The Kawai Piano Story

Kawai is one of the largest manufactures of pianos in the world. Based out of Hamamatsu, Japan, Kawai distributes acoustic and digital pianos in over 80 countries. That equates to approximately 2800 employee s worldwide and regular annual sales of $1 billion dollars.

Mr. Koichi Kawai, the company founder, showed a great mechanical aptitude as a teen. He was able to design and build unique devices and inventions while still quite young. He apprenticed as a piano builder and designed and built the first complete piano action in Japan. Prior to Mr. Kawai, actions had to be imported from off shore to build Japanese pianos. This was a huge milestone for Japanese industry. Koichi Kawai was awarded numerous patents for his designs. He was also a highly regarded member of the R&D team that spearheaded the distribution of domestically built pianos to the Japanese population. In 1927, Koichi Kawai left his employer and founded the Kawai Musical Instrument Research Laboratory with seven other builders and visionaries.

The philosophy of the Kawai Corporation runs counter-culture to the modern big business paradigm in Japan regarding massive diversification for market growth. In Japan, it is not unusual to see a company dabbling in musical instrument manufacture, sound systems, sports equipment, stereos, cell phones, plasma TVs, etc. Kawai is unique in Japan in that they build acoustic and digital pianos and nothing else. They believe that they can serve the musician best by doing one thing extremely well.

Although Kawai pianos have always been highly regarded, they have truly become a music force to be reckoned with in the past two decades and have taken their place as a world-class piano builder. In the last 16 years Kawai pianos have received an amazing total of 37 prestigious major international awards. To my knowledge, this is unprecedented for a piano builder.

The introduction of the fabulous Shigeru Kawai premier grand piano, considered by many piano aficionados as one of the finest pianos in the world, is only one of many dramatic innovations introduced by the Kawai craftsmen and designers. Kawai pioneered the use of ABS-Carbon Fiber components for the critical and precise whippen assemblies in modern piano actions. Lab tests at California Polytechnic University at Pomona in 1998 showed the Kawai actions to be far less susceptible to shrinking and swelling due to humidity and stronger than comparable wooden parts in piano actions. The bottom line for the performer is that Kawai actions are less capricious over a range of varying environments than the all wood actions pioneered over three hundred years ago. Kawai keys continue to be made of solid wood (clear spruce) in all acoustics and higher end digital pianos to provide the key feel that pianists want.

Subjectively, Japanese pianos have typically been characterized by a pristine bell-like tone that has a minimum of sonic complexity. Clear and chime-like but not very warm. Some people love that tone and some do not. The modern Kawai has preserved the bell tone while adding more warmth and fullness – the best of both worlds. Describing the sound of a great piano is sort of like describing the taste and smell of a great wine. It is really something that has to be experienced in person. We invite you to come try the new Kawai models at our showroom in southwest Portland in the historic Tiffany Center.

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