High Quality

The pianos in this group are also fabulous, but are in second place here either because their workmanship is not quite as refined as the first group, or because their musical designs are considered slightly less desirable. However, preferences among performance-grade pianos are greatly dependent on musical taste, and most of the brands in this group have their devoted followings.

Most knowledgeable observers of the piano business would consider the brands in this group to span quite a range of quality within the rarefied air of high-end pianos, and would insist that it be divided into two or more subgroups. The problem is that I found an utter lack of agreement among my many contacts as to which brands each subgroup should contain. Furthermore, the relative ranking of these brands is one of the most hotly debated topics among piano aficionados. Rather than arbitrarily impose my own preferences, I have chosen to leave the group undivided. Since this chart is primarily intended for newcomers to the piano market, any further division of this group would be academic.

Better Quality

The brands in this group, though very good, are considered to have considerably less finesse than those in the first two groups. Some are lesser product lines of the brands listed above. However, most of these models are also considerably less expensive than the ones above, and may be a better value for the money where the highest quality is not needed. Again, for the purpose of simplicity, this group represents a somewhat wide range of qualities.

Consumer-Grade Pianos

The chart for consumer-grade pianos is organized differently from that for performance-grade pianos. The Korean-based companies Samick and Young Chang each has its own column listing all the brand names each makes for the U.S. market, including brands made under contract for other distributors; the Japanese-based companies Yamaha and Kawai share a column for their brands, including those made under contract; and there is a column for all brands made in China not already included in the other columns.

Within the Samick, Young Chang, and Yamaha/Kawai columns, the various brand names or model groupings are organized approximately as the respective companies themselves position them in the marketplace by price and features. Some small adjustments have been made for subjective reasons. The brands within the Chinese column are organized by approximate overall recommendability, which also tends to fall along lines of price and features, though not uniformly so.

The tricky part of organizing this chart was figuring out how to align each column with the others to indicate the relative recommendability of the brands. As you can see, the brands and models in the Yamaha/Kawai column are concentrated toward the top of the chart, whereas those in the Chinese column are skewed slightly downward. This reflects, in large part, the differences in these brands' track records for durability, reliability, and warranty service. It must be noted that many dealers and others compare pianos only on the basis of their musical performance qualities when new, but a true comparison must also include their track records for these other factors. How much each factor is to be valued is a highly subjective matter, thus reasonable people will disagree as to how these columns should be aligned.

As can be expected, the upper-level consumer-grade pianos generally have premium components and better performance and quality control than the lower-level instruments. In fact, as mentioned earlier, some may even compare favorably to "Better Quality" performance-grade instruments, and may be less expensive, too. The entry-level models are basic, no-frills pianos suitable for beginners and casual users, but which a conscientious student may outgrow in a few years. The mid-range pianos usually have better design, performance, quality control, track record, and/or components than the entry-level ones, but not as good as the upper-level ones. As piano quality in general improves, the distinction between levels becomes more subtle and difficult to discern.