some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

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jordan2
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some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by jordan2 » 30 Mar 2011, 00:14

I just came back from Hurstwood Farm owned by Richard Dain, a steingraeber&shone’s dealer, who fit their own patented Phoenix system on the steingraeber pianos, which is branded as steingraeber-phoenix piano. They also start to produce the first batch of their own brand-phoenix pianos which have almost identical specifications as steingraeber-phoenix. For brevity, I won’t repeat but please read details as follows,
http://www.hurstwoodfarmpianos.co.uk/index.php
Before I start this post, I have to say that I am an entirely independent researcher and pianist and am not attached to any dealership either financially or emotionally. I am a university faculty academic with almost 10 years of research experiences of mechanics of composite material and structures. During my ph.d study dated 5 years ago, I gave 2 classical solo recitals each year and almost 100 concerts as a chamber musician or duet player across UK. I have also performed in the States once and took the chance to play a lot of New York Steinways. That’s all my experience. Therefore, it’s fair to claim that I know a lot of composite carbon fibre material and am a very competitive pianist (but frankly not a professional pianist who would spend all life either in airplane cabinet or on the stage nowadays). I am not a technician and hence technically know very little about piano mechanics. I started to hunt two pianos, one for myself and the other for my family member/friend. I have a tight budget of 15-20k GBP for each. So that’s the basic background before my visit to Richard’s farm. I will try to be as objective as possible to describe my experience with phoenix pianos.
Generally speaking, I love all Steingraeber-phoenix ones. I am not interested in any steingraeber without phoenix carbon fibre soundboard and hence will not comment on ‘non-phoenixed’ piano. The two that impressed me most were the steingraber-phoenix 272, steingraber-phoenix 170. For S-phoenix 272, hands down, much much better than any of Steinway D I have ever played. It has a very distinctive European-german sound, extremely balanced, full dynamic, longer sustaining (due to the phoenix system) . Utterly stunning. For S-phoenix 170, the reason that I am convinced is due to its power. A lot of people commented that phoenix soundboard makes piano louder. I would rather use the word ‘more projecting’ than ‘louder’. The tone was so full, not noisy, but so sustaining. In my view, it could match any traditional piano of size like Steinway A (6 foot 1’) or even B (6 foot 10). I could so easily agree with Richard’s comment that s-phoenix 170 out powers any conservatory studio piano. I have also played s-phoenix 205. Another fantastic model but Richard told me it will no longer be produced any more.
For their own new brand phoenix model, I have only played phoenix-212 which is the only available model there. Unfortunately, it was sold and it was being prepared for the lucky client. Though Richard kindly asked me to try but I didn’t play hard. All I could say is that I can’t tell any difference between the phoenix and s-phoenix ones----such a crystal power horse without losing the delicacy of European classy.

