Just a quick note before the post. I taught Portland Piano Company’s first live “How to REALLY buy a piano” seminar at the shop this last Saturday with the help of our institutional rep. Bill Lewis. I think things went quite well and the plan is to hold one of these periodically whenever the interest is there. If you would like to be dropped an email when the next one is available please contact the shop.
If you are new to this series, please check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
Area of origin: America, Europe, Japan, Korea or China
People wonder about the pianos that come from different parts of the world. Are they really different? Any generalities that we make will always have exceptions. America has made some great pianos but also some that are not so great. Also, you need to compare apples with apples. A budget built piano is not going to perform like a world class piano no matter where it is from. Also, even a world class piano that has not had any serious service for 50 years is going to be back on its heels so be aware. Let’s take a stab at it anyway.
American: Generally good dynamic range and balanced tone in the better ones. Sand cast rather than vacuum cast plate which can give an ever so slightly more neutral and better sound. To my knowledge there are only three manufacturers currently building pianos in the USA. That is down from maybe four or five hundred a hundred odd years ago. Most people reading this blog are not going to buy a new American piano since only a few thousand are sold here a year out of the millions sold in the US. Older American pianos should be properly examined because people rarely throw away an old piano even if it has serious issues and there are millions and millions of older American pianos. This is where I put in a plug for purchasing from a local reputable shop. You typically get a warranty and it is unlikely that a better shop would risk sullying their reputation and hurting their good will in the community. Some names to consider in used US pianos are Baldwin, Steinway, Mason and Hamlin, Chickering, Knabe (not the Korean one), Sohmer and Weber (ditto on Korean). I am not a big fan of Wurlitzer, Kimball or Story and Clark.
European: Generally very well built. Usually sand cast plate. Very good to excellent craftsmanship. precise with great fit and finish. Good dynamic range. Tone is dark to balanced. German built pianos are generally the best European pianos. They can be expensive. Never buy an English piano – it’s not worth the risk.
Japanese: Brilliant bell-like tone. Dynamic range somewhat compressed but again, there are exceptions. Brilliance sometimes at the expense of fullness. Excellent craftsmanship. Vacucast plate like all Asian pianos. Some classical teachers are not fans of the Japanese sound but some like them a lot. Very consistent and good over-all value. Note: All pianos should have their hammers re-voiced by a technician every few years if they are played a lot because the hammers compress and harden and the sound can get crackly bright. This is especially important on Japanese pianos. Yamaha and Kawai are the two big names in Japanese instruments. It is interesting to note that the new Kawai’s that we have been getting in the shop seem to have a much warmer richer sound than older generations of Japanese pianos so some changes in engineering and preparation may be taking place.
Korean: I’m not a big fan of Korean pianos. Craftsmanship is typically good. Sound can be nasally or harsh. For some reason the Korean manufactures never were able to nail a great tone in my opinion. These were the budget alternative of the 1980s and 1990s but the Chinese pianos have effectively taken over that niche. There are better values out there.
Chinese: Do your homework (due diligence) because not all are created equal. Think company of origin not country of origin. Craftsmanship is typically good though extra preparation by a piano technician may be advisable for some brands to realize the full potential. Some Chinese factories produce better pianos than other ones. Again, do your homework. As often as not the name on the fallboard is that of a defunct American brand that has sold their name rather than one that reflects the factory. This is also true of some Korean brands. Chinese pianos have come a long way very quickly (though one major factory there has been open since 1958). Chinese students ARE the future of western classical music so pianos are BIG in China. The right Chinese pianos can be a great value. Though probably not the right instrument for a conservatory level student or true professional, they can be excellent for the average to good player and are typically better than the average Korean or older obscure American brand. One scenario is to get a good Chinese piano from a shop with a viable trade-up policy and then upgrade if the player seems to have professional or serious amateur aspirations down the road. Many well respected domestic and Japanese brands now have factories in China and these can be very good investments for the money. Check over the piano thoroughly as I outlined in the other posts because some cheaper models can cut corners.
That’s it for now. Contact us today if you have any questions.