Although not yet indicated as such on the charts, a third type of piano — a sort of intermediate grade between performance and consumer — is now emerging, consisting of some of the lower-level performance-grade brands and some of the upper-level consumer-grade ones. The pianos on the performance-grade side are often lesser product lines from companies principally known for their higher-grade brands. They inherit some of the quality of their superior cousins, but otherwise are quite different. The instruments on the consumer-grade side, on the other hand, are brands that in recent years have become so advanced in their designs, materials, and manufacturing technologies that they now rival some performance-grade pianos in musicality and quality control, and are sometimes recommended as a substitute for them, often at a lower price.
Performance-grade pianos are purchased both for their musical value and for their pedigree or prestige value. In the past I lumped both types of value together in a single rating; now I attempt to distinguish between the two, resulting in the matrix shown in the chart. Although prestige is obviously a subjective term, I use it here to indicate a combination of such elements as ownership lineage, the degree to which the piano is used by concert artists, how well known and well regarded the brand is within the piano industry and among the concertgoing public, and how much the brand would be missed if it were to disappear.
Most of the pianos in this group, and in the next, "High Quality," are for those buyers who want the best and can afford it. The companies that make them use the very best materials, and their manufacturing processes emphasize much hand labor and refinement of details. These companies' painstaking execution of advanced designs puts considerations of quality far ahead of cost and volume of production. These instruments are suitable for the most advanced and demanding professional and artistic uses.
It was easier to arrive at a consensus about the brands in this group than about any other group in this rating system. So celebrated are the brands in this group that dealers eagerly nominated even their competitors for the list. These pianos have everything, and the attention to detail paid in their manufacture can only be called fanatical. (Note that pianos made by Steinway & Sons/Hamburg are not routinely available in North America; I include the brand here for informational purposes only.)