For the casework, I personally have not interest in the appearance of any piano. I will leave this to others. However, I do love the looking of the carbon-fibre action system. They look so sexy and stable. To Mammoth keyboard, I am not a fan of that because I personally don’t feel any difference to be honest. The overall phoenix action are just as great as wooden Renner. However, as an engineer researcher, I am sure they will last longer, be much more stable than conventional wooden Renner actions.
The following are some of my own thoughts of the pitfalls of the phoenix system. Before I start, I wish the readers here would not exaggerate these ‘negative’ comments and I genuinely hope these comments would not annoy Richard or in the slightest way affect the dealer’s business. I found people tend to strip out the criticism of any review and spread it around without even mentioning the vast positive points. The best example is many people would say new york Steinway is much worse than hamburg Steinway simply because they read from paper/media that NY Steinway is less mellow than hamburg ones. But there are so many things that NY Steinway outstand Hamburg ones. So when you are discussing/spreading these ‘shortcomings’ of a piano, please bear in mind, there is no such perfect piano in the world and hence don’t abuse these comments.
The first thing I am concerned is that these brand new phoenixed pianos have a crystal clear treble, which is nice. However, if a pianist is looking for ‘old European sound’, like the following http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDBDBpQH5Hw,
I doubt these phoenix soundboard could achieve that. Because the ‘old European sound’ in my view, could only be found by a traditional soundboard of at least 30-40 years age. However, as the technology of phoenix pianos, the soundboard made by composite material may not deteriorate or change at all. Hence, the sound will probably remain throughout the life as it is now. This might be lack of fun. It should be noted only a small group pianists who focus repertoire on Mozart, Schubert may found this ‘old european sound’ of any use. If you are more into romantic, neo-classical or even more contemporary music , this issue won’t bother you at all. Also, this comment is just my second guess. The real change of the tone of phoenixed pianos need to be further verified by time. The oldest piano I played there could be of 5 years old and it sounds exactly as a new piano out of the box (but very well prepared!).
Another minor thing is that the residual value of these pianos. I have no doubt they are brilliant piano but both steingraeber-phoenix or phoniex need a bit time to get this brand established here in the UK. So for all who want to quick sell the piano within 2-3 years, to be frank, the residual value might not be so appealing as a Steinway. On the other hand, I firmly believe these are wonderful pianos and given enough time, it could very possibly achieve a similar status as Fazioli, if not better.
Finally, I would say I had such an exciting and pleasant stay in Hurstwood Farm, hosted by the owner, Richard, and his chief technician Jefferey. They are so nice. They never talked like a business man (though we have to accept dealers always intend to make a profit). They told me many compelling stories of different piano makers and many fun stories. Richard treated me a very nice dinner there. Perhaps I should not mentions this because maybe not all clients got free dinner (lol)-----noting Richard and I graduated from the same university and we gossiped a lot about our previous academic life during the dinner. It’s more like a personal visit rather than a customer or client trip.
I have said enough. I would welcome more discussion and comments on phoenix pianos if possible. I hope all readers here could take these writings as constructive advice rather than a promotion or weapon to affect dealers. In the end, what I said is what I feel and might be completely irrelevant and disagreed by anyone. Most important thing of all, weather you like the above or not, if you are interested to hear/witness how advanced technology are now embedded into modern piano, please at least go and play their pianos and you will never regret doing that. I assure you!

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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by justin_ruch1180 » 30 Mar 2011, 01:51

This is a rather long post but I still read it.. Thanks for sharing..

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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by MarkGoodwinPianos » 30 Mar 2011, 07:08

For S-phoenix 272, hands down, much much better than any of Steinway D I have ever played
That's quite a compelling statement. Thanks for sharing your experience.
It would be interesting to have a side-by-side comparison with a Steinway D and invite 10 concert pianists to share their opinion on the differences.
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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by jordan2 » 30 Mar 2011, 09:19

MarkGoodwinPianos wrote:
For S-phoenix 272, hands down, much much better than any of Steinway D I have ever played
That's quite a compelling statement. Thanks for sharing your experience.
It would be interesting to have a side-by-side comparison with a Steinway D and invite 10 concert pianists to share their opinion on the differences.
I do mean it. However I have to say, the steingraeber-phoenix probably is not THE very best concert grand I have played but definitely is top 3. I don't want to ruin the reputation of Steinway D, but I just don't like the ones that I played, especially modern ones. However, I do love some of the C and B models.

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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by piano heads » 30 Mar 2011, 16:32

Yes do agree very robust statement,if you like it and its in your budget buy it,the comments are my opinion with over 30 years,tuning,repair and retail experience and travelling the world looking at new ideas and products who am i a mere comprehensive educated soul to argue with engineering gurus.

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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by rgreig » 30 Mar 2011, 19:49

jordan2,

Thank you for posting your very interesting and thoughtful comments.

It sounds like it was a great experience, and I am somewhat regretful that I didn't get a response to my original email to Hurstwood and therefore did not visit. (I did however find another Steingraeber dealer so I was able to play the model that interested me).

Your comments do raise some questions in my mind.

When you say that you are not interested in non-Phoenix models, do you mean that you tried them and found them inferior to the Phoneix models? In particular, I am interested to know how the bass of the regular 170 compares with the Phoenix. You talk about the power and the sustain, but does the bass of a Phoenix 170 have the richness that is generally lacking in smaller grands?

Regarding the longevity, as an expert in composite materials presumably you have an understanding of how the material changes over time? In particular how does it react to exposure to the sun? Is the soundboard in the Phoenix system covered in anything?

Finally - does the Phoenix system change the cost? Should it be cheaper? I understand carbon fibre is not cheap.

Thanks,
Robert

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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by jordan2 » 30 Mar 2011, 20:30

The reason I exclude all non-phoenixed models is that I am a pioneering academic in structural mechanics and I have to gear myself to anything that is applicable AND PROVEN to modern piano.

