The "feel" of the action and keyboard depends to some extent on the length of the keys — specifically, the distance between the front of the keys and their balance point, the latter hidden inside the piano behind the fallboard (key cover). When this distance is short, as it might be in a very small grand, there can be a pronounced difference in touch weight between playing at the front of the key and playing at the point just in front of the fallboard — both are common hand positions — making sensitive control of the keyboard difficult to maintain. Manufacturers vary in how they divide the total length of the piano between the front end (keyboard and action) and the back end (strings and soundboard), a decision that can affect a small grand's playability. While this is unlikely to present problems for the beginner or casual player, more advanced pianists should pay careful attention to whether the keys and action of a very small grand will provide the desired degree of control.
Aside from the aspects of quality related to a piano's size, it's perfectly possible to make smaller pianos to standards that are just as high as those to which larger instruments are built, and several manufacturers do that in the five-feet-plus range. Smaller pianos built to those standards cost almost as much to make as do larger ones, and so sell for nearly as much. But in the below-five-feet range, the competition tends toward the least expensive, which sometimes requires skimping on materials and simplifying design; the results may compromise only the piano's appearance, or may affect its functionality and sound. Occasionally, skimping on structural materials results in tuning instability — something you can't see by inspecting a piano, and won't find out about until it's too late — though this is encountered less frequently today than in the past. Other areas to consider: Has the construction of the pedal lyre been cheapened to the point that it moves and twists when the pedals are pressed? Are the legs so weak that the piano sways excessively under hard playing? Are the music desk and rack sufficiently movable, adjustable, and robust for your needs?
Today, new grand pianos less than five feet long are made in some three dozen models under more than two dozen brand names. To see how these instruments measure up, I recruited four volunteer pianists from the Piano World online community to test them. The group included both professional pianists and experienced amateurs, and two were also part-time piano technicians. The brands tested, 13 in all, were those available at dealerships in the cities where the reviewers resided: New York, Chicago, Houston, and Denver. Permission to audition the pianos was requested from the dealers, who were given the opportunity to prepare the pianos to show their best. The volunteers were given little direction other than a checklist of important things to look for. Their responses ranged from rough notes to eloquent prose, so my presentations of their findings vary in style and length.
First up is the 4' 11" Yamaha GB1K, Yamaha's only Indonesian-made grand sold in the U.S. It was reviewed in the Chicago area by Kevin A. Brown. Brown found the treble tone on this instrument to be typically Yamaha: bright, crisp, and pleasant, but a bit generic and lacking in tonal color. As one descended into the tenor range, the tone, at first pleasant, gradually became muddier; then, after a rather rough transition not unlike what one might find in a small vertical piano, the bass turned both tubby and thin, lacking in resonance. The action was consistently smooth and controllable, though a bit "spongy" in the bass. Brown noted, "A pianist could play most types of music with some degree of control, but a pianist more skilled than I would not find playing this piano for any length of time satisfying," in part because of the limited tonal color. The cabinet style is simple and functional, and has a slow-close fallboard, a nice feature designed to protect fingers. On the negative side, however, the music desk is fixed in place — it can be removed for tuning the piano, but cannot slide fore and aft. Despite the criticisms, Brown says that "it was a nice little piano, and seems like a suitable choice for budget-conscious shoppers looking for a small grand for children to learn on. However," he cautions, "I question the decision to install a fixed-position music desk. Players may not find a comfortable position."
|Brand/Model (alphabetically)||Size||MSRP* ($) (if any)||SMP* ($)|
|Brodmann PE 150||4' 11"||17,970||12,980|
|Hobart M. Cable GH 42D||4' 8"||13,100||8,507|
|Hailun 151||4' 11.5"||12,300||11,170|
|Hallet, Davis & Co. H-146C||4' 9"||10,485||7,990|
|Kohler & Campbell KIG-48||4' 8"||9,790||8,550|
|Pearl River GP-142||4' 7"||8,997||7,390|
|Pearl River GP-150||4' 11"||10,321||7,790|
|Pramberger LG-145||4' 8"||9,790||8,550|
|Ritmüller GH-148R||4' 10"||16,415||13,390|
|Taylor TG 145||4' 9"||9,490||8,590|
|Weber W150||4' 11"||10,110|
|Yamaha GB1K||4' 11"||13,499||12,598|
|Young Chang Y150||4' 11"||9,910|
*Prices are for models in polished ebony with slow-close fallboard.
MSRP = Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (not all manufacturers use them).
SMP = Suggested Maximum Price. Most sales take place at a discount to the SMP. See Model & Pricing Guide in Piano Buyer for more information about prices.