Keyboard Concepts

Sauter pianos are a delight to both player and technician. Beautifully designed and executed, they are among the finest pianos in the world. There's no skimping on the uprights, either, which are as thoroughly finished as the grands. Sauter's beautiful cabinet designs are the equal of their pianos' tonal designs: innovative, yet grounded in a classic piano tone that is both clear and singing. The hammers are very responsive to voicing, with little need for string leveling or hammer mating. Tuning is easily done and quite stable.

Sauter's innovations include, on the 7' 3" model 220 grand, soundboard markings to guide musicians performing music for prepared piano. (Music for prepared piano is modern music requiring the insertion of foreign objects between the strings, among other unconventional techniques.) The 220 is an awesome instrument; I can imagine buying one simply for its beauty and integrity as a musical instrument, even if I never used it as a "prepared piano." I've readied this model for concerts on many occasions, and the players have always made very positive comments about it. I've prepared only one Sauter concert grand, and found it equally responsive. As with most boutique European pianos, the tone is clear, but not particularly voluminous or aggressive. The bigger Sauters can certainly compete in larger halls with Steinways, Bösendorfers, and Yamahas, but may be best suited to theaters seating 400 to 600.

The upright pianos are very technician-friendly, in that the furniture practically disassembles itself and the pedals are easily regulated. Sauters are made to be serviced — a bit of an irony, as they probably won't need as much maintenance as some other brands. In fact, I thought Yamaha had cornered the market on ease of servicing — until I began working on Sauters. I especially like the R-2 Double Escapement action, whose extra spring gives the touch a very secure return reminiscent of that of a grand. Consequently, repetition is faster than on other uprights, with the possible exception of some Steingraeber models.

The Sauter grands are more traditional in their manner of disassembly and, as a group, are some of the better pianos I have worked on. But the 7' 6" Ambiente model of modern design, otherwise a beautiful instrument, is laden with screws that must be removed to pull out the action for service, reminding me of some older Baldwins in that regard. Though a problem only for the technician, it's annoying.

Sauter suffers from lack of name recognition in the U.S., but that is the brand's only real drawback. The pianos are equal to or better than other high-end brands, and deserve a wider audience.

Chris Solliday, RPT

SchimmelSchimmel Konzert Series

If you're in the market for a high-end piano and budget is a limiting factor, the premium-grade Schimmel Konzert series pianos are strongly worth considering. Although Schimmel is the most popular piano maker in Europe, they've not been effective at telling their story in the U.S.: these are meticulously designed and well-built instruments. Their building process is a hybrid combining the advantages of modern machinery with the highest level of old-world craftsmanship. The result is a piano tone that is clear and clean in all registers, and powerful enough to convince the player that he or she is playing a larger piano even when playing very softly. The construction specifications lead one to believe that the instruments will withstand the tests of time in any environment, and Schimmel's warranty policies have proven to be very consumer-friendly. If you've looked at Schimmel pianos in the past but have not spent time with them recently, you'll be pleasantly surprised. In particular, the model K213 is my pick for value among 7' pianos generally, and the 7' 5" model K230 sounds and feels like a cross between a Bösendorfer 225 and a Fazioli F228.

Ed Whitting, RPT