Piano Finders President Karen Lile — photo by Mike Kofford
Piano FindersOne of the great things about working in the music products industry is its tremendous diversity and the resulting need for highly specialized expertise. Established in 1982 with a mission to “connect people and pianos around the world,” Piano Finders began as a piano rebuilding, appraisal, and brokerage company in the San Francisco Bay Area. Although rebuilding investment-quality pianos remains a part of its business, a separate, truly unique component involves appraisals of “celebrity” pianos. These instruments include limited-edition models bearing a celebrity’s signature, such as Yamaha’s Elton John Limited Edition Signature Series Red Piano, as well as pianos that have been performed on or owned by a celebrity, giving them added value through their celebrity history. These instruments’ values can reach $500,000 to $1 million or more.
Expert appraisals of celebrity pianos with values topping $500K
Piano Finders is respected for both its expertise and its reputation for discretion. In fact, the confidentiality of much of Piano Finders’ appraisal work conceals the depth and diversity of the company’s customer base. Clients range from celebrities from various fields, titans of business, and attorneys to insurance companies, high-profile non-profit organizations, and marketing directors of global corporations. Some appraisals are ordered for private sales. Others are conducted solely to establish insurance levels or verify claims, or, in the case of instruments intended for donation, to establish tax deduction values for the IRS.
In one decidedly non-confidential case, Piano Finders was hired to appraise an Elton John Red Piano as part of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy court proceeding in Florida. The high-profile, public nature of the case, which Piano Finders President Karen Lile stresses is rare for the firm, prompted a number of solicitations for its appraisal services from clients looking to buy or sell an Elton John Red Piano.
Piano Finders is co-owned by Lile, a piano market specialist and consultant who handles the appraising, and master rebuilder and concert pianist Kendall Ross Bean, who conducts the inspections. Together, they have personally inspected and appraised more than 3,400 pianos since the company was founded. Honing her piano appraisal skills since 1984, Lile augments her personal in-depth knowledge of piano construction and manufacturer histories with her extended family’s connections with Hollywood and the recorded music industry to establish precise, documentable formulas for assessing how celebrity ownership or connections impact instrument values.
Because Piano Finders also serves as a forensic expert witness for criminal prosecutions, civil lawsuits, divorces, and bankruptcy cases, its celebrity instrument appraisals must be justifiable and follow consistent protocols for evaluation of established criteria. Including both objective and subjective metrics, the reports precisely document the subject piano’s condition, addressing, among other factors, work that might be needed to restore its full musical and cosmetic potential. This makes the inspection report valuable over time, especially in cases where a piano was destroyed in a fire or stolen and is no longer available for inspection.
Retailers and investors engage Piano Finders—again, on a confidential basis—to secure bank loans, for investment purposes, for strategic planning they don’t want to reveal to competitors, and for insurance on instruments whose provenance or celebrity history affects their true market value. Lile explains, “It’s not uncommon for retailers to refer customers to us who have purchased a valuable piano from them and need appraisals for a variety of reasons. They seek us out because of our expertise and the fact that we act as an independent third party that takes no benefit from the appraisal other than our fee.”
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