SAMICKSee separate listings for Wm. Knabe, Pramberger, and Sohmer & Co. 1329 Gateway Drive
Gallatin, Tennessee 37066
Pianos made by: Samick Musical Instrument Mfg. Co. Ltd., Inchon, South Korea; and Bogor, West Java, Indonesia
Samick was founded by Hyo Ick Lee in 1958 as a Baldwin distributor in South Korea. Facing an immense challenge in an impoverished and war-torn country, in the early 1960s Lee began to build and sell a very limited quantity of vertical pianos using largely imported parts. As the 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, but the company emerged from bankruptcy in 2002 and is now on a sound financial footing.
In 2002 Samick and C. Bechstein, a major European piano maker, each acquired a financial interest in the other and agreed to cooperate on technical issues and marketing. Samick has used that collaboration to upgrade its manufacturing capabilities. The two companies also own a joint-venture factory in Shanghai, China. For a few years, Samick distributed Bechstein pianos in North America, but that arrangement has ended (see Bechstein, C.).
In 2004, Samick acquired a controlling interest in its competitor Young Chang and briefly took over distribution of Young Chang and Bergmann pianos in the U.S. However, antitrust rulings in Korea and the U.S. ended this arrangement a year later. Young Chang, once again an independent company, now distributes those brands itself (see Young Chang).
The company says that "Samick" means "three benefits" in Korean, symbolizing the wish that the activities of the company benefit not only the company itself, but also the customers and the Korean economy.
Samick Music Corporation, the North American marketing arm of the Korean company, is now known as SMC, and distributes Samick, Kohler & Campbell, Conover Cable, Pramberger, Remington, Wm. Knabe, and Sohmer & Co. pianos in North America (see separate listings for Wm. Knabe, Pramberger, and Sohmer & Co.). Samick no longer makes pianos under the Bernhard Steiner and Hazelton Bros. names. Samick has also just acquired the German brand Seiler, and SMC will be distributing that brand in North America as well (see Seiler). SMC has a manufacturing, warehousing, and office facility in Tennessee, at which it uncrates, inspects, tunes, regulates, and voices its upper-level Wm. Knabe, J.P. Pramberger, and Kohler & Campbell Millennium-series pianos before shipping them to dealers. While Samick says it will continue to make some pianos in Korea, it is gradually moving most of its production to Indonesia.
Until just a few years ago, Samick primarily made pianos under the Samick and Kohler & Campbell brand names. (For historical information about the original Kohler & Campbell piano company, see The Piano Book.) In the 1980s Klaus Fenner, a German piano designer, was hired to revise the Samick scale designs and make them more "European." Most of the Samick and Kohler & Campbell pianos now being made are based on these designs. The Conover Cable (another old American name), identical to the Samick piano and introduced to markets that needed an additional line, is now available to dealers by special order only, as is the Remington brand that Samick makes. (For Conover Cable models and prices, see under Samick in the "Model & Pricing Guide.")
Although in most respects the Samick and Kohler & Campbell pianos are similar in quality, so as not to compete with one another the grands are available in different sizes and have some different features. The two lines are primarily differentiated by the fact that Kohler & Campbell grands (except the smallest model) have solid spruce soundboards and individually hitched stringing (also known as single stringing), whereas the Samick grands have veneer-laminated soundboards and conventional loop stringing. A veneer-laminated soundboard (which Samick calls a "surface tension soundboard") is essentially a solid spruce soundboard surrounded by two very thin veneers. Samick pioneered the use of this soundboard with Klaus Fenner's technical advice in early 1980, and it is now used by others as well. Tonally, it behaves much more like a solid spruce soundboard than the old kind of laminated soundboard, which was essentially plywood. Like the old kind, however, it won't crack or lose its crown. The solid spruce soundboard may have a slight tonal advantage, but the laminated one will last longer, so take your pick. Likewise, single stringing is more elegant to those who know pianos, but otherwise offers little or no advantage over loop stringing. The two brands' vertical pianos are more alike: They have the same difference in soundboards as the grands, but are all loop-strung and come more or less in the same sizes.