You have pointed out a very very good question---the richness of 170 model bass. The power of 170 is in my point of view in between Steinway Model A and Steinway Model B. So is the richness. Note this is very very subjective because I am playing in a huge show room (slightly smaller than steinway hall but open planned). Therefore someone might think the actual projecting and richness can be even comparable to steinway C or bosendofer 214. I have a very very slight complaint though that the bass is not sufficiently 'rounded'. That might to do with the fact that one 170 has not been tuned and prepared for a while whereas the other 170 (brand new) sounds much richer and rounded.

Regarding the longevity, as an expert in composite materials presumably you have an understanding of how the material changes over time? In particular how does it react to exposure to the sun? Is the soundboard in the Phoenix system covered in anything?

The composite is such a complex thing as wood! Depending on the combination of layers, angle layout etc. no one could give you a solution unless you get the exact same spec and test it in the lab (like what I did in our university lab). As a courtesy, I didn't ask Richard more details of the specs of the composite, e.g. angle, woven patten etc. However, I could assure you the temperature will have much less impact on the soundboard than the wood. That's 100000% proven if you ask any academics in composite mechanics area. Also, I can assure you the composite action is no less nimble than the traditional wood renner, if not better---- I can't tell the difference.

Finally, I have to say their chief technician Jeff was such an honest man. I asked more than once whether the composite soundboard fundamentally improve the tuning stability (which is what I am keen to get). He very very honestly said not really, though they had expected it might but it turned out to be more or less similar to traditional piano when tuning stability is concerned. It's fair enough because tuning stability is not only related to the expansion or shrink of soundboard. That's part of which I like them as they never gave wrong assertion or nonsense like many business sales.

Finally - does the Phoenix system change the cost? Should it be cheaper? I understand carbon fibre is not cheap.

Currently there is no Phoenix model available at the show room. Hence i didn't bother to ask for the price. I will visit them again once the first batch arrive in the showroom. However, there is a phoenix 212 available perhaps. I am not sure. I suggest you just talk to richard about the price and availability.

I have to point one important thing. The strange thing about this phoenix is that unless you play it, you don't know if you really like the sound or not. It's something different from wood apparently. But in terms of maintenance and longetivity, any engineer could convince you that they are 100000% better than wood stuff.

Finally, I have no absolutely intention to be a sales for Hurstwood. However, what Richard told me that for all the steingraebers they have in their showroom, they were carefully selected and perhaps sound better than the ones in other dealers. So if you want to hear decent steingraeber sound, i suggest go to his farm and then it's entirely up to you if you like it or not.

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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by vernon » 30 Mar 2011, 21:04

I'm an ancient tech imbued with felt,bits of tape, boiled up glue, wood,iron etc.
I find this thread exciting as I have long thought that pianos were made of the most unscientific materials
I hope we can now move on and have joannas made of stable materials etc . Then the musicians can argue about the ephmeral and imagined tonal merits and leave us techs with sound instruments upon which we can exert our artistic talent for their delictation..
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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by D.J.Smith » 31 Mar 2011, 09:04

The prices [less 40% discount] are all listed on the Hurstwood website.

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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by piano heads » 02 Apr 2011, 01:36

D.J.Smith wrote:The prices [less 40% discount] are all listed on the Hurstwood website.
Must be popular needing that sort of saving to shift them,is there are RRP or are the prices just plucked out of thin air?. :?

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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by MarkGoodwinPianos » 04 Apr 2011, 09:26

I agree it's better to have sensible prices from the start rather than over-inflating the RRP just so you can offer a big discount. But nothing to do with the quality of the piano, it's just business and marketing.
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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by piano heads » 04 Apr 2011, 11:02

MarkGoodwinPianos wrote:I agree it's better to have sensible prices from the start rather than over-inflating the RRP just so you can offer a big discount. But nothing to do with the quality of the piano, it's just business and marketing.
Thanks for that,every business does the same fortunately the Piano Industry is not as marked -up as other industries.

