtime to design new pianos. Most manufacturers who weathered the storm are coming out of the recession with reduced product lines. Estonia went into the recession with three models and are coming out with five (the 7’4″ model 225 was added in 2010 and the 6’10” model 210 was added in 2012.) While other companies had to outsource materials from cheaper countries, Estonia did the opposite. They insisted that their instruments remain European inside and out. In an effort to maintain the purity of the Estonia brand name, they do not build additional piano brands or subcontract the use of their factory to another piano company. Estonia does not build vertical pianos at all and the quality of their grand pianos doesn’t degrade in smaller models like so many other manufacturers’ product lines do. The Estonia Piano Factory remains deeply focused — focused on building a single line of high-end grand pianos, led by a visionary who is truly a world-class musician and first-rate human being.

As we approach the 2013 NAMM show in Anaheim, I’m not surprised to see that, as of this writing, there are only two European piano manufacturers contracted for space at the show — Estonia and Fazioli. I honestly hope that the other companies remain strong and healthy for the future of our industry as well as out of respect for their illustrious past. But it’s also a time for me to be proud to be an Estonia dealer and to feel fortunate that my visit to their tiny trade show booth in 1997 has turned into one of the best business decisions of my career.