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buying a new piano


For anyone who is serious about music, buying a new instrument is surely one of life's sweetest experiences. I rank it right up there with having a baby or buying a first house. In my case, you could say that it took me forty years to find my dream piano. This is not to say that I spent all those years looking for my piano -- not at all. It simply took me all those years to first learn that not all pianos are created equal, and then to give myself permission to invest in the dream of owning a first class instrument.

Having started piano lessons at age ten on a used spinet, when I eventually married and my good husband, Fred, insisted we buy a piano, not knowing any better, I went right out and bought an eight hundred dollar 'Memorial Day Special' -- a spinet of course! Twelve years later when this piano was hardly playable, my wonderful Fred insisted that we buy another piano. Since by this time we had four children of course I wanted to save money so I picked out a used $1000 console piano, which I told Fred would be fine. To Fred's credit, however, he pushed me to buy a better instrument, something which would hold up for our children, even our children's children. Even with Fred's push, however, I'm afraid I didn't reach very high.

Decades later when I learned how the quality and performance level of a piano is directly related to the quality of the raw materials, the integrity of the design, the construction, workmanship ... and, yes, the price -- thank you, Larry Fine -- it still never occurred to me to consider buying a better piano. The problem was my thrifty middle class mentality: The idea of actually going into debt in order to buy a first class piano was so opposed to my whole upbringing that it offended me to even consider it. The concept of investing tens of thousands of dollars in myself was also unacceptable. What eventually helped me resolve my dilemma was the concept of 'investment.'

Immersed for years in raising and homeschooling our children, it took me decades to think this through but eventually I came to see that, unlike cars or boats or big screen TVs, which start depreciating the day you buy them, a properly cared for quality piano should maintain, if not increase, in value over time, making it a valuable investment, as opposed to just another expensive purchase. In other words, twenty nine years into marriage and family life I finally got over my scruples about buying a superior instrument and came to look at investing in a first rate piano as simply moving our money from the bank to the living room. With my good Fred's support at every turn, once I came to this hard won conclusion I started right into looking for my dream piano.

The first decision to make of course was what make and model of piano I wanted. This was actually the easiest part of my whole piano adventure since I knew from the start that I wanted a Mason & Hamlin. The fact that Mason & Hamlin is one of only three American piano manufacturers in the country today certainly contributed to my decision but the real linch pin in coming to closure about what specific piano I wanted was more personal: I knew that the sound and responsiveness of Mason & Hamlin grands represented everything I wanted in a piano. I could go on about resonance, nuance, tone, etc but the bottom line is that I knew from the start what I was after.

The next decision to make was where to find 'my' Mason & Hamlin. While the internet was loaded with choices for both new and used Mason & Hamlins, I had already decided that I wanted to buy locally -- the only way to go if you expect any kind of service or back up support once you buy a piano. Searching 'Mason & Hamlin, Dallas' on Yahoo got me a bunch of hits but what to do, what to do. After checking all the area websites I decided to physically visit Collora Piano in Denton. Since we live in the country, it was a ninety minute drive to get to Denton, but, given our rural location, getting to any piano dealership would have taken just about the same amount of time, so off I went.

Arriving at Collora Piano I was shocked even before I got out of the car. First of all, the location was both unimpressive as well as hard to find. Second of all, the store was alarmingly small and non-descript. Third of all, I was taken aback by how 'vintage-shop', rather than upscale showroom, the interior was. Finally, the salesman, Kraig Gillium, was dressed even more casually than I was. (I later discovered that Kraig was a co-owner of Collora Piano.) Gulp. 'Ok, get over it', I told myself. Passing over numerous used instruments, including some used Steinways and a used Mason & Hamlin, it took me less than an hour to settle on a new satin ebony Mason & Hamlin 5'4" Model B. Actually 'settled on' is not the right phrase at all. I fell head over heels in love with 'my Bea' by the end of one Chopin Prelude.

Taking a look at the price for 'Bea', I was down right shocked by why 'she' was easily ten thousand dollars lower than any competition anywhere. Once I came out of my daze and asked about the price, here's what Kraig Gillium told me in his low-key, business like way:

  1. The store is not a rental, hence no mortgage or monthly rent.
  2. Every piano in the store is owned outright, meaning no monthly loans to pay on for any piano, be it a used upright or a new Bosendorfer.
  3. Being experienced piano techs, Kraig and his partner, Peter Collora, do virtually all the work on their pianos.
  4. Kraig and Peter are the only salespeople.
  5. Collora Piano doesn't advertise, relying instead on word of mouth endorsements.

As you might guess I was totally impressed by the low overhead generated by the remarkable business plan Kraig shared with me. I was further impressed that the savings generated by such a business strategy were, in turn, being passed onto customers. Later that evening, discussing these very points with my splended husband, Fred, the two of us agreed that the current economic downturn was the perfect time to invest in a piano and that Bea was most certainly the instrument for us.

Returning to Collora Piano the next day, I, Carolyn Ellis, an aging rural housewife and mother of six, closed the deal on a dream which I never thought even possible. When Kraig presented me with a prestigious looking black leather case with Bea's warranty, a booklet about care, etc, I accepted it with shaky hands and tears in my eyes.

Carolyn Ellis playing her Mason & Hamlin piano. Photo © 2009 Martin Ellis
Carolyn Ellis playing her Mason & Hamlin piano. Photo © 2009 Martin Ellis

Far from suffering from buyer's remorse since buying Bea this past April, I am as thrilled as ever about having the privilege and joy of making beautiful music for the rest of my life on a truly great piano. (Though I have stopped thanking Fred daily for Bea, I am still thanking him two or three times a week!)

Two amusing postscripts:

Having been married for twenty nine years, I tell the family that, allowing $2.50 a day for all these years, I have earned every cent that it cost to buy Bea!

Fred's Aunt Mary died about two months after we bought Bea. As it happens, this Aunt, whom we saw no more than three times in thirty years, left my husband over twenty thousand dollars in her will -- enough to completely pay off the balance of the bank loan we took out to buy Bea. Is it any wonder we changed Bea's name to 'Aunt Mary'?

Copyright © 5 November 2009 Carolyn Ellis,
Texas USA




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