Fresno Piano Gallery is hitting a high note

Video: Fresno Piano Gallery plans expansion

Fresno Piano Gallery plans to expand into the commercial space next door later this year. Video by SILVIA FLORES
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Fresno Piano Gallery plans to expand into the commercial space next door later this year. Video by SILVIA FLORES

Fresno Piano Gallery isn’t just selling your grandmother’s pianos — not that Grandma wouldn’t love them anyway.

The northeast Fresno retailer has broadened its line to include digital pianos, “transacoustic” pianos that have traditional strings but can play electronic tones, hybrid pianos that lack strings but retain the hammers that trigger notes, and electronic player pianos that can be played through the Internet and can help you learn by signaling which key to hit — and refusing to play the wrong key.

And yes, the business still sells traditional pianos.

Owner Jim Fishback said the piano industry, like any other, has changed with the possibilities offered by today’s technology.

“They’re way beyond just your basic piano,” Fishback said.

Now Fishback is preparing to expand so he can offer a wider selection.

Fresno Piano Gallery is in space next to Home Depot and the Costco off North Blackstone Avenue, where it has been since the spring of 2013. (It was at 4240 N. Fresno St. for nearly 30 years until it closed in 2011 as part of a divorce settlement.)

Fishback has now leased additional space next door and hopes to have improvements completed and the new space open by Sept. 1.

The expansion will allow for better selection and additional showroom space for premium pianos such as the Bösendorfer, Fishback said.

The gallery also sells pianos from Steinway and Yamaha (which owns Bösendorfer). But it is one of only 18 dealers in the U.S. for Bösendorfer pianos, which start at $100,000, Fishback said. Only about 250 of these pianos are made a year in Austria and, of those, fewer than 100 reach American shores. The company is one of the oldest piano manufacturers in the world.

Among pianos, Fishback called a Bösendorfer the equivalent of a Stradivarius or a Lamborghini. He has sold four of them within the past year and a half.

“Obviously, we don’t sell a lot of these,” Fishback said. “But for someone that can afford the finest and appreciate this level of quality, this is the piano for them.”

Fishback said that while he is a piano player of average talent, his passion for the business side of pianos was greater than any desire he had to perform. He said he enjoys helping customers select the right type of instrument that can last them a lifetime.

Heartbeat for a home

Dennis Eckenrod, a pilot for American Airlines, bought a $20,000 Yamaha Disklavier E3, a type of electronic player piano, from the gallery on May 20. He’s a fan of computers and piano music and lives in Sunnyside, with a large living space for the piano.

“It’s like this new heartbeat for the house,” he said.

Eckenrod said he has not taken piano lessons since he was a child, but with the teaching programs available on his new piano he’s interested in relearning how to play.

Eckenrod said he listens to it multiple times a day, often when he’s tired after a long flight and in the morning after turning on the coffee pot. He likes that he can operate the piano from his iPhone.

“If you close your eyes, you can almost imagine the people being right here with you,” he said. “Including all the greats, like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett ... you name it.”

Fresno Piano Gallery has about $2 million in gross sales a year, and sold about 35 pianos in May. The prices can run from “a couple hundred dollars up to hundreds of thousands,” depending on the piano’s quality, Fishbeck said. The lower end of the spectrum consists of used pianos, with quality pre-owned pianos costing just a couple hundred dollars, he said.

While the gallery provides other services outside of buying and selling pianos — such as appraisals and moving — Fishback refers customers elsewhere for tuning services and lessons.

Fishback dismissed suggestions that the piano industry might be fading as fewer children express interest in learning the instrument. Good piano teachers, he said, have plenty of willing students, and piano sales are still good.

Indeed, data from the National Association of Music Merchants show piano sales have grown 13.5% in the past five years, with segments such as digital pianos and electronic player pianos growing faster.

Association spokeswoman Lora Bodmer said piano sales fell as the housing bubble popped in 2008. People who had to downsize and leave their home often got rid of their pianos. But as the housing market has improved, people are back buyingagain.

“I think when you look at the piano, it’s this classic, beautiful instrument and design that has withstood decades of innovation and change,” she said. “And that design has held true. So unlike the iPhone I’m holding, a piano does stand the test of time.”

Sarah Anderson: 559-441-6248, @Sarahsonofander