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$333,000 Piano!

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LOS ANGELES--
Can you imagine paying $333,000 for a piano?

Yamaha Disklavier 2000 Neither could Yamaha, but the piano maker has actually tapped a market with its "Rolls Royce of pianos"--a high-tech instrument with voice activation, a touch-screen monitor and other gadgets--which it never expected to sell.

"We never really meant to sell it. It's meant to be a concept piano--the vision of what the piano can be like in the future," said Paul Calvin, a spokesman for Yamaha of America's piano division in Buena Park, Calif.

He said Yamaha planned to make just three of the pianos to mark the company's 100th year of manufacturing, then showcase them around the country in a tour of museums, music and science centers. But to the firm's surprise, 12 dealers at a trade show in February quickly ordered the Yamaha Disklavier Pro 2000, which experts say may be the world's most expensive new piano.

Built around an Intel Pentium III processor, the piano allows functions to be controlled by a user's voice and lets the user watch an artist's performance stored on disc while hearing the concert. When the disc is inserted into a built-in DVD player, the performance is displayed on a computer monitor as keys and pedals move up and down recreating the piano part.

"The dealers stepped up to the plate and said there was a need for this. We were somewhat surprised and pleased," Calvin said.

Chuck Hale, owner of Hale Pianos with three retail stores in Florida, was one dealer who jumped on the new Yamaha at the National Association of Music Merchants show in Los Angeles.

"We're in an upscale market where we have people who will buy anything. In this particular case, it will also attract a lot of attention and will help sell a lot of other pianos," Hale told Reuters. He said the booming stock market has been good for sales in the year when the piano is 300 years old.

While acoustic pianos have a place in the culture, modern-day piano buyers are increasingly looking for electronic instruments that have computerized rhythm sections, recording systems, and now video features.

"Every year we sell more of the electronic ones and less of the upright pianos. The electronic ones don't take up as much room, and you can do more things with them," Hale said.

Electronic pianos cost anywhere from $2,000 to $15,000, although the average is around $7,500, according to music store owners. Acoustic pianos start at about $4,000 and can run up to about $100,000 for a concert grand.

The booming stock market has helped business overall. "This new Yamaha is something for Mr. Retiree who has a $3 million to $5 million home and wants something like this in their house," Hale said.

Calvin of Yamaha said each Disklavier Pro 2000 is hand-built at a plant in Hamamatsu, Japan. "It takes seven months to build. We've only made three so far. We plan to make them on an as-needed basis."

Story Copyright 2000 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.

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