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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by sirprize » 04 Apr 2011, 15:34

A very interesting post! I'm due to go down to Richard Dain's for the first time during 11/12th April. And a concert pianist colleague will have gone there a few days before then. She's hoping to record an entire album on a Phoenix

There are a number of people in the UK with an engineering and/or scientific background currently heavily involved in design/manufacture/improvements of pianos and the results will be fascinating

I remain amazed at the lack of interest top musical institutions have in making the study of pianos - as opposed to piano PLAYING - a core component of pianists' education at tertiary level. The result is the monopolisation of piano provision by one or two very powerful manufacturers who've been able to manipulate perceptions of what a piano should be in their commercial favour

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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by MarkGoodwinPianos » 04 Apr 2011, 16:17

I agree it would be nice if there were more manufacturers in the "very sought after" bracket currently occupied by Yamaha and Steinway. Doctors go for the Steinways, families go for the Yamahas. Everyone else gets confused and buys an Eavestaff Minipiano Pianette from ebay Image

My Dad was chatting with a Steinway agent a few weeks back who said that the most common profession of people who buy a new Steinway is Doctors. In fact it wasn't Doctors it was something above Doctors... consultants I think it was. Apparently they all need Steinway grands to go in their hallway.
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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by piano heads » 04 Apr 2011, 18:13

MarkGoodwinPianos wrote:I agree it would be nice if there were more manufacturers in the "very sought after" bracket currently occupied by Yamaha and Steinway. Doctors go for the Steinways, families go for the Yamahas. Everyone else gets confused and buys an Eavestaff Minipiano Pianette from ebay Image

My Dad was chatting with a Steinway agent a few weeks back who said that the most common profession of people who buy a new Steinway is Doctors. In fact it wasn't Doctors it was something above Doctors... consultants I think it was. Apparently they all need Steinway grands to go in their hallway.
Thats a sweeping generalisation on what evidence do you base those comments.

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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by joseph » 06 Apr 2011, 11:54

Their salaries?

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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by davidbasener » 31 Jul 2011, 04:20

I got a very old Casio Piano. My uncle gave it to me 15 years ago, can anyone believe it? It runs on 5 AA batteries and i love it.

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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by Grand Piano » 02 Aug 2011, 23:04

I visited Hurstwood Farm Studios about 2 months ago. Played everything on 3 legs... And I mean everything - upstairs as well - even the concert instrument in the concert hall; Richard Dain made me very welcome on what was a completely impromptu visit.

[Background: I've been playing since I was 6 - for personal pleasure, and have Bechstein model D: in the 90's visited Steinway Hall; Bluthner Pianos, Bosendorfers etc. etc.]

My position is that after 100 years of hiding behind great manufacturing - it's time some-one took the craft of piano making into the next century... with improved algorithms for piano scaling etc [i.e. better design capability]; modern materials and better methods [Steingraber grand action in an upright...].

Phoenix embodies various aspects of this - the agraffe technology is a clear advantage on whatever instrument it is affixed.
My experience of a couple of carbon fibre (veneered) sound board was that the fundamental frequency in the treble was light - and the harmonics, fourth order was it, very evident. That was on 2-3 instruments including their old warhorse Bosendorfer 290.

I like bell like clarity and pure tones... don't like pianos that sound all ffff at pp playing e.g. Kemble /Yamaha and most Steinways in the bass [Ok I know they can all be toned... but just saying how they are 'out the box' and what distinguishes brands].

But the fundamental frequency was evident on the same Phoenix instruments but with a wooden soundboard - but the lighter downbearing that the agraffe technology gives is evident here too.

The carbon fibre action seemed a great idea too - lighter(slightly) more controllable playing action. On the Phoenix website much is made off harsher climates - high temperature / varying humidity - and I can see the advantages here.

In my mind (rather than my wallet: residuals ...?) I ended up with accepting agraffes - but I would probably stick with a lighter section wooden soundboard - and if I had carbon fibre action might retain the wooden set... What a great way though - to enliven a century old favourite where residual concerns are not so paramount.

At the end of the day - your taste does adapt to what you get used to ... and everything else is a bit different in comparison!
Overall I came away very impressed...
Last edited by Grand Piano on 17 Nov 2017, 23:59, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by bradly » 17 Aug 2011, 16:47

Interesting thoughts on those pianos. Thank you for sharing!

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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by joej565 » 13 Jun 2012, 11:26

Wow David, that's pretty incredible about the old Casio. I used to have one of them and wore it out over a period of time :(


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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by Otto » 24 Jun 2012, 06:27

I haven't got a Casio, but I do have a Steinway D (New York), and like Jordan have spent time down in Hurstwood studios looking at their offerings - and I, too, an am engineer (systems design). I originally planned to see the Stuart (original plan in about 2007!), but as Sevenoaks (Hurstwood) is so far off my normal beaten track, never had the opportunity to squeeze in a visit to see it.

