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The Definitive Piano Buying Guide for
Pianos made by: Samick Musical Instrument Mfg. Co. Ltd., Inchon, South Korea; and Bogor, West Java, Indonesia
In 1958, in South Korea, Hyo Ick Lee founded Samick as a Baldwin distributor. Facing an immense challenge in an impoverished and war-torn country, in the early 1960s, using largely imported parts, Lee began to build and sell a very limited quantity of vertical pianos. As South Korea's economy improved, Lee expanded his operation, and in 1964 began exporting to other parts of the world, eventually becoming one of the world's largest piano manufacturers, now making most parts in-house. Over the next several decades, Samick expanded into manufacturing guitars and other instruments and opened factories in China and Indonesia, where it shifted much of its production as Korean wages rose. The Asian economic crisis of the late 1990s forced Samick into bankruptcy, from which the company emerged in 2002; it is now on a sound financial footing.
The company says that "Samick" means "three benefits" in Korean, symbolizing the management's wish that the activities of the company benefit not only the company itself, but also its customers and the Korean economy.
Samick Music Corporation (SMC), the North American sales and marketing arm of the Korean company, distributes Samick, Pramberger, Wm. Knabe, and Seiler pianos in North America (see separate listings for Wm. Knabe, Pramberger, and >Seiler). Samick no longer distributes pianos under the names Bernhard Steiner, Conover Cable, Hazelton Bros., Remington, or Sohmer & Co. The Kohler & Campbell line has recently been discontinued in North America, but is still sold elsewhere. (For historical information about the original Kohler & Campbell piano company, see The Piano Book.) All Samick-branded pianos destined for the U.S. market are made in Indonesia. Some of the company's upper-level Wm. Knabe and J.P. Pramberger instruments are made in South Korea. While Samick says it will continue to make some pianos in Korea, it is gradually moving most of its production to Indonesia. SMC has a warehousing and office facility in Tennessee, at which it uncrates, inspects, tunes, regulates, and voices its upper-level pianos before shipping them to dealers.
In the 1980s Klaus Fenner, a German piano designer, was hired to revise the Samick scale designs to make the pianos sound more "European." Most Samick pianos now being made are based on these designs. Most Samicks also have veneer-laminated soundboards, which the company calls a "surface tension" soundboard — essentially, a solid spruce soundboard sandwiched by two very thin veneers. With Klaus Fenner's technical advice, Samick pioneered the use of this soundboard in early 1980, and it is now used by others as well. Tonally, it behaves much like a solid spruce soundboard, but won't crack or lose its crown.
Quality control in Samick's South Korean and Indonesian factories has steadily improved over the years, and the Indonesian product is said to be almost as good as the Korean. The company says that new CNC machinery installed in 2007 has revolutionized the consistency and accuracy of its manufacturing. Climate control in the tropically situated Indonesian factory, and issues of action geometry, are also among the areas that have seen improvement. Many of Samick's Indonesian pianos are priced similarly to low-cost pianos from China. The musical design and performance of Samick's upper-level pianos — J.P. Pramberger, Wm. Knabe, and Seiler — have met with very positive response.
[Note: Samick-made pianos are identified using an odd system of serial numbers and letters that appears to vary from factory to factory. Please contact SMC for information on the date of manufacture of a Samick-made piano.]
Warranty: 10 years, parts and labor, transferable to future owners within the warranty period.
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