However an opportunity arose to visit Hurstwood in late 2010 and that's when saw the large Phoenix-Graeber in its incarnation with a thicker composite sound-board (4mm ?) and the smaller one with its 2.5mm. The difference in sound production was huge, the 2.5mm being so much better in every respect.

Maybe I'm not very good at telling the differences between pianos as I find that the acoustics of where the piano is placed make such a big difference as to easily confuse me! My model D is in a room 9.7m x 6.0m x 3.2m (high) with a solid wooden floor, so I can move it around very easily, and can 'tune' the acoustics with heavy rugs and curtains. Having half a dozen people in there makes an appreciable difference too. That said, I did come away with some impressions, I'll pass on here.

The 'power' of the piano is, as reported, quite phenomenal for the size. It's very controllable, and its dual-action una corda is delightful, and much more manageable than the Stuart's 4 pedals (I really didn't like the almost total absence of a music stand on the Stuart). I did find the dynamics across the range uneven with a bass that I found to be too full of harmonics and a rather aggressive treble, that seemed to leave the middle a bit weak by comparison. The length of sustain is brilliant, and shows what a simple change (the adoption of a roller agraffe on the bridge) can make. The beastie certainly shows that there's still room for improvement in piano design and material technology.

I wouldn't spend money on one at the moment for a number of reasons. The first is that it still seems to be developing, and I would like to see 20 years of experience at least with so much carbon-fibre in the action. Secondly, Richard Dain seems to have struck out on his own one-man-band variants, and when I saw him he was not a well man in his 80's with a serious heart condition. I would always worry that parts might just cease to exist at some point in the future. Thirdly is those dreaded residuals. While one might not wish to part with their piano, if it's a recognised make, then at least there's a market should you ever need to sell. For all I know a non-working Phoenix-Steingraeber with a couple of broken roller agraffes might be worth absolutely nothing at all.

I think that's always going to be the problem for Hurstwood, and I'm afraid it seems to be an impenetrable Catch-22.
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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by D.J.Smith » 24 Jun 2012, 08:44

A useful guide to residuals is the sale this week of a 2008 Steingraeber-Phoenix 168 at Conway Hall. It went for £15000 plus commision/vat.

What looks remarkably like the same piano is already on offer at a dealer, asking £33000. I wish I had that level of margin!

Edit. Perhaps the dealer reads this forum - the price has dropped to £27000.

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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by Otto » 09 Nov 2012, 16:11

mmm ...

I've done a few numbers and if said anonymous dealer in Oxford sold it at that, it would only have been a 22% profit margin, given the fact that VAT was payable on top of the whole price at auction.

I've had my 1985 Steinway 'D' valued at very silly money (apparently it's the latest must-have if you're a Chinese typhoon), and am going down in a week's time to try the full phoenix range out (170, 192, 212 & 232). So we'll see what we'll see !
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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by D.J.Smith » 09 Nov 2012, 16:57

Otto.

VAT would only be charged on the commission, and as the dealer is in business would be a deductable input. The piano cost him £18000. If sold at £27000 incl VAT he would nett £25,500, giving a gross profit of £7500, a return of 41% profit on cost.

Feel free to correct my figures - it's been a while since I was in business and my advancing years may have dulled my intellect. :D

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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by Otto » 09 Nov 2012, 21:46

The way I did the calculation, I assumed that piano was ex-showroom (which seems to me to be likely), and so VAT would be chargeable on the whole. I added £500 for insurance / transport / tuning to arrive at £18500 + VAT.

As I understand the VAT rules, the sale price of £27,000 would include 20% VAT on the whole of it, as the VAT on the £18000 is offsettable (if such a word exists!). So £27000 / 1.20 = £22,500 or a profit of £4,000 on £18,500 which is a mark-up of just under 22%.

But hey, who cares, it ain't our money !!!
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Re: some thoughts on phoenix/steingraeber-phoniex pianos

Post by mdw » 09 Nov 2012, 22:14

The dealer will be using the margin scheme. When you sell 2nd hand goods you only charge vat on the margin you make on the piano. I dont think the customer can claim back any vat on this if they are also trade. I seem to remember signing invoices to say I wont try to reclaim any vat on items under that scheme. Mind you that was years ago.

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